Kuki Archives: Pioneering ~ Part 3 (Beginning)

Here we continue with the final discussion on those of the Kuki clan renown for being pioneers in expanding the Kuki clan’s line. We will look at the life and history of Kuki Yoshitaka¹, who not only was mentioned in the previous part, but was essentially the ending point. Possibly the most well known historically, his involvement in political and militaristic struggles under powerful warlords, as well as the honors earned, may possibly make his tale the most famous. Due to how involved he was in many events during Sengoku period, along with how detailed they were recorded, Yoshitaka’s tale will be split into 2 posts.

Artwork of Kuki Yoshitaka. From the collection of the temple Joanji. Author unknown. From Wikipedia.


Kuki Yoshitaka was born in 1542, as one of the children of the Kuki line that developed in Shima no Kuni. His father was Kuki Sadetake, native of the Nakiri-Kuki line. His mother, whose name is unknown², was a native from Ago Gun (Ago District), Koka in Shima no Kuni. Yoshitaka was the 3rd son out of 3 boys, where his older brothers were Kiyotaka and Mitsutaka. Yoshitaka and his brothers were raised in Tashiro Jo. They learned the family trade of military and naval affairs, as they were groomed to follow in the footsteps of their father.

Yoshitaka’s story is well documented in many types of publications due to how much he was involved in many events that affected Japan’s trek to unification. His service under some of Japan’s most renown warlords is an important factor. Many books in Japanese recite these events, such as “Sengoku Jinmei Jiten³” and “Kuki Yoshitaka Nobunaga – Hideyoshi wo tsugaeta Suigun Taisho⁴”. Let us begin Yoshitaka’s story, as he joins the side of his 1st master, Oda Nobunaga.


His tale begins in 1560, same year where Kuki Kiyotaka’s ends. Fleeing from Shima no Kumi after losing to the combined strength of the 7 Lords of Shima⁵ backed by Ise no Kuni’s governing force, the Kitabatake clan, Yoshitaka made his way to Mt. Asama (in present day Nagano Prefecture). He traveled there along with his nephew and 8th head of the Kuki line, Kuki Sumitaka, as well as their comrades, to hide within grounds where many monks visit on their pilgrimage. Yoshitaka took time to regroup his force’s strength, as well as figure out their next move.

Artwork of Oda Nobunaga. From the collection of Kobe city Museum. Author unknown. From Wikipedia.

In 1569, he catches word of Oda Nobunaga’s declaration of war on the Kitabatake clan as he sets his sights on Ise no Kuni (present day Mie prefecture). A chance to get revenge and possibly reclaim his lost home, Yoshitaka had a plan to enter Nobunaga’s service. He made contact with Takigawa Kazumasu⁶, a retainer of Nobunaga, and told him his story, along with his wishes to enter Nobunaga’s force. They got along well and became good acquaintances. Kazumasu would then later inform his master of Yoshitaka’s request, who in turn was pleased to hear about Yoshitaka’s naval capabilities. After the necessary formalities, Yoshitaka was made into one of Nobunaga’s retainers, meaning he had to serve another if he wanted to reclaim his lost home.


Nobunaga and his large force set out by sea, heading towards the Kitabatake’s main castle, Tage Jo⁷ in the western part of Ise no Kuni. Kitabatake Tomonori, alerted by the impending danger, sent his navy to deter them, but the Kuki suigun⁸ easily dispatched their naval rivals. Reaching their destination, they laid sieges on various castles owned by the Kitabatake’s in the area. The Kuki suigun even went as far as to take down the hidden coastal castle, Ōyodo Jo⁹. Fearing for their lives, Kitabatake Tomonori had him and his family fled to their stronghold Ōkawachi Jo¹⁰ in the northern part of Ise no Kuni. Nobunaga and his troops tried to storm in, but could not due to its rather tough defenses. Relentless, Nobunaga would not let up, and would lay his siege for around 2 months.

While the siege on Kitabatake Tomonori was at a stalemate, Yoshitaka would be granted permission to go and claim Shima no Kuni. Reaching there, Yoshitaka and the Kuki suigun would assault the 13 main territories of Shima no Kuni, which were in complete control by their former allies¹¹. Without support from the Kitabatake’s, these territories were each taken down with little effort. The defenders of each territory made varying decisions as they found themselves powerless against the Kuki suigun; some would commit seppuku for fear of punishment, others would surrender and pledge loyalty by joining the ranks within the Kuki’s force. There are a few who were allowed to bear the Kuki surname, which further expanded their family line. Extracting revenge and proving to be the dominant force, Yoshitaka and his family (including his nephew Sumitaka) could once again return back to their home in Shima no Kuni. In time, they moved back into Tashiro Jo.

