Takahashi Jōun

高橋紹運

Takahashi Clan

Chikuzen Province

Takahashi Jōun

Lifespan:  9/24 of Tenbun 17 (1548) to 7/27 of Tenshō 14 (1586)

Other Names:  Senjumaru (childhood) → Yoshihiro Yashichirō → Yoshihiro Shigemasa → Takahashi Shigetane → Takahashi Jōun (monk’s name)

Nicknames:  God of wind, incarnation of god of war, others

Rank:  bushō

Title:  Manager of the Palace Table

Bakufu:  Muromachi

Clan:  Yoshihiro → Takahashi

Lord:  Ōtomo Yoshishige (Sōrin)

Father:  Yoshihiro Akimasa

Mother:  Daughter of Ōtomo Yoshiaki

Siblings:  Yoshihiro Shigenobu, Jōun, sister (wife of Bekki Shigehide), Sonjuin (wife of Ōtomo Yoshimune)

Wife: [Formal] Sōunin, younger sister (or daughter) of Saitō Shigezane; [Consort] Matsuo-dono (daughter of Hagio Daigaku)

Children:  Tachibana Muneshige, Munemasa, Ichirōmaru (Muneshige), daughter (Kai/Shinkai-in, wife of Tachibana Shigeie), daughter (於千代・ Eichōin, wife of Kotabe Munefusa), daughter (Taisei-in, wife of Ōtomo Yoshinori), daughter (Kaya/Jikōin, wife of Tachibana Chikaie and, later, Hosokawa Okimoto)

Takahashi Jōun served as a bushō during the Sengoku and Azuchi-Momoyama periods.  He was a retainer of the Ōtomo clan of Bungo Province.  Jōun was the natural father of Tachibana Muneshige.

Jōun was his monk’s name.  Initially, he was called Yoshihiro Shigemasa and, later, upon orders of Ōtomo Yoshishige (Sōrin), he inherited the family name of the Chikugo-Takahashi clan and thereafter was known as Takahashi Shigetane.

Succession to the Takahashi family

In 1548, Jōun was born as the second son of Yoshihiro Akimasa, a senior retainer of Ōtomo Yoshiaki, at Kakei Castle in Bungo Province.  He received one of the characters from each of the names of Ōtomo Yoshishige (Yoshiaki’s son later known as Sōrin) and his father, Akimasa, and adopted the name of Shigemasa.  His first experience in battle is surmised to have occurred at the age of thirteen when, in 1561, he participated in the Fourth Siege of Moji Castle.

In 1567, Takahashi Akitane, a retainer of the Ōtomo clan, aligned with kokujin, or provincial landowners, from Buzen, Chikuzen, and Hizen provinces to launch a rebellion.  During this event, Shigemasa, together with his father, Akimasa, and older brother, Yoshihiro Akinobu, deployed and served valorously.

In 1568, during an operation to subdue Tachibana Akikoto, Shigemasa raised the spirits of the soldiers prior to a nighttime attack by sharing his rice balls.

In 1569, upon orders of Ōtomo Yoshishige, Shigemasa inherited Iwaya and Hōman castles from the Takahashi clan whereupon he changed his name to Shigetane.  Thereafter, together with Tachibana Dōsetsu (who was vested with military authority in northern Kyūshū), governed Chikuzen Province.

Battles in Kyūshū

In 1578, at the Battle of Mimikawa, the Ōtomo clan suffered a major defeat to the Shimazu clan of Satsuma Province.  Many capable bushō were lost including Yoshihiro Shigenobu (his older brother), Saitō Shigezane (his brother-in-law), in addition to senior retainers of the Ōtomo including, among others, Tsunokuma Sekisō, Saeki Korenori, Takita Shigekane.  Owing to the vulnerability of the Ōtomo, the Ryūzōji clan of Hizen, Tsukushi Hirokado of Chikugo, and Akizuki Tanezane of Chikuzen began to invade their territory.  That same year, Shigetane underwent the rites of tonsure and adopted the name of Jōun.

