Ishida Mitsunari: A History Revisited

Statue of Ishida Mitsunari in Ishida-chi, Nagahama City

Ishida Mitsunari is only remembered for his defeat at the Battle of Sekigahara on October 21, 1600. For his stance against Tokugawa Ieyasu, he has been viewed as a villain by most historians. Fast forward to the 21st Century where the Sengoku Jidai has become a popular topic for anime, manga, and video games in Japan. The modern reincarnations of the famous samurai take on many forms and it allows for historians to reconsider misconceptions of the famous these historical figures. Ishida Mitsunari is one of these figures. In this article, two popular reincarnations of Mitsunari, as well as his rival, Tokugawa Ieyasu, will be examined to see how they fare compared to actual history.

Sengoku BASARA

Ishida Mitsunari (left) and Tokugawa Ieyasu (right) concept art for Sengoku BASARA 3

Sengoku BASARA 3 is the third installment of the video game franchise created by Capcom. This was the first game where Ishida Mitsunari was introduced as a character. The reason for his introduction was due to the game covering the Sekigahara Campaign, which began after the death of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. In Sengoku BASARA 3, Tokugawa Ieyasu killed Hideyoshi before he could conquer the whole country.(1) Ieyasu thought that the land that Hideyoshi envisioned was a terrible one, and to stop it, killed him in hopes of uniting Japan by the bonds that men share. Mitsunari was extremely loyal to Hideyoshi and took his death hard, mostly because of Ieyasu’s betrayal. Serving Hideyoshi was his life and the man Mitsunari once considered an ally took everything away from him in a blink of an eye.(2)

In Sengoku BASARA 3, Ishida Mitsunari has two distinct story modes. The first, the red path, follows Mitsunari’s pursuit of Ieyasu by forming an army to take him on which ends at Sekigahara. Mitsunari is successful in executing Ieyasu, but he finds that it did not help ease his pain. He feels empty and he finds that his life no longer has meaning. Mitsunari had fulfilled his revenge, but in the end, he lost himself.(3) In the blue path, Mitsunari kills Ieyasu at the start, then takes on generals that would have made up the Eastern Army. His last opponent is Date Masamune, who laughs at the idea that Mitsunari would succeed Hideyoshi, calling him unqualified. Once Mitsunari defeats Masamune, he tells Ōtani Yoshitsugu that he will show those who had ever doubted him, noting that at least people could say that Mitsunari was faithful.(4)

Tokugawa Ieyasu has four different paths, but for this article, I will only be looking at the red path (the others take on different stories not related to Sekigahara). It starts the same as Mitsunari’s but Ieyasu struggles more throughout his story. While Ieyasu still believes in his dream for unification under the Tokugawa banner, he wants to resolve the issue with Mitsunari without having to kill him. Mogami Yoshiaki finds this to be troublesome, telling Ieyasu that he needs to be realistic. Ieyasu believes he can, but after Yoshiaki leaves Ieyasu by himself, Ieyasu stares at the ground in silence, as if thinking over Yoshiaki’s words.(5) This hesitation to take Mitsunari’s life appears before their final fight, and after Ieyasu kills him, he cries while sitting beside a man he once called a friend.(6)

Ieyasu and Mitsunari’s relationship in the video games is a bit ambiguous. It is understood that they had some sort of relationship, but the video game does not go much deeper. In the anime that follows the game, Sengoku BASARA: End of Judgement (or Judge End for Western audiences) dives more into the characters background to reveal why they feel this way towards one another. It comes out that Ieyasu and Mitsunari did have a friendship of sorts, but that was torn apart due to the betrayal. While Sengoku BASARA: The Last Party also takes place during the Sekigahara Campaign, it is lacking in background for both Ieyasu and Mitsunari, leaving a lot of unanswered questions.(7)

