Sakuma Morimasa


Sakuma Clan

Owari Province

Sakuma Morimasa

Lifespan:  Tenbun 23 (1554) to 5/12 of Tenshō 11 (1583)

Other Names:  Risuke (childhood), Sakuma Genba, Genba-no-jō, Genba-no-suke, Onigenba (war moniker), Yashagenba

Rank:  bushō

Title:  Secretary of the Bureau of Diplomacy (Genba-no-jō)

Clan:  Sakuma

Lord:  Oda Nobunaga → Oda Hidenobu

Father:  Sakuma Moritsugu

Mother:  Older sister of Shibata Katsuie

Siblings:  Morimasa, Yasumasa, Shibata Katsumasa, Katsuyuki

Wife: [Forma] Daughter of Sakuma Morishige

Children:  Kiyohime (wife of Sakuma Masamori), Torahime (wife of Nakagawa Hideshige), Tokuyama Hideyuki (adopted by Tokuyama Norihide)

Sakuma Morimasa served as a bushō during the Sengoku and Azuchi-Momoyama periods.  He was a member of the Sakuma family and retainer of the Oda clan.  Morimasa served as the lord of numerous castles including Ikatsu and Gokisonishi castles in Owari Province, Imae, Hinoya, Daijōji, and Kanazawa castles in Kaga Province.

In 1554, Morimasa was born as the son of Sakuma Moritsugu at Gokisho in Owari.  As an adult, he was an imposing figure approximately 182 centimeters tall.

Service to the Oda clan

In 1568, Morimasa had his first experience in combat against Rokkaku Yoshikata (Jōtei) the Battle of Kannonji Castle.  Thereafter, he served valorously in an assault against Asakura Yoshikage at Echizen-Tezutsuyama Castle, against Yoshikata at the Battle of Yasugawara in 1570, and against Ashikaga Yoshiaki at the Siege of Makishima Castle in 1573.

In 1575, when Morimasa’s uncle, Shibata Katsuie, was granted Echizen Province, Morimasa became a yoriki, or security officer, and served in the vanguard of the Shibata army.  Thereafter, he served with distinction in the battles against the Ikkō-ikki forces in the Hokuriku and received a certificate of commendation from Oda Nobunaga.

In 1576, Morimasa succeeded in supporting the Daishōji Castle that had been captured by the Ikkō-ikki forces of Kaga Province.

In 1577, when Uesugi Kenshin of Echigo Province marched south, upon orders of Nobunaga, he was dispatched to Kaga, built a fortress in Miyukizuka and was stationed there.

In the tenth month of 1580, Uesugi Kagekatsu supported the Ikkō-ikki forces of Kaga so some of the kokujin, or provincial landowners, in Kaga raised arms.  Morimasa headed toward Shiroyama (Funaoka) Castle, toppling the castle and suppressing the rebellion.

In the eleventh month of 1580, after the fall of the Oyama monastery and fortress, Morimasa became the first lord of Kaga-Kanayama Castle and was granted authority over one-half of the province.

Siege of Torigoe Castle


From the fourth month of 1580 to the third month of 1582, Torigoe Castle was the target of a series of sieges during which the army of Morimasa eventually annihilated the Yamanouchi Group and remnants of the Ikkō-ikki forces of Kaga.

The ikki forces in the environs of Torigoe Castle were called the Yamanouchi Group.  Deeply loyal to the Hongan Temple, their members comprised a powerful military force trained in the use of the arquebus.  The Yamanouchi Group was led by Suzuki Dewa-no-kami (Shigeyasu), the local landlord.  In a letter from Kennyo, the eleventh high priest of the Hongan Temple, to Dewa-no-kami, he stated: “I appreciate the strenuous efforts of the Yamanouchi.  At last, that is all the more that I can ask for.”  This reflected his reliance on their power.  After Echizen fell to the Oda and communications between those in Kaga and the Hongan Temple of Ōsaka were severed, the Yamanouchi Group traversed Mount Haku (Hakusan), opened a road via Hida-Takayama, and served a central role in maintaining communications.  Although Kennyo settled with Nobunaga and left Ōsaka, after Kennyo’s son, Kyōnyo, called for full resistance, the Yamanouchi Group continued fighting.

