Lifespan: Eiroku 1 (1558) to 7/19 of Keichō 15 (1610)
Rank: sengoku daimyō
Title: Junior Fourth Rank (Lower), Chamberlain, Councilor, Junior Fifth Rank (Lower), Chief of Outer Palace Guards of the Left Division
Bakufu: Muromachi (Military Governor of Bungo) → Edo
Lord: Oda Nobunaga → Toyotomi Hideyoshi → Toyotomi Hideyori
Father: Ōtomo Yoshishige (Sōrin)
Mother: Nada-fujin (daughter of Nada Akimoto)
Siblings: Yoshimune, Chikaie, Chikamori, Justa (wife of Ichijō Kanesada and, later, Kiyota Shigetada), Tekura (wife of Koga Sankyū), sister (wife of Nada Shigemoto), sister (wife of Ichimata Shigezane), sister (wife of Mori Tomonobu), sister (wife of Usuki Munehisa), Regina (wife of Itō Yoshikata), Katsura-hime (wife of Kobayakawa Hidekane), sister
Wife: [Formal] Sonjuin (daughter of Yoshihiro Akimasa; baptismal name: Justa), [Consort] Itō clan; [Consort] daughter of Tachibana Muneshige
Children: Yoshinori, Sadakatsu, daughter (wife of Ichio Michiharu), Sako-no-tsubone, Matsuno Masateru, daughter (wife of the Itō clan)
(Children as based on an alternate theory: Yoshinori, Masashige (Masateru), Sadakatsu, Yoshichika)
Ōtomo Yoshimune served as a sengoku daimyō during the Sengoku and Azuchi-Momoyama periods. Yoshimune was the twenty-second head of the Ōtomo clan based in Bungo Province in northern Kyūshū.
Split with the Muromachi bakufu and alliance with the Oda
In 1558, Yoshimune was born as the eldest son and heir of Ōtomo Yoshishige (later known as Sōrin), the twenty-first head of the Ōtomo clan of Bungo. He received one of the characters from the name of Ashikaga Yoshiaki, the fifteenth shōgun of the Muromachi bakufu, adopting the name of Yoshimune. His common name was Gorō.
During the period from the first month to 2/18 of Tenshō 4 (1576), his father, Yoshishige, retired and Yoshimune succeeded him, becoming the twenty-second head of the clan. Although Yoshimune inherited the headship, his father jointly governed the family with him until 1577.
After being scorned by Yoshiaki (who supported the Mōri family) as an outlaw of six provinces in Kyūshū, Yoshimune approached the new administration of Oda Nobunaga and received a sealed license from Nobunaga granting him Nagato and Suō provinces from the territory of the Mōri clan.
On 11/27 of Tenshō 7 (1579), with the backing of Oda Nobunaga, Yoshimune was invested by the Emperor with the titles of Junior Fifth Rank (Lower) and Chief of Palace Guards for the Left Division.
Battles against the Shimazu clan
Notwithstanding this recognition, Yoshimune’s father, Sōrin, continued to hold a grip on the real power in the Ōtomo clan. In 1578, during an invasion of Hyūga Province, he suffered a major defeat at the Battle of Mimikawa which, in turn, led to a rupture among the band of retainers of the Ōtomo clan. Meanwhile, the dual governance model of Yoshimune and Sōrin produced harmful effects that triggered confrontations between them. This only added pressure to internal conflicts besetting the family.
In 1580, Tabaru Chikatsura and Takita Shōtetsu from illegitimate yet influential branches of the family launched a rebellion and colluded with Akizuki Tanezane. To suppress the rebellion, Yoshimune had to temporarily establish a main base in Funai.
A senior retainer named Tachibana Dōsetsu died of illness, while the Shiga clan who formerly maintained control over Higo Province became alienated from the Ōtomo. In addition, the territory of the Ōtomo formerly encompassing Higo, Chikugo, and Chikuzen provinces was subject to gradual encroachment by the Ryūzōji of Hizen Province and the Shimazu of Satsuma Province in southern Kyūshū.
