True Japanese Love Stories: Akechi Mitsuhide and Tsumaki Hiroko
Here we are, on the final Monday of February, aka Valentine’s month! We’ve covered Japanese romance superstitions, Valentine’s Day customs, and also some urban legends related to falling in love. And let me tell you, I had big plans for this month of romance finale. However, due pickiness and sketchy research skills, historical and true Japanese love stories were surprisingly hard to come by. Massan and Rita were an obvious choice, but been there done that! Believe me, no one’s more disappointed than I am, but I don’t plan on giving up quite yet! I’ll be taking on some other romance stories another time, but for now, let’s make do with a complicated man from the 1500sーAkechi Mitsuhide*.
*Surname will be listed first for historical figures. By Western standards Mitsuhide (first name) Akechi (last name).
First of all, who was this Akechi Mitsuhide guy anyway?
Apart from being one of the most historical figures in Japanese history and a popular secondary character in dramas, he was a major game changer in the fate of Japan’s unification. The 1400-1500s are known as the Sengoku (Warring States) period in Japan, and was, as the name implies, a time of battles and political intrigue within and between small kingdoms run by leaders called daimyo. (You can see why this is a popular period to base dramas on.) Oda Nobunaga was an especially ambitious daimyo and had big plans to unify all of Japan. Despite his ruthless rule and military skill, he never saw that plan to fruition. The reason? Cheeky ol’ Akechi Mitsuhide betrayed him and poor Nobunaga died in a fire (either from the fire or by his own hand) at Honno-ji temple in 1582. Why he did this is still unknown, but there are plenty of theories floating about. Mitsuhide himself was killed a couple of weeks later and it was Toyotomi Hideyoshi who finally could make uniting Japan his claim to fame.
That war stuff is great and all, but where’s the love?
In this time of social upheaval, marriages for powerful men were all about making political and military alliances. Even so, ol’ Mitsuhide was known for being a devoted husband to his wife Tsumaki Hiroko (also affectionately known as Hiroko-hime). As with many historical accounts these following anecdotes can (and should!) be taken with a grain of saltーnot to mention “devoted husband” could be considered quite relativeーnonetheless, there did seem to be true affection between the pair:
- When Mitsuhide was engaged to Hiroko, she contracted smallpoxーan often deadly and almost always disfiguring disease. She survived, but given the unsightly pockmarks left on her face from the disease, her father felt too embarrassed to give her away as a bride and exchanged her for a younger, unaffected sister. Mitsuhide discovered the trade (this is where history gets fuzzyーsome say during the marriage ceremony, some say earlier) and gallantly insisted he would only take Hiroko, his originally promised brideーpockmarks and all.Evidently his affection for her wasn’t just skin deep. (Pun intended. Sorrynotsorry.) Awwww.
- Hiroko-hime and Mitsuhide’s life as a married couple seemed to be based on if not mutual affection, then at least mutual respect. Records by Shinto priests show that when Mitsuhide was ill, Hiroko would go to their local shrine pray for him to get betterーand Mitsuhide would do likewise when his wife was unwell.
- Last (and possibly least by modern standards) Mitsuhide was rumored to have never kept any concubinesーa relatively common custom for someone of his eventual position and wealth.
Do you know any true, historical love stories from your own country or the culture you’re living in? I’d love to read about them! (Seriously, the number of dudsーsometimes gross, sometimes just disturbingーI had to sift through deserve a post of their own…They definitely don’t deserve being called true Japanese love stories. T-T)/