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.


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.