Kuki Archives: Pioneering ~ Part 2

We continue with part 2 of pioneers of the Kuki clan. In part 1, we covered the origins of the Kuki through Fujiwara Ryūshin and his migration to Kuki Ura. While Ryūshin, and many of his descendants would continue to reside at Kuki Ura, at some point a new line will branch off from the main line. This happens through the hands of Kuki Takayoshi¹, who in turn gives way to a new chapter of events that further spreads the name of the Kuki family.

Kuki Takayoshi was born as the 2nd son of Kuki Takafusa², who was the 2nd child of Ryūshin as well as the 3rd generation of the main line. Takayoshi grew up in Kuki Ura, where he would most likely learn the family’s crafts, including seafaring.

The Kuki family had strong ties to the Southern Court. This is due to Ryūshin’s dedication to the Southern Emperor Godaigo. In turn, members of the Kuki clan gained employment at & worked for the Southern Court. While his father, his uncle Takaharu, and older brother Takanaga all had kept up this working history during their youth, Takayoshi instead broke this tradition by not going on the same path. Instead, he became the first to leave the nest and, in 1362 set out to migrate in a different area.

A map of Japan, with Shima no Kuni colored in red. It is along the Tōkaidō (Eastern Sea Road) which is shown shaded, estimated, in green.

Takayoshi headed east, most likely by boat. He arrived in the south eastern part of Mie Prefecture, around a peninsula. This land area, called Shima no Kuni³, has a long rocky coast that was advantageous for anyone who could set up a form of base on any of its points. With the companions that accompanied Takayoshi, they embarked on one area on the rocky coast. They made their home by building a fortress, and called it Nakiri Jo (Nakiri Castle in English)⁴. Takayoshi would reside here for the remainder of his life, thus the Nakiri-Kuki line begins.

The Nakiri-Kuki line would remain in Shima no Kuni for about the next 200 years. They would keep in contact with the main Kuki line through traveling by boat. Over the years, some would offer their services to the ruling power, and earn titles through military service. Kuki Sadataka, the 5th head of the Kuki line, is an example of this, for he worked up to the position of “宮内大輔” (Imperial Vice Minister). Although information is scarce, it is said that Sadatake was an accomplished battle commander who was lord of Nakiri Jo during the 1500s.

Artwork entitled “Shima Nakiri”, by Asano Takeji. From “Ukiyoe Kensaku“.

Interestingly, the Kuki-Nakiri line was well documented as being a powerful family within Shima no Kuni, and having quite an influence in the area. Some of their exploits can be found in old memoirs such as the “Kansei Choushūsho Kafu”⁵, “Kitabatake Monogatari”⁶, and “Shima Gunki”⁷. As the Kuki’s involvement in Shima no Kuni is very important during the medieval age in Japan, I will discuss this in detail below.


Around the mid 1500s, the Kuki of Nakiri were one of 7 families⁸ that controlled 2 of the 13 territories⁹ around the coast of Shima no Kuni, which are Nakiri and Tashiro. At this time, Kuki Kiyotaka was made 6th head of the Kuki line, and was lord of both Nakiri Jo in Daiōzaki Nakiri, and Tashiro Jo in Toba City, Mie Prefecture. He was aided by his teen son Sumitaka¹⁰, and his younger brother Yoshitaka¹¹. The Kuki of Nakiri made a pact between the other families that none would wrongfully cross into the other’s territory for the sake of war. They agreed to keep the peace as they controlled the activities that happened within their borders. This possibly included monopolizing on trades, as well as benefiting off of anything and anyone who came by sea¹². This organization of territorial rule gave them the nickname “The 13 Territorial Lords of Shima”¹³.

Sometime in the mid 1500s, a prestigious clan called Kitabatake sailed into Shima no Kuni with a rather powerful battalion. The clan’s leader, Kitabatake Harutomo, was ambitious in increasing the power and esteem of his family name through force. It is also said that the 7 families became subordinates of the Kitabatake¹⁴. For some time, Harutomo gained control over Shima no Kuni and, possibly used the 7 families as an extension of his own navel force¹⁵. His rule, however, was not absolute; the 7 families still maintained their ownership over their forts and land. So on one hand, it can be said that Harutomo used them as his underlings.

Artwork of Kitabatake Tomonori. Author unkown. From Wikipedia.

For some reason, Kiyotaka devised a scheme to gain control over the other 11 territories, risking the consequences of going against the pact they made with the other 6 families¹⁶. Little by little, the Kuki and their force staged assaults on the other territories, doing so by sea and covert means. With success on their side, the Kuki clan was, for a short period of time, the dominant force and on the road to gaining complete control of Shima no Kuni.

The other 6 families, distraught by the Kuki’s treachery and bold trek for power, decided to band together to fight their stronger opponent. They also gained support from Kitabatake Tomonori, the son of Harutomo, to further strengthen their numbers with his troops and solidify their resolve. They first stormed upon Tashiro Jo, which was defended by Kiyotaka, Sumitaka, Yoshitaka, and their own force. This siege was not an easy endeavor at first for the attackers, for Tashiro Jo had natural fortification through the wetlands that surrounded its perimeter. The Kuki and their force were not pushovers due to their resourcefulness and tactics. On top of this, Kiyotaka is said to have worked hard while being on the defense, for his prowess with the yumiya (bow & arrow)¹⁷ allowed him to keep his attackers at bay.

Unfortunately, during the duration of the siege, Kiyotaka became severely ill and unable to fight. The cause and the exact condition is unknown¹⁸, but in time Kiyotaka would die from his illness. He would pass succession of the 2 forts and the family line to his son, Sumitaka upon his death bed. While their standings against the siege was fairly well at this point, it took another impact as the soldiers of the Kuki side lost morale as they learned that their respected leader had passed away. Fearing that there was no insurance of the Kuki’s survival, many had abandoned the battle.

Remains of Nakiri Jo. Photo taken by N Yotarou. From Wikipedia.

Seeing as there was no way to win this losing battle, Sumitaka, would abandon Tashiro Jo with any remaining loyal followers, and flee west to Asamayama (Mt. Asama) in Mie Prefecture. There, he would lay low within what was considered the holy grounds of worship for many traveling monks and mountain ascetics. Yoshitaka, on the other hand, would make an attempt to salvage their foothold in Shima no Kuni by returning to Nakiri Jo, and preparing to continue the fight. As expected, the opposing threat did make their way to this fort and continued their siege. Unfortunately for Yoshitaka, his limited force was overpowered, and couldn’t hold out. To avoid being captured, Yoshitaka and his remaining troops escaped from Nakiri Jo, fled to their boats, and took to the seas. Thus, the Nakiri-Kuki line left Shima no Kuni behind, and closed their chapter there, if only temporary.

We close here with the Kuki family’s efforts to expand to another part of Japan. Although this Kuki line had a short term on Japan’s eastern coast this time around, they remain resourceful, and wouldn’t be deterred by setbacks for long. Stay tuned to the final part, where we learn of possibly the greatest achievement that cemented the Kuki family’s name in history.