The siege on the Kitabatake concluded with Oda Nobunaga making the defeated Kitabatake clan as subordinates through a bargain¹², thus gaining control of Ise no Kuni. Due to his invaluable work, Nobunaga made Yoshitaka lord of Shima no Kuni. Also, Yoshitaka was granted the role as head of his Kuki line; since his performance as a naval commander made him to shine while Sumitaka did not engage in any military actions, Yoshitaka thought it was fitting that he took this role publicly¹³. With the rise in power, the reputation of the Kuki clan grew, especially as specialists in naval matters. Under the command of Yoshitaka, the Kuki name was affiliated with many historical events, which allowed them to see great success, or unforgettable failure. The following war below is an example of this.


In 1576, Oda Nobunaga, in his attempt at supreme rule over Japan, traveled across the waters from the south in an attempt to quell the rebellious movement called Ikki Ikkō¹⁴. This rebellion was a continuation of the Ikki Ikkō that took place in Nagashima, Ise no Kuni from 1570 to 1574. The present one was headed by the Buddhist group Jōdo Shinsu sect of the temple Ishiyama Honganji¹⁵, located in the north-eastern part of Ōsaka. Lead by the 11th successor named Kennyo, he and his followers encouraged their fellow neighbors that self-governing was the way, rejecting Nobunaga’s growing presence for several years. Irritated by this thorn in his side, Nobunaga sought to capture Ishiyama Honganji in order to crush the rebels’ spirit once and for all.

Artwork of Kennyo. In the top left corner, says “顕如上人” (The saint Kennyo). Author unknown. From Wikipedia.

Kennyo made preparations in anticipation of Nobunaga’s inevitable arrival. Allies & supporters in the form of military families and warrior groups were called upon for help. Many came to give aid, including a team of rifle specialists called the Saika group¹⁶, and the Mōri clan who owned one of the largest navy at the time. Experienced in naval warfare, the Mōri clan set up a blockade with their ships to the south-west of Settsu no Kuni (present day Settsu City, Ōsaka), across the entryway of a waterway called Kizugawa. This was to prevent Oda’s forces from invading Ōsaka from the south. They even grew the size of their naval forces by recruiting others, including the Murakami suigun, which is considered one of Japan’s oldest and most successful naval fleets.

Nobunaga called upon his loyal generals once again for the task at hand, including Yoshitaka¹⁷. With the growth in naval power through his dominance over Shima no Kuni, Yoshitaka had amassed over 600 types of ships and boats, as well as guns for long range combat. He assembled his subordinates and comrades (including the newly recruited Toba suigun) to aid in this upcoming battle. Yoshitaka commanded a navy of 300 ships. He had been a loyal retainer to Nobunaga in many battles, and was ready to do his best again. Upon reaching Ōsaka’s south-western area, they were soon locked into combat with the Mōri clan and their navy at Kizugawa¹⁸.

As the battle ensued into the night, there were a few factors that tilted the scales in the favor of the Mōri clan. For starters, their side consisted of 600+ ships, doubling that of the Yoshitaka’s. Furthermore, the Mōri clan utilized long-range fire tactics which included incendiary projectiles called “hōroku dama¹⁹”, and incendiary arrows called “hōrokuya²⁰” from the Saika group. This proved especially effective during the night battle, as Yoshitaka’s navy couldn’t close the gap nor match the long-range combat with only their guns. In the end, Nobunaga’s force took a huge blow, not only in losing many ships of the Toba suigun to the fire attack, but a great number of important warriors died. Yoshitaka and the remaining fleet had to withdraw from the battle.


Enraged by the defeat, Nobunaga demanded that Yoshitaka make his next boats fire-proof, and have them ready for the next battle. Contemplating on the matter at hand for awhile, Yoshitaka came up with an idea to cover the boats with iron plates in the form of armor. This required lots of metal resources, which Nobunaga agreed to meet the needs for this project.

It took over a year, but Yoshitaka’s plan was completed. The result was very large boats outfitted with metal coverings that not only made them resistance to fire, but were also outfitted with large cannons and guns to deal devastating damage. Each of these boats were designed to hold up to 5000 people. Due to their size, these boats were named “Ise Ura no Dai Fune”, which stood for “Great Ships from Inner Ise²¹”.

In 1578, another attempt was made to capture Ishiyama Honganji. This time, Nobunaga’s naval force was made up of 6 iron-clad ships²² from Yoshitaka, and 1 iron-clad ship from his retainer Takigawa Kazumasu (he also took part in the project). They set off to Ōsaka, seeking victory in the upcoming rematch.

Map of Japan, showing where Shima no Kuni, Ise no Kuni, and Settsu no Kuni are located. Under Oda Nobunaga’s command, Kuki Yoshitaka and the Kuki suigun traveled south by boat in order to get to the port where Ishiyama Honganji was located.


On their way to the southern part of Ōsaka, the Saika group sailed out to intercept them with about 500 ships. With his new ships, Yoshitaka and his naval force were able to rout the Saika group, gaining way to progress towards the waterways of Kizugawa. Seeing as Nobunaga would not be stopped so easily, Kennyo called upon the Mōri clan once again to help defend their land.