Thereafter, Jōun and Dōsetsu, along with key generals in Chikuzen including Ōtsuru Shigemasa (lord of Washi-ga-take Castle), Ōtsuru Shigetada, Kotabe Shigemoto (lord of Arahira Castle), Usuki Shigetsugu (lord of Kōshidake Castle), and Kitsuki Akizane, engaged in numerous battles from 1578 to 1586 in Chikuzen against an array of opponents from Chikuzen, Chikugo, and Hizen provinces including Akizuki Tanezane, Tsukushi Hirokado, Harada Takatane, Harada Akihisa, Ryūzōji Takanobu, Munakata Danjō, Asō Motoshige, Sugi Tsuranami, and Monjūjo Akikage.  Based on this prolific record of achievement over the course of nearly 50 battles in this period, Jōun and Dōsetsu are among the most revered generals of their era in Kyūshū.

In 1581, after numerous demands from Dōsetsu (who did not have a son), Jōun permitted his lineal heir, Munetora, to wed Dōsetsu’s daughter, Ginchiyo, and become Dōsetsu’s adopted son-in-law and designated heir.  As a result, his second son, Takahashi Munemasu (later Tachibana Naotsugu), inherited the Takahashi family.

Expedition to Chikugo Province

In 1584, after the death of Ryūzōji Takanobu at the Battle of Okitanawate, the Shimazu increased pressure on the Ōtomo clan of Bungo.  Jōun, together with Dōsetsu and Kutami Akiyasu, engaged in battle in an effort to restore their authority in Chikugo.  In the third month, the Ōtomo attacked Kuroki Ienaga at Neko-o Castle in Chikugo but owing to the valiant fighting of the defenders and reinforcements from the Ryūzōji including Dohi Iezane (Izumo-no-kami), the battle turned into a stalemate.  On 8/18 of Tenshō 12 (1584), Dōsetsu and Jōun received orders to deploy from Ōtomo Yoshimune.  A combination of the two families yielded around 5,000 soldiers.  The disciplined army overcame an array of natural barriers, traversing the Chikugo River and the towering Minō mountain range followed by travel on the winding and rugged roads on Mount Takatori in enemy territory.  The army crushed an allied battalion of arquebusiers from the Akizuki, Tsukushi, Kusano, and Hoshino who were lying in wait.  In just one day, the army covered about 60 kilometers from Chikuzen to Chikugo.  On the evening of 8/19, the army arrived below Takamure Castle, an auxiliary site for Neko-o Castle.  On 8/20, Dōsetsu persuaded the chamberlain, Tsubakihara Ujimoto, to switch sides.  On 8/24, the occupants vacated the premises and surrendered, including Dohi Iezane who returned to Saga.  Next, Kawasaki Shigetaka of Inuo Castle surrendered and, on 8/25, the forces moved their base to Mount Ōkomori in Kawasaki.  Tanba Yoshihiro (the head priest on Mount Kōra in Chikugo), in addition to Ōhōri Yasumasa, Munesaki Takanao, Azuki Ienaga, and Inakazu Yasumori also joined the Ōtomo army.

On 8/28, Dōsetsu sent a detached division of 800 soldiers commanded by Tachibana Shigezane (Bekki Uemon-no-taifu) to the Bandō Temple to attack Jōjima Castle.  The Tachibana forces under Shigezane including Takaba Akitane (Takaba Hyūga-no-kami) and Abe Chikatsune (Abe Rokuyata) fought bravely, killed scores of enemy soldiers, and broke-through the outer citadel, but encountered stiff resistance from 300 members of the garrison led by Nishimuta Iechika (the lord of the castle) and Nishimuta Iekazu (sibling) and lost over 100 men in the battle.  The main division under Dōsetsu and Jōun burned down the settlements of Sakemi, Enokitsu, and Obo, and after passing through Orichi, Furujima, and Mizuta, arriving at the castle town of Yanagawa.  Ryūzōji Ieharu (the lord of the castle) was intently holed-up so, after burning down the town, turned around their forces and held a war council with Ōtomo commanders on Mount Kōra, deciding to make an all-out assault against Neko-o Castle.  On 9/1 (or 9/5), the forces toppled the castle while Kuroki Ienaga took his own life.

