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Tenkai Nankōbō
Nobunaga no Yabou: Tendou portrait
Character Information
Clan(s)/Alliance(s): Tokugawa
Weapon Type:
Fists and magic
Unit Type: Monk
First Appearance: Samurai Warriors 2
Historical Information
Real name:
Japanese name:
November 13, 1643
Nankōbō (南光坊) is an honorary title.

Tenkai is the Buddhist name for one of Ieyasu's political aides, a monk who practiced Tendai Buddhism. Aside from his history as a monk, there are many mysteries surrounding his persona and his first meeting with Ieyasu.

The English localization of Koei games erroneously transcribes his name as Tenkai Nankōbō; Nankōbō is one of his historical titles and is not a family name. The Western name order would not actually apply.

In Harukanaru Toki no Naka de 5, he is referred to by his title to avoid confusion with a character under the same name spelling. His character's height is 180 cm (5'11"), and his bloodtype is AB. His hobbies include ancient incantations and ritual prayers.

Role in Games[]

Samurai Warriors[]

While Tenkai himself doesn't appear during the games' stories, the popular myth of Mitsuhide assuming his identity is played with in Samurai Warriors 3. Mitsuhide even references some of the exchanges Tenkai is fabled to have had with Ieyasu within the Japanese script. The concept returns in select conversations with Mitsuhide in its Empires installment.


Tenkai is an optional general for Nobunaga's army in Kessen III. He can be recruited if the player brings Yoshino to the shining point on the map during the Battle of Ryuzonji. He leads infantry and is a Priest type general.


Tenkai is first encountered after the Falling Snow stage in Honnoji, introducing himself to William alongside his assistant Fuku. William notices that Tenkai has an unusual amount of grudge-filled spirits haunting him and surmises he has a connection to Honnoji with Tenkai then replying telepathically that he'll tell William about his past in due time. He and Fuku serve as teachers to William in regards to Onmyodo magic. His Guardian Spirit is Genbu, the Black Tortoise of the Four Gods.

At Mt. Hiei, Tenkai and Fuku repair the spirit stone barrier keeping Kyoto from being flooded with destructive spirits while William is forced to kill Nekomata. At Sekigahara, Tenkai assists William in defeating the Gasha-Dokuro. After William defeats a mutated Mitsunari at Mt. Ibuki, Tenkai cures the man with the mountain's sacred water and reveals his true identity as Akechi Mitsuhide, the infamous traitor who assassinated Nobunaga. He tells Mitsunari that while his loyalty to Hideyoshi and passion are not wrong and highly admirable, he consequently lost sight of the greater good of ending the wars that have plagued their nation. Tenkai himself recounts how he felt compelled to kill his own lord Nobunaga at Honnoji as he believed Nobunaga's ambitions would lead to more conflict and submitted himself to his honor being tainted without hope of redemption. Convinced by Tenkai's words, Mitsunari surrenders.

Tenkai's motivations are further elaborated in the side mission "The Inheritance". Taking place at Honnoji, William finds memories of Tenkai when he was Akechi Mitsuhide during his infamous coup against Nobunaga. At the time, Tenkai was fully prepared to die as penance for killing Nobunaga, who he did genuinely admire and respect as a man and warrior. After defeating a specter of a young Tenkai, William tranfuses with Genbu and finds that Tenkai is highly suspicious of William and Kelley as well as being wary of foreign influence in Japan.

Nobunaga's Ambition[]

Tenkai in this series is a character who better serves the player in domestic affairs. The newest title gives him high Intelligence and Politic ratings but drops his War and Leadership ratings dramatically compared to other titles. He can support rifle and infantry units as its secondary strategist. Seiroku, the seventh entry of the series, has Mitsuhide assume Tenkai's identity as one of its historical events. After his failure at Yamazaki, he goes into hiding and eventually serves Ieyasu thereafter.

In an alternate future of the online adaptation, Dokuganryu no Yabou, Tenkai is resurrected beyond his grave by the "God who Devours Time". He is called by his posthumous name, Jigen Daishi, as a result. The players had to fight against him as one of the bosses within this storyline.

