Table of Contents

Chapter Eight Influential retainers in the Ōtomo household



Chapter Eight Influential retainers in the Ōtomo household

Even at the very height of his power, Sōrin respected the opinions of the Kahanshū, a trait which prevented him from becoming dictatorial. He himself possessed a weak constitution. Rather than being known for his ferociousness, Sōrin made efforts to grow closer to the shogun, bakufu, and to figures of prominence in the central government (including Hideyoshi). It was just such methods - the skillful use of diplomacy - that forged Sōrin`s reputation as an intelligent leader. He tended to avoid danger, and was not the sort of person to receive wounds or kill an enemy on the battlefield (especially as he delighted in the pastimes of the aristocracy). It was up to those retainers beneath him to carry out the task of sweating and shedding blood in order to further the ambitions of the Ōtomo.(59)

Some examples of these retainers include Tachibana Dōsetsu, Usuki Akisumi, and Yoshihiro Akinao, the so called `three councilors of Bungo province`. Most of them came from lesser, branch families of the Ōtomo household, yet performed their function as toshiyori councillors and commanded armies in the field in support of Sōrin. On the other hand, persons such as Tahara Chikahiro came from one of the three main strands of the Ōtomo household itself. They received large tracts of territory for themselves, and as such had quite an influence on Sōrin. Unlike the `three councilors`, they did not function as toshiyori councillors, neither did they have any other official post(s). Sōrin did his best to try to control them, yet he was not always successful. The limited authority that the Ōtomo held over their territories was made more obvious by their inability to control these retainers. Hence those retainers that surrounded Sōrin had a fairly complex relationship with their appointed leader, and it is to two or three of those retainers that we now turn to look at in some detail.(59-60)

Tachibana Dōsetsu (立花道雪)

The first figure that demands our attention is that of Tachibana Dōsetsu, formerly known as Betsugi Akitsura. The Betsugi family were descended from the second son of the founder of the Ōtomo family, Ōtomo Yoshinao (the name of his son was Sae`mon Shigehisa). The family served as a jitō to the Betsugi shōen estate in Ōita gun. Afterwards the family would relocate to Yoroidake (鎧岳) castle in Fujikita, Ōno gun. This was the Betsugi family from which Akitsura was descended.(60) As were saw earlier, in the 8th year of Eiroku (1563), Tachibana Akitoshi, the lord of Tachibana castle in Chikuzen, betrayed Sōrin via secret correspondence with the Mōri. Sōrin then sent armies to attack Akitoshi, forcing him to take his own life. Akitsura led the Ōtomo army (along with the Usuki and Shiga armies) sent to punish Akitoshi. As a reward for his service, in the 2nd year of Ganki (1571), Akitsura inherited the surname of Tachibana and thus became lord of Tachibana castle. He was 57 years old at the time. Afterwards he would take the tonsure and became known by the priestly name of Dōsetsu. He was crippled from the waist down, the origins of which were described in detail within the Ōtomo Kōhai Ki (大友興廃記)…

“When Akitsura was still living in Fujikita he met with an accident. This occurred when he was taking a nap beneath a large tree. A squall suddenly appeared, accompanied by lightning. A sword known as `Chidori` which was lying next to Akitsura`s head was struck by a bolt of lightning, causing it to leap up and injure Akitsura. Thereafter Akitsura was crippled from the waist down, and he had to be carried into battle on a raised platform. His sword, since it had been struck by lightning, was renamed `Lightning Cutter`”.

This is an apocryphal story, and was probably written by an ardent admirer of Dōsetsu. What the above passage does illustrate though is that Akitsura was well-known and respected. This would account for why he was called one of the `three great retainers of the Ōtomo clan` (along with Usuki Akisumi and Yoshihiro Akinao). The Takahashi Ki records the following in relation to the three retainers…


