Ishida Mitsunari

Ishida-Mitsunari

Ishida Mitsunari (石田 三成) (Japanese: 石田 三成; September 1559 - November 6, 1600) was a Japanese military man who led the faction opposing Tokugawa Ieyasu at the Battle of Sekigahara.

Ishida Mitsunari The first campaigns

Ishida Mitsunari was born in Ōmi province in 1559, the son of Ishida Masatsugu, a samurai who fulfilled logistical duties and served as a doctor under the Azai family.

Mitsunari was the third son, after Yajirou (firstborn who died at an early age) and Masazumi; he may also have had a sister and a half-brother, whom his father had had from a concubine.

In 1573, when General Toyotomi Hideyoshi (then called Hashiba) defeated the Asai family, Masatsugu retired to private life. Mitsunari was soon noticed by the new lord for his calculating skills and dexterity in the tea ceremony (a legend born in the early Edo period wants him a Buddhist monk, but this assumption proved unfounded).

Hideyoshi entrusted him with the command of the armories and took him with him in his campaigns until 1580.

Mitsunari meanwhile married and had six children by his wife: a firstborn (1578) and a secondborn (1582) whose names are unknown, Shigeie (1583), Shigenari (1588, adopted Gengo Sugiyama), Tatsuko (1591) and Sakichi (1594), plus another son by a concubine.

When Nobunaga was assassinated, Ishida followed Hideyoshi to the Battle of Yamazaki against Akechi Mitsuhide. Mitsunari also fought at Shizugatake in 1583, the time to which his animosity towards Katō Kiyomasa and Masanori Fukushima probably dates, serving in the front line.

From 1585 he became administrator of the city of Sakai, reforming the financial system and breaking the monopoly of the merchant elite.

In 1587 Hideyoshi entrusted Masazumi Sakai and gave the administration of Hakate to Mitsunari. Ishida participated in the Odawara campaign in 1590 against the Hōjō, with mixed fortunes since he failed to conquer the castle of Oshi.

Ishida Mitsunari Daimyō

Hideyoshi made Mitsunari daimyō in 1591, giving him the province of Ōmi as a fief, along with the castle of Sawayama. Mitsunari wanted as his official Shima Sakon, then ronin, to whom he gave half of his fief. Ishida participated in the Korean campaign as a supervisor of troops.

A friend of Konishi Yukinaga, he attracted the wrath and contempt of Katō, who called him "a civilian mixed up in a suit of armor. Ishida criticized the indolent conduct of Kobayakawa Hideaki, grandson of Taiko, alienating the sympathies of many.

Returned to Japan in 1593, tried to start a peace negotiation with the Chinese army, intervened in the Korean war, but the indifference of Hideyoshi made the negotiations fail.

Returning to Korea in the winter of 1597, he remained there until disaster struck, only to return home in 1598, when it became clear that illness was driving Hideyoshi to his grave.

Ishida was appointed as one of the Go-Bugyō of Japan by the dying Hideyoshi, flanking him with the five regents who would aid the government of the infante Toyotomi Hideyori.

Concerned about Tokugawa Ieyasu's ambitions, Hideyoshi secretly entrusted Mitsunari with the task of watching over Hideyori and his concubine Yodogimi (of whom Mitsunari was rumored to be a lover).

Since Hideyoshi's death at Sekigahara

Hideyoshi died on August 18, 1598, leaving Japan in total uncertainty. The year 1599 passed relatively quietly, with Mitsunari keeping an eye on Ieyasu through his friendship with one of the five regents, Maeda Toshiie. Upon the death of the latter and Mitsunari's entry into the regency council, relations with Ieyasu grew increasingly sour.

They began skirmishes that turned into open warfare in the spring of 1600, although Mitsunari tried to avoid it. Several daimyō joined Ieyasu out of resentment against Mitsunari, who could instead count on the help of feudal lords loyal to the House of Toyotomi.

It is known the episode because of which Hosokawa Tadaoki served the cause of Tokugawa: it seems that Mitsunari wanted to take the wife of the latter, Tamako or Grace according to the Christian name, as a hostage. But the lady preferred to kill herself, as a sign of loyalty to her husband. The dynamics of the incident are still mostly obscure.

The war seemed to smile on the Toyotomi faction, with Mitsunari's victory at Fushimi Castle.

However, within the army, Mitsunari's leadership was repeatedly questioned, especially by Mori Hidemoto, who argued that he had more right to supreme command. So it was that at the battle in the village of Sekigahara fate threw Ishida a nasty blow.

Until noon it seemed that the day was favorable to him, despite the inactivity of the Mōri and Kobayakawa. However, in the early afternoon, Kobayakawa's troops deserted and attacked Ōtani Yoshitsugu, Ishida's allied daimyō and personal friend, from behind.

The Toyotomi's troops soon found themselves surrounded and attacked on several fronts. Shima Sakon died on the field to allow the escape of Mitsunari, who tried to rejoin the troops left at the castle of Sawayama under the command of Masazumi.

However, he arrived too late: the Tokugawa had already laid siege to the castle. The entire family of Mitsunari died there, with the exception of his sons, who were spared by General Ii Naomasa, a loyalist of Ieyasu.

Mitsunari hid for a week in the mountains near Hikone, when he was found by Ii and surrendered almost spontaneously.

Although most of those loyal to Tokugawa Ieyasu wanted him dead, the latter offered him a pardon, which however Mitsunari refused. He also opposed to seppuku, but asked that his sons be spared (which they were).

Ishida was taken to Kyoto along with his two allies Yukinaga Konishi (captured during the Battle of Sekigahara) and Ekei Ankokuji (advisor to the Mōri), to be beheaded.

On the stage of execution Ieyasu offered him a persimmon, but Mitsunari refused because it would have made him sick to his stomach (faithful to Zen philosophy, he acted as if he was not at all about to die). He was beheaded by Masanori Fukushima himself and his body was thrown into the nearby river.

Ishida Mitsunari Considerations

The figure of Ishida has only recently been re-evaluated, as in previous centuries he was always put in a bad light and demonized by Tokugawa propaganda.

It is said that he had a brusque character and that many snubbed him for this but also because of his modest origins. The favors that Hideyoshi extended to him made other daimyō jealous to the extreme, such as Fukushima and Kobayakawa.

It is assumed that Ishida, as a Zen Buddhist, hated Christians, however, among his best friends was Konishi, a famous Catholic daimyō. His figure still remains mostly controversial.

Ishida Mitsunari Outside history

  • He was used by James Clavell as the basis for the character of Ishido Kazunari (albeit with substantial differences) in the novel Shōgun.
  • He also appears in Shiba Ryotaro's novel Sekigahara.
  • Finally, the Battle of Sekigahara serves as the historical backdrop for the Play Station games Kessen and Samurai Warriors, in which Ishida commands one of the two sides.