Akechi Mitsuhide

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Akechi Mitsuhide
Akechi Mituhide.jpg
An Edo period painting of Akechi Mitsuhide.
Born (1528-03-10)March 10, 1528
Died July 17, 1582(1582-07-17) (aged 54)
Other names Jubei
In this Japanese name, the family name is Akechi.

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. His full name was thus Akechi Jūbei Minamoto-no-Mitsuhide (明智 十兵衛 源の光秀).

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

Early life and rise[edit]

He was born in Tara castle, [Mino Province]-now Gifu Prefecture[2] Mitsuhide is a descendant of Toki-Akechi 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 thousand 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 his guardians under Hosokawa Yusai. Shogun Ashikaga ordered Asakura Yoshikage to be his official protector, an offer which Yoshikage declined. Yoshiaki appealed to Mitsuhide, who suggested Oda Nobunaga instead.[3]

In 1564 Oda Nobunaga sent his sister Oichi no kata to be the bride of Azai Nagamasa which aided him in his 1566 conquest for Mino province, and opened the path to Kyoto. The shogun Yoshiaki, and Mitsuhide arrived at Kyoto, the capital of Japan, converting Hongokuji temple to a temporary palace in November 1568. Oda Nobunaga returned from Kyoto on January 4, 1569. The 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 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 Hatano and the Isshiki of Tango. Mitsuhide also received Kamiyama castle and the Tanba region (550,000 koku).

Incident at Honnoji[edit]

In 1579, Nobunaga captured Yakami Castle from Hatano Hideharu by promising Hideharu peace terms, but Nobunaga betrayed the peace agreement and had Hideharu executed. This reputedly 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 directed at Mitsuhide.

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 temple and eventually set 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 claimed responsibility for his death.

The Battle of Yamazaki[edit]

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, but 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'etat. 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[edit]

No one knows the specific reason that Mitsuhide betrayed Nobunaga, but there are several 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:
    • 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.
    • While staying at Azuchi Castle, Tokugawa Ieyasu complained about the food he was served. Nobunaga responded by throwing Mitsuhide's priceless dinnerware into the garden pond.
  • Nobunaga asked him to - a legend states that Nobunaga asked Mitsuhide to strike him down if he were ever to become too ruthless, and 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 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.
  • Protecting the Imperial Court. One theory supposed Nobunaga may have abolished the Imperial Court in Kyoto, when he no longer needed it. Akechi Mitsuhide, who was before his treason seen as an honorable samurai, and had been a retainer to both Nobunaga and the Ashikaga Shogunate, asked his lord to guarantee the safety and honorific position of the Court, or at least for the Emperor. Nobunaga who was a fearless daredevil and had the habit of not expressing himself very clearly (because of spies and other traitors, he acted this way because his generals knew him the best and were thus able to understand his will) may have allowed uncertainty to persist regarding his project for the Court. Then Mitsuhide doubted Nobunaga, and slew him to protect the Emperor and Japan's History.
  • Dairokuten Mao'ō (Demon King of the Six Heavens, or Mara of the Sixth Heaven of the Desire Realm) was a title bestowed by the shocked people of Japan over Nobunaga's many abuses and tyrannical rule, and he himself used it to mock his opponents. In Buddhist interpretations of Shuten Dōji's tale, the Oni overlord Shuten Dōji was also regarded as the incarnation of Dairokuten Maō, while Emperor Ichijō was considered an avatar of Miroku Bosatsu (Maitreya) and the demon slaying hero Minamoto no Yorimitsu as an avatar of Daiitoku Myōō (Yamantaka). In the fourth generation, a descendant of Raikō, Minamoto-no-Mitsunobu, came to the district of Mino where he took the name of Toki. The Toki clan was his descendant, and Mitsuhide through them, or so he may have believed himself. Thus, combined with various reasons (protecting the Imperial Court, protecting Buddhism, seeking glory and wealth, personal discontent...), Mitsuhide decided to slay the demon king Nobunaga. Coincidentally, Nobunaga burned Hiei-zan the sacred mountain of Buddhism, which was previously the lair of Shuten Dōji, which he fled for Ōe-yama out of his hatred for Buddhism and the monk Saichō who just built his temple there.
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[edit]

See People of the Sengoku period in popular culture.

  • In Sengoku Basara games and anime, he was described as a psychotic, sadist and bloodthirsty warrior armed with scythes. Later, he dons the name Tenkai, but retained his sadistic behavior under the benevolent disguise.
  • Samurai Warriors, a video games created by Koei's Omega Force team.
  • Kessen III, a video games created by Koei.


  1. ^ Kitamra kaden
  2. ^ Miyagi keizu and Kitamra kaden
  3. ^ http://www.samurai-archives.com/mitsuhide.html
  4. ^ http://www.samurai-archives.com/nobunaga.html
  5. ^ http://www.samurai-archives.com/hideyoshi.html
  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. an exceptionally short period of time
  7. ^ "三日天下" [Mikkatenka]. 広辞苑第六版 (Koujien, 6th edition) (in Japanese). 株式会社岩波書店(Iwanami Shoten, Inc.). 2008. 
  8. ^ 三日天下 [Mikkatenka]. 新明解四字熟語時点(Shinmeika Yojijukugo Jiten) (in Japanese). 三省堂(Sanseidō). Retrieved 5 Sep 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Takayanagi, Mitsutoshi (1966), Akechi Mitsuhide (in Japanese), Tōkyō: Yoshikawa Kōbunkan, OCLC 42626467