Battle of Katata
Date: 11/14 of Tenshō 14 (1586)
Location: Saeki-Katata in the Minami District of Bungo Province
Synopsis: In 1586, Shimazu Yoshihisa ordered the invasion of Bungo Province in a bid to subdue the rival Ōtomo clan and seize control of the entire island of Kyūshū. This is known as the Hōsatsu War. In the course of this conflict, the Shimazu demanded the surrender of Saeki Koresada, the lord of Togamure Castle and a key retainer of the Ōtomo. Refusing the demand, the Saeki established defensive positions around their castle while situating another battalion behind the main base of the Shimazu. In the ensuing battle, valiant fighting by the Saeki forces caused the Shimazu to scatter in disarray.
The Battle of Katata occurred on 11/4 of Tenshō 14 (1586) as one of the battles comprising the Hōsatsu War. The conflict was waged in Saeki-Katata in the Minami District of Bungo Province between Saeki Koresada (a retainer of the Ōtomo clan) and Tsuchimochi Chikanobu (a retainer of the Shimazu clan).
In 1578, at the Battle of Mimikawa, Ōtomo Sōrin suffered a major defeat to Shimazu Yoshihisa of Satsuma Province. In the course of the battle, the Ōtomo lost many capable retainers including Saeki Korenori and Saeki Koresane. In addition to an intensification of the internal discord among senior retainers of the clan, the Ōtomo were subject to attacks by Ryūzōji Takanobu of Hizen Province and Akizuki Tanezane of Chikuzen Province. These events resulted in the gradual deterioration of the clan. No longer able to withstand the pressure from the Shimazu clan, the Ōtomo became subordinate to Toyotomi Hideyoshi who was steadily expanding his power from the Kinai. With the backing of the Toyotomi, the Ōtomo attempted to extricate themselves from their precarious circumstances but, at this time, owing to the political situation, the Toyotomi were not in a position to dispatch forces on an emergency basis to Kyūshū. Conversely, the outcome of the Battle of Mimikawa enabled the Shimazu clan to pacify southern Kyūshū. The balance of power between the two clans which formerly tilted in favor of the Ōtomo at once turned toward the Shimazu who then proceeded to invade the territory of the Ōtomo. In 1586, in a bid to unify the entire island of Kyūshū under their control, the Shimazu army launched an invasion of Bungo – the home province of the Ōtomo. Yoshihisa then had Shimazu Yoshihiro (his younger brother of a different mother) invade Bungo from the Higo route and Shimazu Iehisa (his younger brother of the same mother) invade Bungo from the Hyūga route. This event which ran from 1586 to 1587 is known as the Hōsatsu War, or the war between Bungo and Satsuma provinces.
Course of events
On 10/23 of Tenshō 14 (1586), while Iehisa was in the process of invading Bungo, he dispatched a messenger to deliver a demand for surrender to Saeki Koresada, a retainer of the Ōtomo clan and the lord of Togamure Castle in Saeki. The Shimazu, however, we archenemies responsible for the killing of over 100 retainers including his uncle, Saeki Korenori, and his father, Saeki Koresane, at the Battle of Mimikawa. Therefore, the youthful Koresada attempted to reject the demand but was opposed by his retainers who feared the power of the Shimazu. This resulted in prolonged discussions. Upon observing these events, Koresada’s mother joined and asserted that they should fight against their archenemy and, if they lose, the only option is to take their own lives, encouraging those in attendance in a loud voice. This garnered support among those opposed to surrendering so a decision was made to fight to the end. Sugitani Taitō, a retainer from the era of Korenori, deceived 19 messengers from the Shimazu by offering them a banquet and when guiding them to their quarters, lured them to the village of Kashino where they were all attacked and killed. Once Iehisa understood that Koresada had no intention to surrender, he sent 2,000 troops under the command of Niina Chikahide and Tsuchimochi Chikanobu (the lord of Asahidake Castle).
The Saeki army positioned over 350 soldiers at each of the three entrances to the castle. After designating the village of Katata as the site for a final showdown, the Saeki established a main base at the Nakayama Pass and three divisions. The vanguard division of the Saeki army was led by Saeki Koresue and Takahata Iyo-no-kami, the second division led by Saeki Korezumi and Takahata Shinemon-no-jō, and the third division by Koresada’s younger brother, Shinji Muneyuki. This was Muneyuki’s first experience in battle so he was accompanied by a clan elder named Nagata Tengaku. The army was comprised of over 1,800 soldiers in total. In addition to the soldiers positioned at the entrances to the castle, in the direction of Katata, the first division counted over 300 men, the second division over 200 men, and the third division over 280 men, along with a detached unit of 36 men.
At this time, Koresada himself mounted a horse and eagerly intended to join the battle, but a guest commander named Yamada Munemasa (a retainer of the Hyūga-Itō clan temporarily dispossessed of his landholdings by the Shimazu) calmed-down Koresada, guiding him to remain in the castle as the commander-in-chief. Munemasa himself held the war fan for the Saeki army. Munemasa fired an arquebus at the enemy and observed the formations of the Shimazu army. He then utilized Saeki troops with knowledge of the local terrain to covertly move the main base of the Saeki from the Nakayama Pass to the Namigoshi Pass. He entered the Kannon sub-temple at the Namigoshi-Jōraku Temple alongside the main base and borrowed a new white cloth to use as a hatasashimono, or small war flag attached to the back of one’s armor during battle. He had lightly armed foot soldiers carrying a small number of arquebuses hide in residences at the Takekaku entrance to the castle located behind the base of the Shimazu forces.
Eyeing an opportunity, Munemasa had the infantry hiding near the Takekaku entrance to wave the war flags, blow the conches, and fire their arquebuses. Unexpectedly struck by enemy forces from behind their base, the Shimazu forces fell into disarray. In an effort to regroup, the Shimazu pulled-back toward the Fusaka Pass. Munemasa positioned troops in advance at Kishigawachi beyond the Fusaka Pass. When the retreating Shimazu forces came down the hill, the Saeki forces lying in wait below the hill launched a surprise attack. Owing to valiant fighting by Saeki forces from, among others, the Sugitani, the Kondō, the Mishiro, and the In-o clans, the Shimazu army fell apart and suffered a major defeat. At this time, Takahata Iyo-no-kami killed an enemy commander named Niina Jiemon-no-jō and then lured-out other troops attempting to his under the umajirushi, or battle standard, of the Niina, killing many of them. The whereabouts of Tsuchimochi Chikanobu in the wake of the battle are unknown. The battle continued until around 5:00 PM and ended in victory for the Saeki. Munemasa had his allies raise shouts of victory.
The Shimazu forces suffered a major defeat at the hands of the Saeki army. As a result, Iehisa avoided Saeki and marched north. Similarly, owing to the ingenious counterattack by Shiga Chikatsugu of Oka Castle, the army led by Yoshihiro that invaded Bungo from the Higo route could not topple the castle and was instead defeated. Having given up on conquering Saeki and Oka Castle, the Shimazu army marching north toppled other castles across the province but logistics posed a continual challenge. Meanwhile, owing to fierce counterattacks by Sōrin and Myōrin-ni, the Shimazu were unable to pacify Bungo during what became a prolonged war. During this time, the reinforcements requested by Sōrin from Toyotomi Hideyoshi landed in Kyūshū. Owing to the Toyotomi army, the Shimazu forces were summarily defeated and expelled, forced to withdraw in defeat to Satsuma. This is known as the Pacification of Kyūshū.