Honnō-ji Incident

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Siege of Kyoto
Part of the Sengoku period
Honnoj.jpg
Incident at Honnō-ji, Meiji era print
Date June 1582
Location Honnō-ji temple and Nijo Palace, Kyoto, Japan
Result Akechi victory; Oda Nobunaga and Oda Nobutada commit suicide
Belligerents
Oda forces under Akechi Mitsuhide's command Inhabitants and garrison of Honnō-ji, courtiers, merchants, artists, and servants of Oda Nobunaga
Commanders and leaders
Akechi Mitsuhide
Akechi Hidemitsu
Oda Nobunaga
Oda Nobutada
Strength
A massive amount of Akechi troops. Nobunaga, Nobutada, Mori Ranmaru, and a handful of other Nobunaga's retainers[1]small garrison of Kyoto
Casualties and losses
Unknown, but not excessive. Oda Nobunaga, Mori Ranmaru, Oda Nobutada, and many others

The Honnō-ji Incident (本能寺の変 Honnō-ji no Hen?) refers to the forced suicide on June 21, 1582 of Japanese daimyo Oda Nobunaga at the hands of his samurai general Akechi Mitsuhide. This occurred in Honnō-ji, a temple in Kyoto, ending Nobunaga's quest to consolidate centralized power in Japan under his authority.

Context[edit]

Oda Nobunaga was at the height of his power, having destroyed the Takeda family earlier that year. He had central Japan firmly under his control, and his only rivals were the Mōri clan, the Uesugi clan, and the Late Hōjō clan, each weakened by internal affairs. After the death of Mōri Motonari, his grandson, Mōri Terumoto, only strived to maintain the status quo, aided by his two uncles, as per Motonari's will. Hōjō Ujiyasu, a renowned strategist and domestic manager, had also died, leaving his less prominent son Ujimasa in place. Finally, the death of Uesugi Kenshin, arguably Sengoku period's most formidable general, left the Uesugi clan, devastated also by an internal conflict between his two adopted sons, weaker than before.

It was at this point that Oda Nobunaga began sending his generals aggressively into all directions to continue his military expansion. He ordered Hashiba Hideyoshi to attack the Mori clan; Niwa Nagahide to prepare for an invasion of Shikoku; Takigawa Kazumasu to watch the Hōjō clan from Kozuke province and Shinano province; and Shibata Katsuie to invade Echigo province, the home domain of the Uesugi clan.

At the same time, Nobunaga also invited his ally, Tokugawa Ieyasu to tour the Kansai region in celebration of the demise of the Takeda clan. Around this time, Nobunaga received a request for reinforcements from Hashiba Hideyoshi, whose forces were stuck at the Siege of Takamatsu. Nobunaga then parted way with Ieyasu, who went on to tour the rest of Kansai while Nobunaga himself made preparations to aid Hashiba in the frontline. He ordered Akechi Mitsuhide also to go to Hideyoshi's aid, and travelled to Honnō-ji, his usual resting place when he stopped by in Kyoto. The only people he had around him were court officials, merchants, upper-class artists, and dozens of servants.

Akechi's treachery[edit]

Upon receiving the order, Mitsuhide returned to Sakamoto Castle and moved to his base in Tamba province. Around this time, he had a session of Renga with several prominent poets, where he made clear his intentions to rebel.

Mitsuhide saw an opportunity to act, when not only was Nobunaga resting in Honnō-ji and unprepared for an attack, but all the other major daimyo and the bulk of Nobunaga's army were occupied in other parts of the country.

Mitsuhide led his army toward Kyoto, claiming that Nobunaga wanted to show a procession. It was not the first time that Nobunaga had demonstrated his modernized and well-equipped troops in Kyoto, so this excuse was not doubted. Finally, when getting near to Honnō-ji, Mitsuhide announced, "The enemy awaits at Honnō-ji!" (敵は本能寺にあり Teki wa Honnō-ji ni ari!?).

Before dawn, the Akechi army had Honnō-ji surrounded in a coup. Nobunaga and his servants and bodyguards resisted, but they realized it was futile against the overwhelming numbers of Akechi troops. Nobunaga committed suicide, reportedly his last words were, "Ran, don't let them come in..." (Referring to his young page, Mori Ranmaru who set the temple on fire as Nobunaga requested so that no one would be able to get his head). Ranmaru then followed suit. His loyalty and devotion makes him a revered figure in history. Nobunaga's remains were not found, a fact often speculated about by writers and historians.

After capturing Honnō-ji, Mitsuhide attacked Nobutada, eldest son and heir of Nobunaga. Nobutada committed suicide.

After trying to persuade Oda vassals in the vicinity to recognize him as the new master of former Oda territories, Akechi entered Azuchi Castle and began sending messages to the imperial court to boost his position and force the court to recognize him as well.

Reasons for the coup[edit]

Akechi Mitsuhide's reasons for the coup are a mystery that has been a source of controversy and speculation. Although there have been several theories, the most common ones maintain that Mitsuhide bore a personal grudge, acted out of fear, had the ambition to take over Japan, was simply acting to protect the imperial court whose authority was not respected by Nobunaga, or was trying to remove the iconoclastic revolutionary. Many think it was a combination of at least some of the above assumed reasons.

