Kuki Archives: Pioneering ~ Part 2

We continue with part 2 of pioneers of the Kuki clan. In part 1, we covered the origins of the Kuki through Fujiwara Ryūshin and his migration to Kuki Ura. While Ryūshin, and many of his descendants would continue to reside at Kuki Ura, at some point a new line will branch off from the main line. This happens through the hands of Kuki Takayoshi¹, who in turn gives way to a new chapter of events that further spreads the name of the Kuki family.

Kuki Takayoshi was born as the 2nd son of Kuki Takafusa², who was the 2nd child of Ryūshin as well as the 3rd generation of the main line. Takayoshi grew up in Kuki Ura, where he would most likely learn the family’s crafts, including seafaring.

The Kuki family had strong ties to the Southern Court. This is due to Ryūshin’s dedication to the Southern Emperor Godaigo. In turn, members of the Kuki clan gained employment at & worked for the Southern Court. While his father, his uncle Takaharu, and older brother Takanaga all had kept up this working history during their youth, Takayoshi instead broke this tradition by not going on the same path. Instead, he became the first to leave the nest and, in 1362 set out to migrate in a different area.

A map of Japan, with Shima no Kuni colored in red. It is along the Tōkaidō (Eastern Sea Road) which is shown shaded, estimated, in green.

Takayoshi headed east, most likely by boat. He arrived in the south eastern part of Mie Prefecture, around a peninsula. This land area, called Shima no Kuni³, has a long rocky coast that was advantageous for anyone who could set up a form of base on any of its points. With the companions that accompanied Takayoshi, they embarked on one area on the rocky coast. They made their home by building a fortress, and called it Nakiri Jo (Nakiri Castle in English)⁴. Takayoshi would reside here for the remainder of his life, thus the Nakiri-Kuki line begins.

The Nakiri-Kuki line would remain in Shima no Kuni for about the next 200 years. They would keep in contact with the main Kuki line through traveling by boat. Over the years, some would offer their services to the ruling power, and earn titles through military service. Kuki Sadataka, the 5th head of the Kuki line, is an example of this, for he worked up to the position of “宮内大輔” (Imperial Vice Minister). Although information is scarce, it is said that Sadatake was an accomplished battle commander who was lord of Nakiri Jo during the 1500s.

Artwork entitled “Shima Nakiri”, by Asano Takeji. From “Ukiyoe Kensaku“.

Interestingly, the Kuki-Nakiri line was well documented as being a powerful family within Shima no Kuni, and having quite an influence in the area. Some of their exploits can be found in old memoirs such as the “Kansei Choushūsho Kafu”⁵, “Kitabatake Monogatari”⁶, and “Shima Gunki”⁷. As the Kuki’s involvement in Shima no Kuni is very important during the medieval age in Japan, I will discuss this in detail below.


Around the mid 1500s, the Kuki of Nakiri were one of 7 families⁸ that controlled 2 of the 13 territories⁹ around the coast of Shima no Kuni, which are Nakiri and Tashiro. At this time, Kuki Kiyotaka was made 6th head of the Kuki line, and was lord of both Nakiri Jo in Daiōzaki Nakiri, and Tashiro Jo in Toba City, Mie Prefecture. He was aided by his teen son Sumitaka¹⁰, and his younger brother Yoshitaka¹¹. The Kuki of Nakiri made a pact between the other families that none would wrongfully cross into the other’s territory for the sake of war. They agreed to keep the peace as they controlled the activities that happened within their borders. This possibly included monopolizing on trades, as well as benefiting off of anything and anyone who came by sea¹². This organization of territorial rule gave them the nickname “The 13 Territorial Lords of Shima”¹³.

Sometime in the mid 1500s, a prestigious clan called Kitabatake sailed into Shima no Kuni with a rather powerful battalion. The clan’s leader, Kitabatake Harutomo, was ambitious in increasing the power and esteem of his family name through force. It is also said that the 7 families became subordinates of the Kitabatake¹⁴. For some time, Harutomo gained control over Shima no Kuni and, possibly used the 7 families as an extension of his own navel force¹⁵. His rule, however, was not absolute; the 7 families still maintained their ownership over their forts and land. So on one hand, it can be said that Harutomo used them as his underlings.