Morimasa first toppled the Oyama monastery and fortress and then aimed to crush the ikki forces at Torigoe Castle.  The ikki forces, from their main base at Torigoe Castle, prepared to intercept the Sakuma army by coordinating with forces at Futoge Castle on the other side of the Daiichi River.  Despite being outnumbered, the ikki forces had locational advantages and massive firepower from their arquebus battalions.  In the third month of 1580, Kennyo’s surrender marked the end of the Ishiyama War in favor of Nobunaga but Dewa-no-kami continued to reinforce vital locations including fortresses at Ozo and Seto.  Meanwhile, Morimasa proceeded with the pacification of Kaga, toppling the Kanazawa monastery in the fourth month and then embarked on defeating the Yamanouchi Group on Hakusan, or Mount Haku, which was the last area held by the ikki forces of Kaga.  The Yamanouchi Group, however, fiercely resisted.

First Siege of Torigoe Castle

On 6/23 of Tenshō 8 (1580), Morimasa’s army and ikki forces led by Suzuki Dewa-no-kami (Shigeyasu) violently clashed in the area of Kawai at the convergence of the Tedori and Daiichi rivers in Kaga.  The Sakuma army was attacked on their flanks with arquebus fire from ikki forces.  After incurring over 200 casualties, Morimasa’s men were forced to retreat.  Determined to overcome the ikki forces, on 6/28, Morimasa initiated another advance, whereupon the opposing forces fought in a somewhat narrower area downstream from the initial clash.  Nevertheless, the Sakuma army suffered another defeat and the soldiers were pursued by the ikki forces, resulting in a major blow of over 370 losses on the battlefield.  The ikki forces led by Dewa-no-kami were not an ordinary opponent.  After having regularly prevailed in battle, Morimasa encountered two defeats in succession, causing him to writhe in humiliation.

Following consultations with Katsuie, he deployed a new stratagem.  Under the pretext of a settlement between Kennyo and Nobunaga, he offered a proposal to Dewa-no-kami for peace on the condition that he recognize their rights to their territory.  This was, in fact, a ruse.  In the eleventh month, on the basis of the proposal, Dewa-no-kami, his four sons, and Wakabayashi Nagato, among others, proceeded toward Mattō Castle in the Ishikawa District of Kaga.  At this time, Katsuie and Morimasa slaughtered the entire party.  According to the authenticated biography of Oda Nobunaga known as the Shinchō-kōki, a total of nineteen heads of fallen leaders of the ikki forces were delivered to Azuchi Castle.  This included the heads of Dewa-no-kami and his sons, namely, Ukyō-no-jō, Jirōemon, and Tarō.  Nobunaga was very satisfied with the outcome.  Morimasa then pressed the assault on Torigoe Castle.  In the absence of their leaders, the ikki forces lacked organization and, as a result, were unable to withstand the attack.  In the end, Torigoe Castle fell.  The Shibata army occupied Torigoe and Futoge castles without lords.  Yoshihara Jirōbei, a retainer of the Shibata, served as the commander of Torigoe Castle while a total of 300 troops were stationed at Torigoe and Futoge castles.  For his contributions, Morimasa was awarded two districts in Kaga by Nobunaga.

Second Siege of Torigoe Castle

On 2/28 of Tenshō 9 (1581), when Nobunaga called together generals from all of the areas under his control, he held the Kyōto Mounted Horse Parade in front of a large crowd including Emperor Ōgimachi.  This event was a major success, greatly expanding the authority of Nobunaga inside and outside his clan.  Meanwhile, the temporary weakness of defenses in his territory resulted in some losses.  In the Hokuriku region, after Shibata Katsuie, Sassa Narimasa, and Maeda Toshiie traveled to Kyōto for the parade, Uesugi Kagekatsu of Echigo Province aligned with the Ikkō-ikki from Echizen, Etchū, and Kaga to initiate operations.  On 3/6, in a bid to penetrate into Etchū in the absence of Narimasa, Kawada Nagachika (a retainer of the Uesugi), launched an attack from Matsukura Castle.  While burning down the nearby areas, on 3/9, he surrounded Koide Castle.  Acting in concert with the Uesugi, the Hakusan-Yamanouchi Group raised arms again and headed out to recapture Torigoe Castle.

