Hayashizaki Shigenobu: Pioneer of Sword-Drawing

For over half a year, we have been working on the basic skills and finer qualities of battōjutsu, as taught in Chikushin Martial & Cultural Training Group. Having a great interest in battōjutsu early in my martial arts career, I’ve personally been training in this based on different instructions received alongside with kenjutsu. For those curious, battōjutsu (抜刀術) is a systematic approach to drawing out a sheathed Japanese sword to cut, often labeled as “sword-drawing” and “draw-cutting”¹. Generally the techniques for sword-drawing are widely recognized by a more modern title, “iaidō²” (iai for short), although there are certain martial schools that still use the term battōjutsu (battō for short)³.

For today’s article, we’ll take a look into the origins of battō (iai), which is tied to Hayashizaki Jinsuke Shigenobu, the founder of this unique sword system. Sources used in writing this include (but not limited to) the following:



The origins of battō/iai as we know it today takes place around the mid 1500s by a young man named Hayashizaki Jinsuke Minamoto Shigenobu (林崎甚助源重信). While many martial schools give credit to his extraordinary development of techniques for fast “draw-cutting”, the reasoning for him even creating such a sword style was under grim conditions. To understand this, we’ll look further into the family he was born into.

Pic of a statue of Hayashizaki Shigenobu, which is housed in Hayashizaki Iaijinja. From the book “Kanbon Nihon Bugei Shoden”.

While Shigenobu is widely known under the surname “Hayashizaki”, he was originally from the Asano family. He’s the son of Asano Kazuma Minamoto Shigeharu (浅野数馬源重治) and Sugano (菅野). Shigeharu, Shigenobu’s father, was once a guard acting as lead inspector of the northern section of the Imperial palace. From 1538 he was employed as an officer to serve Mogami Inaba-no-Kami Mitsuhide (最上因幡守満英), who was the 6th lord of Tateoka castle in Dewa Country (present day Murayama City, Yamagata Prefecture). Sugano⁴, Shigenobu’s mother, was from the Takagi family of Tateoka, Dewa Country. Shigeharu and Sugano would get married in 1540, and later have Shigenobu in Tateoka in 1542. Upon his birth, Shigenobu was given the name “Tamijimaru” (民治丸).

In the Asano family, their ancestral deity⁵ was “Kumano Myōjin” (熊野明神), whom they prayed to. Kumano Myōjin (also referred to as “Hayashizaki Myōjin” in some sources) was housed in a 3-room shrine within “Arayato no Ji” (荒宿の地), an area located in the northeast section of Hayashizaki grounds of Ōkura forest (present day Hayashizaki, Murayama City, Yamagata Prefecture). Shigeharu continued with these customs and paid his respects with his family when they had the chance to visit Kumano Myōjin shrine.



Sometime in 1547, Asano Shigeharu went to go play a game of Go⁶ with a priest at the Kumano Myōjin shrine. After spending his day doing so, he was returning home late in the night. On his way home, Shigeharu was targeted by a warrior named Sakaichi Unsai (坂一雲斎)⁷, who apparently harbored ill intentions against him. Using the night as a cover, Unsai ambushed Shigeharu and murders him. Later Shigeharu’s death is notified to his family members, as well as the identity of the murderer. Fueled with anguish, Sugano and her son plotted to get revenge against Sakaichi Unsai.

Shigenobu and his mother would remain in Tateoka, where he began receiving training in kenjutsu at the age of 8 from Higashine Keibu Tayu (東根刑部太夫)⁸, who was a warrior of Tateoka castle. In 1554, Shigenobu, at the age of 13, would periodically stay at Kumano Myōjin shrine to pray not only for protection and success in extracting vengeance to his family’s ancestral deity, but to receive further instructions to perfect his use with the sword. Armed with his late father’s family sword called Nobukuni (信國), he trained in the methods of kenjutsu, and worked hard in developing a style that would prove effective against his target. Instead of just merely practicing how to swing a sword in a duel-like fashion, Shigenobu focused on techniques that evolved around drawing the sword out of its sheath to deliver unpredictable cuts. The family sword he trained with was a rather long one, measuring to 3 shaku 2 sun⁹. Possibly made for use on the battlefield, this sword gave him exceptional reach. To effectively use it for fast-draw cutting purposes, especially against someone who used a shorter sword, Shigenobu would need to develop methods for drawing this long sword out with speed.



It is said that in 1556, Shigenobu underwent a special ritual called “Hyakunichi no Sanrō¹⁰”, where he spent 100 days at the shrine devoting himself to prayer for guidance in perfecting his ability in battō. Sometime during the evening of the 100th day, Shigenobu witnessed a divine vision. While sleeping, he was visited by Kumano Myōjin in his dreams, who demonstrated to him a secret technique called “Manji Nuki¹¹”. In learning this, Shigenobu became enlightened to the inner secrets of sword-drawing. With this revelation, he decided to call his sword system “Shinmyō Hijutsu no Junsui Battō¹²”, and set off to train further to a master-like level with the sword.

An insert from ”Jinrin Kinmō Zui, vol. #7″ (人倫訓蒙図彙7巻) from year 1690. Entitled “Iai Torite” (いあいとりて), it depicts a swordsman using methods of iai (sword-drawing method) to defeat 2 opponents. From Wikipedia.

Reaching the age of 18 in 1559, Shigenobu changed his name from “Asano Tamijimaru” to “Hayashizaki Jinsuke Minamoto Shigenobu”¹³. This was to identify his growth, as well as paying homage to the grounds where he was nurtured into a swordsman, Hayashizaki. In recognition of this growth, his sword system today is respectively called “Hayashizaki Musō ryū¹⁴”,  as this title reflects how he was divinely enlightened in the secret methods of battō.

Assuming his new name and role as a swordsman, Shigenobu set out to fulfill his family’s desire for revenge on his father’s murderer, Sakaichi Unsai. This doesn’t happen overnight, however, as time was needed to possibly track down his target. This finally becomes a reality, for in 1561 Shigenobu was able to locate Sakaichi Unsai at his home in the capitol city Kyō (present day Kyōto, Japan). Details of the confrontation varies depending on the source which tells it, so no concrete info on how it transpired. What all sources agree on is that Shigenobu was able to cut down Sakaichi and successfully extract revenge. With his mission completed, he then returned back to his hometown, and paid his respects at Kumano Myōjin shrine. He also offered the Nobukuni sword to the shrine.



