Saito Toshimitsu (斎藤利三)

Toshimitsu SAITO was a warlord who lived from the Sengoku period (Period of Warring States) of Japanese history until the Azuchi-Momoyama period. He was one of the five shukuro (consular dignitaries of the samurai class) of Mitsuhide AKECHI.

Brief Personal History

Toshimitsu SAITO is famous for having been the chief retainer of Nobunaga ODA's vassal Mitsuhide AKECHI, who ruled Owari Province.

His family was descended from the Saito clan of Mino Province, which was headed by Dosan SAITO at the time he was born. His father was Toshikata SAITO, and his mother was a daughter of Chikakazu NINAGAWA (蜷川親順). Another version holds that his mother was a younger sister or niece of Mitsuhide AKECHI; however, this is biologically impossible in light of the age difference between Mitsuhide (born in 1528) and Toshimitsu (born in 1534). Notwithstanding the above, although the view that Mitsuhide AKECHI was born in 1528 is the prevailing, not the definitive view, and there is the possibility that he might have been born earlier. In addition, because it is biologically possible to have an elder nephew/niece, the version maintaining that Toshimitsu's mother was Mitsuhide's niece cannot be denied outright. Toshimitsu's mother remarried, to Mitsumasa ISHIGAI, and bore a daughter, Nana, who was to become the lawful wife of Motochika CHOSOKABE.

Toshimitsu's first lawful wife was a daughter of Dosan SAITO, and his second lawful wife was a daughter of Ittetsu INABA. He had two sons: Toshimune SAITO and Mitsunaka SAITO. His daughter, Fuku, who later assumed the name of Kasuga no Tsubone, was adopted by Shigemichi INABA, and later served as a wet nurse for Iemitsu TOKUGAWA, who was to become the third shogun of the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun). Toshimitsu was commonly known as Kuranosuke SAITO.


Toshimitsu SAITO was born in 1534 as the second son of Toshikata SAITO.

He first entered into the service of Yoshitatsu SAITO, and then Ittetsu INABA. It is said, however, that he quarreled and parted ways with Ittetsu INABA in 1580, which resulted in him going into the service of Mitsuhide AKECHI, owing to their shared relationship of kinship. He was taken into Mitsuhide's confidence and held, along with Hidemitsu AKECHI, the office of leading chief retainer of the Akechi clan. After Mitsuhide's subjugation of Tanba, Toshimitsu was given a fief of 10 thousand koku, and became the lord of Kuroi-jo Castle in Tanba Province.

In 1582, Mitsuhide hatched a plot against Nobunaga ODA, which resulted in the Honno-ji Incident; he revealed his plot only to Hidemitsu and Toshimitsu. It is said that Hidemitsu was in favor of the plot but that Toshimitsu was opposed, considering it too reckless. It is assumed, however, that he could not disobey the order of his lord, and was in the end compelled to take part in the Honno-ji Incident as one of the principle co-conspirators.

After succesfuly doing away with Nobunaga at Honno-ji Temple, he took an active role in the Battle of Yamazaki, which was fought against Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI upon his return from the Chugoku region; however, his forces were routed and he fled. Hideyoshi had him pursued, and was eventually arrested at Katata in Omi Province, and then beheaded at Rokujogawara (the execution ground located on the bank of the Kamo-gawa River). He died at the age of 49. Some say that he was crucified.

It is said that his head and body, along with Mitsuhide's, were gibbeted at Honno-ji Temple. Toshimitsu's head was subsequently buried by a painter named Yusho KAIHOKU, within the precints of the Shinsho Gokuraku-ji Temple located in Jodojishinnyo-cho of Sakyo Ward in Kyoto City, as it is known today.

Personal Profile and Anecdotes

Although Toshimitsu served Mitsuhide AKECHI for a period of no longer than about two years, he held a more important position than other retainers who had been in the service of Mitsuhide for longer. This indicates that Toshimitsu SAITO held such an important position not solely due to his kinship with Mitsuhide AKECHI, but because he had demonstrated the superior capabilities of a warlord.

He is depicted as a loyal retainer of Mitsuhide AKECHI in contemporary historical novels, and many people therefore assume that he actively supported the plot to attack Nobunaga ODA at Honno-ji Temple. There are those, however, who say that he opposed that plot. That view is grounded on the fact that Toshimitsu foresaw that, should the plot be set into action, Mitsuhide AKECHI would earn his place as a disloyal and immoral vassal in history, and that even if Mitsuhide succeeded in eliminating Nobunaga ODA, other feudal lords would not approve of the methods he employed, and would not offer him their support.

When Toshimitsu left the Inaba clan for the Akechi clan, Ittetsu INABA requested that Nobunaga ODA intervene and have him returned to the service of the Inaba clan, a suggestion with wich Nobunaga was in agreement, and therefore recommended that Toshimitsu be returned to the service of the Inaba clan.
It is said, however, that Mitsuhide AKECHI rejected Nobunaga's recommendation, declaring, 'If I can't retain men of such calbier as to be persistently wanted by other lord's, I won't be capable of rendering distinguished service to my Lord (i.e., Nobunaga ODA).'