In every culture, there are items that have become quite famous. They all become famous for many reasons. They were owned by someone famous, became destroyed or lost, or are thought to have existed and thus becoming legends or myths. When it comes to the Sengoku Jidai, there is one item that has carried an aura of mystery surrounding its fate, and that is none other than Hiragumo.
Hiragumo is an iron tea kettle that resides at the Hamanako Kanzanji Art Museum in Hamamatsu, Japan.(1) Its origins are unknown. No one is certain when it was made or who made it. Its name Hiragumo (kanji: 平蜘蛛) means “Flat Spider”, which was given to it for obvious reasons. The design on the top of the kettle represented a flat spider, and it was said to have crawled when the water in the kettle reached its boiling point.(2) What is certain about this tea kettle, is that it was owned by Matsunaga Hisahide.
Matsunaga was a tea enthusiast and collected many priceless tea pieces, his favorite being Hiragumo. Another tea enthusiast was Oda Nobunaga, who Matsunaga served briefly after Nobunaga conquered the capital in 1568.(3) These men were always at odds, especially since Matsunaga reluctantly served under Nobunaga. It comes to no surprise, then, that Matsunaga Hisahide rebelled against him in November 1577 at Shigisan Castle. Nobunaga did not just want Matsunaga’s head, he also wanted his prized Hiragumo as well. This is where Hiragumo’s fate becomes hazy.
There are three different stories that surround Hiragumo’s fate. The first is one of the more popular ones and has been depicted in many woodblock paintings (shown above). As a last act of defiance against Nobunaga, Matsunaga destroys Hiragumo by throwing the tea kettle against the wall, thus shattering the kettle. After destroying the kettle, Matsunaga committed seppuku.(4)
While it is mainly a theory, the fact that the tea kettle is at the Hamanako Kanzanji Art Museum makes one ponder another possibility. According to the item’s description at the museum, it is said that the kettle was never destroyed, dug out of the ruins of Shigisan and was cherished by Nobunaga until his death in 1582.(5)
The third story is the most popular, which has become so popular that it has made its way into pop culture. It is the most dramatic of all the stories. Legend states that Matsunaga Hisahide actually filled Hiragumo with gunpowder and killed himself via explosion from the kettle, thus destroying the two things that Oda Nobunaga desired: Matsunaga’s head and Hiragumo.(6) This is the story that lives on today.
Hiragumo and Matsunaga Hisahide in Video Games
The Sengoku Jidai has made its way into Japanese pop culture in recent years, and the tale of Hiragumo has become popularized because of it. Matsunaga Hisahide has gained popularity from video games mostly, the most popular being the recently released Nioh and the Sengoku Musou series (both produced by Koei Tecmo) and the Sengoku BASARA series (produced by Capcom). Each pay homage to Hiragumo’s explosive fate.
Nioh is the newest game on the list, being released only in Feburary 2017 exclusively for the PlayStation 4. This game take place in a fictionalized version of the Sengoku Jidai, and it is based off an unfinished Akira Kurosawa script.(7) Matsunaga Hisahide (shown above) is a minor character in the game, and his in-game biography even states that he blew himself up with Hiragumo. Hiragumo is also in the game as fragments. There are six fragments to collect which happen to be in-game trophies that the player can earn.(8)
Sengoku Musou 4 (2014)
Sengoku Musou, or Samurai Warriors in the West, is a game that focuses more on the events of the Sengoku Jidai, and is more historically correct than the other two games listed in this article. While the game series started off by taking some historical liberties (altering events for character storylines), this has become less of an issue with the latest installments. When it comes to Matsunaga Hisahide and Hiragumo, their focus on the story begins in Sengoku Musou 2 (Samurai Warriors 2), which was released in 2006. In this game, Matsunaga is not a playable character, but rather a bodyguard that a single player can equip to aid them in battle. It is interesting to note that Matsunaga Hisahide is a fire ninja, meaning that he uses bombs as his weapon.(9)
Matsunaga Hisahide becomes a playable character in Sengoku Musuo 4 (Samurai Warriors 4) which was released in 2014, and Hiragumo is at his side. The kettle is depicted in the official artwork for the character (shown above), and is even a character item, which allows the player to trigger explosions for a short time in battle.(10) The star moment for Hiragumo, however, is the cutscene after the Siege at Shigisan Castle.
In this scene, Oda Nobunaga and Akechi Mitsuhide find Matsunaga sitting in the middle of a room with Hiragumo in his lap. After words are exchanged, Matsunaga lifts the lid off Hiragumo, takes a nearby candle and lights the explosives inside, thus killing him and destroying Hiragumo.(11)
Sengoku BASARA 3: Utage (2011)
Sengoku BASARA is the game that made Matsunaga Hisahide extremely popular. The game is similar to Sengoku Musou but this game does not follow history as much. Some of the major events still have some historical significance, but the historical facts can be found in the finer details of the game. This is apparent with Matsunaga Hisahide.
Matsunaga is introduced as a non-playable character in Sengoku BASARA 2: Heroes which was released in 2007. After high demand from the fans, he finally became a playable character in Sengoku BASARA 3: Utage, released in 2011. When it comes to the acknowledgement of the legend of Hiragumo, the first signs can be seen in his gameplay. Matsunaga Hisahide uses gunpowder with his attacks, causing explosions just by snapping his fingers. There is also how he dies when a player defeats him in battle. He stumbles back, slowly raises an arm, snaps his fingers, and then disappears in a fiery explosion. Lastly, players do get to see the kettle when they play his storyline in Utage, however, it has been destroyed for there is only a shard left. Matsunaga Hisahide is on a mission to kill Oda Nobunaga for destroying Hiragumo.(12)
It is impossible to know what really happened to Hiragumo. As stated before, no one knows when the kettle was created, so it has become impossible to date. For all we know, the tea kettle that sits behind glass in a museum in Japan could just be a replica. Hiragumo’s fate is uncertain, but the memory of both the kettle and Matsunaga Hisahide live on together in Japanese pop culture today.
- http://www.kaikatei.com/artmuseum/ (last visited 1/1/2021, site in Japanese).
- http://kissakoculture.blogspot.com/2013/04/the-strange-fate-of-hiragumo-kettle.html (last visited 1/1/2021)
- Chaplin, Danny. Sengoku Jidai Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and Ieyasu: Three Unifiers of Japan (2018), pp. 144-145
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matsunaga_Hisahide, image use and description (last visited 1/2/2021)
- https://japanese-wiki-corpus.github.io/culture/Kotenmyo%20Hiragumo.html (last visited 1/2/2021)
- Chaplin, Danny. Sengoku Jidai Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and Ieyasu: Three Unifiers of Japan (2018), p. 238
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nioh (last visited 1/2/2021)
- https://nioh.fandom.com/wiki/Matsunaga_Hisahide (last visited 1/2/2021)
- https://koei.fandom.com/wiki/Hisahide_Matsunaga (last visited 1/2/2021)
- https://koei.fandom.com/wiki/Hisahide_Matsunaga (last visited 1/2/2021)
- “Samurai Warriors 4 Matsunaga’s Death” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1CGRiUabTQg (viewed 1/2/2021)
- https://sengokubasara.fandom.com/wiki/Matsunaga_Hisahide (last visited 1/3/2021)