Luis Frois, in his record for the 13th year of Tenshō, stated that (Akitsura) was…`the most fine and courageous of generals`. As the lord of Tachibana castle, he strove to prevent other lords in Buzen, Chikuzen, Chikugo, Hizen and Higo from rebelling, a task in which he was aided by Takahashi Shōun (紹運). On the 26th day of the 2nd month of the 8th year of Tenshō (1580), Dōsetsu became concerned at the apparent weakening of the Ōtomo`s hold over their territories, and sent a letter to the toshiyori councillors Shiga Dōki (道輝) and Ichimada Munenori (一万田宗慶) (as found in the 立花家文書). The content of the letter touches upon the sense of impending danger that Dōsetsu felt, and criticizes Yoshishige and other retainers. It laments that both young and old, men and women, have converted to the Christian faith, for in doing so they had destroyed both temples and shrines and thrown statues of the gods and boddhisatva into the sea, acts for which they surely would be punished. As this piece of evidence shows, Dōsetsu was certainly a character not afraid to speak his mind. He died of illness aged 73 in the 12th year of Tenshō (1584).(62)

Dōsetsu had no children of his own, and so he adopted the eldest son of Takahashi Shōun, Takahashi Munetora (統虎). This individual would go on to become Tachibana Sakin Shōkan Muneshige. He would serve as the vanguard of the army of Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the campaign to punish the Shimazu, and was rewarded by Hideyoshi for his efforts during the Chōsen peninsula campaign. He would later be granted rule over the territory of Yanagigawa in Chikugo province.(63)

Usuki Akisumi (臼杵鑑速)

Next we shall look at Usuki Akisumi. The Usuki family was a branch of the Ōga family that had originally ruled over Usuki shōen in Kaifu gun (海部郡), Bungo province. As detailed above, the Usuki gained noteriety during the Gempei War through the efforts of the younger brother of Ogata Koreyoshi, Usuki Jirō Koretaka (臼杵二郎惟隆). After being punished by the Kamakura Bakufu for their complicity in aiding the Taira, the surname of Usuki fell into disuse, although it was later revived and inherited by the Ōtomo. The evidence for this lies in the fact that the Usuki became part of the Dōmonshū and not the Kokushū. As part of the Ōtomo/Usuki family. Akisumi was active during the Tenbun and Kōji eras, and throughout the Tenbun period served as lord of Kōshidake castle(柑子岳)located in Shima gun, Chikuzen province. For a short time he was also lord over both Hizen and Higo. He appears to have died in or around the 4th year of Eiroku (1561). Tachibana Dōsetsu mourned Akisumi`s passing, and stated (in the letter described above) that the territories that Akisumi had administered had withered since his death. Sōrin is reported to have said that he was supported by `the strategies of Akisumi as one of the three councilors of Bungo province`…豊州三老之調略 (麻生文書). (63-64)

Takahashi Shōun (高橋紹運)

The Takahashi family came to prominence in the 3rd year of Kenmu (1336) during Ashikaga Takauji`s brief sojourn to Kyushu. After Takauji had rebuilt his forces and returned to the east, the Takahashi were ordered to remain in Kyushu together with the Niki and Isshiki families. The name of Takahashi derived from the territory in which they built their castle, Chikugo Takahashi. They would later become lords of Iwaya and Hōman castles (both located in Chikugo province). The Takahashi remained loyal to the Ōtomo during the Tenbun period, however the family name ended with passing of the last direct descendant, Takahashi Nagatane. This led the Ōtomo to grant the Takahashi name to the son of Ichimada Sakyō Daifu (一万田左京大夫), Ichimada Umasuke, who became known as Takahashi Mikawa no Kami Akitane. This occurred in or around the 2nd year of Eiroku (1559). However, as we have seen, Akitane betrayed the Ōtomo and in Eiroku 12 (1569) was forced to flee to Kokura. The Takahashi were later pardoned and allowed to rebuild their strength under the direction of the younger brother of Yoshihiro (吉弘) Akinao, Shuzen Hyoe Shigenao (鎮理). This individual took the tonsure and became known as Takahashi Shōun. In the latter days of Ōtomo rule, the names of Tachibana Dōsetsu and Takahashi Shōun would reverberate throughout Chikuzen, as Lois Frois recorded in his journal for the 13th year of Tenshō.(64)

