Legend of the Suzuki Clan ~ Part 2

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

1) 城取り

2) 鈴木流軍学

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

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

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

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

7) He was discussed abit in part 1.

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

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

Legend of the Suzuki Clan ~ Part 1

In a previous post, I spoke about a famous general and strategist of the Takeda clan during the 1500s named Yamamoto Kansuke. One aspect that is his claim to fame is studying military affairs of the Suzuki method under an elderly man named Suzuki Hyūga-no-Kami Shigetatsu¹. Like with most things attached to another man’s glory, Kansuke’s impressive career in turn gave much acclaim to Shigetatsu, as well as his family name.

What is the story behind the Suzuki clan? Is there any historical recordings before Yamamoto Kansuke? In this 2-part discussion, we will first look into the history of Shigetatsu’s Suzuki family line, from their roots, military career, down to their final days during Sengoku period.


Suzuki Hyūga-no-Kami Shigetatsu’s family line, as well as many other Suzuki lines², trace their heritage hundreds of years to a prominent family that were servants of the Shinto shrines. This particular name Suzuki was created by the Hozumi clan, whom were priests of the Fujishiro Jinja (Fujishiro Shrine) located in Waguyama Prefecture. This line is often labeled as “Fujishiro Suzuki shi³”. From this, different branches of the Suzuki line were established, whether by inheritance through blood, adoption, or permission to use the name.


A picture of Fujishiro Jinja. From Wikipedia.

Suzuki Shigeyoshi⁴, a descendant of the Fujishiro Suzuki line, is accredited as the originator of the Suzuki line that situated in Mikawa no Kuni (Shigetatsu’s family line). Although his birth date is unknown, it’s believed that he was active around the ending of the Heian period (around the 1180s). It is recorded that Shigeyoshi was a military commander who held the official rank “Gyōbu Saemon-no-Jō⁵” under the Kani system.

During early 1180s, a few of Shigeyoshi’s relatives sided with Minamoto no Yoshitsune during Genpei War⁶, and assisted in bringing down the Taira clan for the sake of the Genji clan. Although victorious, Yoshitsune was later declared a traitor and hunted by his clansmen. As Yoshitsune made his escape to Oshu (older name for the northern region of Japan), those Suzuki members stayed loyal and followed him. Later, Shigeyoshi would also follow suit to reunite with his relatives and journeyed to Oshu in 1189. However, due to a pain disorder in his leg, he was forced to end his journey short in Mikawa no Kuni, where he would remain to reside for the rest of his life.


Shigeyoshi would start a Suzuki line in Mikawa no Kuni from around the Kamakura period to the Nanbokucho period. At first, this line resided in Yanami Town, Kamo District (present day Yanami Town, Toyota City in Aichi Prefecture). As they grew in power, this Suzuki line expanded throughout the north-western part of Mikawa, with several members branching out and establishing themselves with their own force. Around Bunmei period (1469~1487), one of those members, known as Suzuki Shigetoki⁷, moved into Terabe (present day Terabe Town, Toyota City) and established Terabe castle⁸ as the home for his family. Bearing a family name with a prestigious background, Shigetoki established the Suzuki’s nobility in Terabe by contributing his family’s military prowess, as well as by keeping strong relations with not only neighboring noble families, but with other Suzuki lines.

Some of the families the Suzuki clan had good relations with in Mikawa are the Chūjō, Miyake, Nasu, and Abe families. Out of these families, Chūjō was the more accomplished, having a more reputable military record as having been retainers for the Hojo clan, as well as serving the Ashikaga Shogunate. With such a reputation, Chūjō clan played more on the leadership role, thus the Suzuki clan of Terabe and other neighboring families were willing to follow on important matters.


The Matsudaira clan, whom originated from Matsudaira Gyō⁹ (Matsudaira Town), would try to grow in power, making a presence for themselves in Mikawa no Kuni. Constructing Iwazu castle, (within the eastern mountains of Iwazu Town, Okazaki City in the center of Mikawa) they progressively made a name for themselves around their given area. It became apparent that they were an imposing threat for many years, as they grew their strength by force, and having battled with neighboring noble families. As an example, Anjō castle in Anjō¹⁰ (present day Anjō Town, Anjō City in Aichi Prefecture) was taken over strategically by the 4th family head Matsudaira Chikatada in 1471. Using a musical procession to lure the guards and others out of the castle, Chikatada was able to overtake the defenseless castle with a force of 250 troops.


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

In 1493, Chūjō Akihide¹¹ rallied his neighbors to oust the Matsudaira. Suzuki Shigetoki would muster his troops and participate in the war. Having a combined force of 3000 troops, Shigetoki and his comrades charged upon Matsudaira Chikatada and his army of barely 2000 troops in Idano, Okazaki. Although outnumbered, Chikatada outbested his rivals, concluding the battle near the Matsudaira’s Iwazu castle. In the end, this defeat hurt the morale of Chūjō Akihide, as well as weakened the influence the Chūjō family possessed. In a turn of events, the Suzuki clan rose in power and influence, giving them a chance to become a more recognized noble family.


In 1533 Suzuki Hyūga-no-Kami Shigenori¹² continued the feud with the Matsudaira clan, as he and the Miyake clan teamed up to engage in a battle against the 7th successor Matsudaira Kiyoyasu. As Kiyoyasu was the next lord of Iwazu castle, they fought near the vicinity of that castle. Despite their combined strength, Shigenori didn’t stand a chance as their opponent would prevail in this battle.