Upon returning home, Shigenobu was caring for his sick mother. However, a year after successfully carrying out revenge, Shiguno passed away in 1562. With no other responsibilities at hand, Shigenobu left Hayashizaki to travel around Japan and further refine his martial skills. He crossed into a few areas well known for their martial combat. For example, it is said that in 1563 he went to Kashima and received tutelage from Tsukahara Bokuden¹⁵ (塚原卜傳), founder of Kashima Shintō ryū¹⁶. Shigenobu was able to learn the secret method of Kashima Shintō ryū’s highest technique, called “Ichi no Tachi¹⁷”. It is also mentioned that he studied Tenshin Shoden Katori Shintō ryū¹⁸. Outside of kenjutsu training, Shigenobu studied “Onmyō Kaigō¹⁹ during his stay at Ichi-no-Miya (present day Omiya)²⁰ in Owari Country (present day Aichi Prefecture). The philosophy from Onmyō Kaigō was also incorporated into his sword-drawing style.

Outside of his own personal kenjutsu training, Shigenobu took the role of instructor for his own sword system. For example, in 1563 he resided in Yonezawa, Aizu (Fukushima Prefecture) for some time. During this, he was actively instructing his style of battōjutsu to those in Akai Village, Wakamatsu (Fukushima Prefecture). During the course of his journey Shigenobu gained other students. Notable names that developed their own sword drawing style based on Shigenobu’s teaching include the following:

  • Tōshimo Tsuke-no-Kami Motoharu²¹ (founder of Shinmei Musō Tō ryū²²)
  • Tamiya Heibē Shigemasa²³ (founder of Tamiya ryū²⁴)
  • Katayama Hōki-no-Kami Hisayasu²⁵ (founder of Hōki ryū²⁶)
  • Takamatsu Kanbē Nobukatsu²⁷ (founder of Ichi-no-Miya ryū²⁸)


A pic of Hayashizaki Iaijinja. From Wikipedia.

In his later years, Shigenobu stayed for about a year in the residence of his student, Takamatsu Kanbē Nobukatsu in Kawagoe, Bushū (present day Kawagoe City, Saitama Prefecture). In 1617, he received permission to leave on a short trip to Ōu (north-eastern section of Japan). However, during the same year he later became very ill in the middle of his travel, and passed away. Although he passed in an untimely manner, his name and his system of sword-drawing lives on. In recognition to his life, the Kumano Myōjin shrine was renamed to “Iaijinja” (居合神社).



This concludes the history of Hayashizaki Shigenobu, and how he developed the martial system of sword-drawing. I hope this was a good and informative read for everyone.

1) Other older names used for the system of draw-cutting includes “saya no uchi” (鞘の内), “iai” (different from the modern naming convention, these are written as either 居相 or 坐合), “bakken” (抜剣), and “nukiawase” (抜合).

2) 居合道. Iaidō is the modern, non-violent approach to sword-drawing, which stems from the older version “iaijutsu” (居合術).

3) There have been many debates regarding the differences between the names “battō” and “iai”. Some points made range from one specializing only in seated forms to one incorporating practices such as test cutting. The truth is, there are no real differences, for they both mean the same thing.

The use of either battō or iai throughout history lies on certain factors. One example falls on which naming convention was popular at given time. Another, depended on current headmaster of specific school and what principles & philosophies that were intended to be expressed. We also have to keep in mind that as Japan moved more to periods of less wars and conflicts, some surviving schools changed their curriculum from being combat-oriented to self-development. Iaidō is a prime example of this.

All in all, while the various sword-drawing styles of today may focus on specializing in certain traits, the underlining meaning between the words battō and iai are the same.

4) Sugano is unusual as a given name. On top of this, she is also associated with another name that is written as “志我井”. This could possibly be her given name, but pronunciation is obscure.

5) Known as “soshin” (祖神)

6) 碁. Go is a Japanese board game where players try to dominate the territory of their opponent.

7) Some sources also indicate that he was known by the name “Sakagami Shūzen” (坂上主膳).

8) “Tayu” is not his given name, as it indicates his position or rank. Why is his given name not revealed is unknown.

9) 3 shaku 2 sun = 96.96 cm or 38.2 in.

10) 百日参籠

11) 卍抜. Another way it is written is “Manjiken” (万字剣).

12) 神妙秘術の純粋抜刀

13) This is done in a ceremony when a boy reaches his coming of age, which is called Genpuku (元服).

14) 林崎夢想流. Also known as “Shin Musō Hayashizaki ryū” (神夢想林崎流). Take note that Hayashizaki Shigenobu himself did not name his sword system this, but later generations did in remembrance of his contribution.

15) There is an article about Tsukahara Bokuden, which can be read here.

16) In Japanese sources, this is mentioned in a vague manner, as it is stated alongside with Shigenobu’s travel to Kashima to study under Tsukahara Bokuden. Under who and exactly where he studied Katori Shintō ryū is not made clear. While historically Bokuden learned Katori Shintō ryū at a young age, as an adult he started his own martial system.

17) The full title of what Shigenobu is said to have been taught is “Kashima Shintō ryū Saikō Hiden Tenka Dai Ichi no Ken” (鹿島新当流最高秘伝天下第一之剣).

18) 鹿島新当流

19) 陰陽開合. While the exact details are not described, this is related to rhythmic exercises, which is found in specific martial systems such as Taikyokuken (太極拳).

20) Old name is 一宮, new name is 大宮

21) 東下野守元治

22) 神明夢想東流

23) 田宮平兵衛重正

24) 田宮流

25) 片山伯耆守久安

26) 伯耆流

27) 高松勘兵衛信勝

28) 一宮流

Phases of Martial Structuring: Kyūsen no Michi ~ Part 2

This is part 2 of the discussion on Kyūsen no Michi. Here, we narrow our focus more on the components that defined how this militaristic system worked to craft those into warriors according to how battles were engaged and played out. Whereas the usage of the word “kyūsen”, along with militaristic history of Japanese archery was covered in part 1, for part 2 we will go over the known different groups & styles of archery, as well as a few recognized innovators concerning the bow & arrow. This discussion will also include some categorizing within the world of kyūsen, along with some comparing and contrasting, will be in order.