In 1586, Yoshimune subdued Takemiya Chikazane of Usuki Castle and the Ōtsuru clan of Matsugao Castle (defended by an individual with the surname of Hashizume), establishing a base at Ryūō Castle in Buzen Province. Next, Shimazu Yoshihisa commenced an invasion of Bungo marking the outbreak of the Hōsatsu War. Having lost their sense of loyalty toward Sōrin and Yoshimune, one after another, retainers abandoned the clan while Takahashi Jōun was killed in action during the Siege of Iwaya Castle. The Ōtomo clan confronted the prospect of decimation.
Service as a retainer of the Toyotomi family
While in the priesthood during his retirement, Sōrin earnestly pleaded with Toyotomi Hideyoshi to send the Toyotomi army into Kyūshū, whereupon he became a daimyō under the command of the Toyotomi. Although Chōsokabe Motochika and Sengoku Hidehisa were sent as reinforcements to fight against the Shimazu army, the Ōtomo incurred a major defeat at the Battle of Hetsugigawa, losing retainers including Toshimitsu Sōgyo and Bekki Munetsune. Yoshimune neglected the valiant efforts of Sōrin and retainers including Shiga Chikatsugu, Saeki Koresada, Yamada Munemasa, Asakura Ichigen, Yoshioka Myōrin-ni, Yoshioka Munemasu, Shibata Reinō, Usuki Shizunao, Anan Korehide, Kitsuki Shigenao, Hazama Shigehide, Hoashi Akinao, Kutami Akiyasu, Mori Shizuo, Takita Munekazu, Kiyota Masanari, Wakabayashi Shigeoki, and Wakabayashi Munemasa who fought from their respective bases, withdrawing to Funai and allowing the Shimazu army to sweep across Bungo.
After Yoshimune holed-up in Ryūō Castle in Buzen, Toyotomi Hidenaga led a large army to Kyūshū so Yoshimune joined. In 1587, Hidenaga’s army converged with Mōri Terumoto who had arrived earlier, along with forces from the Sanyō and Sanin regions led by Ukita Hideie and Miyabe Keijun. Before long, these forces swept Bungo and then advanced into Hyūga. After passing through Agata, on 3/29, the forces toppled Matsuo Castle and, on 4/6, traversed the Mimi River and laid siege to Taka Castle defended by Yamada Arinobu. Hidenaga restricted ingress and egress to and from the castle to sever its provisioning while constructing a fortress on Nejirozaka in anticipation of reinforcements coming from Tonokōri Castle in the rear guard.
After the isolation of Taka Castle, on 4/17, Shimazu Yoshihisa, Shimazu Yoshihiro, and Shimazu Iehisa led an army of 20,000 troops in support. The Toyotomi army of 10,000 soldiers primarily coming from a base on Nejirozaka under the command of Miyabe Keijun reinforced their position with dry moats and wood fences. With the Shimazu army unable to break-through these defenses, the opposing armies entered into a stalemate. At this time, Tōdō Takatora, Kobayakawa Takakage, and Kuroda Yoshitaka joined in the rear guard. The ensuing clashes were later referred to as the Battle of Nejirozaka. In the end, the Shimazu were unable to penetrate Nejirozaka, Shimazu Tadachika was killed in action, and Yoshihisa and Yoshihiro withdrew to Tonokōri Castle. After surrendering to the Toyotomi, the Shimazu received recognition of their rights only to their home of Satsuma Province. Later, for other contributions, the rights to Ōsumi Province were granted to Shimazu Yoshihiro.
At the conferral of honors for the conquest of the Shimazu, Yoshimune received from Hideyoshi recognition of his rights to Bungo and one-half of the Usa District in Buzen, totaling 370,000 koku. Hyūga was unofficially recognized as the territory of Sōrin, but Sōrin declined. In the fourth month of the same year, upon the strong recommendation of Kuroda Yoshitaka (the daimyō of neighboring Buzen Province), Yoshimune, together with his wife and children, was baptized into the Christian religion and adopted the name of Constantine. In the sixth month, however, based on an order issued by Hideyoshi prohibiting Christianity, he renounced his affiliation.
