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Ties to the Shōni family and conflict with the Ōuchi



Chapter Five Ties to the Shōni family and conflict with the Ōuchi

During the Kenkyū years of the Kamakura period, the Shōni (also known by their common surname of Mutō 武藤) under Shōni Sukeyori (資頼) were appointed to the post of shugo over the provinces of Chikuzen and Hizen. They were also concurrently appointed to the position of Chinzai Bugyō of Kyushu. Like the Ōtomo, the Shōni were an eastern gokenin family, with a leading role in rural society and tied through oaths of fealty to the Kamakura Bakufu. In the latter stages of the Nambokuchō period, the Shōni acted much like the Ōtomo, so much so that by the Muromachi period they too had emerged as a shugo daimyō family. However the development of the Shōni ran into a major obstacle from the Ōei years onwards as a result of the expansion of the authority of the Ōuchi family of Suo into northern Kyushu.(37)

The origins of the Ōuchi family are somewhat obscure. They apparently possessed many titles, and were based at Ōuchi village in Suo province. After being appointed to the position of `Zaichō Kannin` (在庁官人, a lower level official under the Kokushi system) the Ōuchi used this post to create a powerbase and began to develop as a provincial landholders (Matsuoka Hisahito (松岡久人, 大内氏の発展とその領国支配, as well as the 大名領国と城下町). By the Muromachi period the Ōuchi were profiting from trade with outsiders, and accumulated enough authority to come to the attentions of the bakufu who granted them the office of shugo over Suo. In the Ōei period (1394-1427), Ōuchi Yoshihiro (義弘) was shugo over six provinces – Suo, Nagato, and Buzen among them. He sent a daughter of his to Ōtomo Chikayo (親世) in order to aid his (Yoshihiro`s) advance into northern Kyushu. (36-37)

It was around this time that the Shibugawa family replaced Imagawa Ryōshun (今川了俊) as Kyushu Tandai. Yet the Ōuchi were not ones to wait for opportunities to emerge. In the Chinzei Yōryaku, it states…


As this record shows, the political and military authority of Kyushu, which the office of Kyushu Tandai represented, had fallen into the hands of the Ōuchi. Yoshihiro would eventually die in the aftermath of the Ōei uprising (after being forced to flee to Sakai in Izumi province), yet his younger brother Moriharu (盛見) would revive the family fortunes and continue to develop the authority of the Ōuchi. (37-38)

The expanding power of the Ōuchi into northern Kyushu eventually came up against the Shōni and Ōtomo. From the Ōnin years onwards, Shōni Noriyori (教頼) would be forced into exile by Ōuchi Masahiro, and would spend his time wandering from Tsushima, Chikuzen, and Hizen, seeking alliances from supporters. In the 2nd year of Ōnin (1468), Masahiro ordered Sue Hirofusa (陶弘房), Tsukushi  (also read as Chikushi) Yorisada (筑紫頼貞), and Shibugawa Yoshitane (渋川義種) to pursue Noriyori. They eventually cornered him in Takasu castle (高祖城) and forced him to commit suicide.(38)

In the 10th year of Bunmei (1478), Noriyori`s son Masasuke (政資) emerged from hiding in Hizen province, and through an alliance with Kikuchi Masataka and Ōtomo Masachika was able to rebuild some of the former power of his family. He attacked Hizen Ayabe castle, the seat of the current Kyushu Tandai (appointed by the Ōuchi) the Shibugawa. In the 15th year of Bunmei (1483), Masasuke succeeded in winning back control over Dazaifu. However, possibly through fear of a large force invading Kyushu under the Ōuchi, Ōtomo Masachika took the younger sister of Ōuchi Masahiro as his wife, and had another woman from Masahiro`s household marry his son Yoshisuke (義右).(38)

However Masachika then appears to have decided to send two women of his own household as brides to the sons of Shōni Masasuke, Shōni Takatsune (高経), and his brother Sukemoto (資元). In the 5th year of Meiō (1496), in the aftermath of the Ōnin War and the repercussions of that conflict, a split appeared between Masachika (who supported the Ashikaga Yoshimasa-Yoshihisa faction), and his son Yoshisuke who was more inclined towards Ōuchi Masahiro (who supported Ashikaga Yoshimi and his son Yoshiki). Yoshisuke fell out of favour with his father, who apparently then poisoned his son. At the same time, Masachika made preparations for an invasion of Chikuzen. Ōuchi Yoshioki (義興), son of Masahiro, was enraged by the actions of Masachika. Masachika was eventually captured by one of Yoshioki`s men and forced to commit suicide (according to the Ōtomo Ke Monjo Roku, 大友家文書録).(38)

