In a previous post, I spoke about a famous general and strategist of the Takeda clan during the 1500s named Yamamoto Kansuke. One aspect that is his claim to fame is studying military affairs of the Suzuki method under an elderly man named Suzuki Hyūga-no-Kami Shigetatsu¹. Like with most things attached to another man’s glory, Kansuke’s impressive career in turn gave much acclaim to Shigetatsu, as well as his family name.
What is the story behind the Suzuki clan? Is there any historical recordings before Yamamoto Kansuke? In this 2-part discussion, we will first look into the history of Shigetatsu’s Suzuki family line, from their roots, military career, down to their final days during Sengoku period.
Suzuki Hyūga-no-Kami Shigetatsu’s family line, as well as many other Suzuki lines², trace their heritage hundreds of years to a prominent family that were servants of the Shinto shrines. This particular name Suzuki was created by the Hozumi clan, whom were priests of the Fujishiro Jinja (Fujishiro Shrine) located in Waguyama Prefecture. This line is often labeled as “Fujishiro Suzuki shi³”. From this, different branches of the Suzuki line were established, whether by inheritance through blood, adoption, or permission to use the name.
Suzuki Shigeyoshi⁴, a descendant of the Fujishiro Suzuki line, is accredited as the originator of the Suzuki line that situated in Mikawa no Kuni (Shigetatsu’s family line). Although his birth date is unknown, it’s believed that he was active around the ending of the Heian period (around the 1180s). It is recorded that Shigeyoshi was a military commander who held the official rank “Gyōbu Saemon-no-Jō⁵” under the Kani system.
During early 1180s, a few of Shigeyoshi’s relatives sided with Minamoto no Yoshitsune during Genpei War⁶, and assisted in bringing down the Taira clan for the sake of the Genji clan. Although victorious, Yoshitsune was later declared a traitor and hunted by his clansmen. As Yoshitsune made his escape to Oshu (older name for the northern region of Japan), those Suzuki members stayed loyal and followed him. Later, Shigeyoshi would also follow suit to reunite with his relatives and journeyed to Oshu in 1189. However, due to a pain disorder in his leg, he was forced to end his journey short in Mikawa no Kuni, where he would remain to reside for the rest of his life.
SUZUKI CLAN OF TERABE
Shigeyoshi would start a Suzuki line in Mikawa no Kuni from around the Kamakura period to the Nanbokucho period. At first, this line resided in Yanami Town, Kamo District (present day Yanami Town, Toyota City in Aichi Prefecture). As they grew in power, this Suzuki line expanded throughout the north-western part of Mikawa, with several members branching out and establishing themselves with their own force. Around Bunmei period (1469~1487), one of those members, known as Suzuki Shigetoki⁷, moved into Terabe (present day Terabe Town, Toyota City) and established Terabe castle⁸ as the home for his family. Bearing a family name with a prestigious background, Shigetoki established the Suzuki’s nobility in Terabe by contributing his family’s military prowess, as well as by keeping strong relations with not only neighboring noble families, but with other Suzuki lines.
Some of the families the Suzuki clan had good relations with in Mikawa are the Chūjō, Miyake, Nasu, and Abe families. Out of these families, Chūjō was the more accomplished, having a more reputable military record as having been retainers for the Hojo clan, as well as serving the Ashikaga Shogunate. With such a reputation, Chūjō clan played more on the leadership role, thus the Suzuki clan of Terabe and other neighboring families were willing to follow on important matters.
TROUBLES WITH MATSUDAIRA
The Matsudaira clan, whom originated from Matsudaira Gyō⁹ (Matsudaira Town), would try to grow in power, making a presence for themselves in Mikawa no Kuni. Constructing Iwazu castle, (within the eastern mountains of Iwazu Town, Okazaki City in the center of Mikawa) they progressively made a name for themselves around their given area. It became apparent that they were an imposing threat for many years, as they grew their strength by force, and having battled with neighboring noble families. As an example, Anjō castle in Anjō¹⁰ (present day Anjō Town, Anjō City in Aichi Prefecture) was taken over strategically by the 4th family head Matsudaira Chikatada in 1471. Using a musical procession to lure the guards and others out of the castle, Chikatada was able to overtake the defenseless castle with a force of 250 troops.
In 1493, Chūjō Akihide¹¹ rallied his neighbors to oust the Matsudaira. Suzuki Shigetoki would muster his troops and participate in the war. Having a combined force of 3000 troops, Shigetoki and his comrades charged upon Matsudaira Chikatada and his army of barely 2000 troops in Idano, Okazaki. Although outnumbered, Chikatada outbested his rivals, concluding the battle near the Matsudaira’s Iwazu castle. In the end, this defeat hurt the morale of Chūjō Akihide, as well as weakened the influence the Chūjō family possessed. In a turn of events, the Suzuki clan rose in power and influence, giving them a chance to become a more recognized noble family.
LOYALTY TO THE IMAGAWA CLAN
In 1533 Suzuki Hyūga-no-Kami Shigenori¹² continued the feud with the Matsudaira clan, as he and the Miyake clan teamed up to engage in a battle against the 7th successor Matsudaira Kiyoyasu. As Kiyoyasu was the next lord of Iwazu castle, they fought near the vicinity of that castle. Despite their combined strength, Shigenori didn’t stand a chance as their opponent would prevail in this battle.
