Lifespan: 15xx to Tenshō 18 (1590)
Rank: bushō, daimyō
Lord: Mori Yoshinari → Toyotomi Hideyoshi
Father: Bitō Shigeyoshi
Siblings: Shigefusa, Tomonobu, Aoki Kiyokane, Uda Yoritada
Children: Yoritsugu, Kinsuke
Bitō Tomonobu served as a bushō and daimyō during the Sengoku and Azuchi-Momoyama periods. He was a retainer of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. His common name was Jinemon and was later called Saemon-no-jō. His real names were Shigenao, Tomosada, Tomoshige, and Mitsufusa.
Tomonobu was born as the second son of Bitō Shigeyoshi (Gennai). His grandfather, Shigetada, served Ogasawara Nagamune and Ogasawara Nagatoki, but died in fighting against Takeda Shingen. After the fall of the Ogasawara family, Shigeyoshi went to Owari and Mikawa and then served Okudaira Nobumasa. Later, Tomonobu joined him in serving the Oda clan. Shigeyoshi and Tomonobu’s eldest brother, Bitō Shigefusa, served Mori Yoshinari, but, in 1570, were killed in Sakamoto in Ōmi Province.
Tomonobu also initially served Yoshinari, later becoming a retainer of Hashiba Hideyoshi (later known as Toyotomi Hideyoshi). In 1573, Tomonobu was granted 250 kan in Nagahama in Ōmi and became a member of a group of elite mounted soldiers known as the kiboroshū for the yellow capes worn while riding into battle to deflect arrows or other objects hurled at them. Later, he became a member of a similar group known as the ōhoroshū.
During the early period of Hideyoshi’s family, Tomonobu was a veteran retainer on a par with Mikoda Masaharu, Miyata Mitsutsugu, and Toda Katsutaka. He had the most military experience of the group. The name of Tomonobu (Jinemon) appears in records of 1576 for an offering of 200 mon to the Hōgon Temple on Chikubu Island in Ōmi. In 1577, his fief was increased by 5,000 koku in Harima Province.
In 1584, at the Battle of Komaki-Nagakute, Tomonobu agreed with a proposal by Mori Yoshinari to attack Mount Komaki, joining in the offensive as an overseer, but, owing to a surprise attack at Haguro by retainers of the Tokugawa including Sakai Tadatsugu and Sakakibara Yasumasa, he fled in defeat. Furthermore, just before the battle, he was entrusted with a written will from Mori Yoshinari. This was addressed to Yoshinari’s wife in the Ikeda clan, but had an original reference to Bitō Jinemon, so there is uncertainty regarding the intended recipient. This same year, Tomonobu became the lord of Toyooka Castle in Tajima Province.
In 1585, his fief was increased by 2,600 koku in Takasago in Harima Province. In the sixth month, Tomonobu obeyed Hashiba Hidenaga by participating in the Conquest of Shikoku, toppling Kizu Castle in Awa Province. In 1586, he was awarded 50,000 koku in Utazu in Sanuki Province.
In 1587, after blunders committed by Sengoku Hidehisa at the Battle of Hetsugigawa, Tomonobu was appointed as his successor in the role of a commander. Under Hidenaga, he led 3,000 troops in the Conquest of Kyūshū. When, during an assault on Taka Castle in Hyūga Province, Nejirozaka fortress (defended by Miyabe Keijun) was attacked by reinforcements for the Shimazu clan, he urged Hidenaga to act with caution, and did not advance in support of the castle. However, owing to valiant fighting by a small contingent of reinforcements led by Tōdō Takatora, the Battle of Nejirozaka near Taka Castle in southern Hyūga Province ended in total victory for the Toyotomi army. In the latter stages of the battle, Tomonobu concluded it would be dangerous to make a sustained pursuit of the fleeing Shimazu forces, so restricted his commanders from engaging in a pursuit, missing a decisive opportunity to eliminate the Shimazu clan. This drew the ire of Hideyoshi, for which Tomonobu was scorned and, on 7/2, his landholdings were seized and he was ousted.
In the third month of 1589, while at the Hongan Temple in Tenma, Tomonobu was caught-up, along with Hachiya Akiire and Hosokawa Akimoto, in a graffiti incident at Hideyoshi’s palace in Kyōto known as the jurakutei, and was temporarily apprehended. Later, he went into hiding on Mount Asama in Ise Province and then wandered for a while before entering service for the Gohōjō clan. Under another theory, he died of illness.
In the seventh month of 1590, at Furukawa in Shimōsa, he underwent the rites of tonsure and appeared in front of Hideyoshi after the pacification of Odawara to plea for forgiveness. Using the example of former retainers of Shibata Katsuie, namely, Sakuma Yasumasa and Sakuma Katsuyuki (siblings), who were pardoned after serving the Gohōjō clan, he appealed for his own pardon as a retainer. This, however, upset Hideyoshi, whereupon Tomonobu was bound and killed on the street. Regarding his demise, there are assorted theories, one of which is that he was slayed with a sword in Nasu.
Based on contributions made in the Odawara campaign, Ogasawara Sadayoshi of Matsumoto in Shinano was granted one-half of Sanuki Province. It was later learned that during this time he was offering protection to Tomonobu as a guest commander, for which Sadayoshi was removed from his position and his landholdings seized.
His son, Kinsuke, later served Hosokawa Tadaoki, receiving a stipend of 3,000 koku. In 1637, at the Shimabara Rebellion, Kinsuke’s son, Kinemon, joined Hiratsuka Shigechika on a climb toward a castle but was killed in action. Descendants of Tomonobu, however, preserved the bloodline of the family, serving as retainers of the Kumamoto domain.
After the killing of Tomonobu, his next younger brother, Aoki Kiyokane, adopted the Aoki surname after entering into services for Hideyoshi, but then adopted his wife’s surname of Kuwayama. Tomonobu’s youngest brother, Bitō Yoritada, adopted his wife’s surname of Uda, while Tomonobu’s son, Yoritsugu (the son-in-law of Yoritada) was raised like a son by Ishida Mitsunari and later adopted by Mitsunari’s father, Ishida Masatsugu, changing his name to Ishida Yoritsugu. Yoritsugu wed the daughter of Sanada Masayuki named Chōshūin. Yoritsugu martyred himself for Mitsunari, killing himself along with Yoritada at Sawayama Castle in Ōmi, but, under another theory, he died at a later date because he was tasked with defending the Ishida residence below Ōsaka Castle and then became a retainer of Terazawa Katataka.