At this time, among those in the Shibata army, only Morimasa did not attend the parade in Kyōto and remained in the Oyama monastery and fortress.  After receiving an urgent report that Torigoe and Futoge castles were endangered, Morimasa quickly headed out to assist the garrisons in the castles.  By the time of his arrival, the ikki forces had killed two commanders and over 300 soldiers en route to recapturing the castles.  This enraged Morimasa, who proceeded at once to mount an attack against the ikki forces.  Scattering the enemy forces, the Sakuma army soon recaptured both Torigoe and Futoge castles.  During this operation, Morimasa is praised in the Shinchō-kōki as demonstrating unparalleled valor.  His military prowess generated feelings of awe and veneration from allies and enemies alike, after which he was called “Onigenba,” meaning Demon Genba after his common name.

Third Siege of Torigoe Castle

In the third month of 1582, the Oda army launched a full-scale invasion of the territory of the Kai-Takeda clan.  Seeking to provide collateral support to the Takeda, followers of the Hongan Temple in seven villages in the foothills of Mount Haku in Kaga launched an uprising and holed-up in strongholds in Yoshioka and Sagara.  Without a prospect of victory, these forces apparently chose to martyr themselves in battle rather than submit to their archenemy, Oda Nobunaga.  The conflict turned into a battle over Torigoe Castle representing the last stand for the ikki forces of Kaga.  Morimasa hurriedly headed out to suppress them.  After the fall of their bases at Yoshioka and Sagara, the ikki forces were subdued by the Sakuma army.

Up to three months before the Honnō Temple Incident, the Oda army in Hokuriku under the leadership of Shibata Katsuie engaged in a hard struggle against the Ikkō-ikki forces.  In particular, repeated battles between the Sakuma army and ikki forces residing in the environs of Torigoe Castle who fought with unremitting determination were extremely fierce.  The type of battles witnessed between the Sakuma army and the Ikkō-ikki near Torigoe Castle unfolded across the entire province of Kaga.  Notwithstanding their defeats, the Ikkō-ikki of Kaga were not completely extinguished by the Sakuma army.  It is noteworthy that remnants of the ikki forces responded to calls from Kennyo and continued to wield power in Kaga after the battles against Morimasa.


Seven villages in the environs of Torigoe Castle located from upstream the Tedori River to the Ozo River including Yoshino, Sagara, Senami, Ichihara, Kiname, Nakanomiya, and Ozo in Yamanouchi were utterly destroyed.  Over 300 ikki forces were captured and crucified on the bed of the Tedori River.  Names given to locations near Torigoe Castle, such as Child-Killer Valley, Hidden Valley, Beheading Valley, and Suicide Valley reflected the merciless response of the Sakuma army.

The chapter closed on the Ikkō-ikki of Kaga in a violent and lurid scene awash in blood-stained snow.  The destroyed villages were left standing lifeless and, over a period of three years, turned into wasteland.

Currently, the vestiges of Torigoe Castle have been restored and preserved as a historical site.  Touring the site offers a glimpse into the violent battles that erupted in these environs.  The stone walls of the castle are a complex mixture of the work of the ikki forces as well as the Oda who added their own portions.  Based on the traces of bellows, or devices to supply a strong blast of air for furnace fires, it has been confirmed that arquebuses were manufactured in the castle.

Honnō Temple Incident

In the sixth month of 1582, Oda Nobunaga died unexpectedly in a coup d’état led by one of his senior retainers, Akechi Mitsuhide, in an event known as the Honnō Temple Incident.  At this time, Morimasa was in the midst of attack Etchū-Matsukura Castle (aligned with the Uesugi) under the command of Shibata Katsuie and, in the wake of the death of Nobunaga, followed Katsuie.  When Katsuie led his army on a withdrawal to Echizen and aimed to go to Kyōto to eliminate Mitsuhide, it is said that he dissuaded him in view of the situation, but the authenticity of this account is uncertain.

At the end of the sixth month of 1582, after Uesugi Kagekatsu incited Nukui Kagetaka and others to launch an uprising and hole-up in Arayama Castle in Noto Province, Morimasa obeyed urgent requests from Maeda Toshiie for support by leading a reinforcement army of 2,500 troops to Mount Sekidō in Noto where he defeated the allied army of the Nukui and Miyake clans along with the warrior monks of Sekidō.  This is known as the Battle of Arayama.

Battle of Shizugatake

After the Kiyosu Conference held to determine the successor to Oda Nobunaga, the conflict between Shibata Katsuie and Hashiba Hideyoshi deepened.  In 1583, the two camps opposed one another in the vicinity of Lake Yogo in Ōmi Province.  Initially, each side prepared for an extended battle, but a retainer of Shibata Katsutoyo (a cousin and adoptee of Katsuie who defected to the Hashiba) secretly rode into Morimasa’s encampment and informed them that Hideyoshi was absent and heading toward Ōgaki in Mino Province.