Artwork of Kitabatake Tomonori. Author unkown. From Wikipedia.

For some reason, Kiyotaka devised a scheme to gain control over the other 11 territories, risking the consequences of going against the pact they made with the other 6 families¹⁶. Little by little, the Kuki and their force staged assaults on the other territories, doing so by sea and covert means. With success on their side, the Kuki clan was, for a short period of time, the dominant force and on the road to gaining complete control of Shima no Kuni.

The other 6 families, distraught by the Kuki’s treachery and bold trek for power, decided to band together to fight their stronger opponent. They also gained support from Kitabatake Tomonori, the son of Harutomo, to further strengthen their numbers with his troops and solidify their resolve. They first stormed upon Tashiro Jo, which was defended by Kiyotaka, Sumitaka, Yoshitaka, and their own force. This siege was not an easy endeavor at first for the attackers, for Tashiro Jo had natural fortification through the wetlands that surrounded its perimeter. The Kuki and their force were not pushovers due to their resourcefulness and tactics. On top of this, Kiyotaka is said to have worked hard while being on the defense, for his prowess with the yumiya (bow & arrow)¹⁷ allowed him to keep his attackers at bay.

Unfortunately, during the duration of the siege, Kiyotaka became severely ill and unable to fight. The cause and the exact condition is unknown¹⁸, but in time Kiyotaka would die from his illness. He would pass succession of the 2 forts and the family line to his son, Sumitaka upon his death bed. While their standings against the siege was fairly well at this point, it took another impact as the soldiers of the Kuki side lost morale as they learned that their respected leader had passed away. Fearing that there was no insurance of the Kuki’s survival, many had abandoned the battle.

Remains of Nakiri Jo. Photo taken by N Yotarou. From Wikipedia.

Seeing as there was no way to win this losing battle, Sumitaka, would abandon Tashiro Jo with any remaining loyal followers, and flee west to Asamayama (Mt. Asama) in Mie Prefecture. There, he would lay low within what was considered the holy grounds of worship for many traveling monks and mountain ascetics. Yoshitaka, on the other hand, would make an attempt to salvage their foothold in Shima no Kuni by returning to Nakiri Jo, and preparing to continue the fight. As expected, the opposing threat did make their way to this fort and continued their siege. Unfortunately for Yoshitaka, his limited force was overpowered, and couldn’t hold out. To avoid being captured, Yoshitaka and his remaining troops escaped from Nakiri Jo, fled to their boats, and took to the seas. Thus, the Nakiri-Kuki line left Shima no Kuni behind, and closed their chapter there, if only temporary.

We close here with the Kuki family’s efforts to expand to another part of Japan. Although this Kuki line had a short term on Japan’s eastern coast this time around, they remain resourceful, and wouldn’t be deterred by setbacks for long. Stay tuned to the final part, where we learn of possibly the greatest achievement that cemented the Kuki family’s name in history.


A slight edit regarding Takayoshi acquiring Nakiri Jo was made, along wih several updates to notes #1, 4 and 9.

1) 九鬼隆良. All sources that I’m aware of do not state a birth date or deceased date for Takayoshi. Based on his travel to Shima no Kuni, his birth date should be around late early 1300s.

2) 九鬼隆房. Takafusa is said to have been adopted into the Kuki family.

3) 志摩の国. Usually, written as 志摩国 with the “no” being omitted, although it is said verbally. Up until the 8th century, it was written as either “嶋国” or “志麻国”, still possessing the same pronunciation.

4) 波切城. Also called “Nakiri Kuki Jo” (波切九鬼城). Here is some extra background info regarding Nakiri Jo and how Takayoshi actually acquired it below.

“Before the Kuki’s venture to Shima no Kuni, The area of Nakiri was controlled by the Kawazura family (川面氏). Around the early 1360s an agreement was made between the Kuki family and a Kawazura Genzaemon (川面源左衛門) to have Takayoshi become his adopted son through marraige with his daughter. After reaching Nakiri’s shore and all arrangements were met around 1363, Takayoshi, through the support of Genzaemon, had Nakiri Jo built.”

