Lifespan: Eiroku 4 (1561) to 10/6 of Tenshō 12 (1584)
Rank: bushō, sengoku daimyō
Title: Assistant Master of the Eastern Capital Office (honorary)
Clan: Sukagawa-Nikaidō → Ashina
Father: Nikaidō Moriyoshi
Adoptive Father: Ashina Moriuji
Mother: Daughter of Date Harumune (Onami-hime)
Wife: [Formal] Adopted daughter of Date Terumune (Hikohime – daughter of Date Harumune)
Siblings: Nikaidō Yukichika, Nikaidō Yukihisa, Nikaidō Yukihide, Iwaki Gozen (formal wife of Iwaki Tsunetaka → second wife of Date Shigezane)
Children: Kameōmaru, Edosaki-Gozen (formal wife of Sōma Toshitane)
Adopted Children: Kosugiyama Midai (daughter of Ashina Morioki/formal wife of Ashina Yoshihiro), Iwase Midai (daughter of Ashina Morioki/consort of Satake Yoshinobu)
Ashina Moritaka served as a bushō and sengoku daimyō during the Sengoku period. He was the eighteenth head of the Ashina clan based in Kurokawa Castle in Aizu in Mutsu Province.
Prior to succession
In 1561, Moritaka was born as the eldest son of Nikaidō Moriyoshi, the seventh head of the Sukagawa-Nikaidō clan. His mother was the daughter of Date Harumune named Onami-hime. Harumune was a grandchild from a daughter married into another family, so Moritaka was the great-great-grandchild of the thirteenth head of the clan whose name was also pronounced as Ashina Moritaka but written with a different character for “taka.”
In 1565, when Moriyoshi was defeated by Ashina Moriuji and surrendered, Moritaka was sent as a hostage to Moriuji’s base at Kurokawa Castle in Aizu. However, in 1575, Ashina Morioki, the seventeenth head of the clan, died without an heir, so arrangements were made for Moritaka to wed his widow, Hikohime, and be adopted by Moriuji to serve as the eighteenth head of the clan. Moritaka took control following the death of Moriuji in 1580.
Designs on Echigo Province
Uesugi Kenshin, the sixteenth head of the Yamauchi-Uesugi family, suddenly died on 3/13 of 1578. This triggered a succession struggle between two adopted sons, Uesugi Kagekatsu (the natural son of Nagao Masakage) and Uesugi Kagetora (the natural son of Hōjō Ujiyasu). Kagekatsu ultimately prevailed, with Kagetora and Uesugi Norimasa (the former fifteenth head of the clan) among those dying in battle. This event is known as the Otate Conflict, named after the residence of Norimasa who also served as the deputy shōgun of the Kantō.
In the aftermath of the Otate Conflict, Shibata Shigeie, a senior retainer of the Uesugi who made numerous contribution fighting on the side of Kagekatsu in the conflict (including the loss of his older brother, Nagaatsu), was dissatisfied with the absence of awards. Kagekatsu gave these to the Ueda who had cared for the children, and, for the Shibata, only promised that their family would have a successor. In 1581, Moritaka and his uncle, Date Terumune, colluded with Shigeie, maneuvering to start a rebellion against the Uesugi. On 6/16, Shigeie brought together as allies family members, the Kaji clan under Kaji Hidetsuna, and powerful families who opposed Kagekatsu during the Otate Conflict and forcibly took control of Niigata Bay, and caused problems for Kagekatsu for the ensuing seven years.
Around this time, Moritaka initiated diplomatic activities in an attempt to coordinate a pincer attack with Oda Nobunaga who was fighting against the Uesugi in the Hokuriku Region and to placate Shibata Shigeie and various daimyō in the Tōhoku area who had separated from the Uesugi. Initially, maintained frequent contact with Kagekatsu on friendly terms, but, in 1581, he had a retainer named Arai Mangorō visit Kyōto to negotiate with Nobunaga. While it appears Moritaka approached Nobunaga, it is also said that Nobunaga solicited Moritaka to launch a pincer attack against Kagekatsu. Moritaka presented Nobunaga with an offering of three fine horses and 1000 candles.
Nobunaga responded by working with the Imperial court so that Moritaka would receive an honorary title of the Miura-no-suke, a well-known military family. The Ashina clan descended from Miura Yoshiaki, a bushō from Sagami Province during the late Heian period. For Moritaka, it was an honor to have the name of Miura-no-suke who served a government official from the Miura family for generations. This may also have given Nobunaga insight into Moritaka’s thinking. Thereafter, Moritaka had his senior retainer, Kanagami Moriharu, travel to Kyōto.
By approaching Nobunaga, Moritaka became alienated from Kagekatsu. Thereafter, Kagekatsu continued to seek reinforcements from Moritaka for a pincer attack against the Shibata clan, but this did not materialize owing to Moritaka’s lack of receptivity to the requests. In 1582, Moritaka did not just refuse a request from Kagekatsu to deploy, he intervened on behalf of Shibata Shigeie by having Kanagami Moriharu provide reinforcements and positioning Otagiri Moriaki in Akatani Castle.
Activities in Mutsu Province
After becoming the head of the Ashina family, Moritaka joined with his father, Moriyoshi, to utilize the power of the Ashina to support a revival of the Nikaidō clan. This led to frequent revolts by retainers who were opposed to Moritaka owing to his origins as a hostage from the Nikaidō. To oppose support for the Shibata clan, Uesugi Kagekatsu aimed to disrupt the Ashina family by ordering Naoe Kanetsugu to lure senior retainers opposed to Moritaka, such as Tomita Ujizane and Arakuni Sadamichi, to have them revolt against Moritaka. These actions served to destabilize the clan.
In the sixth month of 1584, when Moritaka paid a visit to the Tōkō Temple in a mountainous area for religious pursuits known as the Dewa sanzan, Kurimura Moritane and Matsumoto Kōsuke took advantage of the opportunity to occupy Kurokawa Castle, but Moritaka quickly suppressed the action. In the seventh month, he attacked Arakuni Sadamichi (Moritane’s natural father), lord of Naganuma Castle, and made him surrender.
On 10/6 of Tenshō 12 (1584), at Aizu-Kurokawa Castle, while sitting in the external corridor on the outer side of the house giving feed to a falcon, Moritaka was slayed with a sword by a servant named Ōba Sanzaemon. Sanzaemon attempted to flee, but was pursued by another servant of Moritaka, and subsequently cut-down by a retainer of Moritaka named Tanehashi Daizō. Moritaka was twenty-four years old.
After Moritaka’s demise, the family was inherited by his one-month-old son named Kameōmaru. Kameōmaru was born to Hikohime whose older brother, Date Terumune, served out of retirement as a guardian of Kameōmaru to keep the Ashina family together. However, Terumune’s true intentions were not for the infantile Kameōmaru, but rather for his own son, Kojirō to serve as the new head of the family. The backing for Kameōmaru actually came through the intervention of Satake Yoshishige of Hitachi Province. With respect to the Ashina family, this led to an increase in the influence of the Satake clan and decrease in the influence of the Date clan. Moreover, Date Terumune and Yoshishige observed the disorder in the Ashina family in the wake of Moritaka who had been a powerful daimyō, hastening their own retirement. Amidst these circumstances, after succeeding Terumune as head of the Date clan, Date Masamune discarded the alliance and attacked the Ashina in an event known as the Battle of Sekiba. In 1586, Kameōmaru died prematurely of smallpox, leaving the Ashina family. His early demise was a factor in the subsequent elimination of the Ashina clan.