From 9/8 to 9/11, those at numerous castles in Chikugo surrendered including Kamachi Shigenami at Yamashita Castle along with Tanigawa, Hebaru, Kanematsu, and Yamazaki castles.  On 9/9, there were skirmishes in the area of Yanagawa Castle and, on 9/10, the villages of Uwasedaka, Shimosedaka, and Takao burned down.  Once again, he set-up a base at the Bandō Temple, and held a war council with Tabaru Chikaie, the commander-in-chief of the Ōtomo army of Bungo.  The forces then burned down several hundred houses in Nishimuta, Sakemi, and Enokitsu in the Mizuma District.

Next, they attacked castles aligned with the Ryūzōji in the Yamato District and occupied Takao Castle while its lord, Tajiri Akitane, was absent.  Finally, the army began efforts to capture the most significant base in Chikugo – Yanagawa Castle.  Protected by moats filled with water, this was one of the most difficult castles in Kyūshū to attack.  Hyakutake Castle, an auxiliary site in Kamafunatsu held by Enkyūni, the wife of Hyakutake Tomokane, was also an impregnable fortress protected by swampland and meandering canals.  Even Dōsetsu and Jōun could not capture these sites.  Consequently, on 10/3, upon the counsel of Tanba Yoshihiro, the head priest of Mount Kōra in Chikugo, pulled-up their forces from the mountain and, on 10/4, attacked Takei Castle defended by Kusano Shigenaga and burned it down.

On 10/28, the forces pursued the Kusano who fled to Hosshintake Castle.  Built on steep terrain, the castle was not easily toppled so the forces were redirected to assault Takatori, Hoshino, and Fukumaru castles (defended by Hoshino Yoshizane) and, on 11/14, further attacked Inoue Castle defended by Monjūjō Yasuzumi.  After torching the area around Amagi and Amouzu in the Akizuki territory, the army conducted another sweep of the Mizuma District.  At this time, Tabaru Chikaie lost in a battle against the Akizuki army so Dōsetsu and Jōun returned to Mount Kōra and converged with Kutami Akiyasu and Shiga Chikamori and passed the end of the year based in the area centered upon Mount Kōra from Yanagizaka to Kitano along the Chikugo River.

In 1585, from the beginning of the second month until 4/23, Jōun engaged in violent clashes against allied an allied army of over 30,000 forces from Hizen, Chikuzen, Chikugo, and Buzen with battles occurring in Komorino, Jūsanbu, Senbonsugi, Gionbaru (collectively known as the Battle of Tsutsukawa and the Battle of Kurume).  Their primary opponents included Ryūzōji Masaie, Ryūzōji Ieharu, Nabeshima Naoshige, Egami Ietane, Gotō Ienobu, Tsukushi Hirokado, Hata Chikashi, Kusano Shigenaga, Hoshino Yoshizane, Akizuki Tanezane, Monjūjo Akikage, Shiroi Shigefusa, Nagano Tanenobu, and the Senzu clan.  The Ōtomo army, led by Dōsetsu, Jōun, Akiyasu, Yoshihiro had around 9,800 soldiers, but through effective strategy, battlefield tactics, weapons, and formations, were frequently able to defeat the enemy forces in localized conflicts.  This resulted in their killing of hundreds of rank-and-file soldiers along with 470 helmeted bushō.  Nevertheless, the Ōtomo could not deliver a decisive blow to the larger Ryūzōji army.

In the ninth month of 1585, Dōsetsu died of illness.  Tsukushi Hirokado viewed this as an opportunity to forcibly take Hōman Castle so Jōun suspended his expedition to Chikugo and reclaimed the castle.  Later, he settled with Hirokado and received Hirokado’s daughter, Kachi, as the formal wife of his second son, Takahashi Munemasu (Tachibana Naotsugu).