A slight edit regarding Takayoshi acquiring Nakiri Jo was made, along wih several updates to notes #1, 4 and 9.

1) 九鬼隆良. All sources that I’m aware of do not state a birth date or deceased date for Takayoshi. Based on his travel to Shima no Kuni, his birth date should be around late early 1300s.

2) 九鬼隆房. Takafusa is said to have been adopted into the Kuki family.

3) 志摩の国. Usually, written as 志摩国 with the “no” being omitted, although it is said verbally. Up until the 8th century, it was written as either “嶋国” or “志麻国”, still possessing the same pronunciation.

4) 波切城. Also called “Nakiri Kuki Jo” (波切九鬼城). Here is some extra background info regarding Nakiri Jo and how Takayoshi actually acquired it below.

“Before the Kuki’s venture to Shima no Kuni, The area of Nakiri was controlled by the Kawazura family (川面氏). Around the early 1360s an agreement was made between the Kuki family and a Kawazura Genzaemon (川面源左衛門) to have Takayoshi become his adopted son through marraige with his daughter. After reaching Nakiri’s shore and all arrangements were met around 1363, Takayoshi, through the support of Genzaemon, had Nakiri Jo built.”

As a side note, forts built on the coasts were usually identified by the kanji “砦”, which is pronounced “toride” or “sai”. The reason is because it meant “a fortified structure built on top of rocks”. They tend to be smaller than a typical castle, and were at times an extention of a bigger castle used to defend against threats. Thus, in the past it was not unusual for the fort Nakiri (and others of its kind) to have this in their name instead of “城” (jo). Nowadays, the toride kanji has been replaced by jo kanji as a universal label.

5) 寛政重修諸家譜. Compiled during the Kansei period from 1789 to 1801, a written account of events by feudal lords and vassals of the Shogun over the course of history. This spans into 1,530 volumes.

6) 北畠物語. 7-volume compilation of events the Kitabatake were involved in from the 1500s to mid 1600s. Entries written by members of the Kitabatake clan.

7) 志摩軍記. Written account of Kuki Yoshitaka and his exploits in Shima no Kuni. Author is unknown, but is signed to be from the “possessions of the Kita family” (來田氏家蔵).

8) These 7 families are often called “七党” (Shichitō), which gives an implication that they banded together to govern/maintain strongholds & activities around Shima no Kuni.

As written in the “Kitabatake Monogatari” these 7 families are recognized according to their last names, which are the following:

  • Ousatsu (相差)
  • Miura (三浦)
  • Takeda (武田)
  • Kuki (九鬼)
  • Aoyama (青山)
  • Saji (佐治)
  • Hamajima (浜島)

9) The 13 territories are each occupied by a fortress, and controlled by one of the 7 families. The names of these forts are the following:

  • Obama/Kohama Jo (小浜城)
  • Arajima Jo (楽島城)
  • Ura Jo (浦城)
  • Chiga Jo (千賀城)
  • Matoya Jo (的矢城)
  • Anraku Jo (安楽城)
  • Kōka Jo (甲賀城)
  • Kou Jo (国府城)
  • Nakiri Jo (波切城)
  • Koshika Jo (越賀城)
  • Wagu Jo (和具城)
  • Iwakura Jo (岩倉城) (Actually Tashiro Jo [田城城] of Iwakura Town?!?)
  • Toba Jo (鳥羽城)

12) Some sources claim that these 7 families engaged in “pirate-like” activities. The term in Japanese used is 海賊 (kaizoku). While it shares many similarities to how the term “pirates” is used in the West, some sources claim that kaizoku in medieval Japan also engaged in business practices, albeit “shady” and borderline extortion. This includes travelers needing to pay/bribe their way through pirate territories.

13) This label is, but one of many variants of names used. None of them are official, but a naming convention based on who’s talking about them. Some of the names I’ve come across include “Shima Shichitō” (志摩七党, 7-Family Coalition of Shima no Kuni), “Jūsan Chizu” (十三地頭, The 13 Land Owners), and “Shima Jūsannin Shu” (The 13-Members Brigade of Shima no Kuni).

14) Take note that Shima no Kuni had those who officially governed it over the centuries. However, this was more of a superficial declaration and never really acted on. Reason is Shima no Kuni had no good lands for harvesting rice, which was necessary for establishing means of living. Thus one of the reasons why the 7 families could exist without much opposition for a while, albeit most close by or on the coast.

On the other hand, the Kitabatake clan claimed ownership and acted upon it by controlling the 7 families. It doesn’t appear that any confrontation took place. Possibly Harutomo was able to sway their loyalty with words and the size of his army…?

15) In documentations such as “Kitabatake Monogatari” states that the Kitabatake utilized the Kuki’s naval skills as part of their navy. Possibly the other 6 families were used as well, but maybe the Kuki of Nakiri were depended on more. Possibly the Kuki’s navy was much more accomplished than the others.

16) In the “Shima Gunki”, it is implied that the Kuki conspired with the Kitabatake to take complete control over Shima no Kuni. If this is true, then originally the Kitabatake was in favor of this, but must’ve had reasons to steer away from this scheme.

17) 弓矢. An older way of saying archery. Skills in archery was seen in high regard among warriors due to its advantage and the discipline needed to use it.

18) Many sources that summarize Kiyotaka’s death have varying comments regarding this. Some say some form of sickness, others say injury from battle.

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.

Kuki Archives: Shichiyō

2017-07-20 14.26.21

A snapshot from the website “Kamon World”. The 2 kamon shown are the Shichiyo (on the left), and the Hidari Mitsudomoe (on the right).

It is not uncommon for wealthy families in the past to have a kamon1, or family crest, in Japan. The Kuki family is no different. On the site “Kamon World“, there is a page dedicated to the Kuki Family’s history. On this page are two kamon listed that are associated to them. The one with the 7 black dots is called “Shichiyō2”, which represents 7 illuminating objects in the sky.  The other kamon is called “Hidari Mitsudomoe3”. What do they mean, and how significant are these kamon? For today’s post I will elaborate on the Shichiyō kamon, it’s origin and symbolism, as well as explain its ties to the Kuki family. Please note that, despite the title, there won’t be *much* talk about the Kuki family like my previous posts, but should still be an interesting read.


First, let’s look at how the Kuki are tied to the Shichiyō kamon. There are stories that say that Kuki Yoshitaka1, the head of the Kuki clan and navel commander in the company of the fearless Oda Nobunaga during the late 16th century, would sail the seas and have the Shichiyō kamon raised high as his flag. Unlike the Hidari Mitsudomoe kamon which the Kuki house primarily uses to be recognized by, the Shichiyō is specifically associated with Yoshitaka, possibly indicating it’s use was soley by him. What’s the reason behind this? Earlier I mentioned the Shichiyō kamon’s association with 7 illuminating objects in the sky. Could it be that these objects were viewed as stars that one would see at night5? Could this be a symbol of luck while Yoshitaka and his crew sailed the seas at night and be guided safely to their destination? I personally have yet to find any info that states this to be the case. So, what we are left to do is investigate further the true meaning behind the Shichiyō, and its role in history.

