Toki wa ima
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Publisher:The Ohio State University
Series/Report no.:The Ohio State University. Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures Honors Theses; 2010
The year 1582 saw the downfall of one of Japan's three great unifiers, Oda Nobunaga (b. 1534) at the hands of his own retainer, Akechi Mitsuhide (1528?-1582), and paved the way for the rise of those generals who filled the power vacuum created at Nobunaga's death, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598) and Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616). The rebellion of Akechi in the so-called Incident at Honnōji (Honnōji no hen 本能時の変) has sparked cultural and historical interest in both Japan and the West for the past four centuries, in part due to the fragmented and difficult to corroborate accounts that have been authored regarding this revolt. Sources contemporary to the Incident at Honnōji give at once vague and intriguing explanations of both the actions of Akechi and his lieutenants and the manner in which their actions were perceived—and perhaps more tantalizingly, lead the reader to few firm conclusions. As one of the most enigmatic events in Japanese history, the Incident at Honnōji is fertile ground for embellishment, political appropriation, storytelling, and popular culture, and bears its fruit in the form of competing theories and tales. This enigma of Honnōji has indeed sparked debate over the exact actions taken by, and the motives of Akechi, and the reader cannot help but feel drawn to investigate the origins of these theories. Upon examination of the primary sources and a representative selection of secondary materials, one finds a hall of mirrors constructed about him as conflicting accounts and interpretations fail to coalesce into a systematic, solid truth about the impetus behind Akechi's assassination of Oda. Honnōji being one of the watershed moments in the history of the feudal period in Japan, it is all the more fascinating that its casus belli is shrouded in mystery. Various writers in both Japanese and English have produced treatises on the Incident at Honnōji. In attempting to outline the theories and suggestions that have been made about its particulars, one must turn a critical eye to each author's research methodology, political or personal background, and to the cultural climate of the day. Beginning with documents produced shortly after Honnōji, and proceeding through the Tokugawa (1603-1868), Meiji (1868-1912), and modern periods, I intend to present a brief analysis of representative works that treat the incident, focusing particularly on tracing the development of each theory or representation and its basis in earlier source materials. Starting with a problematization of the source perhaps most closely contemporary to the Honnōji affair, Ōta Gyūichi’s Shinchō-kō ki (The Chronicle of Lord Nobunaga), I will identify this document as what may be considered the “door left open” for subsequent speculation. Examining Akechi’s renga (linked verse) poetry which may be read as intimating his intent to rebel, I will provide a possible interpretation of his lines, and of their implications. I will then turn to other sources roughly contemporary to the incident, including letters written about Honnōji and Oda by the Jesuit missionary Luis Fróis, and a document written by an Akechi officer who claimed to have been at Honnōji, Honjō Sōemon. Next, I will discuss the most common theories on what motivated Akechi to assassinate his lord, basing my analyses on the commentary and research by such modern Japanese scholars as Takayanagi Mitsutoshi, Kuwata Tadachika, and Taniguchi Katsuhiro. Finally, I will briefly discuss recent adaptations that depict the Honnōji incident and relations between Akechi and Oda, including the 2006 PlayStation 2 title Sengoku Musō 2 (released internationally as “Samurai Warriors 2”), which contains player-controlled reenactments of the interaction between Akechi and Oda, and gives the player the opportunity to take control of both personas in their final confrontation at Honnōji. Commentary on and analysis of the treatments of Akechi and Oda in the 2009 Japan Broadcasting Corporation production Tenchijin (“Virtues of the Peerless Ruler”), a historical fiction drama based on the events of the Sengoku (1467-1573) and Azuchi-Momoyama (1568-1603) periods will round out discussion on modern adaptations. I will aim to explore the motivations and trends behind these myriad stances on the Honnōji affair, and to leave readers with a more comprehensive understanding of the incident through exposition of multiple sources from across Japanese literary and cultural history. Study of the incident serves as a stepping stone to further questions about the nature of how historical works are drafted—what is the difference, if any, between the exegesis of history through prose and through poetry or fiction? Drawing on such authors as Hayden White and Richard Bauman, I will briefly utilize the narrative of Honnōji to illustrate broader points about some of the challenges that writing history poses. While the contemporary historical sources, themselves occasionally conflicted and hard to corroborate, aid the observant and critical reader in attempting to reconstruct the actual circumstances and events related to Honnōji, the modern fictional adaptations of the narrative serve two roles. Naturally, these adaptations serve to entertain—but in doing so, we have a window through which we can view the values and historical contexts of the periods in question. In what light are Akechi’s actions viewed across the flow of Japanese history, in both scholarly and creative contexts? And what trope might Akechi have been assigned in the grand context of Japanese literary figures? Through studying varying accounts of the same event—from historical chronicles to fictional re-creations—we may cultivate a more comprehensive understanding of the Incident at Honnōji as it is perceived over time. As this is a watershed moment that affected the course of Japanese political, military, and cultural history, it is worthwhile to turn a critical eye to the sources that give accounts of its particulars. The mystery surrounding Akechi Mitsuhide’s motivations, the timing of his actions, and the abrupt end to the military rule of Oda Nobunaga are subjects that compel the student of Japan to further study. And in Akechi’s words, toki wa ima—the “time is now”—to turn our attention to the journey he has taken, from Honnōji in the sixteenth century to PlayStation 2 and television in the twenty-first.
William Jefferson Tyler Memorial Prize for Undergraduate Research
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