E60E War and Betrayal – Honnō-ji Incident
Show Notes for episode 60E of our Podcast – War and Betrayal – Honnō-ji Incident
We jump to late autumn when Yasuke is in attendance to Nobunaga. A messanger arrives at Azuchi castle bringing a message from General Hideyoshi. His siege at Tottori Castle against the Mori (the Clan who helped Yasuke and the Jesuits get through the ocean pirate territory) was not going as planned and so Nobunaga dispatched his top Generals Akechi Mitsuhide and Takayama Ukon to go and reinforce Hideyoshi.
But Yasuke for now was to remain on standby with the other Samurai. Nobunaga’s armies were expanding and taking over his enemies as the months rolled by, but still Yasuke remained cloistered and bound to Azuchi Castle.
News finally arrived saying the Tottori siege has once more turned in favour of Nobunaga’s troops in by early November. Yasuke was to head south for Iga with Nobunaga and the Samurai pages. War was calling, though they did arrive a little late.
Now we have talked of the Iga clan briefly before in passing, the clan known for their Ninja prowess.
And when Yasuke and the others arrived to find their enemies already dead. Iga Province was engulfed in flames, after only a week of Nobunaga’s forces arriving in Iga. The battle missed they inspected the area, the men in charge here clamering to give a better banquet than the last for their visiting Lord and his retinue.
But one day on inspection, Yasuke looking down at one of the headless corpses of the felled Iga suddenly found the world exploding around him. Men were obliterated in the explosion, Yasuke rising to find the what he had thought as corpses now rising from the dead. The ninja had tricked them, lying in wait, and so they attacked. Fighting through the smoke, Yasuke made his way to Nobunaga and his son Nobukatsu and together they fought off the remaining Ninja until none were left.
And so after this short battle, they all returned to Azuchi Castle.
During the winter Nobunaga visited one of the Jesuit seminaries just outside his castle, a surprise visit to see what they were up to. And so they met Father Organtino again (who we have previously mentioned) and gave them a tour. They were shown around and when the time for Mass came Nobunaga excused himself to return to his castle, with Yasuke at the invitation of Organtino staying for the service before returning home himself.
New Year finally came, with Lords flocking to the castle to pay their respects, the whole castle was to be cleaned, New Year meant a great cleaning of every area and home, Yasuke’s included.
A celebration was planned for the first day of the New Year. A tour of the castle was to be given, included a golden pavilion Nobunaga had had built for the Imperial Family to visit. A most impressive feat when the Imperial Family had never visited anywhere outside of Kyoto in his life. But during the tour, there was a landslide. Nobunaga and Yasuke were safe at the front of the procession, but at the back 50 plus men went down with the landslide. Many having to be sent for healing. It was a bad start to the new year.
Two weeks into the New Year the traditional bonfire commenced with Nobuanaga’s own twist added in. Another horse event. Yasuke with the Samurai pages were the first to enter into the arena, the Matsubara horse ground constructed close by to the Jesuit seminary. It is nice to think that perhaps Yasuke took more of a part in this event unlike the previous now that he had spent much more time on horseback due to being a part of Nobunaga’s retinue.
By March 1582 war came again, this time from the Northern Takeda Clan. The Clan and its territories was disintegrating, and after one of the loyal Takeda retainers defected to the Oda Clan, Nobunaga saw it as time to send his son Nobutada there to crush them once and for all.
For now Yasuke remained at the castle again, but all those from the North who defied the Oda. Well, Yasuke did get to see them. Their severed heads displayed below Azuchi castle for all to see. Each labelled with who they were, hair combed to look nice, rouge added to cheeks to give them colour. Once the heads spoiled they were carted off and burned. Traditionally they would have been sent back to their family, but in this instance the distance was too great.
And so on March 28th, 1582 Yasuke finally left Azuchi castle once more with Nobunaga, heading nothing to join the war against the Takeda. One more final push to destroy those that remained, even though most had already fallen under the attack of Nobunaga’s son.