Harukanaru Toki no Naka de[]

Although he is hardly seen in the game, Nankoubou is considered the main antagonist in Harukanaru Toki no Naka de 5. For the great shogun's conquest in the parallel world, the monk mastered the dark arts of curses and sorcery. He first cast powerful curses on the Four Gods and sealed the corrupted deities into talismans. Two of these talismans were given to his lord after the Battle of Sekigahara.

When the Four Gods were separated in the campaign's aftermath, the monk thought his lord needed more divine support. Disregarding the harm his actions would cause on the land's spiritual security, Nankoubou breaks the harmonious link between the White and the Black Dragon with his magic. He incarcerates the white deity into a painful seal, causing the dragon god to cry for its priestess. Nankoubou plans to cast curses on the priestess the moment she arrives in the Loophole of Time and enslave her to the Tokugawa shogunate. The curse would not be lifted until one thousand years passes; if the shogunate should be dissolved before then, then her life would be forfeit. With the dragon gods separated, the flow of the Five Elements becomes unbalanced and vengeful spirits once again plague the parallel world for centuries.

Yuki is first destined to be the priestess of the Warring States period. A chance meeting with Amami in the Loophole of Time, however, changes her fate. He notices the curses heading for her and pushes her out of harm's way. Unable to evade the curses in time, Amami is sent to Nankoubou in the past. He then bears several spells which were originally meant for her. In the moment of confusion, the priestess is tossed to the parallel world's 19th century. Yuki is unaware of what actually transpired throughout the majority of the game's timelines.

Once Yuki finally realizes what Amami had done for her, she decides to free him from his prison. Since Amami's real body is still trapped within the Warring States period, Yuki and her companions choose to travel back into time to confront Nankoubou. The monk finds their defiance to his plans preposterous and faces them in combat. After a grueling battle, he is defeated. Since he had exerted all of his powers against the priestess, Nankoubou can no longer cast curses on deities. Rather than have the elderly man give into despair, Yuki and her companions encourage him to instead use his intellect to help the shogunate. Taking their advice, he leaves them; Yuki and company doesn't pursue.

Nankoubou decides to help the shogunate reform by granting political power to the dividing branches of the Tokugawa clan. The shogunate can then allegedly prosper under a unified system. Centuries after his death, however, it actually drives the shogunate further apart. The families supporting the final two shoguns of the era happen to share the same political status and are locked in a stalemate for the right of successor.

He later relocated Taira no Masakado's corpse and armor to Edo. The monk separated the hero's remains around Edo Castle and used his influence to deify Masakado. By doing so, Nankoubou believed the fallen hero would serve as divine protection for the shogunate.

Character Information[]


Nankoubou is malicious and cold-hearted towards gods and spirits. He only thinks them of tools for his lord's vision. Though his loyalty to Ieyasu remains his paramount concern in life, the thought of failing his master drives him mad. The monk believes he should do anything within his power to serve his lord, even if it means breaking the world's taboos.

Character Symbolism[]

His symbolic color for his Haruka counterpart is sumi, or ink stick. The famous Kūkai was the one who is accredited to have brought China's ink to Japan, which then led to its native creation of the ink in the country.

The spirit guardian for his Nioh persona resembles Genbu as an allusion to his black robes and his longevity.

Voice Actors[]

Historical Information[]

Jigen Daishi statue within Kita-in.

Nothing is concretely known about Tenkai's life prior to swearing his loyalty to Ieyasu. "Tenkai" (translated in this context as "Man of Heaven") is widely considered one of his many religious titles, and nothing regarding his real name before priesthood has been verified. Each record which claims to list his family, birth, and home province differ dramatically from one another, and none of them have yet to be proven genuine based on currently known historical records. The years and accounts contrast so widely from one another that a separate section has been included to list them.

Historically, he was known as Tenkai by 1590. He was a monk who had previously studied at Muryōju-ji in Musashi Province. According to the records of a nearby temple, Senso-ji, Tenkai and the head monk of Senso-ji, Chugoku, were in Ieyasu's main camp during the subjugation of the Hōjō. In the same year, he resided within Fudō-in located within the inner district of Edo and quickly became the temple's archbishop. In 1599, Tenkai transferred to Kita-in and became the twenty-seventh head monk of its history. Six or seven years of training later, he went on a pilgrimage to Mount Hiei. After a period of training, Tenkai was then blessed with the title, Nankōbō (Literally: "Monk of the Southern Light"), by 1607. He returned to Kita-in by 1612.

