Battle of Kizakibaru

木崎原の戦い

Shimazu Clan

Hyūga Province

Itō Clan

Date:  5/4 of Genki 3 (1572)

Location:  Kizakibaru in Masakiin in the southern portion of Hyūga Province

Synopsis:  Itō Yoshisuke ordered an offensive with the aim of garnering control of southern Hyūga in an area controlled by the Shimazu.  The Itō army led by Itō Sukeyasu totaled 3,000 troops compared to only 300 troops in the battalion of the Shimazu army commanded by Shimazu Yoshihiro.  Owing to various reasons, including the youth and inexperience of the bushi comprising the Itō contingent, along with successful execution of tested battle tactics devised by the Shimazu, the Shimazu overcame the numerical superiority of the Itō and defeated them in an epic battle in which both sides incurred significant losses.

Lord:  Shimazu Yoshihisa

Commanders:  Shimazu Yoshihiro

Forces:  300

Losses:  257

Lord:  Itō Yoshisuke

Commanders:  Itō Sukeyasu

Forces:  3,000

Losses:  810

The Battle of Kizakibaru occurred on 5/4 of Genki 3 (1572) in Kizakibaru in Masakiin in Hyūga Province.  The battle was waged between Itō Yoshisuke (the sengoku daimyō of Hyūga) and Shimazu Yoshihiro (a daimyō of Satsuma Province).  Yoshihiro was the younger brother of Shimazu Yoshihisa, the sengoku daimyō of Satsuma.

The defeat of the Itō army with 3,000 forces by the Shimazu army with only 300 forces gave rise to this event being called the Okehazama of Kyūshū after the name of the battle in which Oda Nobunaga achieved victory in a surprise attack against a much larger contingent of forces led by Imagawa Yoshimoto.  Nevertheless, unlike the Battle of Okehazama, over 85% of the Shimazu troops were killed in action in the course of a near annihilation.  For this battle, Sagara Yoshihi intended to deploy in support of the Itō army but, owing to the persuasion of Yoshihiro, he withdrew his forces.

As a result of this battle, the Itō clan began to decline in power and, later, it became an indirect cause of the Battle of Mimikawa in 1578.

The “Battle of Kizakibaru” is how this conflict is referred to in the accounts of the Shimazu clan.  In the records of the Itō clan, it is referred to as the “Battle of Kakutō” after the name of Kakutō Castle.

Course of events

In the sixth month of 1571, after the demise of Shimazu Takahisa (the fifteenth head of the Shimazu clan of Satsuma Province), the Kimotsuki clan of neighboring Ōsumi Province began to encroach on the territory of the Shimazu.  Itō Yoshisuke of Hyūga Province to the north viewed this as an opportunity to garner control of an area in southern Hyūga known as Masakiin.  In the fifth month of 1572, he commenced a large offensive in the Iino area governed by the Shimazu clan.

In advance of the offensive, Yoshisuke dispatched a secret messenger to Sagara Yoshihi of Hitoyoshi, having him promise to supply reinforcements for the battle.  At night on 5/3 of Genki 3 (1572), with Itō Sukeyasu (Kaga-no-kami) serving as the commander-in-chief, a contingent of 3,000 soldiers comprised primarily of young bushi commanded by Itō Sukenobu (Shinjirō), Itō Matajirō, and Itō Sukeharu (Shūri-no-jō) departed Kobayashi Castle located on the front lines with the Shimazu territory.  By early dawn, the forces arrived at Iino and Myōkenbaru.  At this location, the army separated into two battalions.  One remained at Myōkenbaru to hold-down the base of Shimazu Yoshihiro at Iino Castle while the other, led by Itō Sukenobu and Itō Matajirō went from the village of Kamie alongside Iino Castle and through Kizakibaru with the aim of attacking Kakutō Castle where Yoshihiro’s wife and children were holed-up and defended by a garrison of only fifty soldiers.

Sukenobu first set fire to residences surrounding Kakutō Castle, inciting the Shimazu forces.  These fires reddened the night sky in the direction of Kakutō and Yoshihiro was awakened by associates who observed the scene.  Yoshihiro, however, had already sent Kikuichi, a blind monk from the Sanbutsu Temple in Iino, as a spy into the Itō territory.  Having acquiring this information, he remained calm.  Yoshihiro had his men set a signal fire to inform Niiro Tadamoto of Ōkuchi Castle and those in Mangata Castle of the danger.  He assigned 60 soldiers to Tōya Yoshikata to serve as reinforcements for Kakutō Castle.  Next, he had Godai Tomoyoshi lead 40 soldiers to Nomaguchi on Mount Shiratori and Murao Shigeari to lead fifty soldiers to an old culvert at Honjiguchi to set ambushes.  Finally, Yoshihiro had Arikawa Sadamasa remained behind to guard the base while Yoshihiro himself led 130 soldiers to deploy and set-up a camp at 二八坂 located between Iino and Kakutō castles.