A good number of handy sources were used for this discussion, including the following:

Take note that part 2 became much bigger than intended in order to give a proper insight of Japan’s archery. Despite it’s size, it does not give a 100% definitive overview, as there are some information not added, lest it grows into something on the level of a research paper. Still, part 2 should provide enough insight on how significant and respected Kyūsen no Michi was to the point that many warriors invested their lives into it.


In order to properly cover the specifics that make up Kyūsen no Michi, it is important to know that, on a technical and cultural level in relations to combat purposes, there are two types of archery (kyūjutsu in Japanese). The first is called Koryū kyūjutsu (古流弓術, Old-style archery), while the second is called Shinryū kyūjutsu (新流弓術, New-style archery). The categorization of these are both based on time period, equipment, and technique:

  • Koryū – Ancient times, with notable structuring from Heian period until early 1400s period
  • Shinryū – Around late 1400s onward until the abolishment of the warrior class in late 1800s


Due to how integral kyūjutsu was in a warrior’s career, many groups specialized in it. Some groups preserved the lessons on archery as their own family styles, while others would learn that particular style and represent it usually indicating that they are a branch of it. Below are lists of some of the well known archery styles throughout Japan’s history, along with the founder and the time they were alive.

The first one is for those that fall under the Koryū kyūjutsu category:

Kyusen List01

The next list shows the styles that fall under the Shinryū category:

Kyusen List02

Along with this, are the different branches related to Heki ryū:

Kyusen List03

While the records pertaining to archery found in manuals & documents list these mentioned above and many more, take note that a lot of them are no longer in existance. The styles that are still active include Ogasawara ryū, Honda ryū, Takeda ryū, and Heki ryū Insai ha.


Here are some general descriptions between Koryū kyūjutsu and Shinryū kyūjutsu. Note that this is more in reference to how they were conducted before the warrior class was abolished as a whole.

A listing of archers of Taishi ryū, by rank. From Kanbon Nihon Bugei Shoden.

Koryū Kyūjutsu

  • Generally categorized as reisha (礼射), or “ceremonial-centric archery”, due to the emphasis on etiquette, customary practices, and focus on displaying shooting prowess.
  • During battles, archery was primarily use, both from long range to close range
  • Off the battlefield, archers demonstrated great focus and control while shooting targets at various distances.
  • Engaged in outing activities requiring feats of shooting while on horseback, such as hunting, and special target courses classified under Kisha Mitsumono (騎射三物)
  • Unison between rider and horse, called “jinba ittai” (人馬一体) in Japanese, was important
  • Considered a developing practice since ancient times, ceremonial practices within archery slowed abit due to power struggles from Heian period to early Muromachi period, as archers in battle was of necessary use
  • Once the ways of Koryū kyūjutsu was seen non-viable in combat during Muromachi period (around start of 1400s), it was revitalized and preserved in Ogasawara ryu through restructuring.


  • Despite being considered reisha due to its high focus in shooting ability and ritualistic customs, Koryū kyūjutsu had fighting elements and was indeed acceptable training for combat
  • While much of the skillset emphasized on shooting from horseback, archers did also practice shooting while on foot
  • On foot, the bow was held at an angle when shooting arrows.
  • Although some existing styles such as Ogasawara ryū Reihō (小笠原流礼法) practice solely reisha, few groups such as Bushido Shinkōkai and Dai Nihon Kyūbakai preserve the fighting element of Koryū kyūjutsu not only with the bow & arrow, but with the tachi and naginata.

Shinryū kyūjutsu

  • Generally labeled as busha (武射), or “military-centric archery”, as this was designed specifically for use on the battlefield according to the new direction wars were approached.
  • Developed during Muromachi period between mid to late 1400s, when the tactics of war switched to large infantry, formations, and close range skirmishes
  • For the sake of combat efficiency, archers primarily performed on foot, but also had knowledge on how to shoot while on horseback
  • Archers were trained to coordinate together using group tactics
  • Trained to work under all types of conditions, including wet/bad weather, at night, on a boat, in a tower, and when the need to switch to close range fighting arised
  • Used barricades, such as tate (楯), as defense against long range attacks, as well as fenced areas as protection against flankers/disrupters
  • Contested with firearms (i.e. rifles, cannons) from mid-ending 1500s.
  • From Edo period (1603~1868) onward, once firearms took precedence in how wars were conducted, groups such as the Shimazu clan retained the effectiveness of archery by studying & incorporating rifle formations.


  • Shinryū kyūjutsu isn’t completely unique and different. It was built off of koryū kyūjutsu, inherited certain aspects, then redefined specifically for combat purposes, thus why it’s called “the new style of archery”
  • Yoshida Shigeharu (吉田重春) is credited for implementing customary practices to Heki ryū starting in the mid 1600s. However, as it is not the same as reisha of Ogasawara ryū, Heki ryū’s is called taihai (体拝).
  • Today, existing Shinryū kyūjutsu styles such as Heki ryū retain busha, as well as practice taihai.


Here’s a short comparison between Koryū kyūjutsu and Shinryū kyūjutsu.

A mokuroku (list of techniques) of Ban Dōsetsu ryū kyūjutsu. Fron Kanbon Nihon Bugei Shoden.

Koryū kyūjutsu

  • Archers used larger bows, such as fusedakeyumi (伏竹弓, made out of wood and bamboo) and marukiyumi (丸木弓, curved wooden bow)
  • During the Heian period, wore large box-like armor called ōyoroi for added protection
  • Smaller draw due to technical issues such as mobility limitations while on horseback, large kabuto (helmet), etc.
  • Archery done by cavalry was called kisha (騎射)
  • Closing the range while on horseback increase accuracy to vulnerable areas
  • Wore tomo (lefthand glove) to prevent string from injuring hand on return
  • Carried tachi on left side

Shinryū kyūjutsu

  • Used smaller bows
  • Archery done while walking was called hosha (歩射)
  • From the Muromachi period onward, archers wore revised, slim fitting armor, which allowed less restrictions in drawing skills and mobility while on foot
  • Used larger draw and other techniques to increase an arrow’s power and penetration capabilities (i.e. allowing the bow to turn ccw in the hand)
  • Carried uchigatana (slightly shorter battlefield sword for upclose fighting) and unique equipment to adapt to certain situations, such as uchine (打根), spear point on top of bow, etc.


