Table of Contents

Chapter Two The birth of Yoshishige (義鎮) and his immediate family



Chapter Two The birth of Yoshishige (義鎮) and his immediate family

Ōtomo Yoshishige was born the eldest son of Ōtomo Yoshiaki in Bungo Funai in the 3rd year of Kyōroku (1530). Some controversy surrounds this date, as the Chijō Zasshi (雉城雑誌) and the Hōfu Kibun (豊府記聞) both state that Yoshishige was born in the 7th year of Daiei (1527). However, the Chijō Zasshi also claims that Yoshishige passed away in the 15th year of Tenshō (1587) at the age of 58, thus inadvertently backing the theory tied to the 3rd year of Kyōroku. As to what day and month he was born, again the sources are not clear. Both the Ōtomo Ke Monjo Roku (大友家文書録) and the Chijō Zasshi state that Yoshishige was born on the 3rd day of the 1st month, whereas the Ōtomo Shi Keizu (大友氏系図) states that Yoshishige`s birth was on the 4th day of the 5th month. Neither hypothesis is particularly convincing. There was a tendency among past scholars to ascribe births to the 1st month whenever they were unsure as to the exact date of birth, and the date of the 4th day of the 5th month certainly `feels` as though it were invented by later generations. Hence the day and month of Yoshishige`s birth remains unknown.(9)

As to the status and character of Yoshishige`s mother, there are two competing theories vying for attention. The first is based on the Ōtomo Shi Keizu found within the Gunsho Ruiju (群書類従), which shows that many women within the Ōtomo household were descended from the aristocratic house of Bōjō (坊城) in Kyoto. Yet a record of the Ōuchi household of Yamaguchi, the Ōuchi Shi Jitsuroku (大内氏実録), in its outline of the family line of the Ōtomo, claims that Yoshishige`s mother was a daughter of Ōuchi Yoshioki. However the Ōtomo Shi Keifu (大友氏系譜) and the Hōshu Zasshi Hon (豊州雑誌本) both claim that Yoshishige`s mother was… `of the Bōjō Fujiwara family, and a daughter of Fushimi no Miya Sadatsune Shinō` (伏見宮貞常親王)`. Hence there is no evidence that clearly identifies who Yoshishige`s mother actually was. It was not unusual for marriage to serve as a means of cementing relations between rival houses, so it wouldn`t have been that `out of the ordinary` for Yoshiaki to take a daughter of Yoshioki as his wife.(10)

However, the Ōtomo family, whose pedigree stemmed from the Kamakura era, were different to those daimyō that emerged during the Sengoku era. They were more conservative in outlook and less likely to make drastic or revolutionary changes (such as taking a bride from a rival family). They were also far more well-disposed towards the court and bakufu than other daimyō. Indeed, Yoshishige`s eldest sister was sent as a bride to the aristocrat Ichijō Fusafuyu who was in exile in Tosa province. Tahara Shōnin (田原紹忍, also known as Tahara Chikakata – 親賢, and a retainer to the Ōtomo household) adopted a child descended from the Kyoto aristocracy. Hence one cannot rule out the possibility that Yoshishige was born to a woman of the Bōjō household. (10)

Yet if Yoshishige`s mother was descended from the Bōjō family, does this mean that she wasn`t Yoshioki`s daughter? It is possible that the Ōuchi invented the story that Yoshishige`s mother was Yoshioki`s daughter and that Yoshiaki eventually took her as his bride. Yet no matter how much one examines the evidence, it is exceedingly difficult to prove beyond reasonable doubt the origins of Yoshishige`s mother. The author Sugiyama Hiroshi (杉山博), in his book `Sengoku Daimyō`, writes that at the time of the `Rebellion of the Second Floor` (二階崩の変), Yoshishige was ousted from his position as heir to the head of the family because his mother was a daughter of Ōuchi Yoshioki. Hence it was an attempt to remove any remaining vestiges of Ōuchi influence from Funai. This is certainly an interesting hypothesis, but it is by no means conclusive. A lack of evidence means we can do no more than speculate on whether Yoshishige was born of a woman of the Bōjō household, whether his mother was a daughter of Ōuchi Yoshioki, or whether she was the daughter of Fushimi no Miya.(10)

