Is Shōgun’s Lord Ishido Kazunari Based on a Real Japanese General?

Hulu’s historical drama, ‘Shogun,’ presents the intricate workings of the court in 17th-century Japan, where five feudal lords are at odds with each other due to the power vacuum left by the king after his death. While all five lords are indulged in this power struggle, there are two that emerge as each other’s most ardent opposers and bitter rivals: Lord Yoshii Toranaga and Lord Ishido Kazunari.

While Toranaga is the one with more power and influence, which Ishido and the others want to strip him of, Ishido himself wields enough power to work against a seemingly untouchable Toranaga. Unlike the others, Ishido sees Toranaga’s moves for what they are and immediately thinks of ways to counteract them. It is because Ishido presents himself as a worthy challenger that the fight becomes interesting for Toranaga. All of this makes Ishido a compelling character, but what adds to the charm is that he is based on a real person. SPOILERS AHEAD

Ishido Kazunari is Inspired by a Real Japanese Samurai

Ishido Kazunari is inspired by Ishida Mitsunari, a real-life military commander who became the leader of the opposition against Tokugawa Ieyasu (Toranaga in the show). Ishida’s rise to power started after the death of King Toyotomi Hideyoshi, under whose leadership Ishida fought in several battles and proved himself a fighter worthy of all the recognition that came his way.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The reason behind Ishida’s actions following the king’s death was his fear of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s rising power, which alarmed him and the rest of the noblemen alike. Ishida quickly gained the support of the rest of the leaders, who were equally put in charge of the kingdom by the late king. They all thought that Ieyasu was a threat to the empire and would take the power for himself the first chance he got. While numbers were on Ishida’s side in the beginning, he suffered losses because of a front that was easily divided and the bunch of supporters who turned away from him at a critical moment.

After a lot of political machinations from both ends, things finally turned bloody as a war was waged between them, with Ishida being the de facto leader, leading his armies into the battle. The most decisive battle of the conflict was the Battle of Sekigahara, where Ishida discovered that the lords who supported him in court were not ready to indulge in the fight as they remained primarily inert through it all. This is what led to his downfall.

How did Ishida Mitsunari Die?

Having lost in the battle that he’d instigated, there was no space left for Ishida in the new political order under Ieyasu’s rule as a shogun. While Ishida tried to escape, he was caught and eventually executed. He was beheaded, with his severed head being put on display for the public. His remains are said to have been buried at Sangen-in in Daitoku-ji. He left behind three sons and three daughters with his wife.

There is another theory that postulates that Ieyasu was kinder to Ishida, and instead of beheading him, the winning general allowed him to live the rest of his life in peace, away from the power and influence Ishida had enjoyed his whole life. This version, however, doesn’t seem to fit in the narrative of Ieyasu being a ruthless and ambitious general who removed from his path anything that held the promise of causing him trouble in the future.

Because history tends to remember the winner, Ishida has largely been forgotten and remains a secondary figure, only talked about in context to Ieyasu’s victory and his eventual rise to becoming the shogun and laying the foundation for his dynasty. In the Hulu series, however, Ishida gets equal screen time, which sheds more light on his intentions and his efforts to seize the power for himself. The show fictionalizes some parts of the story to fill in the gaps, but the overall arc for the character remains the same.

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