Below are a few renown archers that are pioneers in Japan’s history of archery.

Ogasawara Sadamune / 小笠原貞宗

Picture of Ogasawara Sadamune. From Shūko Jisshu (集古十種). From Wikipedia.


  • Born in 1292, Sadamune was a warrior from Matsuo, Shinano Province (present day Ida City, Nagano Prefecture)
  • As a member of the established Ogasawara clan, he worked for the Kamakura Bakufu through Hōjō Sadatoki
  • Made a name for himself in Heian Kyō (Imperial capital, present day Kyōto) during the early-mid 1300s, as he participated in many battles such as the campaigns against the Mongol invasions, assault on Emperor Go-Daigo, the attack on Kusunoki Masanari’s Akasaka castle, and the battle of Kamakura
  • Sadamune earned merits for his efforts, was named “Shinano Shuei” (信濃守衛, Protector of Shinano), and established his residence in Shinshū prefecture.
  • Known for his involvement in zen, and was a worshiper of Marishiten, the “God of War” (武の神, Bu no Kami)
  • Sadamune created “Ogasawara ryu Reihō”, which features the rituals, etiquette, and customs practiced by high-ranking warrior families
  • Ogasawara ryū Reihō contains reisha, the preservation of Koryū kyūjutsu, which includes ceremonial practices, expert level with the bow & arrow, and feats of archery while on horseback
  • Sadamune established the principles of “sha – go – rei” (射・御・礼), which are the standard for reisha
  • His contributions inspired others to learn and add this to further their worth as warriors

Heki Danjo Masatsugu / 日置弾正正次

A picture of Heki Danjo Masatsugu. from the collection of the Toda household of the Bishu-Chikurin branch. From Wikipedia.


  • Birthdate is uncertain, although some sources say around 1444
  • Believed to have been born in either Yamato Province (present day Nara Prefecture) or Iga (present day Mie Prefecture)
  • Originally studied Henmi ryū, Masatsugu participated in many battles in the northern parts of Japan, such as Ōnin War (1467~1477)
  • While serving as a warrior, Masatsugu had opportunities on the field to utilize the bow & arrow according to how it would prove useful
  • Main focus on the redivision of archery was on militaristic usage, both in and outside of the battlefield.
  • Established the principles of “kan – chū – kyū” (貫・中・久¹) as the highest level of Heki ryū kyūjutsu
  • After a life of battles, Masatsugu traveled around Japan to test his methods. It is from this time he meets Yoshida Shigekata.
  • After choosing his successor (Yoshida Shigekata), Masatsugu retired by living in one of the temples within the mountainous region called Kōyasan located in Kishu (present day Wakayama Prefecture)
  • Some of the titles he used includes “Rurikōbō” (瑠璃光坊) “Dōi” (道以) , and “Itoku” (威徳)
  • Masatsugu is known as the “pioneer who revitalized the archery of Japan”, as he brought attention to the new ways the bow & arrow could be used in battle during a time where many viewed them as obsolete.
  • Despite his fame through the effectiveness of Heki ryū, much mysteries surround his existence, to the point where some researchers speculate that Masatsugu could be a fabrication

Yoshida Shigekata / 吉田重賢

  • Born 1463, Shigekata came from Gamō County, Ōmi Province (present day Ryūō Town, Gamō County, Shiga Prefecture)
  • Was a retainer of Rokkaku Sazaki in Ōmi Province (present day Shiga prefecture)
  • Shigekata was a skilled archer, studied different archery styles such as Ogasawara ryū, Takeda ryū, and Henmi ryū
  • When Heki Danjō Masatsugu came to visit the Rokkaku clan, he encountered Shigekata and tested him on his archery abilities. Yoshida was able to pass the test, which from there Masatsugu instructed him on the highest levels of Heki ryu before passing successorship to him.
  • Discerned the effectiveness of Heki ryū according to the times by organizing the lessons
  • Shigekata is recognized for passing down the teachings of Heki ryū to others through his family style “Heki Yoshida ryū”, which held the highest teachings of this style of archery.
  • Not much info on him, despite his legitimate family line
  • Due to the lack of info, some researchers speculate if he and Heki Danjō Masatsugu were the same person


We’ve come to the conclusion of Kyūsen no Michi. This is just a small sample of the large amount of information found in Japan’s archery history, especially when dealing with the technical side of things. Stay tuned, as we will move on to a different phase pertaining to how Japan’s methodology to combat changed and developed.

1) There is another version, which is “hi – chū – kan” (飛・貫・中). They are not 100% the same. Here’s a quick explanation.

  • kan – chū – kyū = Penetrate the target, always hit the target, and last long enough to keep doing the first two points
  • hi – chū – kan = Shoot from long range to hit the target, always hit the target, and penetrate the target

They are both associated with Heki ryū. The difference may be between the different branches and the methodology that was passed down in each one.

On another note, there are other modernized 3-point principles, but they pertain to kyūdo and are geared more towards one’s shooting form.

Tales of Bravery: Nasu no Yoichi

In my previous post I spoke about Kyūba no Michi as a systematized martial system used during the Heian period to Kamakura period. There are many stories and tales of warriors who represent this, some displaying remarkable skills against unfavorable odds, or impeccable judgment during critical moments to change the tide in their favor.

An example of this is “Heike Monogatari¹”, which is a written account of the conflicts between the Taira clan and Minamoto clan as they struggled for power to rule over Japan. In it is the heroic tale of a young warrior named Nasu no Yoichi² and his display of archery prowess. The setting takes place at the end of a battle at Yashima³ in 1185, where the Taira had moved out into the sea, and hid then 8-year old emperor Antoku on board of one of 8 boats attached together. These boats were positioned a good distance in the sea away from the shore, where the army of the Minamoto stood out of reach. As a form of a taunt, a crimson red fan with a circle drawn in the center was placed on a pole of a boat many yards away from the shore where the Minamoto army watched from, daring them to shoot it down.

Nasu no Yoichi, an individual known to possess exceptional archery skills within the ranks of the Minamoto army, was chosen among his peers to shoot the fan down. Riding his horse out into the turbulent sea, Yoichi’s fate, along with the pride of the Minamoto army, will be determined by a single arrow.


