However Hashiba (later Toyotomi) Hideyoshi, having received word of Akechi’s betrayal, withdrew from a campaign against the Mōri in western Japan to return to the central provinces (中国大返し) and confront Mitsuhide, a lightening campaign that ended in the battle of Yamazaki and the death of Mitsuhide.
This conclusion was quite revelatory for its time, as most history textbooks in Japan emphasise that Mitsuhide was ‘acting alone’, that he bore a grudge against Nobunaga out of some perceived slight, and so his treachery was all the more heinous considering the trust that Nobunaga had shown in him. Mitsuhide was, in other words, justly punished for his betrayal.
In his latest work titled 「本能寺の変 431年目の真実」, Kensaburō explores the premise of his theory a little further in light of recent evidence. As part of that process, Kensaburō explains why it was that the ‘villain’ theory came to be so widely believed and who had a hand in perpetrating it. All evidence, or at least the evidence that Kensaburō chooses to detail in his work, points towards Hashiba Hideyoshi commissioning historical records that lay all of the blame for the incident on Mitsuhide. I’ve translated part of the first chapter of the book, mainly because this is the part that details Hideyoshi’s attempt at historical revisionism, and because it’s a fairly interesting introduction to the subject.
Chapter One “Who was responsible for creating the established myth?”
In the early hours of the 2nd of the 6th month, Tenshō 10 (1582), the temple of Honnōji in Kyoto was surrounded by the forces of Akechi Mitsuhide. After a brief fight, the temple was engulfed in flames, and Oda Nobunaga, who dreamt of one day uniting the nation, met his fate at the age of 49. Mitsuhide’s army then moved on to surround the palatial residence at Nijō which housed Nobunaga’s son and heir, Nobutada. With no means of escape, Nobutada ended his life by his own hand, and thus Mitsuhide brought the ‘Honnōji Incident’ to a successful conclusion. (p.21)
Just 11 days later on the 13th of the 6th month, Mitsuhide fought the battle of Yamazaki against Hashiba Hideyoshi. Mitsuhide was defeated, and it was while he was retreating to his residential castle at Sakamoto in Ōmi province (modern day Shiga prefecture) that Mitsuhide was slain by a person or persons unknown. These then are the predominant details of the Honnōji Incident, and the battle of Yamazaki. (p.21)
While the above information is certainly true, many people share theories and stories concerning both events that are accepted as historical fact. For example, Nobunaga apparently offered some harsh criticism of Mitsuhide’s actions. Incensed by this, Mitsuhide plotted Nobunaga’s downfall. This decision was apparently foretold in a poem written by Mitsuhide, which said that ‘perhaps the time is now, when the rains of the 5th month (Satsuki) are falling’. Mitsuhide was alone in his plan to remove Nobunaga, and did not reveal this to his retainers until immediately before setting out for Honnōji, uttering the words “the enemy is in Honnōji” (敵は本能寺にあり). Hashiba Hideyoshi, who was in camp at Takamatsu in Bichū province at the time, learnt of Nobunaga’s demise, and with tears in his eyes solemnly vowed that he would display his loyalty by cutting down his lord’s killer. (p.22)
Everything that has just been outlined about the Honnōji Incident is an invention. They are no more than fabricated stories included in a war tale written some decades after the Honnōji Incident, during the Edō period (1615-1868).
Why is it that written records of the Honnōji Incident, whether they were written decades or centuries after the events they portray, all say the same thing? Was it because they were closest to the truth?
The reality is that these tales were ‘promoted as the truth’. A certain person, a mere four months after the Honnōji Incident, invented the idea that Mitsuhide held a grudge against Nobunaga and had ambitions of his own to become ruler of the nation. This person also wrote that Mitsuhide acted alone in his conspiracy, and promoted this view to the public. In an age when mass communications and a liberal media were unheard of, whomever held power could create whatever ‘truth’ they wished and this would be accepted as the ‘truth’. War tales in particular would pick up whatever information was available and then use it to expand a story – for example “Mitsuhide became a close confidant of Tokugawa Ieyasu at Azuchi castle which was resented by Nobunaga”, “Mitsuhide was bad mouthed by Nobunaga and physically assaulted by him”, “Mitsuhide was forced to relinquish much of his territory by order of Nobunaga”, “It was Nobunaga’s fault that Mitsuhide’s mother was killed” etc. All of these stories were gradually inflated.
Even today, there are a number of people who continue to attach new theories to the reasons why Nobunaga hated Mitsuhide and why Mitsuhide loathed Nobunaga – there’s even one which says that the reason Nobunaga disliked Mitsuhide was because he (Mitsuhide) was short-sighted. It seems that as long as it’s entertaining then anything goes. (p.22)