Most people assume Tenkai began serving Ieyasu sometime between the dates listed above. Common opinion states Ieyasu was purportedly impressed with the monk's behavior back in 1590 and sought to employ him. They then met one another at Odawara, Edo, or Mount Hiei. According to the Japanese historian, Tsuji Tatsuya, this isn't necessarily the case. He reports that the earliest known date of Tenkai's service was actually in 1609, which supposedly marked the date of his first appearance in the imperial court. The monk is also assumed to begin practicing Tendai Buddhism sometime during his training at Kita-in or Mount Hiei. He or his acolytes preached the teachings during his servitude in the Tokugawa family, often argued during Ieyasu's lifetime.

When Ieyasu became critically ill in 1616, Tenkai was named archbishop (大僧正, dai-sōjo). Alongside Ishin Sūden and Honda Masazumi, the monk was one of the three servants given the responsibility of arranging Ieyasu's funeral. They proceeded with the formal ceremonies after Ieyasu's death. Both Sūden and Tenkai then deigned their departed lord with godly titles which led to the respectful term, "Divine Sovereign" (神君, shinkun), throughout the Edo period. Tenkai specifically granted his lord the Shinto title, "Great Earthly Buddha" (大権現, dai-gongen). Under Tokugawa Hidetada's order, Tenkai granted a Shinto name for Toyotomi Hideyoshi and another, more-elaborate-name for Ieyasu within the same year. The monk also oversaw the construction and practices for what would become the Tokugawa family mausoleum, Kanei-ji.

Tenkai continued serving the second and third shoguns, Hidetada and Iemitsu. During his later years, Tenkai was praised as an influential saint within Kantō who reportedly taught and shared close ties within the shogunate. If a samurai wished to be granted amnesty, they reportedly tried appealing to the monk at Kanei-ji. He died due to natural causes in 1643. His posthumous title, Jigen Daishi (慈眼大師, Literally: "Master with Buddha's Compassion"), was granted in his honor five years later. Tenkai's authored and taught Buddhist sutras were compiled, completed, and practiced by the Tokugawa shogunate for generations.

According to Ozuki Kousuke, a historical recorder for the Tokugawa court, Tenkai died on June 4, 1632; he wrote in his diary that the monk was 97 years old at the time of his death. Other historical records of equal integrity insists that he lived over a century, varying between 103 or 108 years. His unknown birth complicates the truth regarding his age upon dying. Most eye witness accounts collectively agree that he was at least "elderly-looking" in the years prior to his passing.

Japanese Folklore[]

Since most of Tenkai's early life is a blank slate, there have been many legends surrounding him since the early Edo period.


One of the argued interpretations of Tenkai's parents attaches him to the Utsunomiya and Ashikaga clan. His father was the retainer, Ashikaga Takamoto, and his mother was one of Utsunomiya Shigetsuna's daughters. The couple reportedly had an unnamed male child together who was their eldest child. Myths state that this knowledge had been gained by visiting the father's grave. According to the Chronicles of Shimono and the Utsnomiya clan's pedigree chart immediately denounces this prospect, as they identify the child as a young girl and one who died soon after childbirth. Additionally, the location for Takamoto's grave stated within the myth is unmarked and, due to its general structure, is believed to be the grave-marker for his wife or daughter. Proponents for this legend will then counter that Tenkai was perhaps a bastard child and therefore not considered a legitimate heir.

Supporters of his supposed ties to Takamoto may also name Tenkai as Funaki Tōkō's son, a man who shares Takamoto's lineage as either his son, brother, or uncle depending on the source. After Takamoto lost a civil dispute and was exiled by his son, Morishige, Tōkō was said to have been sent to the Funaki clan for a political alliance. According to Writings of the Merciful Master, it was posthumously discovered that Tenkai had biological ties to the Funaki. This account was backed up again by Shinpin Aizu Fudoki, which also contradicts itself by simultaneously stating that Tenkai was Tōkō's grandson. Both of these texts were written at least two centuries after Tenkai's death, however, and much of their claims are vaguely worded with little weight to them.