The Mōri, along with the Murakami suigun, assembled their naval force of 600 ships and headed out once again to repel the invaders by Kizugawa²³. Both sides fought as before, but the outcome was in Nobunaga’s favor as the iron-clad ships were impervious to the fire attacks from the Mōri’s naval force. In the end, the Kuki suigun was able to overpower the opposition granting Nobunaga the victory to this battle.

Nobunaga and his naval force embarked upon Ōsaka. Instead of attacking Ishiyama Honganji, he declared himself as controller of the seas around Japan, and cut off the delivery of goods and supplies that Kennyo and others regularly received from their neighbors, such as the Mōri clan. This task of controlling water travel was in the hands of Yoshitaka. While he tried to hold out for several more years, Kennyo finally submitted to Nobunaga due to internal strife.

The victory in the naval battle at Kizugawa greatly elevated Yoshitaka and the Kuki clan’s worth. As a reward for his success, Yoshitaka acquired more rewards, such as territories like Noda of Settsu and Fukushima, earned an increase to his yearly salary, and was elevated to feudal lord status.


Here we conclude the 1st half of Kuki Yoshitaka’s tale. Service under Nobunaga was the beginning of growing the fame and status of the Kuki clan. The 2nd half of his tale will be posted soon, which will wrap up this 3-part series.

1) 九鬼嘉隆.

2) In many records from the past, it was not unusual to omit the names of mothers, wives, daughters, etc. This can be unfortunate at times when trying piece certain individuals’ complete family line and relations.

3) 戦国人名辞典. There are a few versions, one published by the Yoshikawa Kōbunkan, and another co-authored by Abe Takashi & Nishimura Keiko.

4) 九鬼嘉隆 信長・秀吉に仕えた水軍大将. Written by Shizu Saburō.

5) The Kuki of Nakiri was once one of the 7 Lords of Shima prior to their departure.

6) 滝川一益

7) 多芸城. Also written as 多気城 with the same pronunciation.

8) During this invasion of Ise no Kuni, Yoshitaka enlisted the Toba suigun to assist. Speaking of which, the Toba suigun (鳥羽水軍) appears to represent the naval force of Toba of Toshi Gun (Toshi District), Shima no Kuni. There is not much mentioned about their own history, such as significant members, if established prior to or after the Kuki clan’s 1st departure from Shima no Kuni, etc. The Toba suigun is affiliated with Toba Jo, Yoshitaka’s home, yet seem to be a separate entity from the Kuki suigun, although they seem paired together history-wise.

9) 大淀城

10) 大河内城

11) For more on this, see “Kuki Archives: Pioneering ~ Part 2“.

12) To “conclude” the war, Nobunaga offered his son, Oda Nobuo, for adoption to Kitabatake Tomonori. In a sense, it would seem as if Tomonori had a hostage as a bargaining chip, but in reality he was forced to retire as the lord of Ise no Kuni. Although he and his immediate family were spared, they were still at the mercy of Nobunaga’s whim.

13) This move turned Sumitaka into the “puppet” head, although he legally had rights as the head of their Kuki line.

14) 一向一揆. This stands for “unified movement towards self governance”. There were several cases of this, where groups within certain territories banded together to reject those rising in power.

15) Ishiyama Honganji (石山本願寺) was a very large estate where those of the Jōdo sect resided. It featured its main temple, along with other smaller housing structures. It sat in the center of several towns, surrounded by a moat and walls, similar to a castle. Along with its outer defenses, it housed its own inner defenses, including its own warriors that were equipped with rifles.

16) 雑賀衆

17) In terms of dates, Nobunaga was dealing with the Ikkō Ikki situation as early as 1570. Yoshitaka was involved in commanding naval battles in relation to this situation before the travel across the waters to Ōsaka.

18) This incident is known in Japanese as the “Kizugawaguchi no Tatakai” (木津川口の戦い, Battle at the Entryway of Kizugawa). It is part of the ongoing war called “Ishiyama Kassen” (石山合戦, War on Ishiyama Honganji) between Oda Nobunaga and those instigators of the Ikki Ikkō movement, primarily those of the Ishiyama Honganji. There were 2 battles that took place at Kizugawa, this being the first.

19) 焙烙玉. These are described as small clay pots filled with flammable materials inside. Propelled at their target, it will shatter upon impact, spreading the contents so to catch fire.

20) 焙烙火矢. Like the hōroku dama, these were arrows with small containers tied close by the arrowhead. Filled with flammable materials, the container shatters upon impact with its target, causing the contents to spill out and catch fire.

21) “Ise Ura”, or “Inner Ise” is referring to Shima no Kuni, where Yoshitaka resides.

22) This is how these boats are usually label in Japanese, which is “鉄甲船” (tekkousen).

23) Some written accounts claim that the Murakami suigun were not able to make it to the 2nd battle at Kizugawa in time, which contributed to the Mōri clan’s lose.

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