Artwork of Kuki Yoshitaka, From Wikipedia.


Let’s get a proper definition of what the Shichiyō stands for. Translated, this means “Seven Luminaries”, as labeled in Chinese tradition. Shichiyō represents an ancient way of thought regarding life and its connections with 7 celestial objects high up in the sky. It’s recorded to have first been in use in Japan as early as the 9th century. Before going further with this, it is now important to take several more steps back and look much further into history, and see the roots of its conception. Warning, things get abit complicated due to the amount of references used from here on till close to the end. Just keep in mind that the information presented here on out pertains (either partially or fully) to the Shichiyō, one way or the other.

The idea of Shichiyō is believed to have several sources for its roots. One belief, which is mentioned in a book called “Gendai Koyomi Yomihodoki Jiten6”, is from Judaism, along with Christianity, especially when Christian travelers made their way through Central Asia. Another belief is that it came from the Romans and Greeks, from their concept called the “7 Planets”. Yet another idea is that it is comes from an ancient divination from Hindu called “Shichiyou Joisai Ketsu7”. The last point is a strong, concrete possibility, for this actually had great influence on another way of thought called “Inyo Gogyo Setsu8” developed in ancient China, which also plays as a basis for Shichiyō.


It is recorded that from the Kingdom of Qi (1046 BC – 221 BC) in China, an Onmyoji9 (Taoist priest) by the name of Zōu Yǎn10 (305 BC – 240 BC) developed the ideology called “Inyo Gogyo Setsu”. Looking at Inyo Gogyo Setsu, we must understand that it is the combination of two theories, which are Inyo and Gogyo. Inyo (commonly referred to as Ying Yang) is the belief that life is balanced by being in harmony with 2 forces, which are the In (Ying, dark) and Yo (Yang, light). As an example, this theory states that people have a light and dark side, (which fall under numerous labels such as good and bad, hot and cold, male and female, etc.) and must try never going to the extremes by being more of one side than the other.

The ideology of Gogyo follows a similar path where life and many aspects in our daily lives are related to 5 different elements, which are water, fire, wood, metal, and earth. Each of these elements have particular traits that, as an example, can be found in everyone and professions we specialize in, such as medicine and politics. As a form of checks & balance, the 5 elements can either support each other to “enhance” their benefits, or destroy each other as means to illustrate the death cycle, or military strategy.  Both theories are pretty old and unique in comparison to Western views, although both have made their way into Western culture, if by a small influence. Usually, those who are involved in some form of Asian-related studies or activities have come across both of these ideologies.

An illustration of the solar system. The 5 planets, along with their positioning in relations to the Earth, is pointed out in red.

Taking the concepts of Inyo and Gogyo, Zōu Yǎn redefines them through the symbolic representation of “7 heavenly objects of astronomy”, which consists of the sun (representing the concept of Yo), moon (representing the concept of In), and 5 planets (representing the 5 Elements) visible to the human eyes. These 5 planets, both with their English and Japanese titles, are the following: Kasei (Mars), Suisei (Mercury) Mokusei (Jupiter), Kinsei (Venus), Dosei (Saturn).

It was common in many ancient cultures to attach a sense of divinity to objects for many reasons, such as for the sake of superstition, religious beliefs, or for luck. The same can be said here. Below is part of this philosophy, taken from the book “Reki to Uranai no Kagaku11“.

  •  天地の始め渾沌とした中で明るく軽い気が陽の気とを作り火となる。
  • 暗く重い気が陰の気を作り水となる。
  • 天上では火は太陽となり、
  • 水は月となり、
  • これらが組み合わされて五惑星となる。
  • 地上では火と水から五原素が出来る。

Now, here’s my translation of the above text:

  • The beginning of the sky and earth comes from within chaos in the form of a bright, gentle energy. Becoming light (Yo) energy, it is made into fire.
  • The black, heavy energy becomes dark (In) energy, which then turns into water.
  • The fire that is up in the sky becomes the sun
  • The water becomes the moon
  • When these objects are joined together, they make up the 5 planets.
  • 5 chemical reactions take place when there is fire and water on the surface of the planet

The 5 chemicals are the elements. Each of the planets represent a specific element from the Gogyo, which is the following:

  • Kasei (Mars) = Fire
  • Suisei (Mercury) = Water
  • Mokusei (Jupiter) = Wood
  • Kinsei (Venus) = Metal
  • Dosei (Saturn) = Earth

These 5 planets are but one of many variations of the Gogyo developed in China12. This makes the Shichiyō a Gogyo Shisō13, or a “theoretical way of viewing life based on the Five Elements”. Due to its ties with the 5 elements, it is interrelated with, and can be interchangeable based on context and purpose, with other Gogyo variants.

Now that we have a clearer idea of the Shichiyō’s conception, let’s turn our attention to its arrival in Japan.


Around early 800s, a Buddhist by the name of Kuukai14 (774 – 835) returned home to Japan after spending some time in China as an envoy for the Emperor. He brought back with him a Chinese text called the Shukuyōkyō15. Within this text are passages on fortune telling through astrology. This contains 2 components, which are the 28 positions of the Constellations, and the 7 Luminaries. These components worked in a pattern that, based on specific factors, (i.e. time, day, direction, etc.) one’s moments of good luck, bad luck, and everything in between can be determined.

Since almost everything from China was viewed with value at the time, the Shukuyōkyō was adapted in the life of the educated, wealthy, and powerful in the growing civilization of Japan. Early written records from the Imperial Court indicate it was used in what is called the “Guchūreki16” during the Heian period (794-1185). The Guchūreki was a year-based almanac in the form of 2 scrolls, each with 3 parts consisting of the following (partial listing):

  • Day (日付)
  • 12 Zodiacs + 5 Elements (干支)
  • 12 Signs of one’s Fortune (十二直)
  • Chants (納音)
  • 24 Stages of Weather (二十四節気)
  • 72 Climates (七十二候)

As one can guess the Guchūreki is very complex, and takes a good amount of practice in order to understand it correctly. Many other forms of almanacs as a source of fortune-telling were created throughout the history of Japan, such as the “Jōkyōreki17“, and “Tsuitachine Getsuyō18“, each with their unique method. Eventually, from the Imperial Court, other groups such as those of religious & esoteric practices (i.e. Buddhism and Mikkyo) adapted this, as well as those of martial and military background. As Japan became more modernized, common people also gained access to this source of fortune-telling as well, through a 1-year daily calendar (more on this later).

An example of the Jōkyōreki. From Wikipedia.