This news prompted Morimasa to propose a strategy to Katsuie for a surprise attack against the fortress defended by Nakagawa Kiyohide.  Katsuie first opposed the idea, but owing to the strong desire of Morimasa, compromised by consenting to the attack provided that if Morimasa succeeded in toppling the fortress he would quickly return.  Morimasa’s plan was a stunning success and Kiyohide was killed at Mount Ōiwa, leading to victory in the opening stages of the Battle of Shizugatake.  Riding the momentum, Morimasa engaged in preparations to destroy the camp of Hashiba Hidenaga.  Next, he ordered Kuwayama Shigeharu who was in charge of defending the fortress at Shizugatake to surrender and vacate the premises.  Shigeharu responded that he would not resist but that he wanted Morimasa to wait until after sunset so the fall of the fortress appeared near at hand.

Soon thereafter, reinforcements led by Niwa Nagahide came ashore after crossing Lake Biwa by boat.  These forces converged with the Kuwayama battalion that was supposed to depart from the fortress from around sunset.  Together, these combined forces launched an attack so Morimasa failed to secure the fortress.  Having waited for this opportunity and prepared in advance, Hideyoshi returned with the Hashiba army to the battlefield.  This is known as the Great March from Mino during which the Hashiba army marched from Ōgaki in Mino to Kinomoto in Ōmi (approximately 52 kilometers) in five hours.  Fierce fighting by the forces from Hideyoshi’s main division later gave rise to the recognition of a group of bushō known as the Seven Spears of Shizugatake.  Meanwhile, the battalion led by Maeda Toshiie and others withdrew so communications were severed between Masamori’s battalion and Katsuie’s main base.

In the end, at the Battle of Shizugatake, the Shibata army suffered a major defeat at the hands of the Hashiba army while Morimasa fled for his own safety to Kaga in a bid for a later revival.

Capture and execution

In the course of fleeing, Morimasa was captured by local residents in the mountains of Nakamura near Fuchū in Echizen Province.  Aware that his fortune had run out, Morimasa said that he wanted to directly meet with Hideyoshi so requested that he be transferred.  The locals who permitted the transfer were soon executed.  After the transfer, Asano Nagamasa mocked him by saying “Although you are called Onigenba, after losing, why didn’t you take your own life?”  Morimasa responded “When Minamoto no Yoritomo (a bushō from the late Heian and early Kamakura periods) lost to Ōba Kagechika, after he hid behind the trunk of a tree and fled for safety, he later had great achievements.”  Those around him nodded in agreement.

Recognizing Morimasa’s military skills, Hideyoshi strongly encouraged him to become a retainer, offering Higo Province after the Pacification of Kyūshū.  Morimasa, however, could not forget his great debt of gratitude to Nobunaga and Katsuie, and although he appreciated the kindness shown by Hideyoshi, stated “If I survived and was able to see Hideyoshi-dono, then I planned to kill you.  Please sentence me to death.”  Rejecting the request, Hideyoshi praised Morimasa for his sentiments and ordered him to commit seppuku as an honorable death for a bushi.   As the commander of a defeated army, Morimasa sought to be executed and said, “If you wish, I would like you to bind me with ropes, place me in a cart, and parade me around (as a criminal) for all to see from the intersection in Ichijō to the lower part of Kyōto.  If you do so, Hideyoshi-dono’s authority will reverberate across the land.”  Hideyoshi accepted his wish and presented Morimasa with two kosode, or short-sleeved kimono.  Morimasa did not like the pattern or cut of the kosode and said “The clothing to wear before execution should be like the banners worn in battle, very conspicuous is better.  I would like to die with others saying that is what I expect from Morimasa.”  He desired a daimon, or men’s kimono, with red-colored wide sleeves and plum-colored short sleeves on the underside.  Hideyoshi noted “He was a person who, to the end, did not forget the spirit of the bushi.  Very well.”  He then gave Morimasa two new kosode as desired.

