Kuki Archives: Opposition against Yoshitaka’s Retirement

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything regarding famous members of the Kuki clan. For those not familiar with this, I have a good number of posts regarding the Kuki family and their history as an influential group both in religious practice and military conflicts. Although I do have a topic related to them I was planning to post later this year I will be speaking about a new one that just came to my attention.

A few days ago a report appeared in The Sankei News, a Japanese online news site, about the discovery of a note written by Kuki Yoshitaka shortly after Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s death in 1598. Yoshitaka promised he and his son Moritaka will not retire from service under the guise of a monk. What does this mean, exactly? I looked further into the subject and found more info regarding this matter. Below is the actual note, along with the original Japanese.

The original letter is from Sakai Museum in Osaka, Japan. Both images are from the website Toby City

A quick explanation of the contents, Yoshitaka is promising that there will be no attempt to retire by taking up the guise of one who wants to become a monk without the permission of Toyotomi governing body. On the note, along with Yoshitaka and his son’s signatures are those of 5 magistrates who were involved in structuring Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s governing body, along with their personal seals¹:

  • Natsuka Masaie
  • Ishida Mitsunari
  • Mashita Nagamori
  • Asano Nagamasa
  • Maeda Gen’i

A key word that is associated with this is “hōtai” (法体). Taking such action as hōtai was not uncommon for those warriors who’ve spent most of their career performing military duties to retire by shaving their hair off, and living the remainder of their lives away from normal civilization such as a temple…even if they don’t officially take up vows to become a monk. It is known historically that soon after Hideyoshi’s death that Yoshitaka stepped down as head of the Kuki clan, and made his oldest son Moritaka take up the responsibilities of handling military affairs as the next successor. This was the case since, if we use this note as proof, there was no option for him to retire at a temple as a monk.

Let’s delve into this point a little more deeply. What is so significant about Kuki Yoshitaka retiring soon after his master passed away? For starters, it shows his loyalty to only Toyotomi Hideyoshi. It is also symbolic, that Yoshitaka too “died” with his master, and that he would live his life peacefully away from the turmoil in life wearing monk’s clothing and taking up a Buddhist name. This is not so different from what Hosokawa Fujitaka (father) and Hosokawa Tadaoki (son) did when Oda Nobunaga, Hideyoshi’s predecessor, died during the attack at Honnoji in 1582. Both father & son were in the same position where they expressed undying loyalty to Nobunaga, thus retired from military service by becoming monks.

On the other hand, Kuki Yoshitaka was a seasoned commander who was reaching an age where he may have been tired of fighting. On top of this, right before Hideyoshi’s death he had participated in the 1st invasion of Korea (1592-1598), where he and others were met with a very sour and disheartening defeat, especially in the hands of the Korean navy. It may very well be possible that these factors contributed to Yoshitaka to consider retiring through hōtai. Reason for this is while serving Oda Nobunaga he had much success and received many rewards, yet did not attempt to retire after Nobunaga’s untimely death. Still, this is just speculation.

At the end of the day, the discovery of this note by Kuki Yoshitaka is very significant. Documentations like these help to piece missing information about certain people or events from the past. For those who are interested. I have written numerous articles about the Kuki family and key events in their history, including Kuki Yoshitaka’s career from start to finish. These are under the series title “Kuki Archives”, which you can do a search for. To read the posts about Yoshitaka’s directly, here’s the links to part 1 and part 2.

1) On the actual note, all participants identified themselves by their family names, then by their appointed titles.

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.