The further north they went, the colder it became, until snow lay all around them. Yasuke and the rest of the army were in a place called Iida when the final ruler of the Takeda, Katsuyori was revealed to them to have been defeated. His head, and his sons Nobukatsu arriving in an ornate box. (It should be said here that Nobukatsu was technically Nobunaga’s grandson, via adoption).
They continued north until they passed the castle of Takatō, eventually reaching a town known as Suwa where they halted. Only one building remained which Nobunaga made his headquarters, with his first order to disposed of all the dead laying in the streets of the town. Yasuke and everyone remained here for 2 weeks, the local lords who had turned against the old leaders flocking here to give their respects over to Nobunaga.
Rumours began to swirl as they remained in Suwa, that Yasuke may have received a lordship of his own. In fact, the Jesuit Mexia reported a rumours from the time at Azuchi that ‘Nobunaga would make him a Tono,’ a lord of his own. Over the days Nobunaga gave out lands and power to his new followers, promoting other people he had known for years. But for Yasuke, no new title of power was given over to him.
And so, with work against the Takeda all but finished now. Nobunaga decided he wanted a holiday. He sent his armies home, and keeping only a few hundred men, including Yasuke they headed back south to Mount Fuji for Nobunaga’s holiday. This area was under the authority of Tokugawa Ieyasu and he would ensure Nobunaga had the best vacation he had ever had. Every night Nobunaga stayed at a newly constructed pavilion with teahouse included.
But sadly the tea house was too small for Yasuke, and so he often ate elsewhere.
As the days passed and they left Fuji, they made their way to Hitoana, a cave where it is said the goddess of Mount Fuji lived. Here another pavilion awaited them and then Ieyasu told them a tale of the cave.
The Story was known as Fuji no hitoana sōshi 富士の人穴草子, The Tale of the Fuji Cave and I manage to find a journal telling its tale online. So I will keep that for a future episode, perhaps even the bonus or main episode to follow on from our tale of Yasuke. But let us just say it is a story about a Samurai who ventures on down to hell.
And so eventually the holiday for Nobunaga, Yasuke and his men finally drew to its inevitably close after journeying to the coast, and they made their way back to Azuchi Castle.
He tasked Akechi Mitsuhide, one of his trusted generals, upon their return to gather and prepare for a 3 day banquet but just before Tokugawa Ieyasu arrived, Nobunaga had all the food thrown away, telling Akechi it was unfit. And so another meal had to be prepared, much to the embarrassment to Akechi.
Nobunaga’s rage was quickly forgotten after receiving word again regarding the Mori Clan and Tottori castle, they had prepared one last counter attack against Nobunaga’s general Hideyoshi. And so Nobunaga tasked Akechi to return to his castle to prepare for war again.
Nobunaga, Yasuke and 30 others left for Kyoto, to spend the night at Honnō-ji Temple before heading to besiege the Mori Clan again.
But this night, most of them would die, in what would become known as the Honnō-ji Incident. It was June 1st, 1582, and as the Hour of the Tiger arrived. Yasuke and the others were attacked in Honnō-ji temple. They had been betrayed. The humiliated general Akechi Mitsuhide had brought his armies to bring an end to Nobunaga. Yasuke ran to his lord finding him and Mori Ranmaru in a secluded courtyard behind his quarters. Gun fire broke out all around them, Yasuke holding onto Nobunaga’s sword until he called for it. Nobunaga fought with bow until it snapped, and then he asked Yasuke for his sword.
It was time for Yasuke to fight side by side with his Lord. Now don’t forget Nobunaga had brought 30 men with him, Akechi had brought several thousand. It was a battle they could not win. They fought, no doubt Yasuke losing track of how many he had killed, but there was no end to Akechi’s forces.