Note that throughout the years since its initial use, the components for learning one’s fortune changed numerous times. These changes became more evident when much more focus was placed on just the Shichiyō, as the next wave of almanacs were steering away from the more complex processes. This is especially evident with the Jōkyōreki, which was developed by Shibukawa Shunkai19 around the late 1684. Much more concise, he refocused the concept of the fortune-telling almanac styled after the methodology of Taiin Taiyō Reki20 (the sun and moon were prioritized for prediction), which was the current trend found in the Chinese almanac called Jujireki21 at the time. The Jōkyōreki was structured around the revolution cycles of the sun and moon, and the seasons in accordance to this. The necessary components of fortune-telling were coordinated with the sun-moon-seasonal cycles,  such as the 5 Elements. Despite its foreign influences, the Jōkyōreki was very much a Japanese invention designed for use in accordance to Japan’s astrological and seasonal conditions.


Eventually, the Jōkyōreki was replaced22 with a much more user-friendly calendar that incorporated the days of the week.  At some point during the Meiji period (1868-1912), when the Japanese calendar followed suit with other countries and adopted the 7-day week cycle23, the calendar had each day noted systematically with information such as the sun and moon phases, the type of fortune one would have for that particular day, and other related information. The Shichiyō was, conveniently, attached to this calendar, mostly by name. To be more specific, each of the 7 astrological objects were used to name each day of the 7-day week, while the title ‘Shichiyō’ became a reference for this. Today the Shichiyō is still used as an annual calendar in Japan, most containing the present year, the past year, and the next year. It is similar the same way that calendars are used in the West, but with extras.

2017-07-20 13.02.21[702]

Here’s a screen capture of the Japanese calendar on my phone, called “Hi Mekuri”.  Lots of information, including the moon phase, temperature, when both the sun and moon will be visible, and important dates. Different fortunes are also listed based on which fortune-telling method you prefer. For example, according to the “Old Calendar” (the one in purple font), today’s prediction is “senkachi” (前勝). What this means is “anything done during the day will be successful, but if you wait until the evening time it will be doomed for failure”.


This sums up the history behind the Shichiyō. As a representation of 7 astrological objects, and used for predicting one’s fortune, the 7 dotted kamon may have been viewed as symbolic for good luck. Whatever the reason it may have been, Kuki Yoshitaka saw value in the Shichiyō kamon. Look out for a future post regarding the Hidari Mitsudomoe kamon, and learn what significance it had for the Kuki family.

1) 家紋

2) 七曜. This is also called Nanatsu Boshi (7つ星), also having the same meaning.

3) 左三つ巴

4) 九鬼嘉隆

5) Interesting, in China there is a phrase called “Hokuto Shichisei” (北斗七星), which refers to the Big Dipper (aka the Plough). Note that this is completely different from the Shichiyō, and that the Shichiyō kamon doesn’t make any references to the Big Dipper.

6) 現代こよみ読み解き事典. This is compiled by Okada Yoshirō.

7) 七曜壌災決

8) 陰陽五行説. Inyo (陰陽) is Ying Yang in Chinese, while Gogyo (五行) is Wu Xing in Chinese.

9) 陰陽師

10) 鄒衍. Pronounced “Sūen” in Japanese.

11) 暦と占いの科学. Written by Nagata Hisashi.

12) Examples of other variants include the following: 5 Tastes (五味), 5 Festivals (五節), 5 Divinities (五神), 5 Organs (五官), 5 Virtues (五德), 5 Directions (五方). It should be stated that, while 5 points of references are in each of these examples, it is not as literal as one would think. Sometimes an extra point of reference is added just to add up to the concept of “5”. For example, 4 Divinities (mythical creatures, well associated with direction or position) is commonplace in Asia, but in the 5 Divinities an “extra” is added, and that extra is different depending on the source. In another case, 4 Directions is commonplace for almost all cultures, but in the 5 Directions one’s starting point (that is, the center or mid point) is added.

13) 五行思想

14) 空海

15) 宿曜経

16) 具注暦

17) 貞享暦

18) 朔日値月曜

19) 渋川春海

20) 太陰太陽暦

21)  授時暦

22)  The Jōkyōreki is now referred to as Kyuureki, or ‘Old Calendar’ (旧暦). It’s added to most calendars in Japan, just as a reference.

23) At one point, A 6-day week calendar was used in Japan.

Kuki Archives: Deciphering the Name ~ Part 2 ~

We continue with the discussion on the Kuki family’s name and how it came to be. In part 1 of this discussion, the original name “Kukami” is introduced, followed by an explanation about the “kami” kanji in this name. This post will continue this by touching on the sources behind the Kukami/Kuki name, which includes the beginnings of the Kuki family’s history1, their position as a wealthy & powerful family during Edo period, and how the standardization of the Japanese language affects their name. Before that, however, let’s take a few steps back and examine the kami kanji abit further, which should give better clarity in the relationship the Kuki clan has with it.

A pic of the sign board on Kishi Mojin Do, a Buddhist temple in Toshima District, Tokyo. It reads from right to left “Kishi Mojin”, with the kami (tsuno ga nai oni) kanji in use.


The kami kanji, a derivative2 of the oni kanji (demon character), is commonly referred to as “tsuno ga nai oni” kanji (the hornless demon). This kanji is said to represent the “onigami”, which can be described as “a figure reaching a divine status despite being of demonic origin”. To better explain this, let’s look at an insert from a website called “Shinshizo Meguri”3, which includes discussions about the kami kanji in relations to specific temples and shrines, along with some lore, found in Japan. The insert states the following:


My translation of the text below:

“This kanji expresses meanings such as a demon becoming a deity of good through the conversion of Buddhism, as well as a demon that helps people.”

This insert offers 2 definitions to the kami kanji, with the 1st covered in part 1 through the tale “Kishi Mojin”. Note that in this case, a demon turning good is not naturally willed, but a controlled phenomenon; Buddhism is used as a means to convince a demon of rather sinister nature to turn over a new leaf and do good for the sake of mankind. The means for making the conversion happen varies. For example, in an extreme case, the trickster monkey spirit Sun Wukong’s assistance in aiding a holy priest on a pilgrimage to retrieve Buddhist sutras is ensured through a powerful headband made by the Great Buddha in the Chinese literature “Journey to the West”4.


For the 2nd definition, a demon doing good by helping people is an ancient interpretation imbedded in parts of Japan’s history and culture. The idea of an onigami doesn’t only exist in Buddhism, but is incorporated into Shinto, Doukyo, Shugendo, and the like. The roots for religious and esoteric groups to view certain demons akin to deities lie in the development of Japan itself, cultural beliefs, and certain isolated events5. Some are based on mythical figures from the Kojiki6. Others on stories to inspire the best qualities in people by relating it to the fierce powers demons possess7.