In order to gain support against any future attacks, Suzuki Shigetatsu (aka Shigenori) would become a vassal of Imagawa Yoshimoto, a warlord who had much control of and influence within Mikawa. This servitude would last a few decades, but would cease temporarily. Following alongside Miyake Takasei, Shigetatsu chose to leave the Imagawa household and attempted to switch his loyalties to Oda Nobunaga, a warlord who was making great strides dominating many territories around Japan. Imagawa Yoshimoto couldn’t forgive such actions, so by using his power of authority, he ordered the Matsudaira clan to attack Terabe castle.

Matsudaira Motoyasu¹³, the young lord of Okazaki castle, was one of the members of the Matsudaira clan to accept the order. Acquiring the support from Ueno castle lord Sakai Tadanao¹⁴, Motoyasu led the 1st charge and set upon Terabe castle. Not stopping there, Motoyasu would also attack the castles of comrades to the Suzuki clan. Terabe castle would be overwhelmed, and its inhabitants surrendered. Defeated, Shigetatsu had no choice but to return his loyalty back to Yoshimoto. Motoyasu was rewarded for his successful role in this, including gaining control over the western part of Mikawa.


Throughout the early-mid 1500s the Imagawa clan was in a power struggle with the Oda clan for full control over both Mikawa and Owari. This would finally be decided in 1560, when Imagawa Yoshimoto clashed with Oda Nobunaga in what is known as the “Battle of Okehazama¹⁵”. Yoshimoto had a much larger army in total, spanning over 25,000. While he rallied up his closest subordinates, which included the Matsudaira, the Suzuki clan were not utilized in this battle.

Both sides set up their base in Okehazama, located in Owari no Kuni. Due to poor weather conditions, the fight came to a halt. While Yoshimoto rested with around 3000 of his troops in their base around nighttime, Nobunaga and around 2000 of his soldiers raided the base. Despite smaller in numbers, Oda’s side was successful in killing Imagawa Yoshimoto, and slaughtering the unarmed troops.

With his master dead, Matsudaira Motoyasu quickly returned back to Okazaki castle. Although he was prepared to commit seppuku, Motoyasu was convinced to instead reconsider and focus on surviving for a better future. Giving his stance as one who governed over the western side of Mikawa, he denounced his ties with the Imagawa clan, and made a peace pact¹⁶ with Nobunaga later in 1562. With no further opposition, Nobunaga could move unhindered into Mikawa no Kuni.


Site where Teraba Castle once stood. From Wikipedia.

The Suzuki clan of Terabe remained loyal to Imagawa Yoshimoto after his death. At the time, Suzuki members Shigenori and Shigeaki held their ground in Terabe castle for several more years. However, in 1566, Nobunaga sent Sakuma Nobumori to attack Terabe castle. Having a large army, Nobumori’s assault was strong enough to beat the Suzuki’s defenses, thus resulting in the fall of Terabe castle into the enemies’ hands. Shigetatsu, along with Shigeaki managed to flee with their lives, and is said to have escaped to Suruga (present day north-eastern part of central Shizuoka Prefecture). What happens afterwards is uncertain, as documents about the Suzuki clan of Terabe have conflicting conclusions.


Suzuki Hyūga-no-Kami Shigetatsu and the Suzuki clan originated from a noble line, and expanded into a reputable warrior family. While Shigetatsu and his family line had some military influence in their area and showed worth, in the end they were outmatched by more powerful warlords. This concludes part 1 of the discussion on the Suzuki clan. Stay tuned to part 2, were we look into the possible links to Shigetatsu’s fabled knowledge on military tactics.

1) 鈴木日向守重辰

2) There are many different family names with the “Suzuki” pronunciation, but written with different kanji. Some of these versions may have been derived from one another.

3) 藤白鈴木氏. Literally translates as “Suzuki family of Fujishiro Shrine”.

4) 鈴木重善. Original 1st name was Shigetoki, but later changed. Not to be confused with another Suzuki Shigeyoshi (鈴木重義), who was alive a few centuries earlier.

5) 刑部左衛門尉. Job description is something like “3rd officer of the Saemon Fu (Left Division of Outer Palace) for the Ministry of Justice”.

6) Correctly known as the “Jishō Juei no Ran” (Disturbance during Jishō period and Juei period). This spans from 1180 to 1185.

7) 鈴木重時. Full title is Suzuki Shimotsuke-no-Kami Shigetoki. (鈴木下野守重時). No further concrete information about him. Not to be confused with another Suzuki Shigetoki born about a century later and was active in the mid 1500s.

8) It is not certain if Shigetoki had Terabe castle constructed, or if it was acquired as a previously owned castle.

9) 松平郷

10) It is believed that the Japanese characters for Anjō castle was the same as the area it was located in, which is “安城”. However, after the Sengoku period, records show it written as “安祥”.

11) In some sources, first name is replaced with “Dewa-no-Kami” (出羽守). This is a title that few other members of the Chūjō family used. Full address would be “Chūjō Dewa-no-Kami Akihide”.

12) 鈴木日向守重教. From what is known in available sources, Shigenori is the same person as Shigetatsu, the man claimed to have taught Yamamoto Kansuke. When did he use either names, and why, is not explained.

13) 松平元康. Motoyasu would later change his name to Tokugawa Ieyasu, and unify Japan in the early 1600s.

14) At the time, Tadanao was a retainer to the Matsudaira clan.

15) 桶狭間の戦い

16) This pact is generally called “Kiyosu Dōmei” (清洲同盟), but is known under other titles as well. While attempts for a fitting truce between Oda family and Matsudaira family was initially attempted in 1561, both sides couldn’t come to an agreement until sometime in 1562. This was possible after Motoyasu visited Nobunaga’s castle, Kiyosu castle, and both were able to talk face-to-face.