They had retreated inside, and it had helped to keep the men at bay. This room they could defend, at least for now. Nobunaga has taken a spear to the shoulder, and who knows what injuries Yasuke has sustained. The temple was set a light by Akechi’s men, and Nobunaga took an arrow into his leg. By now there were less than ten of his men left. Nobunaga ordered all to hold as long as they could, so it would give him time to commit seppuku, ritual suicide. He asked Yasuke and Ranmaru to remain with him for this act.
He placed the sword to his belly, instructing Yasuke that his head and sword was to be taken to his son Nobutada, it could not fall to the enemy. Nobunaga’s last ever order was to Yasuke, and to him alone.
Nobunaga carried out seppuku, Ranmaru finishing it by slicing of the Lords head, before he himself committed seppuku, this time the act of beheading falling to Yasuke. The head of Nobunaga bundled up, and his Lords sword in hand, it was time for him to leave. Yasuke fought his way out and emerged out of the burning temple. Yasuke ran towards Nijo Castle where Nobutada resided, and gaining entry he presented the head to him.
But Nijo Castle would soon fall as Yasuke looked on. Nobutada soon committing seppuku himself. His head and that of his fathers buried under a walkway to then be devoured in flame. Akechi’s forces broke in, Yasuke fought until he was brought down by 4 men, all holding him down with all their strength. Another samurai demanded he surrender his sword and his did so, but they did not kill him. They dragged him out of Nijo into the streets of Kyoto for an audience with Akechi.
Akechi looked at him stating ‘this man is not Japanese and has no honour; otherwise, he would already be dead.’ And so he demanded his retainer take the ‘black beast’ as he called him to the Temple of the Southern Barbarians. The same church Yasuke had been in the day before he had come into the service of Nobunaga.
In the mission his wounds were cared for, Father Frois, the interpreter who first welcomed Yasuke here, pressing him for news on what the hell had just happened. Two days later Akechi’s forces lay waste to Azuchi, burning the castle and everything down’ Yasuke’s home included.
This coup was not embraced by the people, Nobunaga had been brining peace to the country that hadn’t been seen in 100 years. And it was only a week later that Akechi Mitsuhide was killed, speared by nothing more than a bandit on the road side.
Months passed, Yasuke still at the mission. Still technically a Samurai, but one with no master. A ronin. No-one was asking for him as the dealt with the fallout from this coup, Nobunaga’s successor finally being chosen. His 2 year old grandson. But of course, he held no power. Power now would be held by Hideyoshi, Nobunaga’s most trusted general when he was alive. Eventually Yasuke was sent back to where he started, the port city of Nagasaki.
And after the autumn of 1582 we don’t really know what became of Yasuke.
There are stories here and there, stories of African’s in Japan that may or may not be him.
But I feel they are for another day, when we have taken in the story of Yasuke we have been telling.
I don’t want to blur the lines of what we know was Yasuke and what only may have been him.
So they will come in the future. And episode for all the men who may or may not have been this great man.
Today we have a poem from Ōshikochi Mitsune, a waka poet from the Heian Period.
The poem comes from a book dating to 1908 where they call his poem ‘The Quest.’ So far we only have the English and we will continue to research and try to find the Japanese. We hope you enjoy the poem.
Ye who would leave the fretting world, and go
Far up among the Hills to seek release
From Sorrow ‘mid the Silence and the Snow,
What will ye do it there ye find no Peace?
Header Image: Meiji Era Print of the Honnō-ji Incident.
- Lockley, T & Girard, G. (2019) African Samurai: The True Story of Yasuke, a Legenedary Black Warrior in Feudal Japan. Tokyo: Tuttle-Mori Angency Inc.
- R. Keller Kimbrough. (2006) Japanese Journal of Religious Studies [Online only: 1–22] Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture.
- Shotaro, K. & Peake, C.M.A (1908) “Sword and blossom poems from the Japanese. Volume III.” Tokyo: T. Hasegawa.
You can listen to the full episode over on Anchor here: Japan Archives, or wherever you listen to Podcasts.
Be sure to check out Heather’s blog on lifes little adventures here: HeatherOverYonder.