AKECHI
MITSUHIDE
THE MAN WHO 'RULED' JAPAN FOR 13 DAYS

Akechi family crest
Akechi clan crest

 

The Lord of Tamba, master of the castle of Kameyama (in Mie Prefecture, today), Akechi Mitsuhide (1529-1582), had such a bio that would make even Oda Nobunaga's life seem like a series of nothing going on. Only his nemesis (and a colleague when Oda was still around) Toyotomi Hideyoshi could match him in having a CV full of adventures -- and Oda Nobunaga's father in-law Saito Dosan, Lord of Mino, who was Akechi's boss too, once. Saito's life was a series of anecdotes and streetwise episodes before he all of a sudden emerged as one of the most powerful warlords around. While Toyotomi was a faithful vassal to Oda, Saito killed his boss; in that he was closer to what Akechi's bio culminates at.


'Mitsu' means 'bright', 'hide' means 'the sun'. That's a good name to arbitrarily force a newborn to be called by. Akechi Mitsuhide came from a well-respected samurai clan -- so he had no blemish as far as genealogy was the case. He was better educated than average warlords and Generals, most of this was self-taught. Besides devouring all sorts of books, he spent his teenage and early twenties years learning from unlikely sources; hanging out with nomadic preachers, wandering samurai, poets, painters, and so forth.

His best in martial arts was attained during those years. Akechi specialized in spears and firearms. In swordsmanship, he was average; if there were a duel with swords, Oda Nobunaga would have cut him to shreds in a blink. That's why Akechi stormed into the Honno temple in 1582 dragging his famous spear, and never intending to get physically too close to Oda if a fight ensued.

 

Akechi Mitsuhide

Akechi Mitsuhide in
16th century painting

Akechi Mitsuhide

Akechi Mitsuhide according to
a ceramic sculptor in 2005

Akechi Mitsuhide

Akechi Mitsuhide in
2005 videogame

 

Anyway, as a teenager, Akechi was said to be promising a truly great future, since his clan saw that his sedentary biz got as much of his time as the usual warlike activities. They said he loved reading, writing, fencing, painting, training himself in spearplay, and getting busy in what would have been called 'scientific experiments' today -- which was, as the times and atmosphere suggested, invariably involving gunpowder.

Some even said Akechi Mitsuhide was the inventor of the Japanese guns, copied and modified from the Portuguese and Dutch firearms. Even if this was just a tall tale, history shows that Akechi did have some skills above average in that kind of stuff. Oda Nobunaga regarded him as such, that's why he took Akechi in when the man came to Gifu (click here for pictures) to deliver an S.O.S letter from Shogun Ashikaga Yoshiaki, a homeless nominal ruler without any power of any kind.

Ashikaga was kicked out of Kyoto by a couple of warlords who saw him the way he was: an absolutely incompetent pretender. Just basing everything on DNA, Ashikaga insisted that he got the right to rule because his ancestors did rule. But he had no court, no army, not even a bedroom, and nobody but the ever-faithful Hosokawa Fujitaka, his envoy/diplomat/negotiator/protector who still did the thankless job despite the obvious abundance of better things to do (going fishing would have been less boring and more fruitful).

Other warlords had refused to back Ashikaga up in his immoderate daydream to become a Shogun. Other warlords also had refused to hire Akechi Mitsuhide before. Akechi's last boss, of the Asakura clan, thought of him as a dangerous smartass who couldn't get along with anybody. He already left the Saito clan before joining the Asakuras. And he kept searching for employment since. So the Shogun and Akechi shared a similar fate so far, and that's why Akechi decided to follow him in the seemingly perennial mobility.

Oda Nobunaga took both Ashikaga and Akechi in.

He didn't care a fig about the unpretty CV of Akechi's. All he saw was someone useful for his army, although Akechi didn't have anything but his mind at the time to give. The Oda HQ thought of Akechi as an 'intellectual', a rare thing among their kind -- he read and painted and wrote and other such non-warlike activities. Everyone wrote poetry and made sketches in Japan those days, but most samurais did it only as some sort of duties (writing a farewell poem upon suicide, for instance). Akechi Mitsuhide, so people said, seemed to really like these things without having to. Because of this and the utilitarian principle that Oda Nobunaga referred his decisions to, he gave Akechi a place in his HQ, and the man some time later was able to get his clan's soldiers to command under the Oda banner. From then on Akechi Mitsuhide rose to the rank of General.

Oda also fed and clothed and housed Ashikaga Yoshiaki, marched to war for him, and installed him back in Kyoto -- all this was done in 1568, from which point on Oda financed the Shogunate the way Ashikaga wanted him to.

 

Akechi Mitsuhide

Akechi Mitsuhide in
18th century prints

In Japan, they said that a smart man would get nothing good out of being too smart; this has often been applied to describe Akechi Mitsuhide.

But I don't think he was any mile close to being 'smart' -- he's definitely intelligent, but his track records as a General never showed a glimpse of brilliance in strategic and tactical matters; unlike Toyotomi Hideyoshi's long and winding records of such things.

