Chō Motoyoshi


Chō Family


Aki Province

Lifespan:  15xx to 8/27 of Keichō 6 (1601)

Other Names:  思朝, Tōhyōei-no-jō, Rokuzaemon-no-jō

Rank:  bushō

Title:  Governor of Sanuki

Clan:  Chō

Lord:  Mōri Terumoto → Mōri Hidenari

Father:  Chō Chū

Siblings:  Motoyoshi, sister (wife of Hori Kaga-no-kami), sister (wife of Awaya Motonobu)

Wife:  Daughter of Aio Shimotsuke-no-kami

Children:  Motosada, Motonori, Ichirōzaemon, sister (wife of Awaya Motokane)

Chō Motoyoshi served as a bushō during the Sengoku and Azuchi-Momoyama periods.  He was a retainer of the Mōri clan.

The Chō clan called themselves descendants of Chō Ryō, a political and military figure from the early Han dynasty.  Genshi’s grandfather, Chō Yū, served as an envoy for Beijing during the Ming dynasty. 

Service to Mōri Terumoto

Motoyoshi was born as the son of Chō Chū, a doctor who came from China to Japan and, under the Ōuchi clan, maintained a residence in Ōmachi in Yamaguchi.  Initially, he adopted the name of Chō 思朝, and, in 1588, changed his name to Chō Motoyoshi.  After coming to Japan, his father could not change his surname so he adopted the name of Chō Tōhyōei-no-jō, comprised of a Chinese surname and Japanese common name.  From 1588, he adopted the common name of Chō Rokuzaemon-no-jō.

In 1565, Motoyoshi succeeded his father.  Thereafter, together with Sase Motoyoshi and Ninomiya Naritoki, he served as an attendant to Mōri Terumoto.  In 1587, he was invested with the title of Governor of Sanuki.

During the Bunroku Campaign from 1592, as a close associate of Terumoto, Motoyoshi crossed to the Korean Peninsula and, in the eighth month of 1593, returned.  Motoyoshi, along with Sase Motoyoshi, Ninomiya Naritoki, Enomoto Motoyoshi, and Katada Motoyoshi, served as the central political organ of the Mōri family.  These five representatives of Terumoto possessed a wide variety of origins and experiences, but, in the case of Chō Motoyoshi, it was rare throughout the country for a naturalized citizen to serve in an organ at the nucleus of a daimyō’s authority.  This provides insight into Terumoto’s aim to select individuals on the basis of merit without regard to origin or family status.  Thereafter, Motoyoshi, Ninomiya Naritoki, and Kihara Motosada and others were sent as representatives of the Mōri family to population centers across the territory of the Mōri.

In 1595, Mōri Hidenari was born as the son of Terumoto.  In 1598, after Hidenari was recognized by the Toyotomi administration as the successor to Terumoto, Motoyoshi, along with Kunishi Motokura and Kodama Mototsune, served as chief retainers for Hidenari.  Motoyoshi was also granted a fief of 2,863 koku in Suō and Nagato.  Thereafter, Motoyoshi worked from Hiroshima as a chief retainer of Hidenari to support the internal administration of the Mōri family.  Customarily, the Awaya and Kunishi clans served as mentors of the next-generation heads of the Mōri family, but, on this occasion, instead of an individual from the Awaya, Motoyoshi, despite his background as a naturalized citizen from China, was chosen to serve as the mentor.  This demonstrated how Terumoto overcame family traditions to assert his own convictions.

Allegations of an illicit relationship

Although Motoyoshi operated in the nucleus of the Mōri family, on 8/27 of Keichō 6 (1601), owing to allegations of an illicit relationship with the wet nurse of Hidenari, he was forced to commit seppuku in the Ōshima District of Suō Province.  The individual with whom Motoyoshi was alleged to have engaged in a relationship strongly denied the allegations, and, after his death, the Chō family was reconstituted during the period that Terumoto remained alive with Chō Motosada as the successor to Motoyoshi.  Therefore, it is said that there was in fact no illicit relationship, and the allegations were only a pretext to eliminate Motoyoshi.

After the defeat of the Western Army at the Battle of Sekigahara on 9/15 of Keichō 5 (1600), Terumoto lost his authority but his successor, Hidenari, was still in his youth so there was no one in lieu of Terumoto to serve as the head of the clan.  As a result, Terumoto could not be held fully responsible.  Owing to Terumoto’s autocratic posture at the time of the Toyotomi administration, former centers of power such as the Five Commissioners of the Mōri established under Mōri Takamoto were marginalized from governance of the territory.  Following the defeat at Sekigahara, these former powers made Terumoto’s representatives scapegoats for his administration.  Poor relations with these figures made Motoyoshi an attractive target.  Moreover, for Hidenari to remove the influence of Terumoto’s representatives, Motoyoshi had to be demoted, giving rise to the allegations of an illicit relationship.  In any event, this power-struggle led to the elimination of Terumoto’s representatives and, by means of the Five Commissioners including the Kodama and Kunishi clans, the close associates of Hidenari monopolized power.