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Akechi Mitsuhide

Akechi Mitsuhide (明智 光秀?, March 10, 1528 – July 17, 1582),[1] first called Jūbei from his clan and later Koretō Hyūga no Kami (惟任日向守?) from his title, was a general who lived during the Sengoku period of Feudal Japan.

Mitsuhide was a general under daimyo Oda Nobunaga, although he became famous for his slaughter in 1582, which led to Nobunaga's death at Honno-ji.

Early life and rise

He was born in Tara castle, [Mino Province]-now Gife Prefecture[2] Mitsuhide is a descendant of Toki-Aketchi family of the shugo Toki clan. Mitsuhide is rumored to be a childhood friend or cousin of Nohime. It is believed that he was praised to be a general among 10 thousandth by Saitō Dōsan and the Toki clan during their governorship of the Mino province. When Dōsan's son, Saitō Yoshitatsu, rebelled against his father in 1556, Mitsuhide sided with Dōsan.

Mitsuhide began serving the "wandering shogun" Yoshiaki Ashikaga as one of Shogun's guardian under Hosokawa Yusai. Ashikaga ordered for Asakura Yoshikage to be his official protector to which Yoshikage declined. Yoshiaki appealed to Mitsuhide who suggested Oda Nobunaga instead.[3]

Oda Nobunaga sent his sister Oichi no kata to Azai Nagamasa as his bride in 1564 which led him to conquer Mino province in 1566 and opened the path to Kyoto. The shogun Yoshiaki and Mitsuhide arrived at Kyoto, the capital of Japan and stayed at Hongokuji temple as the temporal palace November 1568. Oda Nobunaga returned from Kyoto to Mino. January 4, 1569 Miyoshi clan and Saito Tatsuoki, defeated daimyo of the Mino province attacked Yoshiaki Ashikaga at Hongokuji where Mitsuhide successfully defended the Shogun. Oda Nobunaga asked Mitsuhide to join his troops and Mitsuhide decided to serve both for the Shogun and Oda Nobunaga .

Mitsuhide received Sakamoto (in Omi, 100,000 koku) in 1571 after the successful attack at the Enryakuji Temple. Although Nobunaga rarely put too much trust in his retainers, he particularly trusted Shibata Katsuie, Hashiba Hideyoshi, and Akechi Mitsuhide, who was the first subordinate to receive a castle from Nobunaga. After Mitsuhide received Sakamoto he moved to pacify the Tamba region by defeating several clans such as Hatanao and the Isshiki of Tango. Mitsuhide also received Kamiyama castle and the Tanba region (550,000 koku).

Incident at Honnoji

In 1579, Nobunaga captured Yakami Castle from Hatano Hideharu by promising Hideharu peace terms. This accomplished Mitsuhide's goal, although Nobunaga betrayed the peace agreement and had Hideharu executed. According to several stories, this displeased the Hatano family, and a short while later several of Hideharu's retainers murdered Akechi Mitsuhide's mother (or aunt). The situation was fueled through several public insults Nobunaga had directed at Mitsuhide that even drew the attention of some Western observers.

In 1582, Mitsuhide was ordered to march west and assist Hashiba Hideyoshi who was currently fighting the Môri clan. Ignoring his orders, Mitsuhide assembled an army of 13,000 soldiers and moved against Nobunaga's position at Honnoji. On June 21, Mitsuhide was quoted as saying, "The enemy is at Honnō-ji!". His army surrounded the shrine and eventually sets it on fire. Oda Nobunaga was killed either during the fighting, or by his own hand. Nobunaga's son, Oda Hidetada, fled the scene, but was surrounded at Nijo and killed.[4] Despite not killing Nobunaga personally, Mitsuhide assumed responsibility for his death.

The Battle of Yamazaki

Mitsuhide's betrayal of the Oda shocked the capital, and he moved quickly to secure his position. Mitsuhide, claiming lineage from the Toki and thus the Minamoto clan, declared himself Shogun, and looted Azuchi castle so as to reward his men and maintain their loyalty.

Mitsuhide attempted to make gestures of friendship to a panicked Imperial Court; he also made many attempts to win over the other clans, to no avail. Hosokawa Fujitaka, to whom he was related through marriage, quickly cut ties with him; Tsutsui Junkei, who previously had a rocky relationship with the Oda, sided against him.