In the 15th year of Tenshō (1586), the Ōtomo family were attacked by the Shimazu of Satsuma province. The Ryūzōji, Akizuki, and Tsukushi joined the Shimazu and launched attacks against Hōman and Iwaya castles. Shōun did his best to keep these forces occupied, yet he was eventually overwhelmed and forced to commit suicide. In the Chikugo Kokushi there is a poem dedicated to Shōun, which reads…


Shōun was 37 years old at the time of his death. He is buried on top of Iwaya mountain, located to the north of Dazaifu.(65)  

Prominent retainers

Tahara Sōki (田原宗亀)

We will now examine some of the main retainers of the Ōtomo household. One of the most typical examples of these is the figure of Tahara Chikahiro Nyūdō Sōki (田原親宏入道宗亀). The Tahara family were descended from an illegitimate child of Ōtomo Yoshinao, Yasuhiro (泰広), who resided in Tahara Beppu, Kunisaki gun (国東郡).(66) Yasuhiro was different to Yoshinao`s other children in that his mother was a Shirabyōshi (白拍子, in other words a dancer affiliated with shrines), hence he received far less territory than his siblings. However, through various illegal activities he gradually developed his power base so much so that the Tahara, along with the Shiga and Takuma, became one of the most prominent of the branch lines of the Ōtomo family. In the Sengoku era, the Takuma moved to Higo where they fell into ruin, thus leaving the Tahara, along with the Shiga as the most influential of the Ōtomo family retainers. In the Sengoku era, the Tahara were divided between the Kurakake Tahara family, who were responsible for the administration of Kurakake castle (鞍掛城) located in Kunisaki gun as well as Aki castle (安岐城), and the Musashi Tahara family (武蔵田原) who ruled over Musashi gō (also located in Kunisaki gun). Chikahiro was the head of the main Tahara branch (located in Musashi). He was first known by the name of Chikamitsu, which was later changed to the priestly name of Sōki. His successor, Tahara Chikakata (親賢) Nyūdō Shōnin (紹忍) was also a descendant of the main Tahara line.(66)

The Tahara family were particularly powerful, and possessed a strength that was to rival that of Sōrin. This fact is demonstrated in a record belonging to Francisco Galien and dated for the 7th year of Tenshō (1579), which stated that Chikahiro was `one of the most influential of councilors within Bungo`, and that he `possessed the most power of any retainer`. The strategies that the Ōtomo adopted in attempting to deal with the Tahara troubled many generations of the Ōtomo family. Sōrin`s grandfather, Ōtomo Yoshinaga, wrote of the treachery displayed by Tahara Chikanobu and issued a co-signed document calling on a need for vigilance against the Tahara (as found within the 大友文書)…


Sōrin was well-aware of the strength that the Tahara possessed, so he not only abolished some of the positions held by Chikahiro, he also banished Chikahiro from his province for a short time. He confiscated half of Chikahiro`s holdings and gave these to Tahara Chikakata, thereby using a strategy of trying to divide the Tahara house against itself. However, in the 6th year of Tenshō (1578), following the defeat of the Ōtomo in Hyuga province, Chikahiro departed from Funai back to his holdings in Kunisaki, where he demanded the return of former Tahara lands from recently appointed landlords and made preparations to attack Funai. However he feared the power of Sōrin and his son. A padre witnessing these events stated that if Tahara had carried out his attack, it would have split the realm in two. (67) However Chikahiro died before he could carry out his attack, thus sparing the Ōtomo this dilemma. Chikahiro`s adopted son, Chikatsura (親貫) rose in revolt against the Ōtomo, a revolt that was suppressed by Ōtomo Yoshimune. Sōrin`s second son Chikaie (親家) then inherited the surname of the Tahara, as will be discussed later.(68)

Takita Jōtetsu (田北紹鉄)