Siege of Iwaya Castle

In 1586, the Shimazu army, aiming to extinguish the Ōtomo clan, marched north to Dazaifu.  This was near Iwaya Castle and Hōmanzan Castle in the Mikasa District of Chikuzen Province.  At this time, Jōun was at a lightly guarded Iwaya Castle with a garrison of 763 soldiers.  On 7/12 of Tenshō 14 (1586), the Shimazu army issued a demand for surrender, but Jōun did not accept it and instead committed to a fight to the end.  On 7/14, the Shimazu forces commenced attacks on the castle.  However, a majority of the Shimazu army hailed from other provinces and lacked an esprit de corps.  Under the command of Jōun, the Shimazu army was repeatedly repelled and lost a frightening number of soldiers.  Struggling in their attack against the castle, the Shimazu offered a settlement if Jōun would send his son to them, but, once again, Jōun refused.  A stalemate ensued for several weeks until, on 7/27, Shimazu Tadanaga himself commanded an all-out attack on the castle.  After incurring numerous casualties, the attacking forces penetrated the defenses and, finally, only an inner citadel remained where Jōun was holed up.  Jōun proceeded to climb a tall watchtower and committed seppuku.  He was thirty-nine years old. All of the other defenders died fighting, taking along with them many of the enemy forces, whereupon the battle came to a dramatic end.

This is known as the Siege of Iwaya Castle.

Military accounts describe scenes of mayhem, with the incessant sound of arquebus fire throughout the day and night and resonating screams from soldiers.  Despite the dead piling up in the castle, the defenders did not pull back one step from the assault, fighting to the death.  The defenders utilized bundles of bamboo tied together to shield themselves from a barrage of arquebus fire, with a mass of attackers and defenders slaughtering one another at once.

Another account noted that owing to the experience gained from many battles, the robust features of the castle, and the exceptional commanding general (Jōun), a comparatively small number of defenders were not necessarily at a disadvantage against a besieging army of 50,000 men

According to traditional views, Jōun repeatedly rejected demands for surrender and instead sought an honorable defeat but, based on records from the Shimazu dated 7/26 of Tenshō 14 (1586), Jōun ventured out to the enemy encampment and proposed a settlement on the condition that he not have to vacate the castle.

Character and Anecdotes

With a magnanimous character, sincerity and high morals, he was set to become a hero.

In records of the Takahashi family, Jōun is described as being knowledgeable of military and literary arts, empathetic and unselfish, providing commendations for military achievements of others at the appropriate times – a rare bushō from any era past or present.  This is substantiated by his death in battle together with several hundred trroops at Iwaya Castle.  It further notes: “He lived with honor and died with honor.  The courage (of his family) was a form of courage based on righteousness.  An exceptional individual of high morals and humanity.”

Tachibana Dōsetsu was called the god of wind and Takahashi Jōun the god of thunder.

A historical account of Chikuzen Province praises him, noting: “Because Jōun was ordinarily charitable and inspired by loyalty, no one doubted that he would maintain fidelity to his principles.”

Luís Fróis, a Jesuit missionary from Portugal residing in Japan during the Sengoku period, noted in a report to his home country that Jōun was an extraordinary commander.

A decision was made for Jōun to wed Sōunin, the younger sister (or daughter) of Saitō Shigezane, but owing to ongong battles, the wedding was postponed.  During this period, Shigezane’s younger sister contracted smallpox so her appearance deteriorated.  Shigezane proposed that the engagement be annulled  but Jōun responded “I did not decide to engage her after being charmed with her appearance, but rather was attracted to her innate qualities and kind heart so do not mind changes in appearance.”  He then received her as his formal wife and she bore two sons and four daughters.  At the Tensō Temple (the Takahashi family temple) in the city of Yanagawa, there is a Buddhist mortuary tablet for Jōun as well as for his wife, Sōunin.  Their graves are also together.

When Jōun’s eldest son, Munetora, was sent to become the son-in-law of Dōsetsu, Jōun told Munemasu to “obey Lord Dōsetsu as though your natural father.”  After giving Munetora an invaluable sword from Bizen Nagamitsu (a swordsmith from Bizen Province in the late Kamakura period), he then warned: “If Lord Dōsetsu and I come into conflict, then kill me with this sword.”

His treasured long sword was transferred to Niō Saburō Kiyotsuna and, later, Jōun’s second son, Munemasu.