In daily life, Akechi was incapable of practical problem-solving and oblivious of Oda's character despite having known him for long; that was why Oda Nobunaga got mad at him so often.

When it comes to battling prowess, among the Oda Generals it was always Oda's brother in-law and cousin Lord Shibata Katsuie of Echizen who got prominent.

Even Akechi's so-often-cited genius in stuff related to firearms only enhanced the Oda army, and not created the thing altogether -- it wasn't him who built the infantry there, and the ones in charge of Oda's artillery and whipping up of snipers were Captains like Hori Kyutaro, Takigawa Kazumasu, etc. -- not Akechi Mitsuhide.

Click here for profiles and pictures of Oda Nobunaga's Generals and Captains.

Click here for stories & pictures of Shibata Katsuie -- he had a weird history, too.

STORIES AND PICTURES OF
How Oda Died
Oda's Last Dance
Mori Ranmaru
Murai Nagato
Toyotomi Hideyoshi
Real Place of Death
Oda's Grave
Oda's Archery Set
What Happened to Akechi Mitsuhide & His Clan Afterwards
Oda's Relationship with Other Generals & Captains
Profiles of Oda's Generals & Captains
Chronological Events of June 21, 1582
Oda Nobunaga's last letter to Akechi Mitsuhide

Akechi Mitsuhide

Akechi Mitsuhide in
2002 comic book

Akechi Mitsuhide

Akechi Mitsuhide in
an anime movie
as a teenager

 

For how Akechi Mitsuhide looks like in another anime movie -- despite his looks, he is the protagonist character there -- and how Oda died

Click Here

 

It was a violent era. Wars for power were daily happenings. So why was Akechi Mitsuhide's attack on Oda Nobunaga wrong, according to the Japanese beliefs? Click here.

 

 

So, what's between Oda Nobunaga and Akechi Mitsuhide? Their family crests looked similar (check out the Oda clan's). But their interpersonal relationship was constrained by the clash of temperaments -- and to the superstitious in 16th century the clash between the two might also get inevitable considering the meaning of the name 'Oda Nobunaga': 'lasting greatness of the great field' ('oda' = 'great field', 'nobu' = 'grand', 'great', 'faith', 'naga' = 'long', 'lasting').

Oda Nobunaga's greatness has been, as his dad wished by naming him that, long and lasting; but his temper was not. However, Oda's hotheadedness was so temporary that other people coped with it and only tried not to provoke it. Akechi was a very scrupulous man, but unlike the most famous so-called 'patient' warlord in Japan, Tokugawa Ieyasu, Akechi deliberated to no end, while Tokugawa's notorious slow process of arriving at decisions was always based on real roadblocks. Such a characteristic made Oda Nobunaga mad every time. He couldn't have barked at Tokugawa, because the man was his ally, hence they were equal in ranks; but Akechi was his vassal and so to him Oda was mercilessly sarcastic.

Today's movies and animation films prized Akechi Mitsuhide's lack of resolution as if it is something great -- they take it as a sign that Akechi was 'cautious', and the fact that he alone was too quick to take offense upon anything Oda Nobunaga said was taken as if he was 'sensitive'. Yet, this age takes Oda Nobunaga to be a brutal, barbaric manslaughter. This stupidly wrong conclusion can't get prevented. Since Akechi Mitsuhide was the one who caused Oda's death, his characteristics simply must be good because Oda is the villain in computer and video games.

The truth is Akechi Mitsuhide was an awkward addition to the Oda HQ. Just like Lord Asakura had observed, Akechi couldn't get along with anyone precisely because he was so careful not to offend anybody -- to the point of appearing so false; making a show of how he enjoyed something he totally didn't, telling merry things when he felt exactly the opposite, and so forth. As a result, in his constant attempt to be liked, he kept them off. As long as there was a war, it mattered little, because then everyone was too busy to mind interpersonal stuff. But in the intervals between wars, all this got revived.

So Akechi never got close to Oda, and even colder was his relation with Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Oda's favorite General (click here for history and pictures of Toyotomi). According to the legend, they had met a long time ago before both served the Oda clan; Akechi was 21 years old when he arrested Toyotomi Hideyoshi when the latter was found loitering around his uncle Akechi Motoyasu's house in Inabayama, Mino.

Akechi was nothing, back then; he didn't have any real job in his clan -- 'The Scholar', that's how they called him. It made him entitled to stay idle by the uncle's place and collect hundreds of books that impressed the 16 years-old Toyotomi to no end. At the same period, Oda Nobunaga had just gotten married to Lady Saito Nou (click here for story and pictures). Mino was the territory of Oda's father in-law, Lord Saito Dosan, who was at war against his foster son Saito Yoshitatsu. Toyotomi worked for the Hachisuka clan of Owari, a vassal of Saito Dosan's, and he was there as a part of a conspiracy to finish Saito Yoshitatsu's bio off.

Akechi cancelled Saito Dosan's plan to burn the city, so tradition said. Whether this was true or not, Saito Dosan died shortly afterwards, and when the Saito clan was at war against Oda, Akechi was nowhere around the province, while Toyotomi had been Oda Nobunaga's closest Captain.

