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Chapter One The rise of the Ōtomo and Yoshishige`s character



Chapter One The rise of the Ōtomo and Yoshishige`s character
The origins of the Ōtomo family

The Ōtomo were historically thought to have originated in Sagami province, Ashigami (足上) gun, Ōtomo gō. They were a `gozoku`, or family of prominence. During the Edo period, a firmly entrenched hypothesis on the origins of the Ōtomo claimed that Ōtomo Yoshinao (能直), one of the ancestors of the Ōtomo family, was a retainer of Minamoto no Yoritomo together with Shimazu Tadahisa of Satsuma province and Yūki (結城) Tomomitsu of Kōzuke province (only the Mito school of scholarship rejected this theory). However the modern era brought three scholars to the fore who denied previous hypotheses and suggested their own alternative – those scholars being Ōta Atsushi, Watanabe Sumio of Ōita University, and Toyama Mikio. This alternative version of events claimed that Ōtomo Yoshinao was merely the son of Furujō (古庄) Yoshinari (or Munenari), a samurai from one of the eastern provinces who became the adopted son of Hara Chikayoshi (one of the core retainers of Yoritomo). This relationship then brought Yoshinao to the attention of Yoritomo.(1-2)

Yoshinao appears to have been a sickly child, and was partially blind in one eye. He did have a degree of femininity about him, which may have been the reason for the attention that he received from Yoritomo. According to the `Azuma Kagami`, “no other was so close to [Yoritomo] as Yoshinao” 「無双の寵仁」and that he was 「常に御座右に候す」 “already a close confidant [of Yoritomo]". It is highly likely then that Yoshinao was a retainer with a close relationship with Yoritomo. As such, he was not a simple gokenin from the Kantō region, but held a position of considerable importance. Indeed, it was because of his relationship with Yoritomo that he was eventually granted the position of shugo over Bungo and Chikugo provinces, and together with the Shōni family (少弐氏), held the post of Chinzai Bugyō. Although there has been some controversy over whether Yoshinao held posts outside of that of shugo of Chikugo (mainly sparked by the research of Satō Shin`ichi), mainstream thought confirms that the posts named above were held by Yoshinao.(2)

The post of shugo and the lands that accompanied this office meant that Yoshinao had holdings in Chikugo Miura Nagasaka gō, Toshine (利根) shō in the province of Kōzuke, various fields in Akimachi gō in Kunisaki gun, Ōno shō in Bungo, Saigo Kamikura shō in Takuma (詫磨) gun located in Higo province, and Takao Beppu (鷹尾別府) located in Chikugo province. Revenue was drawn from all of these estates, many of which had special characteristics. From the Kamakura period through to the Muromachi, these lands and titles would provide the foundation for the development of the Ōtomo family. (2-3)

Despite the close relationship that Yoshinao had with Yoritomo, once political power fell into the hands of the Hōjō family, one would expect that the Ōtomo would have lost influence. Yet the third generation head of the Ōtomo, Yasunao, was particularly close to the Shikken Hōjō Tokiyori as both were descendants of the Taira family. Moreover, Tokiyori bestowed on Yasunao a `hengi` (偏諱) (which gave a recipient the right to use a character in his own name which was the same as that of his lord). This allowed Yasunao to change his name to Yoriyasu. Yasunao (Yoriyasu) showed his political wisdom in forging a close relationship with the Kamakura government, for despite the changing political fortunes of the central government, Yasunao`s diplomacy ensured that the development of the Ōtomo family would not impeded by the change in authority from the Minamoto to the Hōjō. (3)

In the 1st year of Koan (1361), a moshijō (or record of appeal) was written to explain the circumstances surrounding the Shimazu family (who ruled as shugo over Ōsumi and Satsuma, and whose records form the Shimazu Ke Monjo or 島津家文書). This document outlined what shugo positions existed in Kyushu and who had been appointed to them. Since the outset of the Kamakura era the Shimazu had held the title of shugo over Hyuga, Satsuma, and Ōsumi provinces. Chikuzen, Buzen, and Hizen belonged to the Shōni, while Bungo, Chikugo, and Higo belonged to the Ōtomo. We certainly can`t take this evidence at face value, however all we can say is that during the Nambokuchō period (1333-1392) the shugo posts of Kyushu were dominated by three families. From the time of Yoriyasu onwards, the Ōtomo would be based in the west in the province of Bungo. They were not alone in doing this, for many Kantō gokenin families that took up residence in the Shikoku and Kyushu regions relocated themselves from east to west. Such families included the Shōni of Chikuzen, the Sagara (相良) of Higo Hitoyoshi, the Nyūraiin of Satsuma Nyūraiin, and the Mōri of the western (Chūgoku) provinces. Their decision(s) to move west may have stemmed from orders issued by the bakufu, yet the author is of a different mind.(4-5)

The decision to move west appears to have been voluntary, for the Kamakura Bakufu did not possess the means to force gokenin to abandon their previous dwellings for new abodes (as feudalism had not progressed so far by this time). No legal basis existed to force groups of warriors to transfer themselves to other parts of the country. Each group of warriors appears to have moved for their own particular reason(s), for no common thread joins together decisions to relocate to the west. The Kamakura period was one in which many records were retained for posterity. However nowhere within those records is there a specific order compelling a warrior family to move their place of residence. On the 13th day of the 9th month of the 8th year of Bunei (1271), the bakufu ordered gokenin with properties in the west to remain in place or travel to their western holdings in order to prepare for an invasion by the Mongols. However this is an entirely different scenario to that involving gokenin and their relocation to the west.(5)

