Samurai Gaiden: Battle of Kizakihara (1572)

If you’ve been watching Samurai Gaiden for a while, I’m sure you’re rather familiar with the battle of Okehazama. In the year 1560 the relatively weak warlord Oda Nobunaga was invaded by the powerful warlord Imagawa Yoshimoto. However in the plains of Okehazama Nobunaga brought about a resounding surprise victory over Yoshimoto ending the political aspirations of the Imagawa and cementing Nobunaga’s dominance over the area. Two-thousand Oda soldiers versus twenty-thousand Imagawa soldiers!

If you’ve played Onimusha you’ve at least seen a representation of Okehazama, as I mentioned in the Akechi Samanosuke video which I’ll link to in the description.

But what about the Okehazama of Kyushu, as one particular battle is sometimes called? Let’s talk about that battle today…the Battle of Kizakihara, Kyushu’s very own Okehazama

Battle of Kizakihara (1572)

So here’s the set up. Ito Yoshisuke has secured himself the rulership of the Ito clan from his brother, Sukemitsu in the year 1533. He then went about expanding the influence of the Ito clan, bringing it to new heights not seen since they were first founded by Fujiwara Korekimi in the Heian period.

This, of course, brought him into conflict with the neighboring Shimazu clan, ruled by Shimazu Takahisa.

Yoshisuke had also gone to the capital and presented a pretty good case for the Ito, winning himself the court rank of Jusan’i –Junior 3rd Rank.

Yoshisuke was certainly a good daimyo; a qualified commander and good political backstabber. When the Kitahara and Hongo clans were at war he sided with the Kitahara – however when the Kitahara suffered a succession dispute Yoshisuke was quick to swallow them up.

Their master Kitahara Kanetaka fills up about half a sentence in history books, his most notable feat being murdered by an Ito retainer.

Ito Yoshisuke (1512-1585)

So like I said before, Yoshisuke has made a case for the Ito in the Imperial Court and spent some time in Kyoto. After seeing the pomp and luxury of the capital he decided to start styling himself like a courtier, rather than a common samurai. He had begun dressing like a courtier and was living a luxurious lifestyle, having placed his relative, Ito Sukeyasu in charge of his army.

The Ito had allied with the Sagara, the Kimotsuki, and the Nejime…effectively surrounding the Shimazu on three sides.

Yoshisuke began encroaching on Shimazu territory and made the war pretty official by invading and capturing Obi castle in southern Hyuga. With the Sagara taking territory from the Shimazu on the north, the Kimotsuki from the south, and the Ito from the east…Shimazu Takahisa had to do something. Especially since his uncle, Shimazu Tadachika had died as a result of the Ito and Kimotsuki capturing Obi castle.

Shimazu Takahisa went about beating back the Kimotsuki and Nejime first, securing a strong base in Osumi province. With the Kimotsuki threat nullified for the moment he made preparations for a battle against the Ito. His armies moved into position at the Osumi-Hyuga border, however Takahisa died before the fighting could begin.

Just a quick council meeting to compose poetry, before we ride out and slaughter a numerically superior force!

Now I believe that Takahisa had already retired in favor of his eldest son years before his actual death, but there is some reason to believe that his death could be a weak point for the Shimazu side.

So there it was…Takahisa’s second son, the indomitable Shimazu Yoshihiro leading three-hundred Shimazu soldiers on the Osumi side of the Kizakihara and Ito Sukeyasu commanding three-thousand soldiers on the Hyuga side of the field.

Now for your own reference if you’re planning on looking up more information on the battle, it is sometimes called Kizakibaru – same characters in Japanese, just different way to pronounce them.

So on the fields of Kizakihara we have the Shimazu outnumbered ten to one. Yoshihiro is somehow able to convince the Ito forces that they have a larger army than they really do.

Shimazu Yoshihiro (1535-1619)

Sukeyasu is too concerned to give straight out battle to them so he withdraws from the field and wages a surprise night attack on Yoshihiro’s nearby fort of Kakuto. Yoshihiro split his army into 3 parts…

One unit assembled of about 60 men reinforced Kakuto fort, while another unit of 40 gunners took a position behind the Ito army some distance away from the fighting. They laid in wait.

Yoshihiro then led the majority of his forces, around 130 men, around Sukeyasu’s formation and attacked him from behind. Yoshihiro proved himself a brave commander in the fighting, but when Sukeyasu turned his army around and put the brunt of his significant numbers against the Shimazu, Yoshihiro called for a retreat.

Sukeyasu, seeing victory within his grasp, chased Yoshihiro’s army. As Sukeyasu’s army was just about to catch up to Yoshihiro’s forces, the arquebusiers opened fire into Sukeyasu’s forces, throwing them into disarray.

I imagine Ito Sukeyasu looking far more confused than he does in this artist’s rendition.

The pursuit was finished. But Yoshihiro was quick to turn his main force around and charge into Sukeyasu’s confused army. Before Sukeyasu could get his army coordinated enough to wage a proper counter offensive to Yoshihiro’s…originally counteroffensive, the forces sent to reinforce Kakuto fort rushed out and attacked Sukeyasu from an unprotected flank.

Sukeyasu, though outnumbering the Shimazu forces badly, was now engaged on three flanks. Yoshihiro is a pretty impressive commander, I must say, to have surrounded a force ten times his size. In the process his army actually manages to overtake the Ito command center, killing several prominent Ito generals; including Ito Sukeyasu, himself.

Instructions: How to surround 3,000 soldiers with only 300 of your own.

In the end the Ito army was routed and fled back to Yoshisuke in utter defeat. The Ito clan would never again reclaim their lost prosperity. Within two years the Shimazu would subjugate the Nejime, a branch of the Kimotsuki, and forced the Sagara to remain on the defensive. Shimazu Yoshihiro would take the opportunity to actually recapture some of the Ito-held lands.

Yoshisuke would be defeated again by the Shimazu at Takabaru in 1576 and then again at Tozaki-Kamiya the year after that. In the end the Shimazu would conquer the Ito and Yoshisuke would while away the rest of his life in Kyoto, eventually dying in the city of Sakai in 1585. His younger son, Ito Suketaka would join the Toyotomi and have a small amount of the Ito lands in Hyuga province restored after the Shimazu’s defeat in the 1580s; but they would never again see the heights they achieved before their unexpected loss to the numerically inferior Shimazu forces at Kyushu’s Okehazama…Kizakihara.

~RCS

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