Kuki Archives: Pioneering ~ Part 3 (Ending)

We continue on with part 3, covering the remainder of Kuki Yoshitaka’s story. Much like before, we follow his tale pledging loyalty under powerful warlords, and taking part in major battles. This post will also bring his chapter to a close, as his last days as the famed naval commander will be followed up until the very end. Like the previous parts, much information is pulled from Japanese sources, such as the books mentioned in the Kuki Archives: Pioneering ~ Part 3 (Beginning), as well as websites such as “Sengoku Busho Retsuden Ω“. While great measures were made to include only the most relevant of information, there is a good amount of cross-referencing between many events and individuals that play a role within Yoshitaka’s story, making this one a longer read than the others.


From the late 1570s, Kuki Yoshitaka’s life was progressing very well, as he earned many merits by proving his clan’s worth through participating in some important battles under Oda Nobunaga. Becoming a feudal lord, he acquired different lands around Japan, and increased his family line. He rose in rank¹, from “Kunai Shoyu²” (Imperial Vice Minister) to “Jūgoi no Ge – Ōsumi no Kami³” (Great Warden of the lower 5th position). On top of this, the naval forces under his disposal grew very large, making him a contender to other rivaling clans that had their own established navy.


Portrait of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Dated 1601. Author unknown. From Wikipedia.

Oda Nobunaga was on the course of unifying Japan under his might, as he continued to dominate over different regions of Japan, and gained loyalty from other noble clans, albeit with an iron fist. As it appeared he had no equal, tragedy struck in 1582, as Nobunaga faced his death in what is known as the “Honnoji Incident⁴”. With his master gone, Yoshitaka would stay loyal and continue to serve in the Oda house under Oda Nobukatsu, Nobunaga’s son. However, as his longtime acquaintance Takigawa Kazumasu took his leave from the Oda house, Yoshitaka would do the same, and give his service elsewhere.

Throughout 1583 Yoshitaka was hired to deliver building stones by boat during the construction of the castle Ōsaka Jo in Ōsaka⁵. A project commissioned by the next uprising warlord named Toyotomi Hideyoshi⁶, who was one of those loyal retainers to the late Oda Nobunaga. Hideyoshi, an ambitious individual, was determined to continue in the foot steps of Nobunaga, which was controlling all of Japan. In order to make his dream come true, he started either eliminating those who sided against him, or making those who opposed him bend to his might. During this period he declares war on the remaining weakening legacy of the Oda house.

In June of 1584, Hideyoshi put into motion the campaign against Oda Nobukatsu, which is known as the battle of Komaki-Nagakute⁷. Takigawa Kazumasu sided with Hideyoshi and took part in this battle, which also prompted Yoshitaka to do the same. Nobukatsu, while not as influential as his father, still had allies that would support him, such as from one called Tokugawa Ieyasu. Hideyoshi lead his force towards central Japan to Ōno Jo in Owari no Kuni (present day Aisai City, Aichi Prefecture), and engaged in battles that were divided in the northern and southern parts of this area.

Kazumasu and his force, along with Yoshitaka and the Kuki suigun, came from the south and occupied Nobukatsu’s costal castle Kanie Jo through trickery⁸, and set out to attack a chain of castles in the south-western part of Owari. However, once Nobukatsu found out, the Oda and Tokugawa forces rushed back to aid those castles, and twice thwarted Kazumasu’s attacks, forcing them to retreat back to Kanie Castle. Overwhelmed by the oncoming odds and with no backup in sight, Kazumasu and Yoshitaka were forced to retreat back to Ise no Kuni. In the end, Hideyoshi won the war, but made peace with Nobukatsu, and gained Ieyasu’s support.

In November of the same year, Kuki Sumitaka, Yoshitaka’s nephew, passed away. His death was reported as a fatal illness⁹. Through Sumitaka’s death, succession of this Kuki line was officially passed into Yoshitaka’s hands.

In 1585 Hideyoshi would make Yoshitaka a subordinate, and appointed him to the rank of “Jūgoi no Kami – Ōsumi”, or “Great Warden lower 5th position”¹⁰. Over the years, Yoshitaka would continue to support Hideyoshi in a couple more battles. Some battles required going to further away areas such a Kyushu. Yoshitaka would also find himself working with once-enemies-now-turned-allies, such as the Mōri clan.