Yet another theory supposes that the gokenin of the Kantō were required to move in order to eliminate remnants of the Taira family in Kyushu. This theory loses credibility when one points out that a majority of the re-settlements took place from the mid-Kamakura period onwards, after the campaigns to remove the remaining threat from the Taira had ended. Given the various theories surrounding the re-settlement, the most plausible appears to be that the Ōtomo moved on their own volition. Yoriyasu was a particularly astute politician who endeavoured to create good ties with the Hōjō family, which in turn produced lucrative benefits. Perhaps he had been unable to rid himself of feelings of doubt about the security of his position, especially as the Ōtomo family held blood ties with the Wada and Miura families, both of which had been eliminated by the Hōjō. The Ōtomo themselves might have met such a fate were it not for Yoriyasu. He eventually chose to emerge from the influence of the Hōjō and establish himself as shugo in the province of Bungo, an area that had previously been administered by local jitō (land stewards). Bungo would also serve as a base in which to build up Ōtomo authority. As the Takuma Monjo shows, there were many provincial warriors who wished to serve the Ōtomo, which may have influenced the decision to move to Kyushu (at this stage the Ōtomo were not based in Kyushu, but were principally still in their holdings in the east, i.e., Kamakura. They did, however, receive their main income from their estates in the west).(6)

Yoriyasu was particularly fortunate in the timing of his move. For those warrior families that remained in the Kanto, they found their attempts at expansion blocked by rivals within the Kamakura government and fell into financial difficulties. Many branch families of the Ōtomo were formed around this time (such as the Shiga, Takuma, and Tahara), who, after receiving news of the economic benefits to be derived from establishing themselves in Kyushu, made their way to the west and thrived. With the coming of the Kenmu era and the end of the Kamakura government (in the mid-fourteenth century), and throughout the interim period that culminated in the start of the Muromachi period, the Ōtomo family successfully held onto their position as shugo, eventually grasping hold of the shugo titles for Higo and Chikugo provinces as well.(6)

The era of the shugo daimyō saw Kyushu split between the Ōtomo, the Shōni and the Shimazu. It was an era that saw a breakdown in familial ties, conflict with sō organizations, and internal conflict over questions of inheritance. The Ōtomo were not immune to such upheavals. During the Nambokuchō period, the sons of Ōtomo Ujitoki, Ōtomo Ujitsugu (氏継) and Chikayo (親世), argued over who should succeed as head of the family. This rivalry proved a strain on the unity previously shown within the family and on developments vis-à-vis outside forces, and effectively brought the pre-existing shugo system in Bungo to an end. This was also the time of the Ōnin War (1467-1477), the effects of which had spread from the central provinces to the west. The seventeenth head of the Ōtomo family, Yoshisuke (義右) supported the pretender to the shogunate Ashikaga Yoshimi and his son Yoshiki. Yoshisuke would be assassinated (by poisoning) by Ōtomo Masachika, the head of the faction supporting the incumbent shōgun Ashikaga Yoshimasa, in the 5th year of Meiō (1496). Masachika then fled Bungo and holed himself up in the castle of Tachibana in Chikuzen province. He was eventually captured by a retainer of Ōuchi Yoshioki (義興, the son of Ōuchi Masahiro, who was in turn the father-in-law of Yoshisuke) and forced to commit suicide. (7)

In the aftermath of this incident, Ōtomo Chikaharu (親治), an uncle of Yoshisuke, fought and won a great victory at the battle of Gosho no Tsuji over factions that were threatening to tear the Ōtomo apart, thus displaying his tactical brilliance. However it was around this time that the reigning shōgun Ashikaga Yoshiki was forced to flee Kyoto, eventually finding protection under Ōuchi Yoshioki in Suo province. His replacement, shōgun Ashikaga Yoshitaka, ordered Ōtomo Chikaharu, Shōni Sukemoto (資元), Kikuchi Takeyuki (武運), and Aso Ōmiya no Tsukasa (阿蘇大宮司) to attack both Yoshiki and Yoshioki. This incident played an important role in creating a basis for the hiring retainers by the Ōtomo family (who drew these retainers from among the local landowners). This hiring process continued under Chikaharu`s son Yoshinaga during the Eishō period until eventually the Ōtomo transformed themselves into a Sengoku daimyō family. The system of reform in Bungo continued with a re-organization of the political and administrative apparatus of the province, starting with the katawake system (方分), and continuing on to the sho bukyō and kenshi (検使) systems. Both of these latter organizations aided in stabilizing and solidifying Ōtomo rule. In the 12th year of Eishō (1515), the Ōtomo produced their first set of codified regional laws which became known as the Ōtomo Yoshinaga Jōjō (大友義長条々). The Ōtomo then solidified their rule in Chikugo by overcoming the smaller landowners in that province, and periodically fought the Kikuchi family for control of Higo.(8)

Ōtomo Yoshinaga was succeeded by his son and Yoshishige`s father Yoshiaki. In terms of his personality, the narrative available to us (which will be explored further later on) tells of an incident concerning Yoshiaki and his negotiations with a number of Chinese sailors that were visiting Bungo. These sailors recommended that Yoshiaki murder the Portuguese traders that were accompanying them and seize the traders` cargo. Yoshiaki was only prevented from carrying out this scheme by his son Yoshishige, who remonstrated with his father and convinced him to abandon such an ill-conceived plan. In addition, it was Yoshiaki who attempted to replace Yoshishige as heir with his illegitimate son Shioichimaru, a decision that set in motion events that would lead to an incident known as the `Rebellion of the Second Floor`, in which Yoshiaki himself would be wounded and eventually die in exile. Taking all of these episodes into account, clearly Yoshiaki was not a person given to much serious thought, and seems to have been ruled by whim in addition to possessing a direct, almost blunt character. Nevertheless, this was the background of the family whose origins stretched back to the early Kamakura period, and it was the family into which Yoshishige was born.(8)

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© Greg Pampling. This page was modified in February 2012