Kuki Archives: Pioneering ~ Part 1

Looking at any of the family lineage charts of the Kuki clan that are public, you will notice they are pretty large. There are many family branches on these charts, some blood line and some not. At different time periods various members migrated to different regions in Japan, with their influence having an effect on their environment one way or the other. In a 3-part series, I will focus on the main line¹ of the Kuki clan, touching upon some key historical events. Ranging from where they resided down to merits earned, we’ll look through the pages of history and discover those individuals who, as pioneers, contributed to making the Kuki name famous.

The Kuki family’s first venture is by its originator, Fujiwara Ryūshin². A descendant of an ancient & prestige clan called Fujiwara, it is no mystery that he would be recognized by this family name in many historical document. Interestingly, Ryūshin would pick up other titles and nicknames, a few based on his professions at one point³. The family name “Kuki” would come much later, which possibly is a derivative of yet another one granted to him called “Kukami”⁴. While there’s a good account of his life, there are many unclear parts to Ryūshin’s story, even up to his final days.

A map of Japan where Fujiwara Ryūshin was active in throughout his life.

Ryūshin was alive and active in the 1300s, during the Nanbokucho period⁵. He was born in the Kumano area, where his father was a head priest at the shrine called Hongu Taisha in Wakayama prefecture. In historical documentations, especially those attached to famous landmarks, his birthdate is stated as unknown⁶. Due to his family’s well-being, Ryūshin was not only educated, he was also considered a skilled fighter due to access in studying martial, military, and esoteric arts⁷. These he learned both from his family, as well as at temples up in Mt. Kurama foumd in Japan’s capital Heian Kyo (present-day Kyoto prefecture).

In his adulthood, Ryūshin resided in Sagura, located in Ise no Kuni (present day Yokkaichi city). As a supporter of the Southern Emperor Godaigo, he would show his loyalty by working at the Southern Court in Yoshino (present day Yoshino town in Nara prefecture) as a soldier. Upon climbing the ranks, he rose to the position of Chūjō, meaning “Vice Admiral”. To distinguish this, his title while in service was “Sagura Chūjō Ryūshin”⁸.

Years later, around 1346⁹, Ryūshin was attacked by a Northern court supporter named Nikki Yoshinaga¹⁰, through the betrayal of Hiraga Kurando¹¹. Details about this are scarce, for example it’s not mentioned where & how this incident took place, nor if Ryūshin along with his collegues faced this assault. In any event, this incident drove Ryūshin away from Sagura.

Ryūshin would move abit more south west, and make his new residence in an area called “Kuki Ura¹²”. Kuki Ura is generally said to be in Mie Prefecture around Kii Muro District. However, if we get more specific, most historical records would point to eastern part of Owase City found in Kii Peninsula within the southern region of Mie prefecture. This new area had many large hills and trees, giving it a natural defense against threats. A harbor was not too far away from Kii Peninsula, which gave access to naval travel to the Kuki family, as well as develop their seafaring skills¹³. This location was also useful later for the Kuki Suigun.

Ryūshin would establish a fortress called Kuki Jo (九鬼城, Kuki Castle) in the hills that overlooked the sea. Later, a town called Kuki Cho (九鬼町, Kuki Town) would be developed around Kuki Jo. With a background in Shinto practice, Ryūshin would also have a hand in the construction of a temple called Yakushiji (薬師寺), now known present day as Shinganji (真巌寺).

A picture of Kuki Jinja. Taken by and copyright of Yanai Kenichiro. Used with permission.

Kuki Takaharu¹⁴, Ryūshin’s oldest son, would later assist in the development of a shrine to the west of Kuki jo. This shrine, called Tenmangu, sat ontop of a tree-laden hill in front of the docks with this location called “Miya no Tani” (Imperial’s Vally). An offering of “Goninbari” bow¹⁵ and arrows were presented to this new shrine. Generations later, it’s name was changed from “Tenmangū” to “Kuki Jinja”.

Ryūshin and his family’s influence in this area is still seen today. While Kuki Jo is no more, Kuki Cho and the shrines they established still exist. Kuki Cho continued to grow over the many generations, with a flourishing fishing community, and a Kuki Station on the Japanese National Railway. As a form of markings from the past, many of the older houses there still bear a “Hidari Mitsudomoe” crest along the top of the roofs, which is one of the 2 kamon (family crest) of the Kuki. The influence of the Kuki clan still remains in this town.

This wraps up part 1, through the first steps of pioneering done by Fujiwara Ryūshin. Part 2 will be out soon, to continue with the ventures of the Kuki clan.


1) This line, often considered original, is nicknamed “Kunaike” (宮内家), which means “Imperial household” or “Family of the Imperial line”.