Becoming a member of the Toyotomi family
In the second month of 1588, Yoshimune went to Kyōto for a meeting with Hideyoshi. Yoshimune was favored by Hideyoshi, receiving the surname of Hashiba (and, later, Toyotomi). He also received one of the characters from Hideyoshi’s name so that his name was written with a different character for “yoshi” but retained the same pronunciation. Further, Yoshimune was invested with the title of Junior Fourth Rank (Lower) and Chamberlain. In the first month of 1592 at the time of the Bunroku Campaign, he received the title of Councilor.
In 1590, Yoshimune participated as a member of the Toyotomi army in the Conquest of Odawara.
In 1592, at the Bunroku Campaign on the Korean Peninsula, Yoshimune commanded 6,000 troops in the third division together with 5,000 forces under Kuroda Nagamasa. Yoshimune accompanied Nagamasa in the Siege of Gimhae. In the second month of the same year, he transferred headship of the clan to his eldest son, Ōtomo Yoshinori. Although Yoshimune himself enjoyed saké, he promulgated a family code of twenty-one covenants covering public and private affairs including a prohibition against drinking.
Removal from his position in Bungo Province
In 1593, during the Siege of Pyongyang, Yoshimune received a demand from Konishi Yukinaga to send reinforcements after becoming surrounded by large army sent by the Ming dynasty of China. Yoshimune, however, believed an erroneous report from a retainer that Yukinaga had been killed in action so he withdrew, fleeing from 鳳山 Castle. Yukinaga, however, escaped through his own devices, giving the appearance that Yoshimune abandoned an ally in a precarious situation. News of these actions upset Hideyoshi, whereupon Kumagai Naomori and Fukuhara Naotaka were dispatched as military inspectors to question him and order his return to Nagoya Castle.
Yoshimune underwent the rights of tonsure and adopted the monk’s name of Sōgon. Owing to the history of the Ōtomo as a family of pedigree dating to the era of Minamoto no Yoritomo of the late Heian and early Kamakura periods, Yoshimune’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Nevertheless, based on the opinion of Ishida Mitsunari and others, on 5/1, Hideyoshi issued an order to remove Yoshimune from his position. The Ōtomo territory of Bungo and one-half of the Usa District in Buzen became direct landholdings of the Toyotomi family and were later further divided and allocated to magistrates and others in the family.
While under incarceration, Yoshimune was transferred from Edo (Tokugawa clan) to Mito (Satake clan) to Yamaguchi (Mōri clan). During this period, former retainers of the Ōtomo clan maintained their desire to revive the clan while serving as guest bushō for other daimyō to survive.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi died in the eighth month of 1598. In 1599, Toyotomi Hideyori pardoned Yoshimune and released him from incarceration. Yoshimune then moved to a residence below Ōsaka Castle, returning to the service of the Toyotomi family.
Battle of Sekigahara
In 1600, during the Battle of Sekigahara, Yoshimune’s eldest son and designated heir, Ōtomo Yoshinori (who was in the custody of the Tokugawa family) was permitted by Tokugawa Ieyasu to serve as an attendant for Ieyasu’s eldest son, Tokugawa Hidetada. For this reason, Yoshimune’s loyal retainer, Yoshihiro Muneyuki, pleaded with Yoshimune to join the Eastern Army, but Yoshimune refused. This is said to have owed to the fact that his mistress and illegitimate son, Matsuno Masateru, were being held by the Western Army below Ōsaka Castle. With the support of Mōri Terumoto, the commander-in-chief of the Western Army, Yoshimune decided to ally with the Western Army, deploying from Hiroshima Castle to invade his original home of Bungo Province.
At the dawn of victory, Yoshimune was promised control of Bungo as a reward. Former retainers of the Ōtomo at the level of junior daimyō such as the Tabaru, the Yoshihiro, and the Munakata clans, converged one after another from surrounding provinces to quickly reconstitute the Ōtomo army.
