Legend of the Suzuki Clan ~ Part 2

Been away from my blog for a little over a month working on a special project. I was very happy to be chosen to participate in it, although it took up most of my time to do anything else. My role in this project is finally done, and should be in the process of completion. I will share news about this project when time draws near to its public announcement.

Without any further delays, I present part 2 of my discussion on the famous Suzuki Shigetatsu and the rest of the Suzuki clan.


In part 1, we discussed about the roots of Suzuki Hyūga-no-Kami Shigetatsu, along with a short historical review of him and his family line’s activities during Sengoku period. There are few sources that credit him as a famed military strategist, as well as refer to the Suzuki clan’s military capabilities. The goal for today’s post is to look into the miltary skills and experiences the Suzuki clan possessed as a whole, as well as other external sources that add to their nobility status.


From the information readily available about the Suzuki clan of Terabe, their military career had many low lights. They faced many defeats at the hands of superior armies, yet were interesting still considered an elite family. With this in mind, what makes their military knowledge, which Suzuki Hyūga-no-Kami Shigetatsu shared with Yamamoto Kansuke, valuable?


Here’s a diagram from the document “Yamaga ryu Shirotori no Zu” (山鹿流城取の圖), which illustrates establishing a fort on a seamount and river. Could this be related to what Kansuke learned from Shigetatsu?

The strategies for warfare, such as shirotori¹ (establishing one’s fort during times of war and peace) that come from the Suzuki clan is often called “Suzuki ryu Gungaku²”. This labeling is common to indicate military-centric methods and ideology that is tied to a particular family or group. While Suzuki ryu Gungaku is also noted to form the basis for many other schools of military thought, such as Yamaga ryu and Kōshū ryu, there are no actual physical sources of this Suzuki ryu Gungaku, making it impossible to compare. Was the Suzuki clan’s strategies for warring that significant, or was it a case of mere attachment to bolster another family’s military credibility?

According to sources such as “Kanbon Nihon Bugei Shoden³”, Suzuki ryu Gungaku falls under several other names, including Hojo ryu, and Genji ryu. This indicates that the Suzuki clan shares a connection to other prestigious families with a military-centric background, which potentially contributes to their strategies on warfare.

Taking a look from a historical standpoint, the Suzuki clan that were servants of the Fujishiro Shrine grew to have many branches, with some conceived from other families in different parts of Japan. While bearing the surname Suzuki, some of these other lines also do not hesitate to state roots to other well-established & resourceful clans. Below is a brief rundown on three famous clans whom the Suzuki clan not only claim a connection to, but possibly contributed to the famed Suzuki ryu Gungaku one way or another.

(From “Kanbon Nihonbugei Shoden”, it is mentioned how Suzuki ryu is seen as one of the sources for other styles of military strategy. On page 46, a sample of a version of Yamage ryu’s lineage is listed, which is written as so:
Suzuki (Shigetatsu) → Kansuke (Yamamoto) → Hirose Gozaemon → Hayakawa Yazaemon → Obata Kagenori


  • The Minamoto clan (源氏) was an elite, military family. Being bestowed their surname from the imperial court, the Minamoto clan had an illustrious resume during the 12th and 13th century. This included their successful victory against the rivalling Taira clan, as well as gaining the imperial edict to control Japan, albeit for a limited time.
  • The Suzuki clan’s claim of blood ties with the Minamoto clan was through the noble Nishina family (仁科氏) of Shinano no Kuni. The Nishina family were also influential in their own rights as they bore royal roots through Shigemori of the Kanmu-Taira family.
  • In documents such as “Iwashiro Nishina Keizu⁴” and “Heike Monogatari⁵”, certain individuals are mentioned to have dealings with the Minamoto clan. This happened during the conflicts of “Jishō Jūei no Ran” (Disturbance during Jishō period and Juei period), which spanned from 1180 to 1185.
  • At the same time, a few Suzuki clan members were involved on the side of the Minamoto clan as well, as mentioned in old texts such as the “Gikeiki⁶”. This includes the nephews of Suzuki Shigeyoshi (鈴木重善)⁷, Shigeie (重家)⁸ and Shigekiyo (重清), who both met the famed commander Minamoto no Yoshitsune in Kishū Kumano. From there, they fought side by side in many battles with him against the rivalling Taira clan (平氏).
  • Speculations are that the relationship between the Nishina clan and Suzuki clan happened around this time. However, details of this are very scarce. It’s possible this relationship ranged from the marriage between certain members from each side to the adoption of the other clan’s surname.
  • Due to their ties with both Minamoto clan and Nishina clan, and the fact that they fought side by side, the Suzuki gained further knowledge of warfare. How much of it was recorded as tactics for future use is unknown.