Drawing of Nasu no Yoichi on a kakejiku (hanging scroll). Yoichi is shown drawing his bow, in preparation to take a shot at a fan.

In the original source, this tale is told entirely in 2 chapters, which are “Ōgi no Mato⁴”, and the other called “Yuminagashi⁵”. Here is the original Japanese text, along with an English translation done by myself, of this critical moment.




Yoichi rode his horse into the sea around 21 meters, as the shooting distance was too far from the shore. Even then, the distance of the fan appeared to be at a distance around 147 meters.

The time was around 6 pm, evening, of the 28th day of the 2nd month. Yet, at the time the wind from the north was blowing strongly, and the waves that crashed upon the shore were tall. As the boat bobs up and down, the fan also waves around on the pole troublesomely. Out in the sea, members of the Taira gather to one side of their boat as they look on. At the shore, Yoshitsune looks on while straightening the bit of his horse. There is no one, absolutely no one, who would not say this moment is grand.




As Yoichi closed his eyes, he prays in his heart, “Praise to bodhisattva Hachiman, god of Shimotsuke Province’s Nikko Gongen⁶ in Utsunomiya. Oh, great god of the Nasu family’s Yuizumi shrine, please allow me to shoot straight into the center of the fan. If I am disgraced by my shooting, I will not face my people again, as I will split my bow, and kill myself. Please, let this arrow not miss its mark, as I want to be able to return to my home country.”

Opening his eyes, he notices the wind blowing in his direction started to die down, while the fan appeared easier to aim at.


Ehagaki (postcard) showing a depiction of Nasu no Yoichi shooting the fan off of the pole on one of the Taira’s boats.


Taking his whistling arrow and nocking it on his bow, Yoichi draws the string back, and lets the arrow fly. While appearing small in frame, he is a very strong archer who can group 12 arrows while pulling a long bow. The screech from the whistling went on for a long time, as it echos off the waves. The arrow did not miss its mark, as it propels straight through the center of the circle just a bit away from the outer edge. As the whistling arrow sailed into the sea, the fan rose skyward. It flutters around in the air for a bit, then is tossed around once, then twice by a spring breeze. Finally, the fan crumbles into the sea.


Yoichi’s miraculous deed is an example of Kyūba no Michi, and how the importance placed upon the bow could near decide victory or defeat. Look out for more tales as such, as I will be adding those that correspond with the different phases of Japan’s martial systems.

1) 平家物語

2) 那須与一. In some sources, such as “Nasu no Yoichi no Katari” (那須与市語), the name is also written as “那須与市”.

3) Known as “Yashima no Tatakai” (屋島の戦い) in Japanese.

4) 扇的

5) 弓流

6) This is a shrine, presently known as Nikkō Futaarasan Jinja (日光二荒山神社) , located in Nikkō City, Tochigi Prefecture.

Reiwa no Hajimari: Enthronement of the New Emperor

On May 1st, from around 10:30 am¹ the official ceremony where now Emperor Naruhito ascended upon the throne and became the 126 Emperor of Japan commenced. This took place at the Imperial Palace located in Tokyo Prefecture. The ceremony, entitled “Shin-Tennō Heika Sokui” (新天皇陛下即位), was televised and almost 2 hours long! Of course, this included waiting time, as well as departure time of both Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako.

Emperor Naruhito (2nd from right) and Empress Masako (right) stand in front of their guests during the enthronement ceremony.

To summarize, the live broadcast of the ceremony consisted of several segments, a few more significant than others:

1) The arrival of new Emperor Naruhito & guests to the palace (即位の儀式へ)

2) Passing of the 3 Imperial Treasures (剣璽等承継の儀²)

3) Arrival of new Empress Masako (皇后雅子さまが皇居へ出発)

4) Invitees taking audience before the new Emperor & Empress (即位後朝見の儀³)

5) First speech by the new Emperor (初おことば⁴)

Passing of the 3 Imperial Treasures (sword, mirror, and jewels) to Emperor Naruhito.

Some segments were much shorter than others. Still, it was a momentous occasion for many who were able to watch the ceremony.

Final moments of the ceremony. Click on each pic for a short description.

From here on, Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako represent the Imperial family. May 1 is also the start of the new era Reiwa, which also marks their time of reign.

1) Japan is 13 hours ahead of where I live, so the ceremony has long past from the time of writing this post.

2) Pronounced “Kenji tō Shōkei no Gi”

3) Pronounced “Sokui go Chōken no Gi”

4) Pronounced “Hatsu Okotoba”.

Extra Details about Chiba Sana

*2/8/2021 – A few updates to specific information. Big thanks to Kazuyo Matsuda of “Fine Ladies Kendo Worldwide”.

Here’s the continuation of my previous post on Chiba Sana. This time around, some extra tidbits regarding Sana and her family that are not usually mentioned, or not even known in English, will be covered here.



There are 2 ways to write the name Sana. In a Hokushin Ittō ryū mokuroku (list of technique names) given to Sakamoto Ryōma, it is written in kanji as 佐那. Honorary monuments and signs use this one today as well. However, in a mortuary tablet it is written as 佐奈. The difference in writing the 2nd character is unknown, but it is possible that for the mortuary tablet it was not known which kanji was used. In any event, both ways of writing are used to identify Sana.

For the name Sanako, apparently this is what was written on her grave at Seiunji in Kōfu City, Yamanashi. It is written as “さな子”, with the 1st 2 characters written in hiragana.


From a letter that Ryōma sent to his older sister Otome in 1863, we learn about the other talents Sana was adept in. Other than martial arts and healing practices, Sana was well versed in other areas such as horseback riding, drawing pictures, and playing the koto (Japanese 13-stringed instrument). There may have been more, but this is all that has been uncovered so far.


There are a few popular portraits that float around the web said to be Sana. Actually, they are not. Interestingly, there are no photos taken of her while she was alive. This is not an unusual case. Researchers have yet to come across an official photo of Sana from her family.

Below are 2 common ones that are mistaken to be her.

Satō Kichi, from Wikipedia

This is actually a picture taken of Satō Kichi, who was a top class geisha during the 1800s. She would later become a hair stylist and restaurant owner. She also bears the nickname “Tōjin Okichi” (唐人お吉). Kichi had this picture take when she was 19.

