Umekita Kunikane

梅北国兼

Umekita Clan

Bushō

Ōsumi Province

Lifespan:  15xx to 6/17 of Bunroku 1 (1592)

Rank:  bushō

Title:  Lieutenant of Outer Palace Guards of the Left Division for the Sovereign’s Household

Clan:  Umekita (a branch of the Kimotsuki family)

Lord:  Shimazu Takahisa → Shimazu Yoshihisa → Shimazu Yoshihiro

Father:  Umekita Kanehiro

Siblings:  Kunikane, Morikatsu (Minbu-Zaemon)

Children:  Kanekiyo

Umekita Kunikane served as a bushō during the Sengoku and Azuchi-Momoyama periods.  He was a retainer of the Shimazu clan.  Kunikane was the ringleader of the Umekita Uprising in the sixth month of 1592.  He real name was Morisada.

The Umekita clan were members of the Kimotsuki family and kokujin, or provincial landowners, in Ōsumi Province in southern Kyūshū.  In the Sengoku period, the Umekita served the Shimazu clan.

Kunikane was born as the son of Umekita Kanehiro.  Beginning in 1554 at the Siege of Iwatsurugi Castle and continuing until the fall of Gamō Castle in 1557, Kunikane served with great distinction in battles between the Shimazu and Satsuma-Gamō clans.  He was appointed as the lord of Yamada in the Chōsa neighborhood of Ōsumi.  During the period, Kunikane constructed a castle in Kitayama to serve as his base.  Later, in 1578, and again in 1586, he contributed in battles against the Ōtomo clan of Bungo Province.  In 1580, he became the lord of Yu-no-o in Satsuma Province (lord of Yu-no-o Castle) and served as a commander of the Shimazu navy.

On 6/15 of Bunroku 1 (1592), Kunikane took advantage of the absence of Katō Kiyomasa (the lord of Kumamoto Castle in Higo who governed Ashikita and was on deployment in Korea) to occupy Sashiki Castle.  This rebellion is known as the Umekita Uprising.  His motivation for this action was said to be opposition to the deployments to Korea or more generally to the governance of Hideyoshi.

He was joined by retainers of the Shimazu including Tajiri Tajima and Tōgō Jinemon.  The rebel army was comprised of their respective troops along with local peasants and merchants totaling between seven hundred and two thousand persons.  After delegating the guarding of Sashiki Castle to Yasuda Yazaemon, Kunikane was tricked by their alleged surrender and, on 6/17, cut-down by Sakai Zenzaemon, so the uprising lasted only three days.  There is a theory, however, that the ikki forces occupied Sashiki Castle for a period of fifteen days.  In any event, the ikki forces launched a failed attack against Yatsushiro Castle to the north of Sashiki and were subdued by forces from the Katō clan and the Sagara clan (the lords of Hitoyoshi Castle in the Kuma District of Higo) while Kunikane died.  Kunikane’s head was delivered to Nagoya Castle and exposed to the elements on a beach while his body was buried in Gohonmatsu in Sashiki.  Meanwhile, his wife was taken to Nagaoya Castle and and burned to death.

After his death, Kunikane was worshiped as a deity in his former territory of Yamada in Ōsumi Province.  The Umekita Shrine to worship Kunikane remains in Kitayama in the present-day city of Aira in Kagoshima.  A stone monument stands on the grounds of the shrine with writing from Saigō Jūtoku, a Meiji-era army commander and politician.

Luís Fróis, a Jesuit missionary from Portugal who resided in Japan during this period, praised Kunikane’s wife for keeping her composure even after Kunikane’s death, noting she was praiseworthy even though of a different religion.

There is a story that, after Kunikane was killed, seven surviving soldiers rushed to notify his wife in Yamada of the events, and, later, in a location called Nanatsujima between Kitayama and Kizushi, committed seppuku.  However, when Kunikane was killed, he was the lord of Yu-no-o manor, so the veracity of this story is suspect.

After these events, the surviving family went into hiding and, after the death of Hideyoshi, returned to the service of the Shimazu clan.