Let’s take a look at Aomori Prefecture in Japan, which is home to several temples and shrines that worship these good demons. This has helped to develop a culture in this area where townsfolk pray to these demons for protection and good fortune. Taking Oni Jinja (also pronounced Ki Jinja)8 as an example, this shrine tells a particular lore of how a demon is praised as a god. From the website “Shinshi no Yakata”9, a short summary of that lore goes as follows:


Following this text is my translation below:

“In the past, when the villagers faced hardship and couldn’t harvest crops due to a long drought, they were saved by a demon who climbed down from a mountain (Mt. Iwaki), and made an irrigation channel that delivered much needed water to them. To express their thanks, the villagers chose this demon as a god of agriculture and established the shrine “Oni Jinja” in order to give worship.”10

This demon is addressed as “Onigami-sama”11, which gives an indication that the villagers view it as a good and divine being, as well as a source of successful agriculture. On the torii (grand gate) of this shrine is a sign that reads “Oni Jinja”, but the kami (tsuno ga nai oni) kanji is used in place of the oni kanji. This is to express the belief that the demon of worship is in fact not a horrifying creature, but a deity that brings good fortune.

A page from the book “Shinden Bujutsu” written by Takatsuka Eichoku.


Now that certain key points regarding the kami kanji and its ties to religious cultural aspects have been covered, we can now turn our focus to how the Kukami/Kuki name came to be. The Kuki family are associated with Shinto practice and duties at the Kumano Hongu Taisha. However many learn about them through one of many budo schools that teach a version of the martial system originally devised by ancestors of the Kuki line. The history of this martial system, along with the family line, is said to begin with the originator named Kuki Yakushimaru Ryuushin12.

Yakushimaru’s story is said to be found in a record called “Kongou Hihouhen”13, which is part of the many documentations within the Kuki family’s collection. Below is a short summary of Yakushimaru’s story taken from the book “Shinden Bujutsu”, primarily with key points important to how both the “Kukami” and Kuki” names came to be. Snippets from this book will be used to support certain points, each followed by my own translations.

Yakushimaru was born in the year 1318. His family, of a prestige status due to being descendants of the Fujiwara clan, were well to do and provided him the essentials. This included being educated through literature, and trained in martial arts. Along with this, he received Shugendo training (mountain asceticism) through his father Douyuu, as well as studied Shingon Mikkyo (esoteric Buddhism of the Shingon sect) from the monk Joukai while staying at the Sanmakuin (Buddhist temple) in Kyoto. Yakushimaru was also versed in Kuji no Ho, and Ongyou no Jutsu. These esoteric practices involve praying to, and invoking power from, different types of deities and spirits.

At around age 18, Yakushimaru participated in assisting the Ashikaga army of the Northern Court defeat the Imperial forces of the Southern Court13. Emperor Godaigo, of the Southern Court, was captured and held in captivity under harsh conditions, while the 3 Sacred Treasures14 were taken as spoils of war. Learning of this, Yakushimaru made an unexpected move and went to rescue the fallen Emperor Godaigo, as well as retrieve these 3 treasures. With the assistance of close trustworthy warriors, Yakushimaru was successful in freeing the Emperor from the enemies’ clutches, and fighting off pursuers with a broken nagamaki15. He delivered the Emperor to safety in Yoshino, the area where the Imperial line of the Southern Court resides. Later, he managed to retrieve and return the 3 Sacred Treasures back to the Emperor.

After witnessing his prowess, Emperor Godaigo inquired Yakushimaru about his secret techniques. Upon hearing that it was through the use of Kuji no Ho, Emperor Godaigo responded with the following text, as written in “Shinden Bujutsu”16:

“汝の忠心、神の知ろしめすところなり。汝、今日より藤原 改め九鬼と改む可し”

Translation, “The gods know well your display of loyalty. From this day forward, your family name ‘Fujiwara’ can be changed to ‘Kukami’.”

The choice of kanji for the family name is not random; there are significant meanings in the name that indicate how he should be recognized. Starting with the ‘ku’ part of the name, this is the number ‘9’ in Japanese. Ku is significant to Kuji no Ho. This is integral to his family line, as it was considered a secret methodology. Not only was it used to invoke protection, Yakushimaru applied kuji with the shaft of his broken nagamaki during battle as stated in “Shinden Bujutsu”17:


Translation, “…Ryuushin fought wielding the remaining shaft (of his nagamaki), felling the opponent closest to him with a strike. In opposition to the swarming troops, he slashed Kuji in the air with the front end of his shaft.”

The “kami” part of the name means “onigami” (demon god). Some references state that this was chosen because it relates to how fiercely Yakushimaru fought for the sake of Emperor Godaigo, like a benevolent demon god18. It is also believed to be in reference to actual demon gods guiding Yakushimaru to take on this endeavor. In the “Ryuko no Maki”, it is said that Yakushimaru saw Bishamonten19 in his dream. It’s written as so in “Shinden Bujutsu”20:


Translation, “One night, Bishamonten appeared in Ryuushin’s dream and said, “You there, hurry and rescue Emperor Godaigo from his ordeal!”. Excited, Ryuushin bowed his head many times and rose to his feet, accepting the task at hand.”

A pic of my training naginata. This is an example of the polearm believed to have been used by Yakushimaru.

The name Kukami holds the tale of how Yakushimaru gained recognition through his vision of onigami and the power he attained through Kuji no Ho in order to save Godaigo. It is also the defining ideology behind him creating Kukishin ryu, which is deeply rooted in esoteric influences from Mikkyo Hihou in the techniques.


Today, the main Kuki line retains their martial tradition, without physically being involved, through “Kukishinden Tenshin Hyoho”. A system that utilizes the shihanke21 model, the current teacher overseeing the training both within Japan and overseas is Takatsuka Eichoku. However, over the years there is a growing push to acknowledge their original roots, and are using their original name more frequently. For example, their style of bujutsu is now identified as “Kukamishin ryu”.

Why not change their last name back? Why the change in the first place? There are 2 reasons for this, which are the registration as a daimyo under the shogunate, and the standardization of the Japanese language.


During the Edo period, this Kuki line in discussion was prestigious. Not only did they have strong ties with the Kumano Hongu Taisha, they also owned the Ayabe Domain in Tanba Province (present day Ayabe City in Kyoto Prefecture) and served in battle under the guise of the Kuki Suigun22, receiving merits for their efforts & contributions. In order to be recognized as a daimyo23 under the newly established Tokugawa shogunate, certain documentations had to be presented.

An important factor on how the Kuki approached this is based on particular historical data. For starters, the Tokugawa shogunate was established by Tokugawa Ieyasu, who managed to seize control of Japan after several battles with opposing forces. Claiming as a descendant of the Minamoto clan, Ieyasu and the Tokugawa shogunate were naturally affiliated with the Imperial line of the Northern Court. The Kuki line’s roots, on the other hand, is on the side of the opposing Southern Court, under the name ‘Kukami’. This can be found in older documentation within the Kuki household.

Not wanting to risk losing their status by having this info revealed, they changed their name to ‘Kuki’ (includes replacing the kami kanji with the oni kanji), and omitted much of their history in their presented documentations during registration. It was a necessary move to retain the lands, wealth, and status the Kuki family amassed. They still kept their family documentations, fortunately, so their roots weren’t forgotten.