Kusumoto Takako, from Wikipedia

This pic is of a girl named Takako, who was the daughter of a Kusumoto Ine, the 1st Japanese woman to specialize in Western medicine. This was taken in 1872, when Takako was 20 years old.

While the 2 women’s bios are official in Japan, and almost all Japanese websites do not reference them to Sana anymore, it is unfortunate that some websites outside of Japan still do. I hope that this post can bring awareness about the matter, and prevent further accidental use of these 2 photos.


In a document put out by the present Hokushin Ittō ryū Honbu, Sana is stated as assisting in starting the Chiba Gekikenkai. This establishment was significant, for it not only helped in bringing popularity back to gekiken, but to reinvigorate interest in martial arts. As Japan entered Meiji period (1868~1912), much changed in terms of government and direction of lifestyle of the people. As times were becoming much peaceful, people were focusing on progressive means of living, including work.

Interest in būjutsu was fading drastically, as most schools taught techniques styled for combat on the battlefield. Many people did not want to get involved in such practices anymore due to the violent events that had taken place towards the late-mid 1800s, which ushered in the new Meiji period. A great number of training halls closed their doors, family styles were being forgotten, and the warrior class was becoming obsolete. The Chiba Gekikenkai, on the other hand, gave way to a new direction for applying the martial spirit in a competitive environment.

There is a famous woodblock print of a female utilizing a naginata against a male using a shinai. This is an artistic scene of how gekiken took place at the Chiba Dōjō. For the longest this female is said to be Chiba Sana, yet has not been proven 100% yet. One of the issues is that the name next to the woman is different.

A snapshot of the newspaper article about Chiba Sana and the woodblock print. Original source is here.

On February 13th 2010, an article was published in Asahi Newspaper where researchers detailed their search into the matter of the woodblock print. The label next to the woman reads “Chiba Tei – woman” (千葉貞女), with woman as an indicator of her gender. One rumor is that this is Chiba Tei, the grandchild of Chiba Shūsaku, Sadakichi’s older brother and 1st headmaster of Genbukan Dojo. However, the article states that there are no records of any women from Shūsaku’s family line ever participating in gekiken competition. Another point mentioned is that there were only about 3 women who took part in the Chiba Gekikenkai, and Sana is believed to be one of them. Furthermore, there appears to be no records of any women bearing the name of “Chiba Tei”.

Why label Sana as “Chiba Tei”? It is possible, from my personal assumption, that the label wasn’t stating a name, but is actually a complement — most likely towards Sana if this truly is her. If you look at the Japanese characters “千葉貞女” again, and read 貞 (tei) and 女 (onna) together, they make up the word “virtuous woman”. So it is quite possible that the label is stating “the virtuous woman of the Chiba family”. Why “Sana” was omitted is a mystery to me, but there are numerous cases where individuals’ names are omitted from historical or artistic works, especially for women.


In Ryōma’s Hokushin Ittō ryu mokuroku, it has the names of those members of the Chiba family who not only trained with him, but as proof of his training within this martial system. The names are the following:

千葉周作 – Chiba Shūsaku

千葉定吉 – Chiba Sadakichi

千葉重太郎 – Chiba Jūtarō

千葉佐那 – Chiba Sana

千葉里幾 – Chiba Riki

千葉幾久 – Chiba Kiku

Names as written in the mokuroku. They are indicated in the red box. It is read from right to left, from top to bottom. Note that for Sana and her sisters’ names, the character 女 (onna) is written after each one to indicate that they are females.

Along with Sana, the names of her younger sisters Riki and Kiku are written as well. This is a good indication that they too studied Hokushin Ittō ryu. On what skill level did they reach and how long they trained is not mentioned. Still, this indicates that Sana was not the only female of the Chiba family who trains. This also includes her older sister Umeo (梅尾), whom she learned naginatajutsu from.


On the website, “Hokushin Ittõ ryū~Chibake“, it is mentioned that Sana did a form of martial arts performance that earned her much acclaim. Found in a documentation related to the Chiba family, it is stated that when she was 16, Sana displayed her martial prowess before the wife of the lord of Takamatsu Domain. There is not enough information, however, on the particulars of this.


A snapshot of the page. The line stating Sana’s martial performance is underlined in red.

For example, there is a Takamatsu Domain located in Kagawa Prefecture in Shikoku (southern part of Japan), which is pretty far of a journey to make from Edo (present day Tokyo). While there was a villa established in Edo by the 1st Takamatsu Domain lord Matsudaira Yorishige (originally from old Hitachi Province, a section of present day Ibaragi Prefecture) for him to reside in 1664, it is not known whether later successors utilized the same villa. Also, what type of performance Sana took part in (whether demonstration of techniques or 1 vs 1 match) is not explained. This all has to be taken with a grain of salt.


That’s all I have regarding Chiba Sana. An individual quite active up until her last days, Sana lived a life with many impactful events, which should have better documentation. Hope all find this and the previous post informative and enjoyable.

Chiba Sana: A Warrior and Healer

*3/15/2019 – A small update on the name of Sana’s youngest sister, as well as on the text for the pic “Chiba Gekikenkai”.
*2/8/2021 – A few updates to specific information. Big thanks to Kazuyo Matsuda of “Fine Ladies Kendo Worldwide”.

For the last few months I spent a lot of time researching on a female historical figure named Chiba Sana¹. Sana is renown as both skilled in bujutsu, as well as possessed a beauty few others could rival during somewhat peaceful times in Japan. Those who train in Classical Japanese martial arts, especially in her family’s martial system, probably have heard references of her. She has appeared in several Japanese novels, as well as received big exposure in the historical drama called “Ryōmaden” a few years back in Japan. For today’s post, I will attempt to do a concise coverage on Chiba Sana’s life story, and events that she took part in.

In reality, Chiba Sana’s history is not well documented, for there is not just one source that covers the entirety of her life in one sitting. Outside of novels, much of her story is relayed in different Japanese websites, albeit in bits and pieces. Visiting websites such as “Bakumatsushin Shinsengumi“, “Sakamatsu Ryōma, Sono Yukari to Tochi to Hitobito“, “Kōfushi Kankōcho“, and “Hokushin Ittō ryu Honbu Kōshiki Site” provide good insight about Sana and significant events that took place in her life. The only troubling point out of all this is the differences in dates some resources provide. This is due in part with how dates were recorded based on the varying calendar systems Japan had implemented at different points. I’ve done my best to determine the correct date based on certain factors, for example Sana and others’ ages that were mentioned for specific events.