To counter this argument, believers may present the idea that Tenkai may have abandoned the Funaki and/or Ashikaga clans by leaving them in his youth. Within the Funaki clan, there was such an incident which occurred roughly in the same time frame with Miura Eitarō, who willingly left his family and started his life anew. The poem mentioning Eitarō is said to be scribed onto the sword, Ebisen-sagiri. Folklore has confused this unrelated event with Tenkai's own abandonment of his family. Alternatively, there are stories claiming that Tenkai was Eitarō's son who was born into poverty and thus given to priesthood in his youth. Stories will even state that Ebisen-sagiri was later granted to Tenkai as his birthright before it was lost to later generations. Since the sword in question cannot be located or studied, Tenkai's ties to the Miura and Eitarō's own existence appears to be wishful thinking.

There are many other tales regarding his birth yet the widely known version originated from the yet-to-be-mentioned, Naitō Kiyonari, a Tokugawa general whose diary was kept and published as a historical reference. During the Odawara campaign, his diary oddly notes a homage to the shogun in the capital. Historian Yanagigara Norimitsu used this note as a reference for Tenkai's posthumous titles seventy years later. The particular wording of Yanagigara's notes implies that the monk was perhaps an offspring of the Ashikaga shogunate. Based on other records, his possible father is often assumed to be Ashikaga Yoshizumi. Yoshizumi's immediate family tree is generally believed to be concise, however, so many instead favor the idea that he was one of Yoshizumi's grandchildren —whose histories are not quite as clear.

While this concept is derived from historical sources, none of these sources outright claims him to be tied to the previous shogunate, and a valid link with the Ashikaga has yet to be established. Its ambiguity is ignored entirely in gunki-monogatari of the early Edo period, however, which oft proclaims this theory as genuine fact. These fictional epics were favored by the populace and has since shaped the common perceptions of Tenkai's early life. It's due to these various tales that Tenkai is often affiliated with the Ashikaga crest or the Wheel of Life in Buddhism.

In between these accounts and others not mentioned, the years for Tenkai's birth differ. He has been claimed to have been born in 1504~1521, 1526, 1530, 1532, 1538, 1542, and 1554.

Impersonation Legend[]

The near anonymous nature of Tenkai's birth has spawned the idea that "Tenkai" is a pseudonym for a completely different person. Here is a short list of the popular candidates:

  • Akechi Mitsuhide - first proposed by former professor, Iwanabe Kōzō, since the 1990s and made popular by contemporary fiction. Some arguments include:
    • Tenkai is fabled to have devised the adulthood names for Hidetada and Iemitsu. Their names both have characters which are needed to spell Mitsuhide.
    • Legends say Tenkai had remarkable clairvoyance. The wording of the praise matches a description once uttered for Mitsuhide by the fictional Akechi Mitsuharu.
    • Saitō Toshimitsu once served Mitsuhide. His daughter, Ofuku, eventually became Iemitsu's wet nurse (Lady Kasuga). Before she served the Tokugawa clan, she was said to have visited Tenkai. Her first words to him were allegedly, "It's been a long time since we last met".
    • In the largely fictional, Tales of Sekigahara, a masked man in armor attended to Ieyasu during the battle. He was called "Nankoubou" and composed himself with mannerisms mirroring Mitsuhide.
  • Akechi Mitsuyoshi - If Tenkai was truly Mitsuhide, then many of Tenkai's historically recorded activities would make him over 110 years old. Proponents of the monk's supposed ties to the Akechi name counter this argument by instead favoring Mitsuhide's eldest son.
  • Akechi Hidemitsu - similar reasons as Mitsuyoshi.
  • Akechi Mitsuharu - similar reasons as Mitsuyoshi, although Mitsuharu is largely considered a fictional character.
  • Ashikaga Yoshizumi - Yoshizumi was argued to have been a pious individual. Years later, the grandson of one of the shogun's retainers, Gyofu Shigenori, purportedly identified Tenkai as the departed shogun upon first seeing him.