An old illustration of Toba Jo (鳥羽城古絵図). Date and author unknown, but is noted to come from the Asano Literature collection. From Wikipedia.

Special favors were earned due to Yoshitaka’s service and the reputation he and the Kuki Navy possessed. For example, despite Hideyoshi’s restriction in 1588 on piracy and monopolization of sea travel by any group¹¹, he allowed Yoshitaka and the Kuki suigun to maintain their practices of doing so at Toba Wan, or Toba Bay in English. Possibly the boldest expedition Yoshitaka took part in during his lifetime under Hideyoshi was the attempt to take over Korea.


In 1592, Hideyoshi began his campaign to conquer Korea¹². For this mission, it was required to carry a massive army across the open sea. As he had access to many naval specialists, he recruited as many as he could. Hideyoshi also had to make a decision who would command his fleet. He made an interesting move, and chose Yoshitaka as his naval commander, despite there being others with a much more prestigious resume for such a big task at hand, such as the more famous Murakami Takeyoshi and his larger Murakami suigun.

Along with the 1500 troops from his side, Yoshitaka took command of about 9000 troops. Thousands of soldiers, plenty of supplies, weapons, and horses were carried in numerous boats. Yoshitaka used a very large boat which bore a flag with a sun on it. This flag, which represented Japan as a unified force, was a first of its kind¹³. Reaching Korea through the Korea Peninsula, the Japanese were able to make their way into the country by foot from the south.

Within several months, the Japanese were able to occupy not only certain key areas such as Hanseong, Busan, and Pyongyang, but take complete control of the Korean Peninsula. The Korean army (and later, with aid from the Chinese military) fought to keep the invaders out on land, but were overwhelmed many times. The Japanese had the advantage due to experience from their many years of strife within their own country, equipment, close-battle tactics, as well as their ever-improving use of guns; around this time Korea (as well as China) did not have the same firepower capabilities, nor invested in it. Not able to deal with them successfully on land, the Koreans tried to counterattack with their naval force, with attempts to disrupt the supplies being delivered to the Japanese army.


Painting showing the Japanese army invading a castle in Busan. Produced in 1760, author is Byeon Bak (변박). From Wikipedia.

A naval commander by the name of Yi Sun Shin arrived to battle against the Japanese navy, which was, at the time, very sparse and for the most part not monitored. Yi Sun Shin led his naval force¹⁴ and picked off isolated ships at night. While not major battles, this was steps towards the right direction for the Korean navy. Underestimating any opposition by sea, the Japanese navy were primarily engaged in on-land duties, but were soon ordered to deal with the new threat by Hideyoshi. Yoshitaka lead the command and ordered a small number to engaged the opposition as one unit.

As sea battles with the Japanese became prevalent, Yi Sun Shin began utilizing large reinstated ships called the “Turtle Ship¹⁵”. These specially fortified ships, outfitted with several cannons all around, were prepared to repel the invaders with unexpected tactics. For starters, the Korean’s ships, although few in numbers, were much sturdier, much faster moving, possessed better mobility, and were outfitted with more cannons. Yi used calculated tactics that involved not engaging the Japanese head on, but instead luring pursuers into traps and ramming into the weaker hulls of the Japanese boats, mixed with repeated cannon fire from long range. On top of this, he based his assaults carefully according to the geography of the area where the battles took place, which was primarily at the southern borders of Korea.

With the unexpected skill of Yi and the Korean navy, Yoshitaka and the Japanese navy were hard pressed, having to withdraw, defeated, from several fights. Increasing their numbers against their slippery foes did not help, either. However, during one battle called “Battle at Kumakawa¹⁶”, Yoshitaka saw initial success as the Japanese navy succeeded in capturing a few of the Korean’s larger ships, and wreaked many of the smaller ones with their combined strength and brazen tactics of boarding the opposition’s ships for close combat skirmishes. However, when it looked like Japanese navy was winning, many of the ships separated and went off to their own small battles. Despite Yoshitaka’s orders to regroup, they didn’t listen, which lead to yet another loss. This was only the beginning, for many more sea battles took place as Yi Sun Shin became very persistent and sought out the Japanese navy on a day-to-day basis, and forced them to engage in what were losing battles with the Korean navy having close to zero casualties.