2) 藤原隆真. The name “Ryūshin” doesn’t follow the “conventional” naming style, although it’s possibly an exception for his time period. How his name may have also been pronounced is shared from Kuki-related Japanese sites as “Takazane”. Another possible pronunciation is “Takamasa”. These would not only be viewed as more culturally correct, but would put his name in line with how his descendants are named.

3) An example, “Yakushimaru” is a childhood name he used. This was given to him based on his successful conception and birth believed possible by the prayers his mother performed to the Buddhist god Yakushi at the temple Enryakuji, which is on Mt. Hiei in the northern part of Kyoto.

4) The background info of “Kukami” is related to Ryūshin’s story of martial prowess and unshaken loyalty to the Southern court Emperor Godaigo. Documentations regarding this are found in the possession of the Kuki family. For more on this, please read one of my older posts here.

On the other hand, many sources that speak either of the Kuki family’s martial traditions, military exploits, religious connections, or territorial migration give different accounts just when the Kuki name was in use. There’s much confusion when trying to sort reality from fiction. For the most part, the name “Kuki” was used later in Ryūshin’s life, possibly after residing in Kuki Ura for many years.

5) 南北朝時代. The title “Nabokucho” refers to the split in the Imperial house located in Kyoto around 1336, where 2 brothers by the names of Komyo and Godaigo were in disagreement regarding who was next in line to take the throne as Emperor. Thus, 2 Imperial courts were established that recognized each brother as an Emperor, one to the north of Kyoto (Komyo) and the other to the south (Godaigo). Despite years of conflict both on and off the battlefield, both courts were finally unified in 1392.

6) In sources from those related to the main Kuki line, Ryūshin’s birthdate is stated to be either 1317 or 1318.

7) The original martial system Ryūshin learned is called “Shinden Fujiwara Musō ryu (神伝藤原無双流). Along with esoteric training, he also studied the martial arts once taught at the temples on Mt. Kurama.

8) 佐倉中将隆真. This title means “Vice Admiral Ryūshin of Sagura”. It was not uncommon during ancient times where one’s last name (if that individual had a last name) would be dropped and replaced by either where they come from or where they are employed at.

9) Depending on the source, the actual date is conflicting. For example, in “Kiizoku Fuushiki” (紀伊続風土記), date written is 1367. Other sources, such as “Owase no Uramura” (おわせの浦村), date is 1346. Differences could be based on the calender used. Following the standards how historical events are presented by accepted sources and records, I am using the latter.

10) 仁木義長. Yoshinaga was a vassal of the Ashikaga clan, as well as a commander. Being of the Northern court, he took part in conflicts against the Southern Emperor Godaigo and his supporters. Apparently, Yoshinaga, along with the help of his brother, was able to get certain individuals from the Southern court territories to side with him.

11) Kurando was a lord of an area in Hanawa District, located in what is know known as Tsugaru, Aomori Prefecture.

12) 九木浦. While pronounced the same, Kuki Ura’s “Kuki” is different from the family name “Kuki”. The 2nd character in Kuki Ura stands for “tree”, different from the one in the Kuki family’s name “九鬼”, which stands for “demon”. Apparently, it was first written as “九鬼浦”, but changed years later to what it is now.

13) Most of Ryūshin’s knowledge of navel matters originally comes from the Kumano Betto (head priests) that administered the 3 grand shrines in the mountains of Kumano in Wakayama prefecture. For example, the head priest Tanzō (湛増) (1130-1198) is famous for commanding the Kumano Suigun (Kumano Navy) that assisted Minamoto no Yoshitsune in defeating the Taira clan in the battle “Dan no Ura” in 1185.

14) 隆治. Not to be confused with the Takaharu born in Meiji period (1886-1980), this Takaharu is the oldest son of Ryūshin and counted as the 2nd in line as head of this Kuki line. In regards to both the martial/religious traditions and the militaristic engagements of the Kuki family, Takaharu’s name doesn’t come up. Cross referencing the different lineage charts in books such as “Shinden Bujutsu” (written by Takatsuka Eichoku) and “Kukishinden Zensho: Nakatomi Shintō, Kumano Shugendō” (written by Agō Kiyohiko), his name is not on them, as if skipped. Reason for this could be that he didn’t partake in/inherit anything.

For information about this Takaharu, one would have to access other sources related to where he resided/grew up. For example, Takaharu is mentioned on the official homepage for Kuki Cho here, as well as on some other sites. Common background info is that Takaharu was employed at the Sourthern court in Ise no Kuni as a “Sunaisuke” (少輔), which is equivalent to “Assistant Vice-Minister”. You can say that he followed in his father’s footsteps and worked in the same place Ryūshin did. He returned much later home, where he aided his aging father in the construction of the shrine Tenmangū.

15) 五人張りの弓. “Goninbari” bow means a bow that requires five people to string & prep for use. That is, four people bend the bow, while one person strings it.