In Meiō 6 (1497), Yoshioki raised a large army and led it into northern Kyushu. He proceeded to chase Shōni Masasuke out of Dazaifu, who fled to Hizen Taku castle (多久城). In the meantime Masasuke`s son Shōni Takatsune was forced to seek refuge in Hizen Seifukuji castle (盛福寺城). Both father and son would die fighting the Ōuchi, an event that is touched upon in a parable from the Intoku Taiheiki. Masasuke, knowing that all was lost, commited suicide at Senshōji, a temple attached to Taku castle. After slitting himself open, he threw part of his innards onto the stones in the garden of the temple, thereby demonstrating his anger and frustration at the fate that had befallen his household.(38-39)

Yet this did not mean the end of the Shōni. The third son, Shōni Sukemoto, still drew breath. In the Ōtomo household, Masachika`s younger brother Yoshiharu was named heir to the family in the aftermath of the deaths of Yoshisuke and Masachika. Yoshiharu decided to do away with the practice of asking for the shogun`s permission to go ahead with his appointment, an act which demonstrated his desire for more independent action on the part of the Ōtomo. In the 2nd year of Bunki (1502), Yoshiharu made an alliance with Shōni Sukemoto and again invaded the Hizen territory of the Tandai Shibugawa, which resulted in the return of Dazaifu to the Shōni in Eishō 3 (1506). At this time, the former shogun Yoshiki, who had been forced to flee the capital and seek refuge with Ōuchi Yoshioki, issued a missive calling for peace between the Ōuchi, Shōni, Ōtomo, and Shibugawa families in the 4th year of Eishō (1507). He also called for a re-distribution of territory, whereby Yoshioki would receive Chikuzen and Buzen, the Shōni would receive Hizen, and the Ōtomo would serve as shugo over Bungo. Yet this move by the former shogun essentially called upon the Shōni and Ōtomo to accept Ōuchi gains in northern Kyushu, and was really nothing more than a victory for the Ōuchi and their diplomacy.(40)

As such, it was very unlikely that the Shōni or Ōtomo would agree to this state of affairs.(40) Ōuchi Yoshitaka, who succeeded Yoshioki, responded to a revolt by the Shōni and attacked Shōni Sukemoto in Seifukuji castle. Yoshitaka would in turn be attacked by the Shōni retainers Ryūzōji Iekane and Nabeshima Kiyohisa. It was around this time that Sukemoto formed an alliance with Ōtomo Yoshiaki and showed signs that he intended to win back control over northern Kyushu. However Ōuchi Yoshitaka struck first, and became involved in a plot to have Ryūzōji Iekane desert Sukemoto, a plot that was ultimately successful. Sukemoto, having lost one of his best generals, also lost the military capabilities that Iekane represented, and so together with Ōtomo Yoshiaki agreed to Ōuchi Yoshitaka`s terms for control of northern Kyushu. In the 4th year of Tenbun (1535), Yoshitaka was given the title of Dazai Daito (太宰大仁).(40)

This title placed Yoshitaka in a rank higher in the court system than the position occupied by the Shōni, hence any military endeavours against the Shōni could now be done under a veil of legitimacy. With his powerbase secure, Yoshitaka set out to remove the Shōni, launching a campaign against Sukemoto in the 9th month of the 5th year of Tenbun (1536). This campaign ended with Sukemoto`s death. Sukemoto`s eldest son Fuyuhisa (冬尚) would not forget Ryūzōji Iekane`s treachery, and would launch a revolt against him, yet this too ended in failure. For the time being at least, Hizen was in the hands of the Ryūzōji, the one time retainers of the Shōni. It was a clear example of the social phenomenon known as gekokujō (those lower on the social scale overthrowing members of higher social classes).(40)

With the political situation now in favour of the Ōuchi, Ōtomo Yoshiaki felt the need to make a truce with Ōuchi Yoshitaka in the 7th year of Tenbun (1538). However it was an uneasy truce, especially considering the degree of animosity that both sides held towards the other. In the end, both families were to meet different fates. Firstly, Ōtomo Yoshishige became the head of the Ōtomo family in the 20th year of Tenbun (1551), while Yoshitaka was betrayed by his retainer Sue Takafusa (陶隆房, apparently in the same year) which brought about the downfall of the main branch of the Ōuchi family. The power of the Ōuchi was swept from northern Kyushu in much the same way as that of the Shōni. With these events behind us, we may now approach the subject of Ōtomo Yoshishige`s arrival on the political scene. (40-41)

Becoming shugo of six provinces and Yoshishige`s appointment as Kyushu Tandai

The Ōtomo Ke Monjoroku (大友家文書録) explains the downfall of Ōuchi Yoshitaka in the 20th year of Tenbun (1551) as follows. A conspiracy was hatched by Sue Takafusa (with clandestine support from Ōtomo Yoshishige) in which Yoshishige`s younger brother Haruhide would inherit the title of heir to the Ōuchi family name once Yoshitaka had been removed from power. In order to realize this ambition, Takafusa requested military aid, to which Yoshishige gladly consented. There are, however, a number of problems with this text, especially as it appears to have been created ex post facto.(41) The Ōtomo Ke Monjoroku, although it contradicts itself on some of the finer details, records subsequent matters as follows…