Born in 1838, Sana (千葉佐那) was the 3rd child & 2nd oldest daughter to the Chiba family. Her original name was Otome², but changed to Sana at some point. Her parents were Sadakichi, her father, and Taki³, her mother. Her siblings include an older brother named Jūtarō, older sister named Umeo, and several younger sisters named, Riki, Kiku, and Hama.


A small section from the 3-panel woodblock print called “Chiba Gekikenkai” (千葉撃剣会) by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi. The woman shown here is often said to be Chiba Sana. Visit here to see the entire print.

She and her family grew up in Oke Town of Yae Province, Edo (present day Tokyo). Her father opened Okemachi Chiba Dojo⁴ in the same location. Sadakichi was headmaster of the Hokushin Ittō ryū taught there, and his dojo was one half of this family style, with the other being the Genbukan dojo run by his older brother, Chiba Shūsaku. While well known for its specialty in kenjutsu, this system was also unique as the Okemachi Chiba Dojo’s doors were open for all to train in, including common folks. This openness made the Chiba’s dojo popular & sought by many the train at, including those from different dojos. Due to this and Sadakichi being employed as a retainer (samurai) to the Ikeda family, lords over Tottori Domain, Sana’s family was considered wealthy and elite.

Sana studied Hokushin Ittō ryū at a young age along with her siblings. She had great interest in bujutsu as she learned many things, such as kenjutsu. It is recorded that Sana was especially skilled in using the kodachi (short sword), that she received menkyo kaiden (mastery level) in kodachijutsu at the age of fourteen. Her older sister taught her naginatajutsu, which was quite renown due to Sadakichi’s efforts of developing it; he especially took the time to refine the techniques of the naginata while employed under Uwajima District, as well as testing it against different opponents while on a training trip in Takamatsu District. Thus, the effectiveness of this naginatajutsu is also reflected in Sana’s ability to utilize it. During her active time as a bujutsuka (practitioner of the warrior arts), Sana assumed the role as kenjutsu shihan (sword teacher) and naginata shihan (naginata teacher) and taught others her family style’s martial system.

Along with her famed talent in bujutsu, Sana is also recorded as being admired for her beauty. Bearing such a combination, she had nicknames such as “beautiful devil of the Chiba family” and “little Miss Beauty Chiba”⁵. One event that displays both qualities is mentioned in a book written by Date Munenari entitled “Kōhon Ranzankōki”⁶. When Sana was 19, she went to Uwajima Domain as a kenjutsu instructor for the Date family to train their daughter named Mako (正姫). During her time there, she had a sparring match with the soon-to-be 9th domain head, Date Munē (age 27), and was able to win against him. Other than physically losing, Munē was also defeated by her looks, as he also deemed her beauty surpassing others. In the aforementioned book it is written of him saying, “Sana is a lady of beauty that surpasses all in both noble establishments (of the Date family)⁷”.


Possibly the most famous aspect of Sana’s life is her relationship with the imperial loyalist named Sakamoto Ryōma. In 1853, Ryōma, a country samurai from Tosa Domain in Kōchi Prefecture, traveled to the Okemachi Chiba dojo to further his martial arts training. Taken in as a student, he would learn Hokushin Ittō ryū. With Sana and her siblings as his seniors, he trained with them, studying kenjutsu and naginatajutsu.


A picture of Sakamoto Ryōma. From Wikipedia.

Within a few years⁸, Sana and Ryōma would get close during their short time knowing each other. At some point, Ryōma requested from his teacher Sadakichi permission to marry Sana. He was granted this permission, and preparations were made for an engagement through a wedding ceremony. Ryōma had no gift from his family to offer. Instead, Ryōma had a montsuke (clothing that featured his family’s crest) made, which he wore to represent the bonding of 2 families. From Sana, a tantō was given to Ryōma as a gift. From there they became engaged.

In 1858, some time after the engagement, Ryōma ended his training at the Okemachi Chiba Dojo and quickly returned back to Tosa Domain to further study at a few other locations. Despite the engagement, Sana would lose communication with him for several years. Sana would see him again in 1862, when Ryōma visited the Chiba Dojo as a safe haven after running away from his hometown. While there, it is said that Sadakichi encouraged a full show of commitment to Sana from him. With nothing else at hand, Ryōma gave to her a sleeve that had his family’s crest on it. Through this gesture, Sana and Ryōma would be considered as marriage couples.

This was short lived, as Ryōma would leave with Sana’s older brother, Jūtarō, and head to Edo, where he later gets involved in stirring political movements against the Bakufu and certain political figures. In 1864, he would meet another woman by the name of Narasaki Ryō, or generally called Oryō. The 2 would get officially married in 1866.

It is said that during his absence, Sana held on to the belief that she was his wife, and was unaware that Ryōma had married another woman. However, she would learn in 1868 about his untimely death at the hands of assassins. She attempted to commit suicide, but was stopped by her father. She would keep his single sleeve as a memento and proof of their union.


In 1871, things changed for the Chiba family. Sana’s father would retire as head of their household. Jūtarō, who was the 2nd successor by blood, went to work as a sword instructor for Tottori Domain. In his place, his adopted son Tochiro would become the 3rd successor, and have permission to run the Chiba Dojo. Soon afterwards, Sana and Tochiro, alongside with Chiba Shūnosuke from the Genbukan Dojo, started the Chiba Gekikenkai. Gekiken, an older form of today’s kendo, became popular for the sake of competition, and drew lots of attention. Many sword practitioners of different styles participated in the Chiba Gekikenkai, as well as those students of the Chiba Dojo. As a whole, the number of students in the Chiba Dojo grew tremendously, and the Chiba Dojo flourished for many years.

At some point, Sana would leave home and purchased an old apartment complex in Yokohama⁹. As a business venture, she acted as a land lord and earned revenue. In 1873, she got involved with a man named Yamaguchi Kikujirō, who was also residing in Yokohama. Sana and Kikujirō got married in 1874, and their union would last until 1876, where they separated due to personal issues. At the same token, she gave up the apartment complex and left Yokohama. Needing to relocate, she made contact with Tokubei, an individual who had worked for the Chiba family years ago, and stayed in his residence in Kawasaki.