During the Meiji (1868-1912) and Taisho (1912-1926) periods, efforts were made to standardize the Japanese language in order to promote unification throughout Japan. This standardized form of Japanese, called Kokugo24, shaped a speaking, written, and reading form of the language the majority of the nation learns. In the case of kanji, there was a considerable reduction of derivatives each kanji possess, as well as reduction of kanji that had the same meaning as others but with slight difference in nuances. Kanji that are obscured, not adapted into the Japanese culture, or forgotten meaning were also excluded from standardized use.

This standardization became even more apparent as society moved towards the digital and electronic medium. In order for the Japanese language (includes kana and kanji) to display on interfaces such as computers, special coding types were developed, one being called JIS coding25. Just about all standardized kanji have been adapted into JIS coding, making them readily usable. Some older and out-of-use kanji also have been converted into JIS coding, and can be downloaded as packets from certain online kanji resource sites. While it is possible to find many kanji that are no longer in use on the same sites, they are only in picture form just for references, however.

The kami (tsuno ga nai oni) kanji is, unfortunately, one of those out-of-use kanji that are considered dated and out of use. There are no available JIS coding packets for it, thus it cannot be typed. The oni kanji has to be used in its place, with a note identifying it is actually the kami kanji in use. While not considered part of standard Japanese, this does not stop its use entirely; temples and shrines that have a history with the kami kanji still use it when applicable, whether by writing it or having it etched in metallic or wooden signs. Interestingly, the Kuki family use the kami kanji also in printed books. How they’ve managed to acquire the means to do this is unknown. This could be one of those rare cases where it was designed specifically for use by them.


A screen capture of the different variants (異体字, itaiji) of the oni kanji. The kami kanji is circled in red. From the website “字形検索”, an educational resource and database on kanji (Chinese). It can be accessed here.

This concludes our discussion regarding the Kuki family’s name. I hope much has been put to light regarding the acquisition of the Kukami and Kuki names, along with the cultural overview of the kami kanji. A special “THANK YOU!” to those who helped guide me to useful resources and offered detailed explanations regarding the kami kanji. Thank you for reading this, and look forward to more posts concerning the Kuki family and their history.

1) The main line with direct connection to Kumano Hongu Taisha, one of the three grand shrines labeled “Kumano Sanzan”. For more information, visit an older post of mine here.

2) 異体字, pronounced ‘itaiji’ in Japanese.

3) Website can be accessed here.

4) “Journey to the West” is a famous fiction novel in China written in the 16th century. It is loosely based on the non-fictional journey by Chinese Buddhist monk named Xuanzang who, from mainland China through the Western regions of Central Asia, traveled to India to retrieve Buddhist sutras. In this novel, the Buddhist priest Tang Sanzang (same as Xuanzang) is accompanied by 4 demons (or demon spirits depending on how you interpret them) to retrieve the Buddhist sutras, each serving as his protector through reformation as Buddhist monks themselves: Sun Wukong (monkey spirit), Zu Bajie (pig spirit), Sha Wujing (sand creature spirit), and Yulong (dragon spirit in the guise of a horse).

Here’s a broader explanation how Buddhism subdued a potentially great but dangerous demon. Sun Wukong, originally imprisoned under a mountain by the Great Buddha, agreed to help the Buddhist priest Sanzang in his journey to India in exchange for freedom. However, understanding that Wukong, through his past crimes, is uncontrollable and unpredictable, a Bodhisattva named Guanyin gave Sanzang a gift in the form of a golden headband made by the Great Buddha, which would help keep Wukong in check. Tricked into wearing it, Wukong put it on his head, but couldn’t take it off. On top of this, Sanzang had only to chant a secret set of words and the band would tighten on Wukong’s head, causing great pain and immobilizing him. Through this, Sun Wukong was made, more or less, obedient to assist in the journey.

5) Japan’s history regarding openness to the idea of good/bad demons is very old in conception. This is apparent if you look into the different religions & esoteric practices, rituals, lore, literature, and artworks. One prevailing point concerning onigami that needs to be understood is they are viewed as not truly evil. This is because onigami are believed to serve specific purposes, sometimes beneficial to humans, and other times, not.

6)The book Kojiki, generally translated as “Records of Ancient Matters”, is a collection of recorded events in ancient Japan by Ou no Yasumaro in the 8th century. The Kojiki depicts the start of humanity, as well as early civilization in Japan. In its earlier chapters are many descriptions of god-like figures, demons, and spirit-like creatures, each interacting with people in Japan one way or another.

For example, Koutai Jinja (皇大神社) , which is located in Kyoto (western part of Japan), gives worship to Amaterasu Oomikami, who is the Sun Goddess as told in the Kojiki. This deity is very important in Shinto religion.

7) As an example, a temple called Kijin Jinja (鬼鎮神社) in Saitama Prefecture (eastern part of Japan) pays homage to red and blue skinned demons that wield kinbou (metal clubs). These kinbou represent absolute victory. So not only do townsfolk work hard in passing examination tests, sporting events, and the like with the vigor of an ‘oni’, but also visit Kijin Jinja to pray for added luck in succeeding in these tasks.

8) 鬼神社. Generally written with the kami (tsuno ga nai oni) kanji

9) Link is here.

10) This tale appears to have been devised to give some mystical flavor to what may have truly happened. Within the Oni Jinja there are many steel farming tools (such as sickles, spades, and hoes) that were given as a form of offerings. Some of these tools are said to be as old as 1000 years. It is believed that this is an indication that the knowledge to take care of their land was actually taught to them by foreigners possibly visiting Japan.

11) The word “sama” is an honorific label. Thus, much respect is given to this onigami.

12) 九鬼薬師丸隆真

13) 金剛秘宝遍

14) In the Nanboku era during the 13th century, the power to rule Japan was left in the hands of the 2 sons of the dying Emperor Gosaga. Both in disagreement in how and when each would hold the power to rule, soon a division spurred, which created 2 factions. One faction, called the Northern Court, resided in Kyoto (northern part of Japan geographically). The other faction, called the Southern Court, stayed in Yoshino (southern part of Japan geographically). Both sides struggled for power during the 14th century, with 6 Emperors from the Northern Court seizing power at one point, while 5 Emperors from the Southern Court claimed power at another point.

14) The 3 Sacred Treasures, also known as the Imperial Regalia of Japan, believed to be handed down by the gods. These treasures are the following: Kusanagi no Tsurugi (草薙劍, The Grass-Cutting Sword), Yata no Kagami (八咫鏡,the 8-Span Mirror), and Yasakani no Magatama (八尺瓊勾玉, Long [approx. 8 ft] string of Curved Jewels).

15) There are conflicting views when describing the weapon Yakushimaru wielded. In “Shinden Bujutsu”, it is mentioned to be a nagamaki. However, in the once available website “Kuki-Shinden”, (a site to help promote the Kuki family’s Kukishinden Tenshin Hyoho martial system, having both an English and Japanese section) in the English section where they described the same story of Yakushimaru, the info about the polearm differs slightly. For starters, it is mentioned that the weapon was a naginata. Secondly, in note 4 for the story, it is mentioned that, in the Kongou Hihouhen and Ryuko no Maki documents, the weapon was a yari (spear). The polearm being a naginata is mentioned in a document called “Kuki Bojutsu Hihouhen no Maki,” which comes from the Chosui line. Furthermore, in the book “Shinden Bujutsu”, it is written that based on the time period when Yakushimaru was alive, it would’ve been “correct” for it to have been a nagamaki.