Focusing on their personalities, it is easy to see that both Ieyasu and Mitsunari are complete opposites. This is reflected in their respective elements: Ieyasu being light, or the sun, and Mitsunari being darkness, or the moon. This is also represented in the form of a total solar eclipse that takes place in the game and anime, representing the Eastern and Western Armies coming together at Sekigahara. The elements tend to represent their personalities as well. Ieyasu is cheerful and kind, believing that bonds are all that is needed to rule Japan. Mitsunari, on the other hand, is loyal almost to a fault, serious, and easily angered. Ieyasu is seen as a competent leader because he is level-headed, however, he does have moments where he has a lapse of confidence in his abilities. Mitsunari is seen as an incompetent leader because of his tendencies of rage, but he has confidence in every action he takes.(8) Mitsunari is confident that he will end Ieyasu’s life and get the revenge he desperately wants, however, that is all he wants. His rage blinds him from seeing the bigger picture, thus resulting in the lack of ambition for unity. Ieyasu, on the other hand, tries to win Mitsunari over with talks of unification and bonds, which is pointed out to be a hypocrisy by Mitsunari, for the Toyotomi were close to unification and Ieyasu severed the most important bond Mitsunari ever had by killing Hideyoshi.(9) While he has the ambition for unification, Ieyasu wants to end the wars without bloodshed, something that Mitsunari will not accept.

When it comes to the Sengoku BASARA franchise, Ishida Mitsunari is seen as a man who is extremely loyal to the Toyotomi and their cause, but it is never stated explicitly why. It is hinted in End of Judgement that Mitsunari was a nobody until he was discovered by Hideyoshi and that all he wants is to be useful in his lord’s path of conquest. When Hideyoshi is killed, however, he becomes lost and does not see much of a clear future past the upcoming battle at Sekigahara. While he might succeed in his revenge, Mitsunari would evidently end up back to where he was before: living in a world without his lord, but this time, with no purpose in life.

Sengoku Musou (Samurai Warriors)

Ishida Mitsunari’s official game art from Sengoku Musou 2 (Samurai Warriors 2)

In the second installment of the Samurai Warriors franchise (developed by Koei-Tecmo), both Ishida Mitsunari and Tokugawa Ieyasu were introduced as playable characters. This allowed for the game to dive into different stories, especially combining them with the old and new characters that are playable in the game. Like their Capcom counterparts, Ieyasu and Mitsunari have conflicting personalities, however, it is harder to pinpoint why there is such a hatred between the two, mostly because the game tends to be more historical but does not dive much into the politics of the day. In the beginning, Mitsunari seems to be the bad guy again, especially when placed beside Ieyasu, who is portrayed in the most favorable light possible: stern and ambitious, patient, follows traditional ways; shōgun material. Mitsunari is more sarcastic and cynical, arrogant, hard to get along with, yet, he is loyal to his lord, Hideyoshi. When a player focuses on their individual stories in the game, the more they better understand these characters.

Tokugawa Ieyasu’s official game art from Sengoku Musou 2 (Samurai Warriors 2)

Tokugawa Ieyasu’s story mode is pretty historically correct. It begins with the Battle of Anegawa in 1570 and ends with the Tokugawa Unification of Japan. It is clear in the beginning that Ieyasu has plans for unification, but he is biding his time, serving under Oda Nobunaga as a means of gaining power and stability. However, much like his BASARAcounterpart, Ieyasu suffers a defeat by Takeda Shingen, which helps him realize the path he needs to take. His story ends with victory at Sekigahara, finally bring peace to Japan. Considering that it follows so close to history, the storyline for Ieyasu in Samurai Warriors 2 falls flat in comparison to other characters.(10)

Ishida Mitsunari’s storyline begins with the Battle of Yamazaki in 1582, serving Toyotomi Hideyoshi loyally. The set up for the Sekigahara Campaign begins early on when Mitsunari meets Naoe Kanetsugu and Sanada Yukimura before the Siege of Odawara Castle. The three men swear an oath in the name of honor, almost mirroring the Peach Garden Oath from Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Not only that, but it shows the three major generals of the Sekigahara Campaign, at least on the main island. While Mistunari would participate at Sekigahara proper, Sanada Yukimura kept Tokugawa Hidetada at bay from Ueda Castle and Naoe Kanetsugu would take on Date Masamune in the north at Hasedō. Going against history, all three men are victorious, and Mitsunari finally learns the meaning of honor, justice, and love.(11)