As a side note, forts built on the coasts were usually identified by the kanji “砦”, which is pronounced “toride” or “sai”. The reason is because it meant “a fortified structure built on top of rocks”. They tend to be smaller than a typical castle, and were at times an extention of a bigger castle used to defend against threats. Thus, in the past it was not unusual for the fort Nakiri (and others of its kind) to have this in their name instead of “城” (jo). Nowadays, the toride kanji has been replaced by jo kanji as a universal label.

5) 寛政重修諸家譜. Compiled during the Kansei period from 1789 to 1801, a written account of events by feudal lords and vassals of the Shogun over the course of history. This spans into 1,530 volumes.

6) 北畠物語. 7-volume compilation of events the Kitabatake were involved in from the 1500s to mid 1600s. Entries written by members of the Kitabatake clan.

7) 志摩軍記. Written account of Kuki Yoshitaka and his exploits in Shima no Kuni. Author is unknown, but is signed to be from the “possessions of the Kita family” (來田氏家蔵).

8) These 7 families are often called “七党” (Shichitō), which gives an implication that they banded together to govern/maintain strongholds & activities around Shima no Kuni.

As written in the “Kitabatake Monogatari” these 7 families are recognized according to their last names, which are the following:

  • Ousatsu (相差)
  • Miura (三浦)
  • Takeda (武田)
  • Kuki (九鬼)
  • Aoyama (青山)
  • Saji (佐治)
  • Hamajima (浜島)

9) The 13 territories are each occupied by a fortress, and controlled by one of the 7 families. The names of these forts are the following:

  • Obama/Kohama Jo (小浜城)
  • Arajima Jo (楽島城)
  • Ura Jo (浦城)
  • Chiga Jo (千賀城)
  • Matoya Jo (的矢城)
  • Anraku Jo (安楽城)
  • Kōka Jo (甲賀城)
  • Kou Jo (国府城)
  • Nakiri Jo (波切城)
  • Koshika Jo (越賀城)
  • Wagu Jo (和具城)
  • Iwakura Jo (岩倉城) (Actually Tashiro Jo [田城城] of Iwakura Town?!?)
  • Toba Jo (鳥羽城)

12) Some sources claim that these 7 families engaged in “pirate-like” activities. The term in Japanese used is 海賊 (kaizoku). While it shares many similarities to how the term “pirates” is used in the West, some sources claim that kaizoku in medieval Japan also engaged in business practices, albeit “shady” and borderline extortion. This includes travelers needing to pay/bribe their way through pirate territories.

13) This label is, but one of many variants of names used. None of them are official, but a naming convention based on who’s talking about them. Some of the names I’ve come across include “Shima Shichitō” (志摩七党, 7-Family Coalition of Shima no Kuni), “Jūsan Chizu” (十三地頭, The 13 Land Owners), and “Shima Jūsannin Shu” (The 13-Members Brigade of Shima no Kuni).

14) Take note that Shima no Kuni had those who officially governed it over the centuries. However, this was more of a superficial declaration and never really acted on. Reason is Shima no Kuni had no good lands for harvesting rice, which was necessary for establishing means of living. Thus one of the reasons why the 7 families could exist without much opposition for a while, albeit most close by or on the coast.

On the other hand, the Kitabatake clan claimed ownership and acted upon it by controlling the 7 families. It doesn’t appear that any confrontation took place. Possibly Harutomo was able to sway their loyalty with words and the size of his army…?

15) In documentations such as “Kitabatake Monogatari” states that the Kitabatake utilized the Kuki’s naval skills as part of their navy. Possibly the other 6 families were used as well, but maybe the Kuki of Nakiri were depended on more. Possibly the Kuki’s navy was much more accomplished than the others.

16) In the “Shima Gunki”, it is implied that the Kuki conspired with the Kitabatake to take complete control over Shima no Kuni. If this is true, then originally the Kitabatake was in favor of this, but must’ve had reasons to steer away from this scheme.

17) 弓矢. An older way of saying archery. Skills in archery was seen in high regard among warriors due to its advantage and the discipline needed to use it.

18) Many sources that summarize Kiyotaka’s death have varying comments regarding this. Some say some form of sickness, others say injury from battle.

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