The naginata-nagamaki reference appears to be interchangeable, for certain details may warrant either weapon to be called one or another. This is dependent on such details like the style of the blade, size of shaft, fittings, and the like. Since there are numerous documents within the Kuki family’s collections that say one way or another, there is no way to get a definitive confirmation.

Whichever weapon it was, what can be agreed on is that Yakushimaru’s weapon was indeed a polearm with a blade at the end.

16) Page 25, line 5-6

17) Page 23, line 10-12

18) It is said to be mentioned in “Kuki Bojutsu Hihouhen no Maki”, for example. This document is part of the Chosui line of Kukishin ryu. It is also mentioned here that the “ku” of Kukami is in reference to how Yakushimaru utilized his broken weapon with ever-changing responses against the opposing forces. This ability is described using the number 9 in Japanese.

19) Vaisravana in Sanskrit. He is one of the Heavenly Four Kings in Buddhism, as well as a guardian deity of Buddhism in Japan. Also one of the Seven Lucky Gods in Japanese folklore.

20) Page 24, note #2

21) A system where a teacher reaching a master level of proficiency heads the training of a martial arts school, or branches out to start a new line. This does not mean, however, inheritance of the entire system is granted to those who reach this level.

22) 九鬼水軍, Kuki Naval Force

23)大名, recognized lord who could privately own their land. Rulers of their territories, they only answer to the shogun.

24) 国語, national-standard language

25) There are other coding types, such as Shift-JIS, EUC, and Unicode.

Kuki Archives: Deciphering the Name ~Part 1~

In today’s post, we set our focus on the Kuki family’s name and it’s background story. The kanji (Chinese written characters) in their name is “九鬼”, which few locations in Japan and different branches of martial systems with certain relations also share in their titles1. Primarily read as “kuki”, the general translation of this is “9 Demons”. However, statements from the Kuki family, who are the main stem for the aforementioned name, claim that the original pronunciation of this was not only “kukami”, but that the 2nd kanji in the name was actually a slightly altered version with a different meaning. A topic I’ve been invested in for some time, I will share some of my findings in relations to this from 2 viewpoints. This post will cover the 1st viewpoint, which looks at that one kanji in question, covering abit of its history and ties to religious matters.

A hand painting of the oni (demon) kanji. Notice the small line on top of this kanji. This line is often viewed as the “horn” (tsuno in Japanese). By Yoko A.


In the Chinese and Japanese language, there were periods where a specific kanji had a few different ways to be written depending on usage, which in those cases gave it an altered meaning. The kanji “鬼“ is no different. Normally pronounced as “oni” or “ki”2 in Japanese, it generally possesses the following meanings: demon, (evil) spirit, ghost, fierce, violent, dead body, and death. As expected, this has a negative, demonic connotation. Normally, images associated with the oni kanji in ancient times (whether on its own or in conjunction with other kanji) is ominous, frightful, and/or dreadful. Especially in ancient times of Japan, where superstitions and stories of demons had a big impact on the culture. The general image of an oni in Japan is a being with a large frame, skin that is dark red or dark blue toned, unkempt hair, wearing tiger skin loincloth, talons for fingernails, a large mouth with 2 fangs protruding out, and 1~2 horns on the head. While in popular children’s tales of old, such as “Momotaro”, the depiction of the oni may appear whimsical, the features remain the same, and the overall negative undertone of the oni persists. With such an ominous makeup, would the Kuki family, devoted followers of the religion Nakatomi Shinto, want their name associated with a word that would demonify them?

Two pictures featuring oni characters. Click on each one for more info.


In various publications and mediums, the Kuki family and associates of them have expressed many times that the Kuki name was not originally read as it is commonly so now. From their public website “Kuki-shinden” (which is no longer available), to the most recent published book under their authorization called “Shinden Bujutsu” (written by Takatsuka Eichoku), it has been explained that the correct pronunciation is “Kukami”, which actually means “9 Gods”. This is due in part that the oni kanji wasn’t used in their name in conception, but instead another version of this kanji. This kanji is often dubbed “tsuno ga nai oni”3, or the hornless demon.

The “tsuno ga nai oni ” kanji has its history begin first in China, with use primarily by religious sects and groups. With usage mainly in religious practices, it is rarely seen in standard writings or general use, thus quite uncommon even in the general public. The same with Japan as this kanji made its way to this island country possibly through the spread of Buddhism. In Japanese, this kanji has a few pronunciations4 which includes “ki” and “kami”. The meaning of this kanji is stated4 as “onigami”, which is a combination of oni (demon) and kami (god)5. Take note of this meaning, for it is a special terminology that has a deep and unique implication of its usage, which some light will be shed on through the following story below.

A hand painting of both the oni kanji (left), and “kami” kanji (right). By Yoko A.


As mentioned above, the oni kanji has a small line on top that is viewed as a horn. Well, with that small line removed, this oni is now “dehorned”, and the threat is gone. What we now have is a divine being on the side of good despite retaining its demonic looks.  This seems to be what the term “onigami” entails. There is an interesting tale that further supports this notion, as the “tsuno ga nai oni” kanji often compared to an old story called Kishi Mojin6.

An artwork of Kishi Mojin. From Sacchin san’s website on Buddhist figures and stories here .

Within Buddhist lore7 in Japan, Kishi Mojin is a tale about a raksasi (a female mythological demon) who goes by the name of Kariteimo8 (Hariti Ma in Sanskrit). Kariteimo resided in Rajgir9, at the same time when the Guatama Buddha known as Shakyamuni was living there. Being the wife of Pancika10, they beared hundreds of children together. To feed her children, Kariteimo would capture humans (primarily human children)  and feed to her children their flesh. Many parents, particularly mothers, lamented to Buddha to save them from this ordeal.

Heeding their pleas, Shakyamuni made a plan to not only to bring salvation to the human race, but to also save Kariteimo in the process. For this, Shakyamuni hid Ainuru, her youngest and most dearest of her children. When she discovered her child was missing, the wife searched around the world for many days half-crazed. With no luck tracking her child, she sought help and guidance from Shakyamuni. When approached by this matter, Shakyamuni asked her if she could compare the lost of one of her hundreds of kids to the hundreds of mothers who lost all their kids due to her savage habits. In response, Kariteimo agreed that their loss is much greater than hers.

Now that she understood the pains of others due experiencing the pain of losing her own child, Kariteimo devoted herself to the ways of Buddhism, through the direction of Shakyamuni, and vowed to protect children. She became enlightened11, and, as a guardian deity of Buddhism, is a patron that represents ease of child birth, safety of children, and mercy & happiness.

A hand painting of Kishi Mojin. This is the correct way it is written, but cannot be done so in computers and other electronic devices. By Yoko A.