The Takita family were descended from Ōtomo Chikayasu, the third son of the second head of the Ōtomo family, Ōtomo Chikahide (68). The Takita served as jitō (or land stewards) to Takita village, Naoiri gun, and thus took their surname from that location. However, by the time Jōtetsu was in power, the Takita family had moved to Oita gun to rule over Kumamure castle (熊牟札城). Jōtetsu was originally known as Takita Akishige (鑑重). His decision to take the tonsure resulted in him adopting the name Jōtetsu. Like Tahara Sōki, Jōtetsu was an independent retainer and a general of some repute. In a document attributed to Lourenço Messina, Jōtetsu is described as `the strongest among the retainers of Bungo, and is acknowledged to be a good strategist`. Yet it was precisely because of such talent that Jōtetsu was never given a position as a toshiyori or any other kind of important function. This prejudice eventually led Jōtetsu to make a secret pact with Tahara Chikakata and Akizuki Tanemitsu to rebel against Sōrin. In the 4th month of Tenshō 8 (1580), Ōtomo Yoshimune, prior to his chastizement of Chikakata, attacked Asono castle in Naoiri gun and defeated Jōtetsu. Jōtetsu then fled west, however he was later killed at Matsubara, part of the Goma shōen estate in Hida gun.(68)

Tahara Shōnin (田原紹忍)

There are another one or two persons of note that remain to be discussed. Of those, one name deserving our attention is that of Tahara Shōnin. He was originally known as Tahara Chikakata (親賢) and was head of the Musashi Tahara family. He was originally born into the Nata Hachiman Ōmiya (奈多八幡大宮) family of Aki gun, Kunisaki gun, yet was adopted into the Tahara. His biological father, Nata Akimoto (奈多鑑基), served as the Shake Mōshitsugu (社家申次, or minister for shrines). Shōnin was the elder brother to the second wife of Sōrin (who was descended from the Nata family), and thus became Sōrin`s brother-in-law. Though the Tahara family itself would rebel against the Ōtomo, Shōnin remained comparatively close to Sōrin. In Tenshō 5 (1577), Luis Frois wrote an entry describing Shōnin as `the second or third most important councilor in terms of military strength, political power, and wealth`. In the following year (1578), he wrote…`三ヶ国の執政にして、国中第一の大身`. (69)

He served as a toshiyori to the Ōtomo and was also responsible for the administration of Buzen and other nearby provinces. Initially he vigorously supported Sōrin, however the relationship between the two gradually cooled as a result of Sōrin`s affinity for Christianity. Chikakata was descended from the shrine officials of Hachiman Ōmiya, which meant that he and his younger sister were never positively disposed towards Christianity. Subsequently a gap opened up between Chikakata and Sōrin, who was deeply affected by Christian teachings. The final straw came when Chikakata`s adopted son, Chikatora, returned to Bungo after spending some time in Kyoto where he had been exposed to Christian teachings and announced that he would convert to Christianity. Chikakata was furious at this decision, and both he and his sister did what they could to slander Chikatora, acts which raised the ire of Sōrin.(70)

Shōnin (Chikakata) took responsibility for the loss suffered by the Ōtomo in Hyuga province. This led to a loss of status, and for a brief time Shōnin was forced to return lands granted to him by Tahara Chikahiro upon orders issued by Sōrin, which reduced his economic power. However, after Shōnin renounced Chikatora as his heir, he appointed Sōrin`s third son, Chikamori (親盛) to that position. Hence apart from issues over Christianity, relations between Shōnin and Sōrin were quite amicable.(70)

Shiga Dōki (志賀道輝)

The Shiga family were descended from Ōtomo Yoshinori (Yoshiaki 能郷), the eighth son of the first head of the Bungo Ōtomo family, Ōtomo Yoshinao. Yoshinori served as a jitō to Shiga village, located in the Ōno shōen estate, and thus took his surname from the surrounding territory. The Shiga developed in tandem with the main Ōtomo line. By the Sengoku era, they were divided into the northern Shiga family, who ruled from Oka castle in Naoiri gun, and the southern Shiga family, who ruled from Shirani(白仁城)castle, also located within Naoiri gun. Shiga Dōki was descended from the northern Shiga line. Together with the Tahara and Takuma, the Shiga would serve as one of the three main branches of the Ōtomo household. However, unlike the Tahara, the Shiga provided greater assistance to the Ōtomo. As a result, the Shiga dominated the toshiyori council of retainers.(70-71)