In the wake of the major defeat of the Ōtomo at the Battle of Mimikawa, Kitahara Shigehisa, the head of the chief retainers of the Takahashi clan since the era of Takahashi Akitane (the prior head of the clan), attempted to persuade Jōun to abandon the Ōtomo, but Jōun refused.  Taking note, Akizuki Tanezane enticed Shigehisa to have him plot the ouster of his lord, Jōun, but this failed after becoming known to Jōun.  Shigehisa was murdered while attempting to enter Iwaya Castle.  Thereafter, Jōun explained the circumstances of the murder of Shigehisa to Shigehisa’s son, Kitahara Taneoki.  Disregarding the fact that Taneoki was the son of Shigehisa, Jōun permitted him to inherit his father’s landholdings.  Meanwhile, Akizuki Tanezane followed-up on the promise by Shigehisa to collude and ordered Uchida Hikogorō to lead 300 soldiers in a bid to capture Iwaya Castle.  This time, however, the promise to collude was in fact a trap set by Taneoki in coordination with Jōun and Hikogorō was killed in an ambush set by forces under Jōun.  Only 30 of the Uchida forces returned alive.  This is known as the Nighttime Attack on Tatsuga Castle.  Having restored the honor of his family name, thereafter, Kitahara Taneoki served as a senior retainer of the Takahashi family.

Jōun was regularly forced to engage in battle with a lesser force size against enemies of the Ōtomo such as the Akizuki, the Tsukushi, and the Harada, but spread false rumors in the enemy camp regarding the arrival of reinforcements and stirred confusion by pretending to display the flags of the reinforcement army on the route for retreat.  This illustrated his effective use of deception tactics in addition to being a courageous warrior.

At the height of the Siege of Iwaya Castle, there was an impassioned exchange views between the warring parties after Niiro Tadamoto, a senior retainer of the Shimazu, requested the defenders to temporarily hold their fire to inquire: “Why do you fight for the Ōtomo who are unjust, deceive human nature by dismissing Buddhism, act fanatical about Christianity?  You aptly demonstrated the military prowess of your lord so you should surrender.”  From atop one of the castle towers, Jōun responded: “There are many who serve loyally and vie for fame when their clan is prospering, but when the clan is declining, there are few who exert themselves at the risk of their lives.  If the Shimazu family struggles, I wonder if you will abandon them out of fear for your life?  Those born into a military family who forget their duty and sense of gratitude are lower than beasts.”

At the Siege of Iwaya Castle, Jōun and all of his subordinates were killed in action but imposed a significant cost of as many as 3,000 casualties on the Shimazu army.  The time required for the Shimazu army to regroup allowed the Toyotomi army to land in Kyūshū.  The final showdown on which Jōun bet his life ended up shattering the aspirations of the Shimazu clan to establish a hegemony across Kyūshū.

After the Siege of Iwaya Castle, on the high ground of Hannyazaka, the Shimazu conducted an inspection of the heads of fallen enemy soldiers.  Sitting atop a folding stool apart from the remains, Shimazu Tadanaga, the commanding general of the forces, said: ‘We killed a prominent bushō of exceptional stature.  Lord Jōun was the embodiment of the god of war.  His military exploits and achievements have not before been witnessed in Japan.  If I could have become his friend, I am certain he would have been my best friend.”  Those in attendance wept and held hands during the tribute.

In 1587, Toyotomi Hideyoshi entered Satsuma Province and forced the surrender of the Shimazu clan.  On the route back, he called Tachibana Munetora to the Kanzeon Temple in Dazaifu to mourn the loss of Jōun, noting: “In these turbulent times with retainers overthrowing their lords, I did not know there was such a loyal and courageous bushō in Kyūshū as Jōun.”

A memorial built by descendants of retainers of the Ōtomo stands on the remains of Iwaya Castle.

There is a burial mound built from stones below Iwaya Castle.  This is known as the site where an old woman was buried alive by residents who idolized Jōun after she was hired by the Shimazu army to lead them to the source of water for the castle.

For those retainers of the Takahashi family under Jōun who also died on 7/27, to the present day, their relatives hold Buddhist ceremonies for the victims of the Siege of Iwaya Castle.