In the end, much unpreparedness lead to waning morality within the Japanese navy, as many of their ships were destroyed or captured. This greatly affected the Japanese army’s foothold and advancement in Korean territory, for supplies that were brought by sea were cut off to the point where they could not sustain long enough to fight. Having a long period of losing ground and not able to advance, Kuki Yoshitaka and many others had to pull out of the invasion early in 1594 to regroup and refortify.

Despite their ultimate failure, Hideyoshi would bestow honors upon Yoshitaka, showing how much worth was put on him. Years later, another attempt at invading Korea was mandated by Hideyoshi in 1598. However, being elderly and still sour from the defeat during the 1st campaign, Yoshitaka avoided participating in this by retiring. In his place, his oldest son Kuki Moritaka would go, carrying the mantle of the Kuki clan.


Retired from combat, Yoshitaka focused on other obligations instead of being naval commander. The Kuki navy continued to be utilized, but primarily for shipping cargo, such as supplies for the construction of Osaka Jo. In his place, Kuki Moritaka would take the place as head of their family line, and represent the Kuki clan by taking an active role in military duties.

In late 1598, Toyotomi Hideyoshi would die from illness. With his master and once ruler of Japan now out of the picture, things would begin to turn sour for Kuki Yoshitaka. During his service under Hideyoshi, despite his success in many battles, not everyone agreed with the merits given upon him, especially after the failed invasion of Korea. A certain feudal lord by the name of Inaba Michitoo was one of those people.


Artwork of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Author is unknown, but noted to have been made in the 17th century. From Wikipedia.

Responsibilities were passed into different hands after Toyotomi passed. Tokugawa Ieyasu emerged as the next warlord attempting to claim control over Japan. Inaba Michitoo, who assisted with certain construction & labor projects and loyal to the Tokugawa clan, denied the Kuki suigun payment as they provided shipping service of materials (such as wood) for Osaka Jo. While Yoshitaka made complaints to Ieyasu about the situation, no action was made in his favor. Instead, Ieyasu rectified the situation by relieving the Kuki suigun, and have the Toba suigun take their place with the supply deliveries. This move did not sit well with Yoshitaka, and was the 1st point in his resentment towards Ieyasu.

A campaign to pacify Aizu was ordered by Tokugawa Ieyasu early 1600. There was opposition against the rise of the Tokugawa clan, particularly by those who were still supporters of the Toyotomi house. As expected, Yoshitaka did not participate in this. However, his son Kuki Moritaka joined the campaign, despite his father’s tensions against Ieyasu.

Eventually, the Tokugawa clan moved towards taking over the West. In retaliation, a call to arms was raised by a military commander and retainer of the Toyotomi clan named Ishida Mitsunari. He attempted to raise an army by having everyone within the areas of Iga, Ise, and Kii join. Many did heed to the call, and prepared to rise to the cause. Yoshitaka’s son-in-law, Horiuchi Ujiyoshi¹⁷, also wished to participate. Not wanting their families at home to be unguarded, Yoshitaka came out of retirement, took over Toba Jo¹⁸, and had family & relatives relocate there as a temporary safe haven. Ujiyoshi also had around 350 of his troops from his castle assist in protecting Toba Jo in case any domestic issues arose.

Shortly, a relative by the name of Kita Shōzō reported to Yoshitaka that he too was denied rights to receive payment for offering passageway across the river Miyakawa no Watashi¹⁹. Yoshitaka, infuriated on how he and those close to him were being treated, decided to get payback on Michitoo by raising an army and also joined the western army’s cause.


Yoshitaka and his newly formed force traveled from the south side side of Ise no Kuni and laid seige on Michitoo’s castle, Iwade Jo. However, this proved to be a difficult battle, so they had to temporarily withdraw. Despite the setback, Yoshitaka directed his force to do damage by setting fire to villages around Mikawa and Owari, as well as take any supplies they could get their hands on and delivered them to support Ishida Mitsunari and his army.

It just so happened that Mikawa was once an area that Tokugawa Ieyasu governed. Getting report of what happened in the hands of Yoshitaka, Ieyasu became furious. Instead of ordering a counterattack, He commanded Kuki Moritaka to have his father switch sides and support the eastern army. Rewards were promised if Moritaka succeeded, but this task was near impossible.


Japanese screen with a depiction of the Battle at Sekigahara. Produced in 1854, it is a replica of an original piece by Kano Sadanobu, albeit with some slight altercations. From Wikipedia.

