HONNO TEMPLE, KYOTO, ON JUNE 21, 1582
THE LAST MINUTES OF
ODA NOBUNAGA'S LIFE

 

So, very early in the morning of June 21, 1582, when the Honno temple of Kyoto had just waken up, what they found wasn't the usual tranquility of Spring but Akechi Mitsuhide's soldiers setting fire everywhere. Oda Nobunaga died after everyone in his size-S escort had. Akechi Mitsuhide never laid hands on him, not like some moviemakers tried to cajole us into believing. He committed the samurai honorable suicide ('seppuku' in Japanese). Mori Ranmaru was badly wounded, but he kept on fighting until Oda was no more. In a blink, just like Oda wanted it to be, the room was on fire -- this time it was Mori who set it. Oda specifically asked him to burn his remains so that no Akechi soldier could claim his head. Mori died afterwards. Oda Nobutada did, too, in another temple nearby.

Even though he died while still being surprised at Akechi's attack, Oda Nobunaga wasn't overcome with any other emotion. When Akechi soldiers broke into the place and tried to pass Mori Ranmaru, they heard Oda's last words spoken out loud: "No regret!" (click here for story and pictures of why).

Besides Mori Ranmaru, his younger brothers Mori Nagataka (born in 1566) and Mori Nagauji (born in 1567) died fighting until their last. So in one single strike the Mori clan lost their best kids there at Honno temple.

Oda Nobunaga's youngest son Oda Katsunaga died near his daddy -- the boy was only 14 years old.

Died, too, Oda Nobunaga's African servant that the Roman Catholic priests said was 'liked very much' by the master (Oda Nobunaga's retort in 1575 was famous: "Well, I like you all, don't I?").

Tokugawa Ieyasu happened to be around the area when all those happened. He got a timely news in the wind and at once prepared to get back to his own territory in Mikawa -- that's the one and only safe place now that his mightier ally was no more, and the overall situation could just spark a mass rampage among warlords that used to fear Oda Nobunaga's wrath. But it wasn't a piece of cake to journey on. Akechi soldiers had gotten orders to give Tokugawa men no way out. But Tokugawa Ieyasu had his best ninjas with him; Hattori Hanzo and his clansmen of Koga (click here for story and pictures) somehow managed to drag everyone home via backways that maybe only birds knew. Almost everyone, at least. Some of Tokugawa's escort died fighting along the way.

Click here for detailed and complete maps of Japan, all the provinces and warlords, so you can imagine how far Tokugawa had to go to be safe from Akechi.

 

Akechi Mitsuhide

Oda Nobunaga's last stand
alone against Akechi's army,
in Honno temple, Kyoto,
depicted by a
19th century prints.

Click the pic for photos of
the real thing.

 

STORIES AND PICTURES OF
Why 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

Akechi Mitsuhide

Oda Nobunaga in 19th century painting, being pursued by Akechi Mitsuhide who is brandishing a spear through Honno temple's corridors. According to records, he blasted the Honno temple swinging not a sword but a kind of spear (a 'yari' in Japanese). He must have wanted to face Oda Nobunaga using a weapon that he was best at, because he couldn't risk to lose if there be a man-to-man combat between them (and Oda Nobunaga was better than him with swords).

But don't take that picture above as faithful to history; in real life, Akechi Mitsuhide might have never even seen Oda Nobunaga at all. He commanded his troops far outside the temple building.

Anyway, Oda himself mostly fought with bows and arrows that last day of his life. He got to discard of a bow whenever the string snapped, so he needed several. Mori Ranmaru stayed close to him, as his duty as a valet said he must; but he had to fight using a sword here and there around the place, so the closest person to Oda in all this messy morning was one of the temple's laypriests (some kind of housekeepers), assisting him by gathering spoils from Akechi's archers' counter-attacks that missed the target, since Oda Nobunaga kept running out of arrows.

If Oda had to use his sword against someone there, it would have meant the last defense had been hacked open (archery means some considerable distance, remember?). Luckily this didn't happen. Near the end, Oda Nobunaga got struck by one of the arrows sent in a volley by Akechi archers. He then retreated into an inner room and prepared his last rites, for which he kept the sword. From the beginning he knew there wouldn't be any hope for help from outside the temple, because he knew how many men Akechi's army consisted of and that was enough to put the whole city of Kyoto under an airtight blockade.

Governor of Kyoto, Murai Nagato, who was lifted to the job by Oda Nobunaga himself, was caught by absolute surprise at the attack. He ran at once to the Honno temple without even getting properly dressed; but the few Governor's Palace guards that went after him got killed when they tried to break the Akechi human wall. So he turned back and intended to reach General Oda Nobutada's lodging, but he got there too late. Oda Nobunaga's best son had died fighting. And the whole place was on fire. (Click here for stories and pictures of Oda Nobunaga's family members.) With him, also died Oda Nobunaga's younger brother, Oda Nobutoshi, whose remains were found there near his favorite nephew's.

 

Oda Nobunaga's last letter to Akechi Mitsuhide

 

NEXT PAGE:

THE UNPRETTY (AND UNPREDICTABLE) END OF AKECHI MITSUHIDE
PLUS A BIZARRE AFTERMATH
INVOLVING AKECHI MITSUHIDE'S DAUGHTER AND THE ROMAN CATHOLIC POPE

NEXT: the unpretty end of Akechi

 

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