Who really killed Oda Nobunaga at Honnoji temple in Kyoto on lunar June 2, 1582? The answer, of course, is Akechi Mitsuhide. According to legend, Mitsuhide plotted a rebellion against Nobunaga out of a grudge for Nobunaga’s repeated abuse of him.

On one occasion, Mitsuhide was physically and severely beaten by Nobunaga for a mistake he made while preparing a reception for Tokugawa Ieyasu. On another occasion, he was grabbed by the topknot of his hair and kicked around in front of gathered warriors for opposing Nobunaga’s intended punishment of Saito Toshimitsu, Mitsuhide’s retainer, by death penalty.

Mitsuhide was also disgraced by Nobunaga, who promised to cheat Chosogabe Motochika in Shikoku by spoiling the agreement Mitsuhide negotiated with Motochika so meticulously.

It’s sometimes pointed out that Mitsuhide was a faithful and loyal vassal to Nobunaga, the evidence of which is said to be the existing letters Mitsuhide wrote to his own retainers admonishing them to serve Nobunaga faithfully, whom he himself had served likewise to win today’s glorious status as the second commander in the Nobunaga legion.

But can this be evidence that Mitsuhide was really loyal to Nobunaga, so that the grudge theory has no footing to support Mitsuhide’s treason?

It seems Hashiba Hideyoshi (later Toyotomi Hideyoshi) had complete knowledge of Mitsuhide’s mind inside and out, setting the stage for Mitsuhide to act as he did.

The “Great Chugoku Retreat,” in which Hideyoshi signed a truce with Mori Motonari to end the war in the Chugoku region, as the result of which Hideyoshi could quickly move his army to Kyoto to eliminate the traitor Mitsuhide, seems to prove this conjecture.

Hideyoshi had already built supply routes and stations all the way from Himeji to the battleground at Bitchu Takamatsu for Nobunaga to be able to travel through easily later on, which Hideyoshi’s retreating army used in the Great Chugoku Retreat.

When the news of Nobunaga’s death reached the battleground, Kuroda Kanbei, Hideyoshi’s right-hand man, soothingly whispered in Hideyoshi’s ear that his taking power was near at hand.

It may be safe to say then that Mitsuhide was indeed the perpetrator of Nobunaga’s murder, but that Hideyoshi was the real mastermind and perpetrator behind this enigmatic drama.

Yoshio Shimoji

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

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