Yoshishige`s infant name was Shiohōshimaru (塩法師丸). In the 8th year of Tenbun (1539), Yoshishige came of age, and took the name Gorō. He was ten years old at the time (by Japanese reckoning). In the 6th month of the 9th year of Tenbun, Yoshishige received a character for his name from the previous shōgun Ashikaga Yoshiharu, and adopted the name `Yoshishige`. It was a reflection of the manner in which the Ōtomo paid their respects to tradition and cemented their authority. Yoshishige would not become known as Sōrin until the 5th year of Eiroku (1562) when he took the tonsure and thus acquired a priestly name. (11)

Yoshishige had two siblings – his younger brothers Shiootsumaru (塩乙丸) and Shioichimaru (塩市丸). Upon his coming of age, Shiootsumaru took the name Hachirō, followed by the name Haruhide (or Haruyoshi). In the 21st year of Tenbun (1552) in the aftermath of the death of Ōuchi Yoshitada, Haruhide was adopted into the Ōuchi family and took the name Ōuchi Yoshinaga. He would later be forced to commit suicide by Mōri Motonari in the 3rd year of Kōji (1557). It is generally understood that Shiootsumaru and Yoshishige had the same mother, yet Shioichimaru was born to a different woman. This in turn would be one of the reasons behind the `Rebellion of the Second Floor`. Shioichimaru would meet a tragic fate, as he was killed during the aforementioned rebellion.(12)

Yoshishige also had four sisters. The eldest sister was, as we have seen, sent as a bride to Ichijō Fusafuyu. His next sister became the bride of Kawano Shū Saburō Michinobu of Iyo province. Of the remaining sisters, they appear to have met the same fate as Shioichimaru, and were killed along with their mother in the `Rebellion of the Second Floor`. In all, Yoshishige had a total of seven siblings, along with his birth mother and two wet nurses (at the very least). As a shugo family of the sixteenth century, there was nothing unusual about this arrangement. Yet it suffices to say that Yoshishige grew up in a household rife with competing factions.(12)

The historical records related to Yoshishige at this time portray him in a variety of different lights. Many seem him as a `saviour` of sorts, possessed with brilliance and capable of great deeds. The `Hōfu Kibun` (豊府記聞), written during the Genroku years of the Edo period, states that in terms of his rule, Yoshishige was `righteous and just, as he pacified the province and ruled over the people`. The record further states that:


By looking at this source, we are left with an impression of Yoshishige as being particularly `energetic`, with tendencies towards a dictatorial form of rule and an affinity for warfare. However another source written during the Edo period, the Intoku Taiheiki (陰徳太平記), presents a somewhat different picture.(13-14)

“Ōtomo Yoshishige was initially admired by the people of his provinces for his rule and the fairness of his policies designed to bring peace within his realm. Yet as he extended his rule across Kyushu, it appears that he lost some of restraint (literally, ` a space developed within his heart`) and he started to demand that young, attractive women be brought to his province, and spent his days mired in drink and `pleasures of the flesh`. Both the ichizoku and retainers of the Ōtomo were ashamed of such behaviour. One of the senior retainers of the family, Betsugi Akitsura (戸次鑑連), tried to set up a meeting with Yoshishige to discuss his conduct, yet found he was unable to do so. As such Akitsura arranged for a number of women to be brought to Yoshishige`s residence dressed in the finest of clothes, and ordered them to dance. Yoshishige, who was at first wary of this gesture from Akitsura, eventually allowed his curiosity to get the better of him and went to take a look at the women. Akitsura, upon meeting Yoshishige (who was brought in riding on a platform) suddenly prostrated himself before Yoshishige and tearfully pleaded with him to change his ways, adding that his behaviour would be the ruin of the household. Yoshishige agreed with the content of the remonstration, and answered that he would atone for his ways".(14-15)

