Samurai Gaiden: Ryuzoji Iekane

Ryuzoji Iekane (1454-1546)

Last month, in case you weren’t in attendance, we presented a panel at Tekko 2016 called Samurai Mythconceptions. You canfind a link to the video in the description below…or by clicking on the annotation that is across my chest, right now.

In the panel we talked about the misconception that all samurai believed in the utmost idea that death in battle was their life’s goal and also the myth that most samurai either died in battle or by committing seppuku.

In reality many samurai lived to a ripe old age, Mori Motonari and his grandson Terumoto both lived into their seventies; Ukita Hideie lived to be 90 years old, albeit over sixty years were in a relatively peaceful exile; and Shimazu Yoshihiro lived to be over eighty years old and he survived over fifty battles – not all of which were victories for him.

So we’re going to talk about a rarely spoken of samurai who lived an exceptionally long lifespan and was a true warrior to the end. A peaceful end, no less.

Ryuzoji Iekane (1454-1546)

Ryuzoji Iekane (1454-1546)

Hizen province, western Kyushu in the 15th and 16th centuries: Much of this land is ruled by the descendants of Fujiwara no Hidesato, now known as the Shoni clan. This clan was very important during the Mongol Invasions three centuries ago. The current daimyo is Shoni Masasuke and one of his vassals is a Ryuzoji Yasuie. Yasuie has several sons, at least five that we know of. And this is where our story really begins.

Hizen and Chikugo are the most important ones to this story.

Hizen and Chikugo are the most important ones to this story.

The fifth son of Yasuie, a Ryuzoji Iekane, is born in the year 1454. He is the fifth son, so he has fairly low hopes of ever being daimyo of the Ryuzoji clan, himself. But lo and behold…Iekane was gifted with one thing that let him surpass his elder brothers: A long lifespan.

Iekane outlives all four of his elder brothers and eventually becomes the head of the Ryuzoji clan. I am personally unsure of when exactly he took over the clan, but my sources state that he was the Ryuzoji head by the year 1506, at which point he would be fifty-two years old, already.

Now, here we are in the year 1506, the Ouchi clan has recently invaded and defeated the Shoni clan in battle, killing their head, Shoni Masasuke. The young lord, Shoni Sukemoto, is only nine-years-old. The Ryuzoji begin to rise to the forefront of the Shoni clan and later in the year Iekane is able to beat back the Ouchi invasion that killed Sukemoto’s father.

Sukemoto grows up and becomes a man, ruling the Shoni clan, and Iekane is one of his elder councilors. Officially speaking, Iekane is retired – having giving up the title of Ryuzoji head to his son Ryuzoji Chikaie – but in truth he still holds the reigns of the Ryuzoji clan which is continually gaining power within the Shoni realm.

In 1530 the Ouchi return and Iekane once again leads the Ryuzuji forces out and they defeat the Ouchi at the Battle of Chikugogawa. With yet another victory under his belt, Iekane begins to drift out of Sukemoto’s camp and begins gathering his own strength and taking over what was once Shoni territory.

These borders are constantly fluctuating at this point.

These borders are constantly fluctuating at this point.

And then it happens, in 1532 Sukemoto dies and is succeeded by his son, Shoni Tokinao. Tokinao would prove to be the last lord of the Shoni clan – but I’m getting a little ahead of myself there. For now…Iekane is gathering a powerbase and is ultimately becoming more powerful than Tokinao, himself.

Another vassal clan, the Baba, are unhappy with Iekane’s growth of power and their lord, Baba Yorichika sees an opportunity to make things, as he sees them, right. Yorichika secretly communicated with the Ouchi clan, the Shoni’s natural enemies, and also slandered Iekane to the new Shoni lord and convinced him to give his blessing to striking down Iekane’s branch of the Ryuzoji clan.

Yorichika sent his agents into Ryuzoji’s lands and caused an uprising. Iekane led his army out to put an end to the uprising and, after failing to make any real progress, his battered and demoralized army returned home.

It was just then the joint Shoni-Ouchi forces, under Baba’s leadership, sprung their trap and ambushed Iekane’s broken army at his castle of Mizugae. Iekane had little chance of winning the siege and Yorichika came to him under the pretense of friendly negotiations. Yorichika said that if Iekane retired into the care of his cousins in the province of Chikugo, he would act as a mediator to the Shoni. Iekane recognized his position and agreed, retiring to Chikugo. Yorichika then led his troops into the castle and slaughtered Iekane’s family; sparing no one baring the Ryuzoji name.

Iekane had managed to escape the ambush sprung by Yorichika, although he lost a lot of retainers and family members, including his son and the technical head of the Ryuzoji clan, Chikaie. Only one grandson of Iekane’s survives, mostly because he was under the care of a temple and had been sent to become a monk at a young age. Iekane has him brought out of the monastery and legitimizes him as Iekane’s young heir.

At this time there are actually two Ryuzoji clan branches, Iekane’s branch and the branch of his cousins, run by Ryuzoji Tanehide. So there, in the year 1544, at the age 90 years old Iekane goes over to his cousin’s lands and gathers and army to avenge his family. With Tanehide in tow Iekane attacks Baba Yorichika.

Seeing Iekane’s return old Ryuzoji retainers who fled the ambush and those who were exiled by Yorichika begin gathering rural samurai and peasants who flock to Iekane’s banner. The 90 year old general is unstoppable and Yorichika is not only defeated…but he is killed by the Ryuzoji forces. Iekane has avenged his family and his pride and he retakes what used to belong to him.

Here's a picture of Arima Haruzumi...y'know, just because!

Here’s a picture of Arima Haruzumi…y’know, just because!

Which brings us to the year 1546, Iekane is now 92 years old. The Arima clan, led by Arima Haruzumi, has attacked his castle of Mizugae and captured it. Iekane let him hold the castle for…two months before he gathered his army and marched against the castle, retaking it from the Arima.

This was to be Iekane’s last campaign. In April of 1546, Ryuzoji Iekane finally succumbed to old age and passed away. Two years later his nephew, Tanehide would die of tuberculosis. This left Chikaie’s surviving son, Takanobu, to inherit Tanehide’s branch, uniting the Ryuzoji clan into a single, powerful entity.

Ryuzoji Takanobu

Ryuzoji Takanobu

And it was Ryuzoji Takanobu who would finally break from their masters and defeat and kill Shoni Tokinao, bringing an end to the Shoni clan. Ryuzoji Takanobu, Iekane’s grandson.


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