As agreed, Morimasa was paraded around the metropolis of Kyōto in a cart by Hideyoshi.  Men and women of high and low social status lined along the side of the horse cart paths to catch a glimpse of the renowned Onigenba.  Thereafter, he was taken to Uji and Makishima where he was beheaded.  Morimasa was thirty years old.  According to other theories, he was either twenty-seven or twenty-nine years old.  To the end, Hideyoshi regretted the loss of Morimasa and his military prowess.  While carting him around the capital, he tried to transfer a short sword to Morimasa to enable him to commit seppuku as a bushi, but Morimasa refused and desired a composed finale.  After his execution, Morimasa’s head was buried in Kira in Mikawa Province and his torso in Makishima (in Kyōto).

Morimasa’s children and descendants

Morimasa had a daughter named Torahime.  She was adopted by his younger brother-in-law, Shinjō Naoyori.  Later, upon orders of Hideyoshi, she wed Nakagawa Hideshige (the second son of Nakagawa Kiyohide).  Hideshige became the first lord of the Oka domain in Bungo Province.  Given the fact that Morimasa had killed Nakagawa Kiyohide during the Battle of Shizugatake, Torahime was married into the family of a former enemy and, as a result, was hated, particularly by her mother-in-law (Hideshige’s mother and Kiyohide’s widow).  As a result, instead of moving to Bungo in northern Kyūshū, she remained in the Kinai as Hideshige’s formal wife.  Nevertheless, the family temple for Morimasa is the Eiyū Temple in the city of Taketa in Oita Prefecture.

In the wake of Torahime’s demise, Hideshige acted upon her dearest wish by arranging for their fifth son, Naiki, to marry the daughter of Sakuma Katsuyuki (Morimasa’s younger brother) who sought to revive Morimasa’s family but, owing to circumstances in the Nakagawa family and the inability of the couple to have a child, they divorced and Naiki returned to the Nakagawa family.  Later, Katsuyuki’s daughter remarried with Kumada Fujisuke of the Kumada family serving as one of the chief retainers of the Oka domain.  The lord of the domain conferred the Nakagawa surname upon Fujjsuke who changed his name to Nakagawa Sukeshige.  Their child inherited the Sakuma surname and their descendants continue to exist in Oita Prefecture.

The dearest wish of Torahime for the revival of her father’s family was not realized in Oka in Bungo, but the family that did inherit the family name of Morimasa existed as retainers of the Owari-Tokugawa family.  Sakuma Shigeyuki, the son of Okuyama Shigenari (who, in turn, was a cousin on the side of Torahime’s mother), became the first-generation head of the family and was followed by Shigenao, Shigekatsu, Shigekata, Shigetoyo, and Masashige.  Shigenao, the second-generation head, served as a magistrate for the towns of Annaka and Sakamoto in Kōzuke Province.  He apparently received the backing of Itakura Shigemune (the chief of security for Kyōto), Sakuma Katsuyuki (Morimasa’s younger brother and the lord of the Naganuma domain in Shinano), and Mizuno Mototsuna (the lord of the Annaka in Kōzuke).  In the era of Masashige, he reverted to his original surname of Miura, but that lineage ended in that generation.  The family deemed to have been from one of the sons of Shigeyuki served as retainers of the Shinjō domain in Dewa Province during the Edo period and continues to the present time.  Koiso Kuniaki, who served as the forty-first prime minister of Japan in the mid-1940’s, was a descendant of this family.

Morimasa had four sons.  After the defeat at the Battle of Shizugatake, Tokuyama Norihide secretly raised one of Morimasa’s sons, naming him Tokuyama Hideyuki after he wed one of Norihide’s daughters and became a son-in-law.  In 1606, after the death of Norihide, his lineal heir, Naomasa, was still young so Hideyuki, as husband of Naomasa’s older sister, was granted a fief of 2,000 koku to serve as a guardian for Naomasa.  Naomasa inherited a fief of 3,000 koku (later becoming 3,243 koku) but Hideyuki resigned from his position as guardian, his fief was seized by the Edo bakufu, and he absconded.  Morimasa’s lineal heir died at the Battle of Shizugatake while his second and third sons fled to Mount Kōya in the environs of Kyōto.  Later, his second son was engaged by the Kishū domain (in Kii and Ise provinces) as a physician and his third son served as a physician in Kanaya in Kii Province.  The stone Buddhist image and hokora (small wayside shrine) containing a gorintō (a five-part gravestone representing earth, water, fire, wind and heaven) is called the Sakuama jizō (bodhisattva who looks over children, travelers and the underworld) and continues to be worshiped by local residents.