Moritaka personally sought to speak with his father, and traveled to Toba Jo where he currently occupied by force. Announced that his son had returned to bargain, Yoshitaka refused him entrance, as they both were on opposite sides of the war. With no other choice, Moritaka had to stage a siege on Toba Jo²⁰, having light confrontations and long-range attacks with rifles. Yoshitaka also fought back, but with Moritaka being his blood, did not engage to hurt him²¹. Eventually, Moritaka would pull out of the battle.

Much of the fighting that was taking place in the middle of 1600 between the Eastern army and Western army was leading to a grand clash. Historically known as “Battle of Sekigahara”, this would shortly take place at Sekigahara, Mino no Kuni²². The outcome of this battle would shape the future of Japan. Moritaka struggled to prove his loyalty to Tokugawa Ieyasu, as his father’s actions by supporting the Western army were making it difficult; even though 2 members of the same clan shared different interests, when the winning side has to decide punishment, usually it is on the entire clan.

Later that year, Inaba Michitoo deloyed an army of over 800 troops from Iwade Jo, and crossed Ise no Kuni towards Toba Jo, giving the impression that their intention was to reclaim it. Yoshitaka anticipated such an action would take place, and plotted with Kita Shōzō to catch them by surprise in a pincer attack along the path they were taking. However, fate took an unexpected turn as Michitoo and his force took a different direction, which was actually towards Shōzō’s castle. Not prepared for for a siege on his own castle, Shōzō was unable to defend adequately, and consequently his castle was set ablaze in retribution for what he did to the villages in Mikawa. Afterwards, Michitoo and his force promptly returned back to Iwade Jo.

Shortly after, the battle of Sekigahara commenced. The eastern army, consisting of Tokugawa clan and their allies, fought against the western army which was made up of those loyal to the Toyotomi house. Yoshitaka would remain out of this war, and kept his hold on Toba Jo. After several clashes both in and outside of Sekigahara, the eastern army came out victorious. Those remaining supporters of the western army fled, while the main instigators, including Ishida Mitsunari, paid for their opposition in death.


Yoshitaka and his remaining relatives fled from Toba Jo, with fear that they would be targeted for their actions by the victors. They went north-east to a small island called Toshi Jima, (in present day Toba City, Mie Prefecture) and hid in the temple Chōonji. An attempt was made to seek refuge in Kumano, but due to Tokugawa’s looming presence, fear of getting caught prompted Yoshitaka to return back to Toshi Jima.

Moritaka wanted to look for his father in order to clear his name, but instead Toyota Goroemon went in his place. Tracking him down in Toshi Jima, Goroemon apparently counseled Yoshitaka about the current situation which is the conflicting view between Moritaka’s loyalty and valiant efforts for the Eastern army, and the treachery of Yoshitaka’s actions while siding with the Western army. Yoshitaka’s intentions were personal, and he didn’t intend to bring misfortune to his son and his chance to also make a name for himself just as Yoshitaka did. With much thought on ensuring the outcome is best for the future of the Kuki clan, Yoshitaka decided that his death would set things right.

On October 12th of 1600, Kuki Yoshitaka took his life through seppuku. He still loathed Ieyasu up until his death, not willing to forgive the events that transpired. His head severed, Yoshitaka’s burial site for his head was at Dōsenan²³ in Wagu, and is said to still remain there till this day. While his chapter ended, the survival of the Kuki clan was ensured through the efforts of Moritaka while serving Tokugawa Ieyasu, as well as through future generations.


We’ve come to the finale of the Kuki clan’s expansion during medieval Japan. The Kuki history is very large, and lists not only key events members of the Kuki clans took part in, but individuals (whether friend or foe) they interacted with. I hope you could enjoy this small glimpse into the tales of but a few of those members, and thanks for reading!

1) In Japan there was a system for determining one’s rank (位階 ikai) and occupation (官職 kanshoku) for those of militaristic, or noble background. This system was called Kani (官位) .

2) 宮内少輔

3) 従五位下大隈守

4) The “Honnoji Incident” (“Honnoji no Hen” in Japanese) takes place at the temple Honnoji in Kyoto, Japan. While Oda Nobunaga and his attendants were there, one of Nobunaga’s trusted generals, Akechi Mitsuhide, turned against him. Mitsuhide secretly assembled a small force that surrounded the temple and attacked. Few in numbers, Nobunaga and his available companions couldn’t hold out against the overwhelming odds. To avoid being captured, Nobunaga had the inside of the temple lit on fire, and commited seppuku (ritual suicide).