In order to gain support against any future attacks, Suzuki Shigetatsu (aka Shigenori) would become a vassal of Imagawa Yoshimoto, a warlord who had much control of and influence within Mikawa. This servitude would last a few decades, but would cease temporarily. Following alongside Miyake Takasei, Shigetatsu chose to leave the Imagawa household and attempted to switch his loyalties to Oda Nobunaga, a warlord who was making great strides dominating many territories around Japan. Imagawa Yoshimoto couldn’t forgive such actions, so by using his power of authority, he ordered the Matsudaira clan to attack Terabe castle.
Matsudaira Motoyasu¹³, the young lord of Okazaki castle, was one of the members of the Matsudaira clan to accept the order. Acquiring the support from Ueno castle lord Sakai Tadanao¹⁴, Motoyasu led the 1st charge and set upon Terabe castle. Not stopping there, Motoyasu would also attack the castles of comrades to the Suzuki clan. Terabe castle would be overwhelmed, and its inhabitants surrendered. Defeated, Shigetatsu had no choice but to return his loyalty back to Yoshimoto. Motoyasu was rewarded for his successful role in this, including gaining control over the western part of Mikawa.
FALL OF TERABE CASTLE
Throughout the early-mid 1500s the Imagawa clan was in a power struggle with the Oda clan for full control over both Mikawa and Owari. This would finally be decided in 1560, when Imagawa Yoshimoto clashed with Oda Nobunaga in what is known as the “Battle of Okehazama¹⁵”. Yoshimoto had a much larger army in total, spanning over 25,000. While he rallied up his closest subordinates, which included the Matsudaira, the Suzuki clan were not utilized in this battle.
Both sides set up their base in Okehazama, located in Owari no Kuni. Due to poor weather conditions, the fight came to a halt. While Yoshimoto rested with around 3000 of his troops in their base around nighttime, Nobunaga and around 2000 of his soldiers raided the base. Despite smaller in numbers, Oda’s side was successful in killing Imagawa Yoshimoto, and slaughtering the unarmed troops.
With his master dead, Matsudaira Motoyasu quickly returned back to Okazaki castle. Although he was prepared to commit seppuku, Motoyasu was convinced to instead reconsider and focus on surviving for a better future. Giving his stance as one who governed over the western side of Mikawa, he denounced his ties with the Imagawa clan, and made a peace pact¹⁶ with Nobunaga later in 1562. With no further opposition, Nobunaga could move unhindered into Mikawa no Kuni.
The Suzuki clan of Terabe remained loyal to Imagawa Yoshimoto after his death. At the time, Suzuki members Shigenori and Shigeaki held their ground in Terabe castle for several more years. However, in 1566, Nobunaga sent Sakuma Nobumori to attack Terabe castle. Having a large army, Nobumori’s assault was strong enough to beat the Suzuki’s defenses, thus resulting in the fall of Terabe castle into the enemies’ hands. Shigetatsu, along with Shigeaki managed to flee with their lives, and is said to have escaped to Suruga (present day north-eastern part of central Shizuoka Prefecture). What happens afterwards is uncertain, as documents about the Suzuki clan of Terabe have conflicting conclusions.
Suzuki Hyūga-no-Kami Shigetatsu and the Suzuki clan originated from a noble line, and expanded into a reputable warrior family. While Shigetatsu and his family line had some military influence in their area and showed worth, in the end they were outmatched by more powerful warlords. This concludes part 1 of the discussion on the Suzuki clan. Stay tuned to part 2, were we look into the possible links to Shigetatsu’s fabled knowledge on military tactics.
2) There are many different family names with the “Suzuki” pronunciation, but written with different kanji. Some of these versions may have been derived from one another.
3) 藤白鈴木氏. Literally translates as “Suzuki family of Fujishiro Shrine”.
4) 鈴木重善. Original 1st name was Shigetoki, but later changed. Not to be confused with another Suzuki Shigeyoshi (鈴木重義), who was alive a few centuries earlier.
5) 刑部左衛門尉. Job description is something like “3rd officer of the Saemon Fu (Left Division of Outer Palace) for the Ministry of Justice”.
6) Correctly known as the “Jishō Juei no Ran” (Disturbance during Jishō period and Juei period). This spans from 1180 to 1185.
7) 鈴木重時. Full title is Suzuki Shimotsuke-no-Kami Shigetoki. (鈴木下野守重時). No further concrete information about him. Not to be confused with another Suzuki Shigetoki born about a century later and was active in the mid 1500s.
8) It is not certain if Shigetoki had Terabe castle constructed, or if it was acquired as a previously owned castle.
10) It is believed that the Japanese characters for Anjō castle was the same as the area it was located in, which is “安城”. However, after the Sengoku period, records show it written as “安祥”.
11) In some sources, first name is replaced with “Dewa-no-Kami” (出羽守). This is a title that few other members of the Chūjō family used. Full address would be “Chūjō Dewa-no-Kami Akihide”.
12) 鈴木日向守重教. From what is known in available sources, Shigenori is the same person as Shigetatsu, the man claimed to have taught Yamamoto Kansuke. When did he use either names, and why, is not explained.
13) 松平元康. Motoyasu would later change his name to Tokugawa Ieyasu, and unify Japan in the early 1600s.
14) At the time, Tadanao was a retainer to the Matsudaira clan.
16) This pact is generally called “Kiyosu Dōmei” (清洲同盟), but is known under other titles as well. While attempts for a fitting truce between Oda family and Matsudaira family was initially attempted in 1561, both sides couldn’t come to an agreement until sometime in 1562. This was possible after Motoyasu visited Nobunaga’s castle, Kiyosu castle, and both were able to talk face-to-face.