Dōki was the priestly name adopted by Shiga Chikamori (志賀親守), who later changed his name to Chikayasu (親安). He served, as his ancestors had, as a toshiyori councillor and rose to prominence through this station. Furthermore, his son Chikanori (親教) was wedded to one of Sōrin`s daughters.(71) As a result of Dōki`s position and the traditions that accompanied it, Dōki possessed a conservative outlook, and did not look kindly upon the Christian religion. It goes without saying that Dōki was particularly aggrieved by Sōrin`s fondness for Christianity. What is more, when Dōki`s grandson Chikayoshi (親次、親善) converted to Christianity after professing an interest in the faith, Dōki was furious, and vented his anger and frustration on his son Chikanori, blaming him for not chastising his grandson. In the end, a gap opened up between Dōki and Sōrin, so much so that when the Shimazu invaded Bungo province, Dōki sided with the invading army, thereby demonstrating that he had been pushed to the limits of his support for the Ōtomo.(72)

Intermediary positions

The Kahanshū (加判衆)

Next, we will take a look at what positions retainers held within the Ōtomo organization, with an emphasis on the central levels of retainership.

The Kahanshū were the highest placed of all the offices that existed under the rule of Ōtomo Sōrin. They were also known as the Renpanshū (連判衆) or by the title `toshiyori` (年寄、宿老, or 老中). The Shin Ōtomo Gichō Jōjō (新大友義長条々) stated the following in relation to the Kahanshū…

  1. 加判衆、申次を相加うる時は、能々思惟を以て申し出、年寄中同心(諒解―りょう     かい)に於ては落着(決定)たるべし。(下略)(72)

While the Kahanshū are thought to have derived from selections made by toshiyori councillors, in reality it is difficult to distinguish what the difference between the two actually was (i.e., that the Kahanshū were toshiyori themselves and not distinct from this office). The Ōtomo Shi Toshiyori Renshojō (大友氏年寄連署状) makes mention of the character that toshiyori councillors were expected to hold…

国家宿老と号する事、上の御名代として人のかゝミと成役なれは、はれかましく尋常也智慮なくてハ成かたし。第一理非憲法(善悪の道理)。第二欲を放事。第三学文(マヽ)。第四婬酒(みだら・さけ)之分別。第五武篇之嗜(たしなみ)。其外堅固之思慮は銘々(めいめい)注に及ばず、連判之衆中何れも一致に申談にせられ、我慢しやうしき(正直)の悪心をさるべし。上下の礼義専一にすへき也。(73) The record also goes on to state…

宿老と申人は先御近辺の末をよくしり、御家いかた(マヽ), または近習外様の色ハけ、或は公儀の立柄、或は諸傍輩の交なとをおも幼少より見なれめされたる人ならては老中の役難かるへし。(73)

What this shows was that in order to serve on the Kahanshū, a candidate had to possess thorough knowledge of the workings of the Ōtomo household, a factor that was given more weighting than character or one`s social position. The Kahanshū received various offices by Sōrin, and were responsible for the political, military, and diplomatic aspects of his rule. As such, these retainers had to respect Sōrin`s will, yet their presence meant that Sōrin could never become a dictator.(73) If a gap in understanding appeared between the two then it could have dramatic consequences, a fact made all too clear by the `Rebellion of the Second Floor` incident.(73-74)

In terms of numbers, an okibumi issued by Ōtomo Yoshiaki states that the Kahanshū consisted of six retainers, which, in principle, was made up of three members of the Dōmonshū and three members of the Tashōshū (他姓衆). However this number was not always strictly adhered to, so sometimes the Kahanshū consisted of four or five retainers, whilst at other times it had as many as eight. By the reign of Ōtomo Yoshimune, there were no fixed members left, hence the duties of the Kahanshū fell to scribes. Some notable members of the Kahanshū included Tachibana Dōsetsu, Usuki Akisumi, and Yoshihiro Akinao (the `three retainers of Hōshu`), along with Yoshioka Nagamasu, Shiga Chikamori, Tahara Shōnin, Kutami Akiyasu (朽網鑑康), Ichimada Akinori (Akinobu, 鑑述), Takita Akio (鑑生), Ogi Yoshikage (雄城治景), Saiki Korenori (佐伯惟教), and Ohara Akimoto (小原鑑元). Most of these individuals belonged to the Dōmonshū and served for particularly long periods of time, so much so that one can perceive a move towards making these positions hereditary. On the other hand, Saiki Korenori was expelled from the Kahanshū quite early on, Ohara Akimoto rebelled against the Ōtomo in Kōji 2 (1556), and Kutami Akiyasu made a secret pact with the Shimazu during their invasion of Bungo in Tenshō 14 (1586), for which his son was later executed. When one reads of these incidents, one has to wonder as to the extent of authority that Sōrin exercised over the Kahanshū and his retainers in general.