“Takafusa, having been successful in eliminating Yoshitaka, sent a messenger to Yoshishige. In his message Takafusa said that as he had been falsely accused of treason by Yoshitaka, he made the first move, removing Yoshitaka before he himself was killed. However the overthrow of the head of the Ōuchi family meant that Yoshishige`s younger brother, Haruhide, could now take up the same position. By using Takafusa`s plan, Yoshishige saw an opportunity to increase his own influence while at the same time removing a potential rival (i.e., Haruhide). Once the plan had been implemented, it would be necessary to eliminate Haruhide (although Yoshishige did not provide an answer in such words). For his part, Haruhide believed that becoming a leader at a time of war was a great honour for a warrior. If he did not take up the mantle offered to him, then he would be scorned. Even if his fate were uncertain, it would be better to act and regret nothing, so Haruhide is said to have responded. Yoshishige then used this reasoning in his own response to the messenger”.(42)

Leaving aside whether or not any of this is true, what we do know is that Haruhide met with Takafusa, and in the 3rd month of the 21st year of Tenbun (1552) traveled to Yamaguchi, whereupon he took up the surname of Ōuchi and was granted the personal name of Yoshinaga from the shogun Yoshiteru (while the position of Kokumu (国務) was granted to Takafusa). However soon afterwards, whether out of spite with Yoshinaga or in deference to Yoshishige, Sue Takafusa took the tonsure and changed his name to Zengyō (全薑).(42)

For Yoshishige, who had witnessed the removal from power of the Ōuchi and the Shōni and seen his brother succeed to the head of one of those families (thereby eliminating two potential problems), the way now lay ahead to expand his own influence, starting with Hizen. As Yoshishige wrote (through the aid of a scribe) …

“The province of Hizen has been of interest to our family since the time the Shōni were in power. In recent years, because the absence of the Shōni, I have issued a demand calling for all local leaders in the province to unite under my rule. As Hizen is a province without a ruler, a condition that has persisted for some time, I plan to petition the shogunate to grant me the office of shugo over the province of Hizen. To this end I humbly beseech you”. (取意)

This was the essence of a request made by Yoshishige to the priest Shōkōji Kōshu (光秀, acting as a representative of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshiteru), asking that he be granted the position of shugo over Hizen province. The Ōtomo family had an interest in Hizen province that stretched back to the time of Ujiyasu. Furthermore, in the 2nd year of Tenbun (1533), a kokujin alliance within Hizen had made a pledge of loyalty to Yoshiaki (as shown in the Ōtomo Ke Monjoroku), hence there was some degree of truth to the claims that Yoshishige laid out in his request.(42-43)

At the time, the Shōni were in no position to win back authority over Hizen because of the rising power of the Ryūzōji. Yoshishige therefore decided on a course of diplomacy to woo the bakufu`s favour, sending gifts such as swords, horses, and money in great quantity to the shogun and the bakufu. In short, Yoshishige made every effort to buy the office of shugo of Hizen. The position was quite lucrative, and Yoshishige witnessed a dream in which he had already been given the appointment. He called this his `revelation` (端夢). Though he had formerly been known by the name Gorō (五郎), Yoshishige changed this to Shintarō (新太郎) (indicating a new beginning), and made his petition to the shogun. This was accepted, and so Yoshishige was appointed to the post of shugo of Hizen on the 16th day of the 8th month of the 23rd year of Tenbun (1554). Unlike his succession to the positions of shugo over Bungo and Higo, the post was one that Yoshishige had won through political manuvering and diplomacy, and so he was quite pleased with the outcome.(44)

By the 6th month of the 2nd year of Eiroku (1559), Yoshishige was appointed as shugo over the three provinces of Buzen, Chikuzen, and Chikugo. On the 9th day of the 11th month of Eiroku 2, Yoshishige, through the favour of the shogun Yoshiteru, became the Kyushu Tandai (from the Ōtomo Monjo). This was a position that Yoshishige`s father, Yoshiaki, had himself coveted. In order to win over the bakufu, Yoshishige sent a very large sum of money to bribe bakufu officials into awarding him this most illustrious of posts. Unlike the Dazai Daito position that Ōuchi Yoshitaka had been awarded under the Ritsuryō system, the Kyushu Tandai was responsible for all military matters and warrior households – in other words, the Kyushu Tandai functioned as the administrator-in-chief of Kyushu and acted on behalf of the shogunate. As Tandai, Yoshishige was able to inherit the title of the Ōuchi family following the death of Haruhide. This was recorded in the following manner…

(永禄二年)十一月九日               (花押)(義輝)
大友新太郎とのへ (大友文書)(pp.44-45)

For Yoshishige, who loved to receive official positions in order to increase his own personal authority, this particularly development was fortuitous (though it had come about at the cost of the death of his younger brother). Yoshishige`s ambitions did not continue unchecked however, for from the Chūgoku region came the figure of Mōri Motonari and his plans to invade northern Kyushu.(45)

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© Greg Pampling. This page was modified in February 2012