In 1560, Ishida Mitsunari was born in Ishida Village, Omi, located in Shiga Prefecture. The path of Mitsunari's destiny intersected with Toyotomi Hideyoshi during military training near Hideyoshi's Nagahama Castle when Mitsunari was just 13 years old. Displaying exceptional service, Mitsunari offered three cups of tea to the thirsty lord.

The first cup, served in a large chawan teacup, contained an unusually generous portion of warm green tea. Hideyoshi found the amount and temperature perfectly satisfying, consuming it all at once. The second cup, served in the same chawan, was slightly hotter and offered in a reduced quantity. Hideyoshi, now at ease, savored this cup more leisurely. The third cup, presented in a smaller bowl and considerably hotter than the previous two, allowed Hideyoshi to enjoy it in a composed manner. Impressed by Mitsunari's skill, Hideyoshi appointed him to his staff, initiating a loyal service that would be duly rewarded.

In 1585, at the age of 25, Mitsunari assumed the role of Jibu-shosuke, one of the two chief commissioners reporting to the administrator overseeing genealogies, marriages, funeral rites, imperial tombs, theaters, and music. Additionally, Mitsunari took charge of diplomatic matters, overseeing the reception of foreigners, with a notable influx of Spanish and Portuguese visitors engaged in trade and proselytizing. Renowned for his mathematical prowess, Mitsunari was entrusted with leading the well-known "sword hunt" initiative launched by Hideyoshi. This initiative aimed to disarm the civilian population, promoting peace and stability.

He received a stipend of 186,000 koku and the castle of Sawayama in Omi. Despite his adept administrative skills, his elevated position as one of the five Bugyo commissioners was not a result of martial merit or heroic deeds; rather, it stemmed from his proficiency in the tea ceremony. This, coupled with his bold and aloof demeanor, led to personal conflicts with other retainers.

Upon Mitsunari's return from accompanying General Ukita Hideie on the Korean campaign, he discovered that his senior retainer status held no sway with the establishment of the Tairo, the Council of Five Elders. This council was formed to govern in place of Hideyoshi’s young son and heir, Hideyori, and was headed by Tokugawa Ieyasu, appointed by Hideyoshi himself. After Toyotomi Hideyoshi's death in 1598, Mitsunari realized that his lord, young Hideyori, was being supplanted by the Tokugawa.

Ieyasu's actions disrupted the peace established by the Toyotomi, leading to the nation's division into two factions, East and West. The culmination of this unrest was the pivotal Battle of Sekigahara on October 21, 1600. Despite having numerical superiority, higher ground, and better strategic positions, the Western forces led by Ishida Mitsunari were defeated. The victor was Tokugawa Ieyasu, compelling Mitsunari to flee towards the end of the seven-hour battle.

In the aftermath of the battle, Tanaka Yoshimasa, once a friend of Mitsunari, received orders from Ieyasu to locate the Western leader. After two days of searching, he apprehended Mitsunari in the village of Furuhashi, just outside of Inokuchi Mura (Toyama Prefecture). Mitsunari had sought refuge in the Hokekyo Sanju-in Temple area, as the head priest had been one of his childhood teachers.

Confronted by an exhausted and frightened Mitsunari, the kind priest inquired, "What is it that you need?" anticipating a response related to food, water, and shelter. However, Mitsunari, as defiant as ever, declared, "Ieyasu's head!" The priest then concealed the fugitive in a rock cave behind the temple. When Tanaka eventually discovered him, Mitsunari still wore the clothes he had donned under his armor during the battle. To Tanaka's relief, his former friend surrendered quietly, handing over the wakizashi presented to him by Hideyoshi as a mark of defeat. Mitsunari, fatigued, wet, cold, and afraid, had not eaten properly for days and was suffering from dysentery. The usually proud and arrogant lord was captured and handed over to the Eastern allies in a pitiable state.

Facing Ieyasu at the ruins of Otsu Castle, Ishida Mitsunari was reproached for causing immense bloodshed. Mitsunari angrily retorted that it was Ieyasu who had initiated the war by turning against the Toyotomi. He further stated that he had resisted the temptation to take his own life because he wanted his death to be an additional burden on Ieyasu.

