Akechi Mitsuhide (1528-July 2 1582)
Nicknamed the Jusan Kubo, or “Thirteen Day Ruler”, Akechi Mitsuhide is best remembered as the traitor responsible for the death of Oda Nobunaga.
Mitsuhide was said to have been born possibly in Kyoto, but more likely in Kani, Mino Province (Gifu Prefecture). He came into the service of Oda Nobunaga following Nobunaga’s conquest of Mino in 1566. Nobunaga rarely placed much trust in his followers, however he highly valued Shibata Katsuie, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Akechi Mitsuhide.
Mitsuhide was the first of these samurai to be awarded a castle, Sakamoto in Omi (Shiga Prefecture), by Nobunaga, and later received Kamiyama in Tamba. Despite his advances and loyal service, Nobunaga appears to have treated the man severely,
reprimanding and publicly humiliating the samurai in front of his peers, and even foreign travelers of the day who recorded such insults in their journals.This mistreatment has been forwarded as one of the reasons for his treachery.
Another reason put forward is the so-called the Hatano incident. Mitsuhide was ordered to attack the Hatano of Tamba Province. In an attempt to control the situation without bloodshed, he offered the Hatano a chance to surrender to Nobunaga and join forces. Mitsuhide took the Hatano Lord’s mother and family as a goodwill gesture to Nobunaga, who promptly had the old lady and family members executed. Some time later, the retainers of the Hatano found Mitsuhide’s mother and had her killed in revenge. This could well have been the prime reason that would serve to turn Mitsuhide against his master, however the Hatano story, despite being “well known” has been proven to be Edo period fiction.
His chance came five years later. On June 21, 1582, Mitsuhide was supposed to have assisted Hideyoshi in his prolonged attack on the Mori clan in the western most provinces of Honshu. Instead, Mistuhide directed his 13,000 samurai to the Honno-Ji, a temple in Kyoto where Nobunaga was billeted with just a handful of bodyguards. Mitsuhide’s troops surrounded the Honnoji, and in the melee, Nobunaga was wounded. The Great General retired into the burning temple where he is believed to have committed seppuku amongst the flames. Although Mitsuhide did not personally kill Nobunaga, he claimed responsibility.
The Honno-ji Incident
Akechi Mitsuhide and Chosokabe Motochika, daimyo of Shikoku, were very close friends. Around 2013, a number of letters were discovered by researchers at the Okayama Prefectural Art Museum between Akechi Mitsuhide and his long time friend, Chosokabe Motochika. All were written around the same time, a few months before the May 21, 1582 attack on the Honno-ji, in which Akechi’s men attacked and killed Oda Nobunaga. The real reason remains a mystery, however these new discoveries shed new light, and another reason for the assassination.
According to the letters, Chosokabe had decided against opposing Nobunaga, and was willing to submit to the Oda warlord. In reply, it appears Mitsuhide was attempting to avoid taking part in the subjugation of Shikoku, a mission he saw as likely to affect a future dispute involving Chosokabe.
It appears that the Shikoku Offensive was considered ruinous for the Chosokabe, and in an effort to protect his friend’s interests, Akechi Mitsuhide found possibly another reason to attack his liege lord, Nobunaga.
Akechi clan crest
Another reason put forward for the attack is because Mitsuhide was privy to Nobunaga’s future plans and desire to rule the nation. Nobunaga had stated that he was to be Tenka Fubu, the one ruler under the heavens. The hypothesis is that Nobunaga was planning to overthrow the Emperor, as the Imperial family would be the only thing above him, unless he ousted the Emperor.
This frightened Akechi Mitsuhide, who struck at Nobunaga while he was under protected, thus saving the Imperial family and Emperor.
Either way, the betrayal shocked the nation. Mitsuhide then claimed the title of Shogun based on his ancestry. Mitsuhide had expected little adversary to his coup, as he believed Hideyoshi was preoccupied with the prolonged attack on the Mori. Hideyoshi, however, quickly and peacefully resolved the situation with the Mori, and was able to relocate his army within four days to Yamazaki catching Mitsuhide by surprise. Two hours after engaging, the traitor’s army was routed.
While escaping from the ruinous Battle of Yamazaki, Mitsuhide was supposedly killed by a group of peasants wielding bamboo staves. He was 54 years old, and had been self proclaimed Shogun for all of thirteen days.