Mitsuhide had been counting on Toyotomi Hideyoshi to be detained fighting with the Mori, and unable to respond to his coup d'état. However, having learned of the assassination of his lord, Hideyoshi quickly signed a peace treaty with the Mori, and alongside Tokugawa Ieyasu rushed to be the first to avenge Nobunaga and take his place.

Hideyoshi force-marched his army to Settsu in four days, and caught Mitsuhide off guard. Mitsuhide had been unable to garner support for his cause, and his army had dwindled down to 10,000 men. Hideyoshi, however, had won over former Oda retainers, including Niwa Nagahide and Takayama Ukon, and had a strength of 20,000 men. The two forces met at the Battle of Yamazaki.

Mitsuhide took up a position south of Shoryuji Castle, securing his right flank by the Yodo river, and his left at the foot of the 270-metre Tennozan. Hideyoshi immediately seized the advantage by securing the heights of Tennozan; his vanguard then maneuvered to face the Akechi forces along the Emmoyji river. Mitsuhide's forces made a failed attempt to force Hideyoshi from Tennozan. Hideyoshi's general, Ikeda Nobuteru moved to reinforce Hideyoshi's right flank, which soon crossed Emmoyoji and turned the Akechi flank. Simultaneously, Hideyoshi's forces marched against the Akechi front; this started a rout, only two hours after the battle had begun.[5]


Mitsuhide's reign as shogun lasted only 13 days. Upon fleeing Yamazaki, Mitsuhide died en route to Sakamoto.

He is rumoured to have been killed by a peasant warrior by the name of Nakamura with a bamboo spear; however, there were also rumors that he was not killed, but rather started a new life as a priest called Tenkai.

The short reign of Mitsuhide is listed as the inspiration for the yojijukugo set phrase mikkatenka (三日天下?, short-lived[6] reign).[7][8]

Reasons for Betrayal

No one knows for what specific reason Mitsuhide betrayed Nobunaga though there are many theories.

  • Personal Ambition - Mitsuhide had grown tired of waiting for promotion under Nobunaga or had grown tired of being under another's authority.
  • A personal grudge:
    • While staying at Azuchi Castle, Ieyasu Tokugawa complained about the food he was served. Nobunaga responds by throwing Mitsuhide's priceless dinnerware into the garden pond.
    • During the battle at Yagami Castle, 1575, Mitsuhide's mother died for Nobunaga's cause.
    • Nobunaga accused Mitsuhide of superficially praising his allies after their victory over the Takeda and physically kicked him.
  • Nobunaga asked him - A legend states that Nobunaga asked Mitsuhide to strike him down if he were to become too ruthless and that the Incident at Honnō-ji is Mitsuhide fulfilling this promise.
  • Tricked by Hosokawa Fujitaka - Fujitaka, his son-in-law, was said to have promised aid to Mitsuhide but was in actuality was reporting the plot to Hideyoshi.
  • He was asked to - one theory is that he was asked or influenced to betray Nobunaga by Mori Terumoto, Tokugawa Ieyasu, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Ashikaga Yoshiaki, Nohime, the Shimazu clan or Emperor Ogimachi.

Shrine to Akechi Mitsuhide, Kyoto



The Akechi family was able to trace their heritage to the Toki clan and from there to the Minamoto clan. It is noted that Minamoto Yoritomo brought the destruction of the Taira clan the same way Mitsuhide brought an end to Nobunaga, who traces his ancestry to the Taira clan. The sword of Mitsuhide is of the Tensho style; the Tensho Koshirae was first designed to be a replica of Akechi Mitsuhide's own sword.

In popular culture

See People of the Sengoku period in popular culture.


  1. Kitamra kaden
  2. Miyagi keizu and Kitamra kaden
  6. According to the Sanseido reference, 三日 should be understood not literally as three days, but as "ごく短い期間", e.g. a really short period of time
  7. "三日天下" (in Japanese). 広辞苑第六版 (Koujien, 6th edition) [Mikkatenka]. 株式会社岩波書店(Iwanami Shoten, Inc.). 2008. 
  8. "三日天下" (in Japanese). Mikkatenka. 三省堂(Sanseidō). Retrieved 5 Sept 2013. 

Further reading

  • Takayanagi, Mitsutoshi (1966). "Akechi Mitsuhide" (in Japanese). Yoshikawa Kōbunkan. OCLC 42626467. 

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