Presently, most modern historians are skeptical of the tales holding any merit. Many of these theories tend to draw from fictional sources and old wives' tales rather than actual historical records. The Mitsuhide theory has especially been dissected and largely proven false from various angles due to blatant contradictions with known facts and the absence of verifiable proof.


The stories mentioned within this section are popular with entertainment media yet widely regarded as fictional or difficult to verify by historians. They are being included to compare the factually known and romantic interpretations of Tenkai's life from the Edo period.

Before his birth, his mother —whoever she may be— was believed to be infertile. Wishing to bear a worthy child for her lord, she prayed with all her might to the full moon. That night when she slept, she had a breathtaking dream. She was surrounded by blossoming flowers and bathed in a gentle light. As she looked towards the heavens, a dragon flew towards her and morphed into the shape of her future child. Pleased with the vision, she became pregnant and safely gave birth to Tenkai. Alternatively, she and her husband found a giant turnip within their crops and thought to pluck it for supper. However, its abnormal size unnerved them so they consulted a nearby hermit for his advice. Sensing that the vegetable contained the spirit of a heavenly saint, he suggested they keep nurturing the plant and wait for the woman's pregnancy.

Since he was born with a noble constitution befitting a warrior, he was named Heitarō as he aged. He didn't live under this name for long as he was sent to become a priest when he was seven, eleven, or twelve years old. Either his mother was forced to part with him, his father saw no use for him, or he was a wild child who ran away from his home. It has also been said that he was the eleventh son of the temple's head abbot and he was raised to be a monk. Regardless of the reasons or his age, he was said to have first been taught religion at Ryukōji. He was given the name Zuifu, or "Listening Wind", and studied at the temple for about three years. During his training, he was considered the best and brightest disciple of the temple.

Having learned all he could, Tenkai embarked on a holy pilgrimage west to further his understanding of the spiritual realm. He studied at several temples along the way and even received tutoring at the revered Mount Hiei. Although he was mainly taught Tendai-shu in his youth, he dabbled into other sects of Buddhism to improve himself. So great was his knowledge and teachings that he was even called "The Mother of Buddhism" by his admirers. Tenkai would have stayed at the temples as a masterful student until he received word that his mother was dying of illness. Unable to completely sever his worldly ties at his young age —either seventeen, nineteen, or twenty— the young monk left and traveled homeward to see her one last time. He stayed by her side and, when she died, gave her a proper burial.

Wishing to return once more to his teachings, the monk traveled back west. As he rested for a time with the Ashikaga clan, the monk was taught history, military tactics, and poetry. Hopes of glory began to settle within the young Tenkai's mind, and he dreamed of one day proving himself in battle. He received the chance quicker than he had anticipated when Takeda Shingen had surprisingly visited his temple. Impressed by the monk's composure during his brief stay, the daimyo momentarily employed him as a strategist. The commander was in the midst of preparing for the fourth Kawanakajima and he believed the monk could help him gain an upper hand against his rival, Uesugi Kenshin. Depending on the source, Tenkai either served as Shingen's advisor or actually fought in the main lines as a valorous soldier. The monk allegedly foresaw Kenshin's movements in the battle and was the one who warned Shingen of Kenshin's ambush for his main camp. From his warning spawned the myth of the two lords clashing sword and war-fan in a famous if brief duel.

The experience was moving, yet Tenkai felt he no longer held love for war. He therefore left the Ashikaga and Takeda to once again pursue a life of priesthood. He returned to Mount Hiei uninterrupted and continued to study, teach, and practice his faith. About seven years later, however, the mountain was attacked by Oda Nobunaga's troops and his temple was endangered. Tenkai himself would have been a victim if he was not spared by a compassionate Akechi Mitsuhide, who professed to have mixed feelings for the slaughter. Fleeing into the general's care, he and the other survivors were discreetly able to escape back to the east. Wanting to help the survivors, Tenkai led them to Shingen and pleaded on their behalf. Remembering Tenkai's prior services to him, Shingen agreed to provide shelter for them. They studied and preached their beliefs within Kai Province for two years.

