Yoshitsugu Otani – An Unknown Legend
Yoshitsugu Otani has long been a well-respected figure of Japan's Sengoku period (1467-1615). His military talent as a general and tactician makes him a highly recognized samurai, but what contributes most to his enduring fame is his immortal friendship with Mitsunari Ishida.
Born in 1559, Yoshitsugu served as a novice in a local temple for several years with his childhood friend Mitsunari, who was also born in Omi province. Soon after Mitsunari was nominated as a retainer of Hideyoshi Toyotomi, young Yoshitsugu was also recommended by his friend to the then lord of Nagahama in Omi province. Several months before the Battle of Shizugatake in 1583, Yoshitsugu successfully persuaded Katsutoyo Shibata to surrender to Hideyoshi's force, which laid a solid foundation for its eventual victory. As a reward, he was nominated Gyobu-shosuke and given Tsuruga in Echizen province. Later in the Invasion of Kyushu in 1587, Yoshitsugu showed his outstanding capability of handling interpersonal relationship and administrative details when dealing with logistical affairs. In 1590, Yoshitsugu impressed Hideyoshi by his perceptive insight into the battle and excellent art of deploying troops when assisting Mitsunari during the Siege of Oshi. According to Hideyoshi, yoshitsugu "would undoubtedly make a skillful commander of a mighty troop".
If it wasn't for his serious illness, Yoshitsugu would have been ranked among those best-known Sengoku samurais. He was said in 1584 to be diagnosed with prophyria, which primarily led to photosensitivity and necrosis of skin and was incurable. During 1598-1600 when his health was continuously deteriorating, Yoshitsugu made a series of arrangements in order to join the East army in the coming war between the emerging Tokugawa clan (the "East army" led by Ieyasu Tokugawa) and the declining Toyotomi clan (the "West army" led by Mitsunari Ishida). He had also been trying hard to persuade Mitsunari to avoid direct conflict with Ieyasu, but achieved nothing.
In the August of 1600 during the Battle of Aizu, Yoshitsugu together with his troops arrived in Tarui town, at the point of which envoys sent by Mitsunari from the nearby Sawayama Castle brought him the invitation to join the West army. Yoshitsugu hesitated for several days, but was finally convinced by Mitsunari's determination and formed an alliance with him at Sawayama. The fact was clear. On the one hand, Mitsunari was a prudent administrator, but he lacked the basic capability of judgement as a military commander. On the other hand, Ieyasu was popular among most lords and samurais, and was recognized as the most promising ruler at that time. For the loyalty to his old friend, however, Yoshitsugu at last devoted himself to the no-win battle.
Then the battle broke out at Sekigahara in October. Despite his now-advanced illness, Yoshitsugu still served as one of the commanders of West army's major forces. At the early stage, the West army enjoyed tremendous tactical advantages, and successfully tied down the enemy for several hours. Later, however, the betrayal of Hiroie Kikkawa and Hideaki Kobayakawa turned the tide of battle. Yoshitsugu had foreseen this betrayal and done what he could to hinder their move, but the game was up. Besieged by the betrayed army, Yoshitsugu calmly committed seppuku under the help of his retainer. His last words, quoted as "my loyalty towards friendship makes me a glorious martyr to enter samsara one step ahead", became an immortal monument of his noble traits.
During the Sengoku period when personal interest was valued most, Yoshitsugu's faithfulness to friendship was an extraordinary example, which deserved respect of later generations.
The hero of this story is Ishida Mitsunari (石田三成) , a Japanese historical figure in the Sengoku Period(战国时代). The story is an anecdote about how he first got appreciated by his Lord, Toyotomy Hideyoshi (丰臣秀吉).
Once Hideyoshi went hunting in the mountains of the Omi Province (近江城) and then took a rest in the nearby temple since he was tired and thirsty. Young Mitsunari, who was still a teenage boy and using his childhood name Sakichi (佐吉), served as a novice monk in that temple, and was asked to serve tea for Hideyoshi. "Would you please bring me a cup of tea?" said Hideyoshi in a hoarse voice, "It's rather hot weather, and I, well, I'm just sweating bucket." At this sight, Sakichi quickly served his guest a bowl of tepid tea, which was just slightly warm. It didn't take too long for Hideyoshi to drain it off. "It's marvellous!" He seemed quite satisfied, "May I ask for one more bowl?" Sakichi nodded with a smile and soon brought out a bowl containing less tea, which was a bit warmer than the previous one. This time it took a bit longer for Hideyoshi to finish the drink. "Thank you! This is exactly what I want!"Hideyoshi gave a lavish praise and then politely asked Sakichi for a third cup. "Make yourself at home." Sakichi said as he served a small cup of tea which was rather hot. Hideyoshi quietly enjoyed the fresh tea and in the meantime got deeply impressed by Sakichi's consideration and meticulousness, especially his deep insight into people's feelings and thoughts.
Later young Mitsunari joined the Hashiba clan (as Hideyoshi was then still under the family name Hashiba) as an officer, and had since then started his legendary life as a samurai.