Lifespan: Tenshō 3 (1575) to Genna 1 (1615)
Clan: Sakuraba → Kita
Lord: Nanbu Toshinao
Father: Sakuraba Mitsuyasu
Adoptive Father: Kita Nobuchika
Siblings: Sakuraba Naotsuna, Sho Saemon, Sakuraba Mitsutada, Nobukage
Kita Nobukage served as a bushō during the Azuchi-Momoyama and early Edo periods. His common name was Jūzaemon. Other names were Nobutsura and Chikanobu. Later, he changed his name to Naoyoshi.
Nobukage was born as the son of Sakuraba Mitsuyasu, a retainer of the Nanbu clan. Later, he was adopted by Kita Nobuchika, his uncle on his mother’s side of the family who was a veteran of the Nanbu clan of Mutsu Province.
Similar to his father, Nobukage served the Nanbu clan. In 1600, during the Battle of Sekigahara, Nobukage’s adoptive father, Nobuchika, defended Hanamaki Castle. In a bid to expand his territory, Date Masamune instigated Waga Tadachika and others to storm the citadel in an event known as the Nighttime Attack on Hanamaki Castle. This was part of a larger action to retake the Waga District known as the Iwasaki Uprising. At this time, Nobukage helped Nobuchika to repel the Waga forces. As recognition for his valor, Nobukage received one of the characters from the name of his lord, Nanbu Toshinao, and adopted the name of Naoyoshi. After being dispatched by the Morioka domain of northern Mutsu to inspect the border with the territory governed by Akita Sanesue, Nobukage discovered the Shirane kinzan – a gold mine. He then served as a magistrate and contributed to the finances of the Morioka domain. Nobukage, however, did not get along well with his lord, Toshinao, and, later, he absconded from the clan.
In 1614, at the Winter Campaign of the Siege of Ōsaka, Nobukage allied with the Toyotomi clan, adopting the name of Nanbu Jūzaemon Nobukage. While serving with elaborate armor, he was called the Shining Warrior of the Nanbu. After the Siege of Ōsaka, he was apprehended in Ise and transferred to the Nanbu family. In Morioka, he was executed by the hands of Toshinao himself.
When Toshinao was requested by the Edo bakufu to explain the origins of Nobukage, he stated that Nobukage’s father was a deceased individual named Kita Tarōzaemon, and it is suspected that he altered the genealogy of the Sakuraba family to conceal the facts to avoid his real father, Sakuraba Mitsuyasu, being placed under house arrest.
In one account, the reasons for Nobukage to abscond from the Nanbu clan are as follows: On one occasion when Toshinao was served breakfast, small stones the size of soybeans were mixed in with his food and there were large fish bones in the soup. Angered, Toshinao ordered his attendant (Nobukage’s son – Kita Jūzō) to slay the cook. Still a youth before his coming-of-age ceremony, Jūzō was afraid but could not oppose the will of his lord so he killed the cook, but sustained significant injuries himself in the incident from which he later died. The loss of his son anguished Nobukage whereupon he locked himself in his residence and refused to serve the clan anymore. Upset at these acts, Toshinao ordered that Nobukage be confined. Later, Nobukage fled and climbed Mount Kōya.
Nevertheless, there is a theory that the Nanbu family sent Nobukage to Ōsaka Castle and that he had a dual role serving the Nanbu and the Tokugawa clans. It is not certain to what extent the foregoing story is accurate.
Similarly, according to another source, as a magistrate of the gold mine, Nobukage saved 120,000 ryō in deposits in Kyōto, Fushimi, Ōsaka, Sunpu, Edo, and elsewhere. When he entered Ōsaka Castle, he presented Toyotomi Hideyori with 500 bows and 10,000 arrows with gold leaf inscribed with his name. In another story, Nobukage had several hundred arquebuses made in Sakai and brought them to Ōsaka Castle. These may be exaggerations, but speak to the significant income generated by the Morioka domain from the mining operations at this time.