Being put under Toyotomi's command in a battle made Akechi mad, although Oda's choice was actually not based on personal considerations such as like and dislike in this case. Toyotomi was a better commander than any other Generals under Oda Nobunaga. Akechi Mitsuhide always thought that Toyotomi's humble origins (he's the son of a farmer, and didn't have samurai blood in his veins) should have kicked the man out of business a long time ago; he thought that Oda Nobunaga was so careless about picking up his men (excluding, of course, himself). Toyotomi respected Akechi -- the man was always conscious about his lack of 'the right pedigree', and his apparent lack of education -- but this wasn't mutual. Akechi despised as well as feared Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

Akechi was also in a sort of cold war with the only one in Oda's household who was closest to the boss; Oda's valet Mori Ranmaru (click here for pictures and why he was no ordinary serviceperson). Once, when Oda Nobunaga was planning the architectural wonder of all Japan those days, his Azuchi castle, Mori Ranmaru helped designing it, and he proposed to build a five-storeys turret ('donjon' in Japanese; click here to see the pictures). No other castle had it that high. Of course this tickled Oda Nobunaga's vanity (it was his inborn penchant for anything extraordinary to the direction of 'loudness', as in colors).

When asked to deliver the architectural design for real, Mori Ranmaru said he didn't have to draw one, "Because General Akechi has been keeping such pictures all these times, My Lord." Such a snub, though coming from a boy (Mori was no more than 15 years old that time), hurt Akechi Mitsuhide much. Summoned by Oda for the pix, he was reluctant just because it wasn't him who brought it up, and he suspected Mori for having claimed it as his own design (as a matter of fact Mori didn't). The incident ended without any further complication, since Oda Nobunaga himself didn't care whose design it was as long as he got it, yet the incident stayed put in Akechi's mind like cancer. And worse, this kind of thing happened over and over.

Even worse than worse, Akechi Mitsuhide was made to be the Lord of Tamba, and this province used to be the Mori clan's playground of old. Mori Ranmaru's father, Yoshinari, died in a battle for Oda Nobunaga's victory there, too. While his mom became a Buddhist nun after being widowed, Mori Ranmaru and his younger brothers (all of whom were Oda Nobunaga's valets) were rumored to be craving Akechi Mitsuhide's territory for those sentimental and nostalgic reasons. Even though the rumor was unsustained by any fact -- Oda Nobunaga never intended to give Tamba to Mori or anyone else -- Akechi kept it in his deposit of personal grudges.

When it comes to Oda Nobunaga personally, besides the Lord's wrath directed at him all those years, Akechi also condemned him like 21st century Buddhists for Oda's all-out attack upon the HQ of the warrior-monks of Mt. Hiei (click here for story and pictures). Oda Nobunaga reduced the entire place to ashes because the monks kept attacking his troops no matter which war the Oda clan was in; and they had tried to assassinate Oda many times by then. Akechi -- like virtually every sript-scribbler of Japanese animation movies today -- believed that fighting against the monks (albeit their being warriors, and that they never observed the Buddhist rules) was an unpardonable sin, let alone killing them all and destroying their lair.

This was colossally absurd, because Akechi himself was participating in that particular campaign. He and his clan couldn't possibly have claimed innocence in the so-called 'massacre of Buddha'. If he really truly didn't want to do it, why didn't he risk losing his life by defying Oda Nobunaga's order right there and then? He might have been canonized and sainted today if he did.

 

Akechi Mitsuhide

Kameyama castle, Akechi Mitsuhide's home, in 2005

Akechi Mitsuhide

A monument for Akechi Mitsuhide in Kameyama, in 2002

 

There was an incident that has been frequently cited whenever people try to pry Akechi's motives open; in one of the war where Akechi led, he made the Hatano clan surrender with the condition that the clan was to be spared from the usual after-battle-executions. But Oda Nobunaga suddenly (he was, after all, always like that) ordered the head of the clan to be killed. The clan got mad and kidnapped -- not Oda's anything, but Akechi's mom. And killed her, too, in revenge. Akechi blamed Oda for what he dubbed the tragedy of his life (this kidnapping and killing of Ms. Akechi Senior was just a talk, in 16th century; there is no historical evidence of such a thing as ever really happened.)

Anyway, when Akechi told his clan's army to march to Kyoto to attack Oda Nobunaga and his son General Nobutada, instead of going to the Western provinces to help Toyotomi in a war, as Oda had told Akechi to, it was already a while after Mori warned Oda about Akechi; but the warning wasn't taken seriously. Oda and Toyotomi thought that Akechi Mitsuhide was the intellectual in their compound; such a man couldn't have had primitive thoughts of rebellions. It never crossed their minds that Akechi had been collecting what he took as injustice done against him by Oda Nobunaga, from serious ones to the trivial. This was, as history told us, fatal.

 

NEXT PAGE:

STORY & PICTURES OF ODA NOBUNAGA'S LAST MINUTES ON THIS PLANET
(INCLUDING WRONG PICTURES OF HOW HE DIED)

NEXT: the Akechi attack and Oda Nobunaga's death

 

 

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