Since the political aspects of the era and the Korean Campaigns have been left out of the game, it is hard to understand why Tokugawa Ieyasu and Ishida Mitsunari hate one another. There is one clue, however, that the game gives us. Ieyasu tries to take control of the country after Hideyoshi’s death but Mitsunari believes that he is the one to carry on Hideyoshi’s legacy. Both we close to Hideyoshi and thus believe that they had what it took to carry on his dream. While Mitsunari’s ideals are closer to Hideyoshi’s dream, in the end, it is Ieyasu’s ideals that win the day and the war. While the Korean Campaigns are still not included in the newest installments of Samurai Warriors, the political problems are being brought into the latest installment and even the animated series follows the events of Sengoku Musou 4 (Samurai Warriors 4).Perhaps in future installments, we might see the Korean Campaigns, for those events will help understand characters’ stances during the Sekigahara Campaign.

Comparing History to Pop Culture

Looking at the two most popular examples of both Ishida Mitsunari and Tokugawa Ieyasu in Japanese pop culture today, it does make one re-examine both of the historical figures, and give us more unanswered questions. As we know, historically, Mitsunari and Ieyasu did not like one another, a hatred that went as far back as the Korean Campaigns. Even further was the bad blood that was between Ieyasu and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Ieyasu wanted to rule Japan, and he did so by going against Hideyoshi’s last wishes, which Mitsunari called him out on. The question is why? Why did it matter to Mitsunari that Ieyasu was taking over?

Sadly, especially in Western history books written on samurai, Mitsunari is not even mentioned. When he is, Mitsunari is seen as the villain, the man standing in the way of peace. There is also the fact the Ieyasu is more well-known, mainly for his role of being the last of the Three Unifiers of Japan. This also leads to the famous “it is the victors who write history” trope. The Tokugawa Era, or Edo Period, followed after Sekigahara, bringing over 200 years of peace to Japan. This might keep historians from viewing Ieyasu differently, considering what followed over 200 years of war. Viewing Ieyasu as the hero can be seen in the pop culture references listed above: the ray of hope, a true samurai, the perfect man to unite Japan. By contrast, Mitsunari has a couple strikes against him, historically. Contrary to his pop culture reincarnations, Mitsunari was not a samurai in the traditional sense, but a politician, something that was not looked upon favorably.(12) He also had little combat experience, which made him a weak commander of troops. Lastly, he was defeated. Since Ieyasu is so heavily focused on, especially by Western historians, we are left to speculate Mitsunari’s motives. Looking at pop culture, we might be able to figure it out.

Screenshot of Ishida Mitsunari from Sengoku BASARA 3 (Sengoku BASARA Samurai Heroes)

In both examples of Ishida Mitsunari shown in this article, they both have completely different approaches. Capcom makes it look like they are painting him out to be the villain of the game. From his personality, his attire, to his look, it seems to be pointing in that direction. Once one digs down deeper into the game, it is revealed that he is far from a villain. He is a man, trying to avenge his murdered lord, who was killed by a man he once called an ally. Mitsunari wanted to be a useful member in the world Hideyoshi wanted to create, but after Hideyoshi’s death, Mitsunari had no purpose. All in all, Capcom’s version of Ishida Mitsunari is that of a loyal soldier who has lost the will to live.

Ishida Mitsunari’s last words in final cutscene for his story mode in Sengoku Musou 2 (Samurai Warriors 2)

As for Koei-Tecmo’s version, they automatically try to paint Ishida Mitsunari as a tragic hero of the era. While sarcastic and blunt, he is loyal, and does his best to serve his lord and to keep Hideyoshi’s legacy alive after his passing. Mitsunari does his best to keep the Toyotomi name alive through him, and follows the saying that is his clan’s mon (大一、大万、大吉/dai ichi, dai man, dai kichi/all for one, one for all, Heaven bless the land) in hopes of keeping Hideyoshi’s dream alive. Due to the games following history, sadly, Mitsunari fails in his task.

