I imagine by this point anyone with an interest in Japanese history has probably heard of the Chushingura – the tale of the 47 Ronin. The macguffin of the story is that Asano Naganori, the Lord of Ako, breaks the law and is punished and his retainers murder the man who offended Asano and caused him to break the law.
Well…we’re not talking about that today; that was just the elephant in the room we had to address because we are going to be talking about Naganori’s cousin…Asano Nagaakira.
Asano Nagaakira (1586-1632)
Nagaakira was the son of Asano Nagamasa. Nagamasa was one of Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s higher retainers – what with being brother-in-law to Hideyoshi’s wife and all. He served in many of Toyotomi’s battles and even acted as the mediator to Tokugawa Ieyasu during the end of Komaki campaign. Following Toyotomi’s victory over the Hojo at Odawara, Nagamasa was given control over Fuchu in Kofu province, worth some two-hundred thousand koku.
Nagamasa was accompanied to Odawara by his eldest son, Asano Yukinaga – also known as Yoshinaga. They both also fought in the Korean campaigns for Toyotomi, serving under Kato Kiyomasa during the siege at Ulsan. In 1598 he was named as the senior-most member of the Go-Bugyo, the 5 Administrators of Japan tasked with keeping the government working efficiently after Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s death. Not to be confused with the 5 Regents, of course, he was step down from there.
Lo and behold, however, that two years later when things came to a head between Toyotomi’s son, Hideyori, and Tokugawa…both of Nagamasa’s son joined Tokugawa. This may have had something to do with the fact that the elder son, Yukinaga, narrowly avoided being implicated – and subsequently executed – in the controversy surrounding Hideyoshi’s relative and one-time heir, Toyotomi Hidetsugu.
And who saved Yukinaga? Well it was actually Maeda Toshiie, however I’m sure that nearly getting executed for being friendly acquaintances with your master’s nephew-in-law is not something that really brings you around to the master’s infant son.
Another point of conflict was supposedly the fact that Nagamasa was not exactly on friendly terms with Ishida Mitsunari. Nagamasa apparently believes the war in Korea had been going well when he was sent there, while Mitsunari believed it was going poorly and advised recalling the troops.
During the battle of Sekigahara, Yukinaga commanded troops on Tokugawa’s side, leading a sizable force of 6,500 troops in the battle. Nagaakira was also present under Yukinaga’s campaign and while Yukinaga was awarded lordship over Wakayama domain in Wakasa province. Nagaakira was then made a page for Tokugawa Ieyasu’s son and heir, Tokugawa Hidetada.
Now we segue a moment away from the Asano clan to touch on a member of the enemy force…
Apparently one of the daimyo of the pro-Toyotomi ‘Western Army’, Hideyoshi’s half-brother, Kinoshita Iesada was moved from his 40,000 koku domain of Himeji in Harima and given control of the smaller domain of Ashimori in Bitchu province – worth a little more than half his old domain, 24,000 koku.
What does Iesada have to do with Nagaakira? Well you see, first of all Iesada was of the defeated side, but Tokugawa Ieyasu respected the valorous deeds that Iesada committed while fighting him and so he was rewarded with only having his domain reduced, rather than being totally removed.
However Iesada died somewhere between 1603 and 1610 – several sources had different lifespans listed. It seems that Iesada’s son, Kagetoshi, who had been totally removed from his previous domain, was accused of treason and the Shogunate refused to let him or Iesada’s younger sons inherit the realm.
Ashimori was then given to Asano Nagaakira, making him a daimyo in his own right, now. Fast forward a mere three years when the elder son, Yukinaga, dies without an heir. Nagaakira, who now has some pretty potent connections – being Tokugawa Hidetada’s former page, being liked by Ieyasu…oh and did I mention he married Tokugawa Furihime – Ieyasu’s granddaughter, making him Ieyasu’s grandson-in-law.
I’m sure you can see where this is going…Nagaakira is made Yukinaga’s heir and he inherits the entire domain of his late brother. So when the Toyotomi were causing trouble again and everything was leading up to the the eventual Siege of Osaka it makes sense that the pro-Toyotomi folks came after the Asano clan to get its support. Of course Nagaakira has no reason to join them – sure his father was one of Hideyoshi’s favorites, but he has ascended to great heights under the Tokugawa shogunate. He’s even married into the shogunal family. So why would the Toyotomi even bother coming to him for support?
Well, one thing I may have neglected to mentioned earlier is that…Yukinaga, his brother, died under suspicious circumstances. And the suspected leader of the ‘let’s kill Yukinaga‘ conspiracy? Tokugawa Ieyasu. So needless to say, on the outside it looked like relations may have been strained between the Tokugawa and the Asano. I’ve read that Yukinaga’s official cause of death was kidney failure, however the official records were later changed to suggest he died of complications due to syphilis – apparently caused by his habit of amorous relations. Although I don’t know for sure if those were contemporary records or more modern records, the source was vague and…not a fully reliable one, to be fair.
It also seems that when Kato Kiyomasa was acting as a mediator between Tokugawa Ieyasu and Toyotomi Hideyori that Yukinaga was also there and was believed to be a Toyotomi supporter during the peace conferences
Of course, as anti-climactic as it may seem, Nagaakira remained loyal to the Tokugawa and took part in the Siege of Osaka. His forces were also the main defenders of the Battle of Kashii, which was the first battle of the Osaka Summer campaign.
In the battle Toyotomi-loyalist Ono Harunaga led a force of three-thousand to besiege Wakayama castle…Nagaakira’s home. Nagaakira was apparently able to determine that Harunaga only had three-thousand troops, while Nagaakira had five-thousand. So Nagaakira engaged the besiegers in the field near Kashii and, after killing two of Harunaga’s lieutenants in battle, the Asano army forced the Toyotomi loyalists to retreat.
During the actual siege of Osaka, Nagaakira participated in the Tokugawa force’s rearguard. Apparently throughout the campaign Nagaakira claimed to have taken 44 heads during the combined two years of battles.
After the completion of the Osaka campaign for his valor and loyalty Nagaakira was moved to Hiroshima domain in Aki province, worth a grand total of about 426,000 koku. You know…after it was removed from Fukushima Masanori’s control in 1619.
With the size of Nagaakira’s domain, it made him the sixth-largest daimyo
in the country, Tokugawa family not included. His family remained as the lords of Hiroshima for a total of twelve generations, until the domain was dismantled as part of the Meji Restoration at which point Nagaakira’s descendant – Asano Nagakoto – was named a Marquis and served as a member of Chamber of Elders and ambassador to Italy. Nagakoto was one of the last daimyo of Japan to die, living to the age of 96 and passing away in the year 1937. A man who ruled as a samurai daimyo lived to see Adolf Hitler elected Chancellor of Germany and FDR win a landslide victory for his second term in office.
And it all started with Asano Nagaakira succeeding his brother as Lord of Hiroshima and keeping loyal to his grandfather-in-law.