When investigating the Kahanshū, one must inevitably touch upon the unique apparatus of the katawake that was appointed to exercise rule over certain parts of the Ōtomo`s territory, a point that will be further explored hereon.(74)

Various offices

Next, we shall look at the various types of office that existed within the middle rung of administration. The first of these was the yūhitsu (右筆, or scribe), an office close to the ruler of Bungo province who was charged with the creation and dispatch of written documents. As it was not considered `proper` for a territorial ruler to write his own correspondence, a scribe would be employed for this purpose (as seen in the number of names included in the Shin Ōtomo Gichō Jōjō). By the time Ōtomo Yoshimune ruled Bungo, the Urakami (浦上) family had been selected from among the toshiyori councillors of the Ōtomo household to serve as yūhitsu. A yūhitsu would act as an intermediary between his lord and lords of other provinces as well as between members of the Kahanshū.(75)

The next offices consisted of duties related to military matters, of which the Onhata Bugyō (御幡(旗)奉行, flag bearers), the Onyoroi Bugyō (御鎧奉行, office of armour bearers), and the Ondachi Bugyō (御太刀奉行, office of sword bearers) were typical examples. Yearly tithes, the construction of buildings, and the administration of festivals were handled by the Hassaku Bugyō (八朔奉行, office for celebrations), the Sajiki Bugyō (桟敷奉行, office for festivals), the Sake Bugyō (酒奉行, office for the creation and administration of sake rice-wine), the Onbanshi Bugyō (御判紙奉行, office for official documentation), the Shake Bugyō (社家奉行, office of shrine officials), the Tera Bugyō (寺奉行, office for the administration of temples) and the Kaku Shazō Ei Bugyō (賀来社造営奉行, office for the building of shrines), the Ōban Bugyō (垸飯奉行, office for food products and utensils), the Machiya Bugyō (待屋奉行, office for residences used for hunting), and the Seko Bugyō (勢子奉行, also charged with hunting responsibilities). There were many instances where these offices were `inherited` by retainers. For instance, the office of Onhata Bugyō was exclusively held by the Kamado (竈門) and Tajiri (田尻) families, whilst the bamboo for the battle flags of the Ōtomo was taken from the forests of the tutelary deity of the Ōtomo clan, Yusuhara Hachiman Nishibō (柞原八幡西坊), as well as from the forests of Kasuga Miya no Tsukasa (春日宮司) and Aga Hachiman of Tsukumi. The post of Shake Bugyō was held by the Nata and the Saho (佐保) families, whilst the position of Tera Bugyō was held by the Yakushiji (薬師寺) and the Hazuku (波津久) families.(75-76)

There were also other groups responsible for a variety of specialist positions. These included the Koshiraemono shū (拵物衆, responsible for the manufacture of goods), the Niedonoshū (贄殿衆, office responsible for repairs), the Fusa no shū (房衆, attendants in waiting) and the Isha shū (医者衆 medical officers). There were also a number of Banshū (番衆, or guards), including the Tōsamurai Ban (御遠侍番, responsible for security), the Okuraban (御蔵番, guard for ware and storehouses), the Onkyūban(御厩番, office for appointments), the Kiroku Shoban (記録所番, office for records), and the Meshiban (飯番, office for commodities). The Tōsamurai Ban consisted of those warriors brought in from the surrounding countryside who would serve for a period of twenty days. Those serving within the Okuraban were to be persons `of talent`, whilst the Kiroku Shoban consisted of members drawn from the various gō and shō within the province of Bungo. As for those offices held by regional lords, we shall examine them next. (76)

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© Greg Pampling. This page was modified in February 2012