Ishida Mitsunari’s rise to popularity in 21st Century entertainment in Japan has made historians revisit how he is viewed today. As it has been stated before, Mitsunari has been viewed as the villain, mainly due to the fact that he lost one of the greatest battles in Japanese history, while Ieyasu went on to establish 268 years of peace and prosperity to Japan. Looking at the actions of these men leading up to the famous battle, we begin to see how Ieyasu began to sow the seeds for a Tokugawa unification.

When Hideyoshi died, ten men (five regional lords and five administrators) where to manage the Toyotomi peace until Hideyoshi’s son, Hideyori, became of age.(13) Due to the untrusting atmosphere or the era, almost instantly after Hideyoshi’s death did people began conspiring to take over the Toyotomi. Ieyasu began taking over the Toyotomi affairs early on, and even took it one step further by appointing himself as Hideyori’s godfather after Hideyori’s original godfather, Maeda Toshiie passed away in 1599.(14) After that, he moved into Ōsaka Castle, the seat of Toyotomi power. This was the last straw for Mitsunari, and he sent Ieyasu a letter of charges against him. Despite all the charges being true, Ieyasu saw this a declaration of war, and thus began the road to Sekigahara.

With the events of history, it can be concluded that Tokugawa Ieyasu was the real villain at Sekigahara, for he betrayed the wishes of his former lord, and that Ishida Mitsunari is the tragic hero, the one who tried to save the Toyotomi clan. Despite this, there are a couple of things that keep Mitsunari as the villain. There is uncertainty behind Mitsunari’s actions. While historians know the reasons behind Ieyasu’s actions, they are not clear on Mitsunari’s. A couple of questions remain: why was Mitsunari loyal to the Toyotomi in the first place? Did he have his own ambitions like Ieyasu, or was he just loyal to a fault? Or is there something else that historians are missing? We will most likely never have answers to these questions, only allowing speculations. Then there is also Ieyasu’s legacy. The Tokugawa Era (1600-1868), is seen as one of Japan’s golden ages and the family is held in high regard by the Japanese. It is hard to change him into a traitor after hundreds of years of being seen as the Great Unifier. The roles that these men were given will forever be cemented in history.

Ishida Mitsunari is a historical figure that does not get much recognition outside of Japan, but he is an important figure in Japanese history that should not be overlooked, regardless of how he is viewed. He managed to keep the Toyotomi afloat for a time, and before the betrayal of Kobayakawa Hideaki, was winning the Battle of Sekigahara. While historians may never give him the credit he deserves, he does earn a place in history regardless, as the commander of the Western Army at Japan’s largest battle, and that should count for something.

The video version of this article.


  1. “Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes- All Mitsunari Ishida Cutscenes English Dub HD”, Time stamp 0:31-2:53 (last visited 2/14/2021)
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  7. To read the Sengoku Archives review on Sengoku BASARA: The Last Party, click here.
  8. Sengoku BASARA: End of Judgement Episode 8 (released August 23, 2014), Time stamp 16:38-21:28, viewed on Blu-Ray DVD
  9. Sengoku BASARA: End of Judgement Episode 12 (released September 27, 2014) Time stamp 00:00-9:17, viewed on Blu-Ray DVD
  10. Samurai Warriors 2 Ieyasu Tokugawa’s Cutscenes (English)” (last viewed on 2/14/2021)
  11. “Samurai Warriors 2 Mitsunari Ishida’s Cutscenes (English)” viewed 2/14/2021)
  12. Sharpe, Michael. Samurai Leaders from the Tenth to the Nineteenth Century (2008), p. 64
  13. Bryant, Anthony J. Sekigahara 1600 The final struggle for power (1995/2009 for 9th impression), p. 8
  14. Bryant, Anthony J. Sekigahara 1600 The final struggle for power (1995/2009 for 9th impression), p. 12