While in Kawasaki, Sana began working her hand at moxibustion therapy¹⁰. This is something she learned from her father at some point while growing up. Reaffirming that she can perform what she was taught correctly, Sana put this into practice and began treating people, and was greeted with successful results.

In 1883, Sana accompanied her elder brother Jūtarō as they both went to Edo for work. While Jūtarō continued his occupation as a sword instructor, Sana gained employment as a school dormitory dean at Kazoku Jogakkō (Kazoku Women’s School)¹¹. It is said that she revealed to the graduating class her relationship with the late Sakamoto Ryōma, and showed to them the keepsake sleeve that she received as proof of their bond. On her spare time, it is said that she continued to perform moxibustion therapy, which helped to maintain her skills in this.


In 1885, Jūtarō passes away at the age of 61. Sana continued with her position as dormitory dean for a few more years until finally retiring from Kazoku Jogakkō in 1888. She made no effort returning to her hometown, for there was too much internal strife; many of her relatives struggled amongst themselves for successor-ship of the Chiba household. Instead, in an effort to make use of her talent for healing, she would rent a small building, and started the “Chiba Moxibustion Therapy Clinic”¹² in Senju, a town in Adachi District, Edo. Her business did very well, as many people would visit her clinic for treatment. Although her clinic would have to relocate at one point due to the construction of a government office, her business progressed smoothly.

Word got around about Sana’s treatment, which attracted those from far away. Itagaki Taisuke, a statesman who was also from the same hometown as Sakamoto Ryōma, paid her clinic a visit. Getting familiar with Sana and her practice, he requested that she treated an acquaintance of his who was ill. Later, following Taisuke’s recommendation, his friend Otagiri Genmei and his wife¹³ made their way to Sana’s clinic. While receiving treatment, Sana and the Otagiri couple made a meaningful connection, primarily due to Sana not having any immediate family members living with her. Genmei’s wife offered at one point that when she passed, that she’d have her body sent to be buried in the Otagiri family’s personal temple Hōdaiji located in Seiunji Temple in Kōfu City, Yamanashi. That way, her grave would be tended to regulary, and she would not be alone in the next world. Sana agreed to this, and the Otagiri couple made sure that preparations were made.

While she didn’t have children of her own, Sana did adopt Yūtaro, her nephew, as her own in 1892. Yuutaro was the oldest son of Sana’s younger sister, Kiku, who had passed away in an accident. Yūtaro lived with Sana up until 1895, where he passed away at the age of 26 due to ailing health. Although she lived alone most of the later portion of her life, she had good relations with her siblings, and kept in contact with her grandchilddren.


Chiba Sana’s grave at Seiunji. From Wikipedia.

Sana lived up to the age of 58, where she would pass away in 1896. Her body was moved into the burial site of Seiunji as arranged. Interestingly, the Chiba Moxibustion Therapy Clinic was maintained as a family business, and was run by the remaining Chiba members well into the 1900s.


We’ve reached the end of Chiba Sana’s story. Sana started her early childhood in bujutsu and was reputed as a strong female warrior, while in her later years she switched to healing arts to help those in need. There will be a follow up post later this week that continues with this post. It will feature some extra details that gives a little more information about specific aspects to Sana and those around her, as well as debunks some information that are even inaccurate in Japan.

1) 千葉佐奈. She is also referred to as Sanako (さなこ).

2) 乙女

3) Also called “Takiko” (瀧子)in some sources.

4) Also known as the “Ko-Chiba” (小千葉), as it was originally one part of the Genbukan Dojo, or “Oo-Chiba Dojo” (大千葉道場) located in Nihonbashi Muro Town in Edo. Genbukan Dojo was opened by Shūsaku, Sadakichi’s older brother. Since Shūsaku was older and started his dojo first, his was considered the main, while Sadakichi’s was considered the minor. This meant that admittance into the Genbukan was exclusive to more advanced, higher-skilled individuals, while those of lower skill level were sent to Okemachi Chiba Dojo.

5) Original nicknames in Japanese are “千葉の⿁⼩町” (Chiba no oni komachi) and “⼩千葉⼩町” (Ko-Chiba komachi).

6) 稿本藍山公記.

7) The orginal is written as so in Japanese, as shown on Wikipedia:


There is a note that explains it further:


This refers to the women in the 2 households of the Date family, and how Munē feels that Sana surpasses them all.

8) Ryōma trained twice at the Okemachi Chiba Dojo. Starting in 1853, he would end his training briefly and return back to Tosa Domain in 1854. During his absence the Chiba family’s dojo suffered severe fire damages due to an earthquake, and had to relocate to another location not too far away. The new dojo was back up and running again, and in time for Ryōma’s return in 1856.

9) There are several theories as to why Sana moved to Yokohama, but no concrete evidence to back them up. For example, one theory is that one of Sana’s younger sistsers was living in that complex, which is why Sana was able to purchase it.

10) This is known as Tokugawa Nariaki Jikiden (徳川斉昭直伝). This a moxibustion treatment passed within the Chiba family. This method was that of Tokugawa Nariaki, land owner of Mito Domain. Sadakichi learned it from his older brother, Shūsaku, and would then pass it down to Sana and Jūtarō.

11) 華族女学校. The name has been changed shortly after its conception to Gakushūin (学習院). It is presently known as Gyakushin Girl’s Junior & Senior High School.

12) 千葉灸治院, pronounced “Chiba Kyūji-In”

13) 小田切謙明. Genmei was pioneer in the movement for freedom and people’s rights in Japan during the Meiji period.

Genmei’s wife’s name is written as “豊次”. From what can be told, the correct pronunciation is unknown because this is not a common female name.
2/8/2021 – From recent discovery, the correct pronunciation of “豊次” is Toyoji.

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.

Legend of the Suzuki Clan ~ Part 1

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.


A picture of Fujishiro Jinja. From Wikipedia.

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.


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.


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.


A snapshot of the primary kamon (family emblem) associated with the Suzuki clan circled in red, called “Daki Ine” (抱き稲). From the site “Kamon World“.

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.


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.


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.


Site where Teraba Castle once stood. From Wikipedia.

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.

1) 鈴木日向守重辰

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.

9) 松平郷

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.

15) 桶狭間の戦い

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.

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.

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.