Nobunaga’s body wasn’t recovered in the burnt remains of Honnoji, which there are numerous theories as to why. One of those theories states that Nobunaga’s body was charred beyond recognition. Another is he did escape with a few others, committed suicide in another location, and had his body hidden by those attendants who accompanied him.

5) Osaka Jo was being built over the remains of what used to be Ishiyama Honganji, the same place Oda Nobunaga attacked in order to quell Ikko Ikki movement. This was discussed in the previous part.

6) Although historically recognized under the surname “Toyotomi”, he originally didn’t use this. While a retainer of Oda Nobunaga, Hideyoshi used the surname “Hashiba” (羽柴). It wasn’t until later after during his own trek to be the ruler of Japan that Hideyoshi would have his last name changed to “Toyotomi”.

7) 小牧・長久手の戦い

8) Kazumasu had an insider by the name of Maeda Nagasada who was originally trusted to guard Kanie Jo while Nobunaga Nobukatsu and his army went out to battle Hideyoshi’s force. Upon arrival, Nagasada let Kazumasu and his force into the castle to take over with no resistance.

9) Some sources speculate that Sumitaka’s death may not have come naturally, but was premeditated by Yoshitaka. Some of those speculations range from him either being poisoned, or assassinated while outside the castle Toba Jo.

10) Yoshitaka held this rank while under Oda Nobunaga. It is possible that when he left serving the Oda house that he’d forfeited it.

11) This is known as “Kaizoku Kinshirei” (海賊禁止令), or “Kaizoku Teishirei” (海賊停止令).

12) This campaign to Korea, called “Bunroku no Eki (文禄の役), was one stage of a bigger goal, which was to conquer China. Since Hideyoshi was unsuccessful with this, he was unable to even step foot into China.

13) This large ship was called “Nihonmaru”.

14) The Korean naval force at the time was, in comparison to the Japanese, under-utilized and lack of combat experience. In earlier times it was well developed though, and had unique strategies and ships.

Yi Sun Shin, who was in his 30s at the time, had a military background of repelling Jurchen marauders, and was quite successful. Rising in the ranks, he was, about 1 year before the invasion promoted to command the regional navy in the city Yeosu, located on the southern coast of South Korea. Yi is regarded as being a genius concerning military affairs, despite the fact he had no experience with naval warfare beforehand. Sources say that he made preparations in advance when it was known that the Japanese were going to invade. Along with studying the geography in case battles took place at certain locations, Yi depended on weather conditions as well. With the use of scouts watching the Japanese’s movement, Yi was always several steps ahead of them.

15) 亀甲船. Pronounced “Geobukseon” (거북선) in Korean, it gets its name due to the armored covering on top of the ship, which looks like a turtle’s shell.

16) 熊川の戦い. This is in reference to the Japanese castle “Kumakawa Wajo”, or “Ungcheon Waesong” (웅천왜성) in its proper phonetic in Korean, which was constructed in South Gyeongsang Province (south eastern region of South Korea). It is but one of the many castles that the Japanese army built during their invasions in Korea.

17) 堀内氏善. He was a commander of the Kumano suigun, which also had connections with the Kuki clan.

18) As the Toba suigun was in the service of the eastern army, Toyota Goroemon, who was to take the hand of Yoshitaka’s eldest daughter, was left to take care of Toba Jo. Whether by force or batting a blind eye, Yoshitaka and others stormed it and eventually claimed the castle.

19) 北勝蔵. Shōzō is Yoshitaka’s 4th son’s father-in-law. He lived not too far from Yoshitaka, more north of Ise no Kuni.

宮川の渡し. At the time, Miyakawa no Watashi (Miyakawa Crossing) was a large river in the northern part of Ise no Kuni that was too wide to swim across. A popular route for those on religious pilgrimages, those with boats, such as Kita Shōzō, provided service to many travelers that wished to cross Miyakawa no Watashi.

20) Kuki Moritaka knew that the task of making his father change sides was a test of his loyalty. He also was aware that in his midst was a spy to observe his loyalty to the eastern army. Despite his efforts to protect his father, Moritaka’s attack on Toba Jo was inevitable.

21) Some sources claim that Yoshitaka’s side shot empty rounds from their rifles.

22) Present day Sekigahara Cho in Fuwa District, Gifu Prefecture.

23) 洞仙庵.

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