With Nobunaga's conquests threatening religious practices in the west and east, Tenkai sought to instead spread his religious faith northeast. The Ashina clan had heard rumors of the monk and requested for his preachings. They gave him a home at Zenshō-ji. He taught believers the Tendai-shu, and he was given texts and other scrolls to satisfy his hunger for knowledge. It is here when the monk began his love for Chinese classics, such as Water Margin, Journey to the West, and The Golden Lotus. Tenkai lived comfortably within his surroundings until the Ashina clan was obliterated by Date Masamune in 1589. Barely fleeing to the south with Ashina Morishige, the monk reportedly felt embittered towards Masamune for destroying his peaceful life. His grudge was said to later cause trouble for Masamune when the lord of Oshu desired to maintain an alliance with Ieyasu.

From here, the tales partially merge with history. Tenkai was named Tenkai, he went into Edo, and he was seen beside Ieyasu during the Odawara Campaign. Each story diverges on when he first met and decided to serve Ieyasu, some even predating 1590 by stating they briefly met at Mount Hiei in 1571. Regardless of the time frame, there is a famous tale depicting their first formal meeting with one another. Ieyasu, who had heard or remembered the monk from years prior, decided to pay a visit to him within his temple (either Muryōju-ji or Kita-in). Tenkai agreed to see him and patiently answered the warlord's questions.

During their conversation, Ieyasu breeched the topic of warfare to the monk. When asked to state his opinion, the monk replied he would rather talk of peace, implying that it was the land's true state even in the midst of warfare. Moved by the statement, Ieyasu respected the monk and began to favor his opinion. He reportedly called Tenkai the "Buddha walking among us" and the one person who should never part from him. Their chat ended with Ieyasu saying, "I wish we had met earlier in life," as a sign of friendship. Ieyasu kept true to his word and was said to have brought Tenkai at Sekigahara and Osaka Castle. The monk was clad in armor and was present within Ieyasu's main camp or actually fought within the battle as one of his lord's impostors.

Whilst in Ieyasu's services, Tenkai was his lord's confidant and they were close intellectual friends. They often shared poetry with one another and were said to have held several private conversations at Kanei-ji. A handful of stories may distort their friendship in a negative light, depicting Tenkai as a scheming trickster and Ieyasu the gullible fool who became warped within the monk's control. Both interpretations stress Ieyasu's absolute trust in the monk. He was said to have ensured Ieyasu's recognition to the emperor, thus paving the path for his shogunate. Tenkai was said to have shaped the affairs within the Tokugawa clan and said to have been the judge for rebellious officers. Both he and Sūden were admired and feared within the court and were dubbed "The Black Robe Ministers" by Hidetada and Iemitsu. Tenkai was also said to have shared a friendly rivalry with Sūden when they were together, enjoying an intellectual spar of wits in their duties.

After Ieyasu's death, Tenkai is often portrayed as a wise and resourceful instructor for the following shoguns. As a retainer who was familiar with the behavior of both heirs, he was said to have created simple poems for retainers to remember. For Hidetada, he wrote he was honest and headstrong and prone to foolish acts due to his earnestness. He described Iemitsu as a hot-tempered playboy whose wiles could be tempered with patience and understanding. To help Iemitsu learn the values of waiting, the monk pocketed a persimmon Iemitsu had given him as a snack. When the young man mocked his actions, Tenkai humbly answered that a ruler such as himself would one day know the meaning. Years later, Tenkai presented the shogun with a persimmon. When asked to explain himself, the monk said it was grown from the first fruit given to him. It's said Iemitsu reflected on the monk's message and began to curb his rowdy behavior. Folklore also states that Tenkai was the one who advised the shoguns to build Nikkō Tōshō-gū in Ieyasu's memory.

Illness began to plague his health soon after and the elderly Tenkai knew he would perish. The shogun had hoped the monk would improve, but he gravely reported he would not to his lord's messengers. He left the court with high honors and retired to his temple. He told the news to his disciples and they prepared for his final farewell. Tenkai was dressed in the robes of the deceased and spent the last moments of his life praying to Monjyu Bosatsu on the behalf of his students. Most stories prefer to state that he died when he was over 100 years old as a testament for the longevity of life. His abnormally long lifespan may be used to promote the benefits of a minimalistic diet and lifestyle to the public.