However nothing changed and Yoshishige fell back on old habits. Not only this, Yoshishige heard a rumour that the wife of Hattori Iro (某) was the most beautiful woman in all of Kyushu, and thus he ordered one of his close retainers to have Hattori killed and his wife abducted in order to have her live in Yoshishige`s quarters.(15) The content of this description is almost exactly mirrored in the Ōtomo Ki (大友記), where it states that Yoshishige loved luxury, that the remonstration by Betsugi Akitsura had no effect, and that Yoshishige stole the wife of one of his retainers through violence. There appear to be other examples of wives of retainers being given to their lord. Takahashi Akitane (高橋鑑種), previously a strong supporter of Yoshishige and who received the castles of Chikuzen Hōman (宝満) and Iwaya (岩屋) for his services in fighting against the Mōri, betrayed Yoshishige in the 9th month of Eiroku 9 (1566) and sided with the Mōri.(15)  The Takahashi Ki (高橋記) recorded the incident as follows:


This particular record was created during the Edo period and thus its reliability is questionable on a number of points. It (and other records) claim that Yoshishige was interested in many different things, and that he had artisans brought from Kyoto in order to continue their trade within Bungo. However, the statements in these records themselves have no supporting evidence. Even supposing they were true, they were private acts committed by Yoshishige, and were in keeping with the activities of daimyō of the Sengoku era. Even if the conflict between Takahashi Akitane and Yoshishige (that lasted from Eiroku 9 (1566) to Eiroku 13 (or the 1st year of Ganki, 1570) stemmed from the abduction of the wife of Shakei Ichiman Tendan Seichū Chikazane, this was, at the most, a private matter related to Yoshishige`s behaviour, and should not be blown out of proportion.(16)

While writers in the early Edo period concentrated on exposing incidents in the private life of Yoshishige, the picture of Yoshishige drawn from the records of the Jesuits is almost the complete opposite of those from later Japanese sources. They portray Yoshishige as almost a fatherly figure, beloved by the people, and an ideal ruler in the East. On the 16th day of the 9th month of Tenshō 6 (1578), Luis Frois sent a letter from Usuki addressed to members of the Jesuit order, in which he relayed the following (the text used is a Japanese translation made by Murakami Naojirō (村上直次郎)

“The ruler of this country of Bungo is around 48, 49 years old. Of those rulers in Japan he is the most thoughtful and is known as a man of knowledge and wisdom. At first he ruled no more than one or two provinces, yet now he rules five or six, and endeavors to preserve and protect them. He gained these provinces with almost no bloodshed, and pacified them in the same manner. He was the first ruler in Japan to look favorably upon us, and is almost like a father to the companions (members of the Jesuit order) here. Both padres and parishioners have lived within his territories for the past 27 years, where we not only continue to be protected, but are also kept secure whenever we meet misfortune. Our padres are given license in lieu of their demands, and when the padres state that they must be allowed to preach the word of God in the capital (where it is so sorely needed), the ruler sends letters and written documents to the rulers of other provinces who are members of different faiths, asking them to support proselytizing activities, and sends them gifts so as to win their favour”.(17)

All of the depictions of Yoshishige made within Frois` record match that described above. Moreover, they cover the time period from when Yoshishige met with St Francis Xavier (Tenbun 20, or 1551) through to his death in Tenshō 15 (1587). It would be very optimistic to think that Yoshishige was intrigued by all aspects of Christianity. Yet as Frois record shows, Yoshishige was held in high regard by the missionaries. In both time and location, the records of the Jesuits are contemporaries of the age of Yoshishige and thus their reliability as historical sources is high. In the yearly record for Tenshō 11 (1583), the following was said in regard to Yoshishige (Sōrin)…

“Lord Francisco (Yoshishige) was originally quite frail in health, and now that he has grown old and is afflicted with sickness, his life`s ambitions have grown somewhat smaller.”

What this tells us is that Yoshishige originally had quite a weak constitution. This is very different to the depiction of Yoshishige given in the Bunpu Kibun. It now behoves us to present a picture of Yoshishige which is as close to the truth as possible.(17-18)

Return to Top

© Greg Pampling. This page was modified in February 2012