There are various shrines and temples in Japan that honor Kariteimo and the story of Kishi Mojin. There, you will usually see artworks and statues of Kariteimo that depict her as having a womanly appearance dressed in fine robes and holding a child. Despite being a raksasi, sometimes she is depicted as not having horns12. What is also important to note is that in signs and writings of the word Kishi Mojin outside of typed text uses the “tsuno ga nai oni” kanji. This is important to remember, and directly relates to the Kuki family’s claims regarding the correct writing of their name.

This concludes the 1st part on the Kuki family’s name. Stay tuned for the 2nd part, which will focus on the Kuki clan’s definition of their name along with the unintentional change to as we know it now. Also, the reasoning behind the use of “tsuno ga nai oni” kanji outside of electronic devices will be covered as well.

1) Some martial arts systems having a form of relation to the Kuki family bearing the “Kuki” name are the following:

  • Kukishinden Tenshin Hyoho (Takatsuka Eichoku)
  • Kukishin ryu Bojutsu (Tanaka Fumon)
  • Kukishinden Happou Bikenjutsu (Masaaki Hatsumi)
  • Tenshin Hyoho Kukishin ryu (Tanemura Shoto)

2) One of the main reasons for a kanji to have numerous pronunciations in Japan is based on if it is used based on Onyomi (音読み, China-originated reading) or Kunyomi (訓読み, Japanese reading). For examples, words that are directly borrowed from, or influenced by the manner of literacy of China, are pronounce with a Chinese-influenced phonetic (Onyomi), whereas others that are developed and used in accordance to Japanese standards are pronounced under Japanese phonetics (Kunyomi). Depending on    if the Onyomi or Kunyomi of a kanji is used can change the meaning of a word.

In the case of the demon character, “ki” is onyomi, and “oni” is kunyomi.

3) 角が無い鬼. Also called “tsuno no nai oni” (角の無い鬼), with pretty much the same meaning.

4) Based on proclamation by religious groups in Japan, including the Kuki family.

5) The term onigami is written as 鬼神, with “kami” (神, gami in its conjugated form) meaning (but not limited to) the following: god, deity, divine, spirit, and amazing.

6) 鬼子母神. Also pronounced as the following: Kishi Boushin, Kishi Boujin.

7)  There are, like many stories of old, different versions of the Kishi Mojin story. The roots of this tale is Hindu, and was later adapted by other countries and religions, with changes made to fit with the culture of those countries. Even in Japan there are several varying points concerning this story depending on if told from the viewpoint of Nichiren Buddhism or Shingon Buddhism. For example, in a particular version Kariteimo is not married to Pancika, while in another she is assisted by Ten Raksasi Women (Ju Rasetsunyo十羅刹女 in  Japanese) in capturing human children.

9) A city in Nalanda district of Bihar, in the eastern part of India.

8) Also referred to as Karitei (Hariti in Sanskrit) depending on the Buddhist sect.

10) Pancika is a rakshasa (male mythological demon) who was one of the 8 commanders in the yaksha army of the deity Vaisravana (Bishamonten in Japanese).

11) This process of enlightenment is called “Bohdi”.

12) Raksasi that have humanly appearances are called “Manushya-Raksasi”.

Kuki Archives: Family Line Expansion

Kukishinden ryu is a martial system from Japan that has connections to the Kuki family. This family, who are still active today, have a long, and often considered complicated, history. The Kuki family are very invested in religious practices, but not much in martial arts. Along with training in the martial system that bears their name, I’ve spent some personal time putting in research about the Kuki family, primarily because I find their story (and some of the odd and hard-to-explain points in the Kuki history) intriguing.

There is website called “Sengoku Busho no Kamon”1 which has a good amount of background information about this family’s beginnings, history, and events representatives of the Kuki family were involved in. Below is an insert from this site in Japanese, followed by my own English translation.

Picture of Kumano Hongu Taisha, one of the three grand shrines in Kumano, Wakayama Prefecture. From the book “Shinden Bujutsu” (神伝武術) written by Takatsuka Eichoku.




“The characters used in the name “Kuki” originally stood for cliffs or peaks. Thus, this name made reference to cliffs, mountains, and valleys. On a different note, it is stated that the ki of “Kuki” had the meaning of  fortification (柵2), with roots stemming from where fortresses were built upon.

The Kuki family is known as a reputable clan from Kii Province, as descendants of Shinto priests from the Kumano Hongu Taisha (one of three grand shrines in the mountain region in Kumano). From a different angle of their story, Kuki Takazane, the Kumano Betto (head priest) of Kumano Hongu Taisha, was able to expand his family line successfully through Kuki Ura3, located in Muro Valley, Kii Province. Along with this, Takayoshi, the son of Takazane, set his residence in Shima Province and was able to expand the Kuki line to this area.

In the Kuki records, it is mentioned that the Shingu family, who were one of eight manor owners that made up Kumano Hasshouji, are a branch of Betto Takazane’s Kuki line that belongs to the “Kumano Sanzan” (3 grand shrines in the mountains of Kumano)”.

Key points to take from this:

① The “Kuki” name has, possibly, been changed several times. There are indications that the Kuki name once referred to the type of area they lived at, such as around cliffs and mountains.

② As history goes, they have roots deep in religious practices. Part of their line does get into military/martial/piracy practices, but in the end religion is an integral part within the Kuki lineage.

③ Kuki Ura is a location on the eastern shores of Owase city in Mie Prefecture. Along with Kuki Ura, other areas such as Kuki Mura (Kuki Village), Kuki Zaki (Kuki Peninsula), and Kuki Jinja (Kuki Shrine) were established. What is interesting about these areas is that their Kuki name was also written as “九木” (9 Trees) at some time.

④ There was once an influential family in Kii Province who had control over an area called Shingu on the eastern edge of Kumano Wakayama prefecture (not to be confused with Shingu City) from Nanbokucho period to Sengoku period (between 1300s to ending of 1500s/early 1600s). This family took the name “Shingu”. What was their original name, and how they are connected to the Kuki line needs some further verification.

⑤ The Kumano Hasshouji is a collection of fairly large land areas called manors that were once owned by retired imperial and aristocratic families. These manors help those in their religious studies and pilgrimages to the many shrines around the Kumano area. While some had other several usages over the course of history (i.e. supporting military causes), today they serve to promote tourism.

⑥ Kumano Sanzan refers to the 3 grand shrines found along the mountainous region of Kumano in Wakayama Prefecture. These are the following: Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Hayatama Taisha, and Kumano Nachi Taisha.

This is first of several posts that are geared towards topics concerning Kuki history not normally touched upon. On another note, those interested in more about the Kuki family, especially related to their religious practices, check out “The Spiritual Influence of Ninjutsu”, written by Don Roley. You can find this, and more of his works, under “Books for Sale” at the link below:

1) Site can be accessed here

2) The character “柵” has the “ki” pronunciation.

3) The “Kuki” of Kuki Ura was written as “九木” (9 Trees).