The trio comprising Ishida Mitsunari, Ankokuji Ekei, and Konishi Yukinaga, once captured, endured public exhibition in Osaka with metal rings around their necks. They were paraded through city streets in a large open crate. Mitsunari was compelled to loudly proclaim his alleged crimes, detailing the troubles he had caused to intensify their humiliation. Subsequently, they faced further public ridicule in Kyoto. On November 6, the trio was executed at Rokujo-ga-hara, the dry riverbed of the Kamo River in Kyoto, and their heads were displayed beside Sanjo Bridge in the city.

Despite his dire circumstances, Mitsunari maintained hope. A notable anecdote recounts that, en route to the execution grounds, he was offered a persimmon but declined, citing concerns about its impact on his digestion. Konishi, his fellow condemned, remarked that considering their imminent execution, digestion was hardly a priority. Mitsunari responded, stating, "As one can never tell how things are going to turn out, one must at all times take care of one's health."

In 1907, Mitsunari's skull was discovered in Kyoto's Sangen-in temple. Dr. Nagayasu Shuichi, former Chief of Engineering at the Tokyo National Research Institute of Police Sciences, used the skull as a base to recreate Mitsunari's facial features in the 1980s. This endeavor was undertaken at the request of Mitsunari's descendant, Mr. Ishida Takayuki. The reconstruction revealed an elongated head and a pronounced defect in Mitsunari's teeth, causing them to bow outward. Dr. Ishida Tetsuro, unrelated to Dr. Nagayasu, later studied the rest of Mitsunari's skeleton at the Kansai Idai Medical University.

See also 

  • Yasuke


    Yasuke, an African page, arrived in Japan in 1579 as the attendant of the Italian Jesuit missionary Alessandro Valignano. Before the arrival of the Englishman William Adams, it is thought that Yasuke was possibly the inaugural non-Japanese samurai, arriving about twenty years earlier.

    Read more …

  • Yamanami Keisuke


    Yamanami Keisuke, the second in command of the Shinsengumi, a special police force during the late Edo period, shocked many when he performed seppuku on March 20, 1865, at the age of 32.

    Read more …

  • Yamamoto Kansuke


    Yamamoto Kansuke, renowned as a samurai strategist and one of Takeda Shingen's esteemed 24 Generals, hailed from the Mikawa region, known for breeding formidable warriors. Despite physical challenges—blindness in one eye, lameness in one leg, and a malformed hand—Kansuke embarked on a warrior's pilgrimage in his twenties. Traveling across the land, he honed his skills in strategy, tactics, castle construction, and warfare, engaging in various swordsmanship schools and forms.

    Read more …

  • Yamaga Soko


    Yamaga Soko was a multifaceted figure in Japanese history, renowned as a strategist, philosopher, and scholar. Later in life, he became a ronin, leaving a significant mark on the understanding of the Tokugawa period samurai.

    Read more …

  • William Adams - Miura Anjin


    William Adams, also known as Miura Anjin, holds the distinction of being one of the few non-Japanese individuals granted samurai status. Born in Gillingham, Kent, England in 1564, Adams embarked on a remarkable journey that led him to become an influential figure in Japanese history.

    Read more …

  • Wakisaka Yasuharu


    Wakisaka Yasuharu held the position of daimyo over Awaji Island before ruling over Ozu in Iyo Province. His significance in the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 cannot be overstated.

    Read more …

  • Ukita Hideie


    Ukita Hideie was born as the second son of Ukita Naoie, the ruler of Okayama Castle. Tragically, Hideie's father passed away when he was just nine years old, thrusting him into the responsibilities of leading the castle, clan, and domain. Prior to his father's demise, the Ukita clan had aligned with Oda Nobunaga. After Nobunaga's assassination during the Honno-ji Incident, Hideie remained loyal to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, whose ties were further solidified through marriage.

    Read more …

  • Uesugi Kenshin


    Uesugi Kenshin stands out as one of the most formidable daimyo of the Sengoku period, presenting the sole substantial challenge to Oda Nobunaga's quest for dominance.

    Read more …