After landing in Bungo, the forces captured numerous castles on the Kunisaki Peninsula. In the ninth month, at the outset of the Battle of Ishigakibaru, the Ōtomo enjoyed the upper hand, but, in the final stages of the conflict, were defeated by the combined forces of Kuroda Josui of Buzen Province and Hosokawa Tadaoki (represented by Matsui Yasuyuki of the Hosokawa family who was based at Kitsuki Castle in Bungo). After the defeat, Yoshimune underwent the rites of tonsure and then went to surrender at the base of Mori Tomonobu, a senior retainer of the Kuroda family who was married to Yoshimune’s younger sister. On this occasion, he was taken into custody by the Tokugawa family.
After the Battle of Sekigahara, for the wrongful act of attacking Kitsuki Castle in Bungo located in the territory of the Hosokawa family under the command of the Eastern Army, Yoshimune was turned over to Akita Sanesue of Dewa Province. Upon the reassignment of Sanesue, Yoshimune was sentenced to exile in Shishido in Hitachi Province. There is a story that, while in his place of exile, he became a Christian again, but there are no records to authenticate this act. In this place of exile, writings concerning the Ōtomo clan were compiled into the Ōtomo family records, providing a rare and detailed view of the Ōtomo clan after falling from its position as a shugo daimyō family.
In 1610, Yoshimune died at the age of fifty-three. Among the Ōtomo family, Yoshinori was invited to serve as a hatamoto, or direct retainer, of the Tokugawa family, with the role of conducting ceremonies for the Edo bakufu. This enabled the Ōtomo to maintain their status dating back to the Kamakura period as a family of renown.
Character and anecdotes
A chronicle of families in Kyūshū refers to Yoshimune as deficient in assessing situations and weak and cowardly.
Four young emissaries were sent to Rome as representatives of Christian daimyō in Kyūshū (Sōrin, Ōmura Sumitada, and Arima Harunobu). According to the diaries of Luís Fróis, a Jesuit missionary residing in Japan during this period, upon the return of the emissaries to Japan, Yoshimune apologized to them for renouncing Christianity, admitting that he was weak-willed and indecisive.
Yoshimune had bad drinking habits and, according to the accounts of many missionaries, he often overindulged in saké and became violent. Perhaps aware of his problem, the family code that he left to his son, Yoshinori, included a prohibition against drinking.
There is a story that his father, Sōrin, leaned toward Christianity and destroyed shrines and temples. At the time, however, in his capacity as the next head of the Ōtomo family, Yoshimune actively engaged in such destruction in their home province of Bungo and in Chikugo and may have directed these actions.
When the Shimazu army invaded Funai in Bungo, Yoshimune abandoned the Ōtomo residence and fled. At this time, he recalled leaving behind a cherished consort, so he ordered one of his retainers to go rescue her. One of the retainers followed orders and rescued her, but when Yoshimune attempted to reward him, the retainer responded that he had only saved one woman while, in this battle, many of his comrades were killed without recompense, so it would not be appropriate for only him to be recognized, further stating that his lord was not a lord of that nature, whereupon he fled. This retainer was named Usuki Osokabe and later served under Mōri Terumoto.
Regarding Yoshimune’s missteps during the Bunroku Campaign on the Korean Peninsula, Konishi Yukinaga made similar requests for support to Kobayakawa Hidekane and Kuroda Nagamasa and both refused him. Nevertheless, neither Hidekane nor Nagamasa was penalized whereas only Yoshimune incurred the harsh retribution of removal from his position, perhaps owing to slander by retainers of Hideyoshi. There is a theory that, owing to rumors that members of the Ōtomo clan were complicit in the Umekita Uprising, Hideyoshi had previously harbored mistrust toward the family.
After retiring, Yoshimune’s father, Sōrin, delved deeply into Christianity. Conflicts with Yoshimune were stirred by resentment among those in the band of retainers who rejected Christianity as well as Yoshimune’s mother, Nata-fujin (Nata Jezebel), who continued to exert a strong influence after her separation. In particular, Nata-fujin appeared to have a significant influence on Yoshimune. Upon learning that a child was born to Sōrin and his later wife, without regard to whether the child was a boy or a girl, he recommended that the child be killed, further harming the relationship with this father.
According to traditional views, the Battle of Mimikawa was led by Yoshimune’s father, Sōrin, but there are no historical records concerning his relationship to the territory in 1577 and 1578 after his retirement so it is surmised that Yoshimune led the battle.