  • Suzuki family of Terabe, like a few other Suzuki lines, claimed blood relation to a famous strategist by the name of Kusunoki Masashige (楠正成)⁹.
  • Masashige was famed as a true, naturally gifted strategist during the 14th century, for he went beyond the standard tactics that were derived from Chinese text, and brought forth those that directly reflected the progression of battles that took place at the time.
  • The Suzuki clan’s claims of direct blood relations was through the marraige to one of Masashige’s relatives. One version of this claim is that the birth mother of a Suzuki Shigenori (鈴木重範) was a member of the Kusunoki clan. Another side of the claim states, specifically by the Suzuki family of Terabe, that while Suzuki Shigenori was employed at the Southern imperial court in the early 14th century, his son Shigekazu (重員) was the one who had a child with Kusunoki Masashige’s daughter, Masako.
  • Due to the blood connection and the fact that both sides supported the Southern imperial court, it’s possible that the Kusunoki methods were shared with the Suzuki family that would later reside in Terabe, and thus incorporated into their military tactics. Or could it be a case where the simple blood ties is used to bolster their image?

There are few documents in existence of Kusunoki Masashige’s teachings on warfare. For example, from the “Kusunoki Masashige Ikkansho” (楠正成一巻書) is a section called “Shirozeme Rōjōshō no Kokoroe no Koto” (城責篭城ノ心得ノ事), which discusses strategies a commander can use against an approaching enemy force while occupying a fort (left side of the pic above). Did the Suzuki family of Terabe also make use of the same information?


  • The Hojo clan (北条氏) was a prominent family between the early 1100s to the 1300s that claimed governmental control and authority on administrative activities behind the scenes. A clan with a long history, they also had other branches of family lines that would be influential in their own respect.
  • Members of a Suzuki family line from Enashi village became retainers for the Go-Hojo family (後北条氏), which was a particular line that claimed to be descendants of the royal Kanmu Taira line through the Isei Hojo clan.
  • This Suzuki line began with Suzuki Shigetomo (鈴木繁伴), who would settle in Enashi Village in Tagata District, Izu no Kuni (present day Izu Penninsula of Shizuoka Prefecture) in around the early 1330s.
  • The 1st member to become a retainer was Suzuki Shigemune (鈴木繁宗). In 1493, Shigemune would enter the Izu suigun (Izu Navy), which was under the service of the Go-Hojo clan. This navy was also labeled as “Hojo suigun”.
  • The 2nd member, Suzuki Shigesada (鈴木繁定), would become a vassel to Go-Hojo clan, as well as warrior/commander in the Izu Suigun during the 1500s
  • The 3rd member, Suzuki Shigeuji (鈴木繁氏), was also a descendant of the Suzuki family from Enashi Village. He would serve under Go-Hojo clan when reaching adulthood. However, this servitude ended abruptly upon the Go-Hojo’s defeat at the hands of Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s forces during “Odawara Seibatsu” (Conquest of Odawara).

Bearing such an elaborate history, one would imagine that a military manual or memoirs of some sorts would exist to verify the extent of the Suzuki clan’s knowledge, especially from the Suzuki family of Terabe. From what has been stated by other researchers, there is none. There can be many reasons for this, including all documentations lost along with Terabe castle after their major defeat at the hands of Sakuma Nobumori. We can only imagine what type of knowledge it could’ve been through remaining sources such as Yamamoto Kansuke’s teachings.

This wraps up our discussion on the Suzuki clan. As a whole, the Suzuki clan possesssed a long history, which involved other prominent and noble clans. While their involvement in various military campaigns told through historical documents warrant they possessed some experience on the battlefield, there are no physical evidence in the form of notes just how well-versed their own strategies were. Just how talented Suzuki Hyūga-no-Kami Shigetatsu was as a strategist, we may just never know.

1) 城取り

2) 鈴木流軍学

3) 完本日本武芸小伝. A compilation of 2 older books, as well as new content: Honcho Bugei Shoden (本朝武芸小伝), Shinsen Bujutsu Ryūsoroku (新撰武術流祖禄). Author/compiler was Watatani Kiyoshi.

4) 岩城仁科系図. This is a document that outlines the lineage of the Nishina family.

5) 平家物語. An 8-part series of the events that transpired between the Taira family and Minamoto family during the 12th century in the form of a war story. Written during the Kamakura period (1185-1333), the original author has yet to be determined.

6) 義経記. Like the Heike Monogatari, the Gikeiki is also a story about the conflicts between the Taira clan & Minamoto clan, but the perspective is mainly from the viewpoint of the protagonist, Minamoto no Yoshitsune. Compiled into an 8-part series, it’s believed to have been written between the Nanboku period and Muromachi period. Author is unknown.

7) He was discussed abit in part 1.

8) Suzuki Shigeie was also known by the nickname “Suzuki Saburō” (鈴木三郎). Oftentimes, his full title is written as “Suzuki Saburō Shigeie” (鈴木三郎重家).

9) In some cases, also written as 楠木正成.

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