When Nobunaga invited Tokugawa Ieyasu over to Azuchi Castle, Akechi was the official in charge of catering to the needs of Ieyasu's group. Subsequently, he was removed from this post for some reason. One story spoke of Nobunaga yelling at him in front of the guests for serving rotten fish.

Another story said that when Nobunaga gave Akechi the order to assist Hashiba Hideyoshi, it was somehow hinted that Akechi would lose his current territories and would have to fight for land which was not even under Oda control yet. As Nobunaga had sent two senior retainers under him, Sakuma Nobumori and Hayashi Hidesada, into exile for poor performance, Akechi might have thought that he could suffer a similar fate. Akechi was already in his early fifties, and some believe he might have felt insecure about such a grim future.

Furthermore, when invading Tamba province, Akechi Mitsuhide supposedly sent his mother as a hostage into the hostile Yagami Castle to convince the Hatano clan to surrender. Nobunaga, however, had the Hatano brothers executed, an act that caused former Hatano retainers to kill Akechi's mother. Akechi Mitsuhide felt humiliated and depressed by this and eventually decided to kill his master. This story, however, only began to circulate during the Edo period, and is of dubious historical origin.

Luís Fróis wrote that Mitsuhide liked to use treachery and diversion as his strategy. He also suggested daimyos disliked Mitsuhide because he did not belong to the Fudai clan which had served his master's clan for a long time. Many books said Nobunaga insulted and kicked, or even forced Mitsuhide to drink sake at a party, even though he was not a heavy drinker.

Whatever the reason, before Akechi began his march toward Kyoto, he held a renga session with several prominent poets. One line he said was as follows:

Toki wa ima, ame ga shitashiru satsukikana. (時は今 雨がした滴る皐月かな)

Literally, it translates to, "The time is now, the fifth month when the rain falls." However, there are several homonyms in the line, such that it could be taken as a double entendre. An alternate meaning, without changing any of the pronunciations, would be: 土岐は今 天が下治る 皐月かな. In this case, the word Toki, which means "time" in the first version, sounds identical to Akechi's ancestral family name, "Toki". The whole phrase could be construed as "Toki [clan] shall now rule the realm under the sky".

After the incident[edit]

Quickly making peace with the Mōri clan, Hideyoshi returned from the Chūgoku region within ten days. He quickly absorbed remnants of Nobunaga's army along the way, and met up with Niwa Nagahide and Oda Nobutaka in Sakai. Marching toward Kyoto, he defeated Mitsuhide at the Battle of Yamazaki, and Mitsuhide himself was killed while fleeing back to his castle.

Ieyasu with the help of his retainer and ninja leader Hattori Hanzō, at first touring Sakai, fled through several provinces and crossed the mountains of Iga, finally reaching the shore in Ise. He returned to his home Mikawa province by sea, and it took him so long that by the time he consolidated his position, Hideyoshi had already had most of Nobunaga's territories under firm control.

Takigawa Kazumasu suddenly faced the assault of the Hōjō clan and lost most of his land there, a defeat that cost him his previous prestige in the Oda clan.

Shibata Katsuie and his forces in the north were bogged down by an Uesugi counterattack in Echizen province, and remained unable to act for quite a while. He would later fall in the Battle of Shizugatake against Hideyoshi a year later.

The fact that no one else had the chance, resources, or ability to act decisively ensured Hashiba Hideyoshi's supremacy and spiritual inheritance of Oda Nobunaga's legacy.

Popular culture[edit]

  • Incident at Honnō-ji is one of the key stages in the Samurai Warriors video game series and Onimusha 3: Demon Siege. In the former game, it is one of the turning points of the game with one of its associated cutscenes appearing during the story modes of many characters not present at the battle and is the climax of Nobunaga's story. In Nobunaga's Story, in Samurai Warriors 3 Nobunaga defeats Mitsuhide in combat, before talking to him about how the world must not be allowed to stagnate. He then forgives Mitsuhide and walks into the surrounding flames, assumedly dying.
  • Kamenashi Kazuya (member of KAT-TUN) has a solo song named 1582. The song allegedly refers to Oda Nobunaga and the incident at Honnō-ji. Oda Nobunaga is also Kamenashi's favourite historical figure.
  • In the manga Flame of Recca Chapter 328, Kurei, the head of the Hokage ninja, was the person who set the temple ablaze using his flames and who thereafter killed Oda Nobunaga in revenge for his annihilation of the Hokage ninja clan
  • In Sengoku Basara, Mitsuhide betrays Nobunaga by taking his own soldiers against his former master, although too late.The soldiers,loyal to Oda,burns the Honno-ji with flaming arrows,while Nobunaga stayed in Azuchi,just as he planned.He was killed by Katakura who pins him on the burning house with his own scythe.
  • Honnō-ji has also been referenced in anime. In episode 12 of the anime Nobunagun, The main character remarks "This is your Honnō-ji" before dispatching their enemy.
  • In the anime Kill La Kill, most of the action occurs at "Honnouji Academy", which was given the name because the founder and student head planned to betray her mother there.
  • The Honnō-ji Incident is mentioned in the 6th episode of the anime Nobunaga Concerto. While passing in front of the temple, the main character mentions that he remembers Nobunaga will be killed at the Honnō-ji temple.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Naramoto, pp. 296-305

References[edit]

  • Naramoto Tatsuya (1994). Nihon no Kassen. Tokyo: Shufu to Seikatsusha.