Thereafter, the battalion led by Sukenobu commenced an assault on Kakutō Castle.  Based on information received earlier, the besieging forces approached the Kagikake entrance connected to the rear gate of the castle, but, owing to the darkness of night along with missteps by inexperienced soldiers, the forces attacked the residence of Kabayama Jōkei at the base of the hill leading to Kagikake.  Jōkei and his two sons hurled rocks from above and, while feigning that they were accompanied by many troops, attacked Sukenobu’s battalion.  Despite their valiant fighting, they were killed.  Afterwards, Sukenobu’s forces continued to head toward the rear entrance of the castle, but, owing to a bottleneck on the route, in addition to the Kagikake entrance being on a cliff, the forces could not proceed as planned, and, instead, endured a barrage of large boulders and arrows.  At this time, Kawakami Tadatomo charged out of the castle to attack, and with reinforcements from Mangata and Yoshida rushing to the scene in response to smoke signals, along with attacks by the forces of Tōya Yoshikata, Sukenobu’s battalion was forced to retreat.  During this clash, Itō Mokuemon and Mera Shigekata (the lord of Kobayashi Castle) were killed (subject to other theories).

Around this time, after advancing to Masakiin, the Sagara army with 500 soldiers observed a nobori, or war banner denoting units within an army, displayed by Yoshihiro in Okobira on Mount Suwa, believed these were Shimazu forces, and pulled back to Hitoyoshi.

Battle at Ikejima River

Sukenobu’s battalion retreated down to the Ikejima River, resting on the remains of the Torigoe Castle.  The large number of troops offered a sense of security and, owing to the humid weather, many swam in the river.  After receiving an update on the situation from a scout named Sawada Hassen, Yoshihiro deployed to launch a frontal assault that resulted in the deaths of many of the Itō forces.  Meanwhile, Sukenobu lost in a duel against Yoshihiro and died in Misumida.  During the duel, Yoshihiro rode a mare with a chestnut coat.  When Sukenobu tried to stab Yoshihiro with the tip of his spear, Yoshihiro deflected the strike when his horse raised its front legs in defense.  There is another story by which this occurred in a clash against a retainer of the Itō named Yunokisada Masaie, during which Yoshihiro killed Masaie.

Yoshihiro viewed this as a good time for a temporary retreat.  Thereafter, in the Itō army, the division led by Sukenobu converged with the main division and began to retreat to Takaharu Castle via Mount Shiratori.

Final showdown

After the Itō army climbed Mount Shiratori, Kōgon Shōnin, the head priest at the Shiratori Shrine, had over 300 people including monks and peasants beat gongs and drums, stand-up white war banners, and feign an ambush.  Toward the Itō forces who hurriedly rushed back, Yoshihiro assigned 60 troops to Kamata Masatoshi and had them go around behind the enemy army.  Yoshihiro made a frontal assault, but this was unsuccessful so he pulled back, and after ordering a unit of six soldiers including Tōya Yoshikata to hold the ground, had the division fall back.

Those ordered to remain, including Yoshikata, were killed.  During this time, Yoshihiro’s division arrived at Kizakibaru, gathered reinforcements from Kakutō Castle, regrouped, and clashed again with the Itō army.  The ability of the Shimazu army to quickly regroup provided an opportunity to attack the Itō army in an unguarded moment.  In pursuit of the enemy, the Kamata battalion attacked the Itō from behind, while the Godai units lying in ambush attacked from the sides.  This was a battle strategy devised by the Shimazu known as tsuri-yabuse whereby one battalion would launch a frontal assault, pull back, and after drawing the enemy forward, attack from the flanks with other units lying in wait.  As a result, the Itō army lost order and began to unravel.

After collapsing, the Itō army began a retreat to Kobayashi Castle, but after arriving in Honjigahara, were attacked in an ambush by Murao forces.  At this time, Itō Sukeyasu, the commander-in-chief, was pierced on the side and went head over heals on his horse in a fatal fall.  A group of 160 men including Itō Suketsugu (the lineal heir of Sukeyasu) and Itō Uemon (the younger brother of Sukeyasu) fled to a hill in the opposite direction of Kobayashi Castle and were killed by 150 soldiers under the command of Niiro Tadamoto in a later clash.

The Shimazu army pursued the Itō forces to Onizukabaru and then Kayumochida.  After killing Yunokizaki Masaie and Hidaki Gensai, a conch shell was blown to notify the forces to halt the pursuit.  Thereafter, Yoshihiro surveyed the battlefield to Kizakibaru, attended to the wounded, and collected the bodies of fallen soldiers.  After an inspection of enemy heads, Yoshihiro returned to Iino Castle and, after offering a tribute to all concerned, released the forces.  He then had a traditional stone memorial with images of Kshitigarbha (the Bodhisattva who looks over children, travelers and the underworld) built in Misumida where Sukenobu died in the dual, having respect paid to fallen soldiers including allies and enemies alike.  Meanwhile, the Itō built burial mounds in Kobayashi where the fallen were honored.

This battle resulted in the loss by the Itō army of 128 bushi of the commander rank, over 250 samurai, and over 560 rank and file soldiers.  The losses led to a collapse from within of the Itō clan.  Meanwhile, the Shimazu army lost 150 samurai and 107 rank and file soldiers comprising one-half of their army in an epic battle.  Fallen soldiers littered not only the plains but also the surrounding hillsides and were not fully cleared even four months after the battle.