Ryūzōji Takanobu


Ryūzōji Clan

Hizen Province

Ryūzōji Takanobu

Lifespan:  2/15 of Kyōroku 2 (1529) to 3/24 of Tenshō 12 (1584)

Name Changes:  Chōhōshimaru (childhood) → Engetsu (monk’s name) → Ryūzōji Tanenobu → Ryūzōji Takatane → Ryūzōji Takanobu

Other Names:  Yamashiro-no-kami, Chōnagon, Chūshō, Engetsubō (monk’s name), Hizen no kuma (nickname meaning Bear of Hizen)

Rank:  bushō, sengoku daimyō

Clan:  Ryūzōji

Lord:  Shōni clan → Ryūzōji Iekane → Ryūzōji Tanemitsu → Ōuchi Yoshitaka → Ōuchi Yoshinaga → Ōtomo Yoshishige (Sōrin) → Mōri Motonari → Ōtomo Yoshishige

Father:  Ryūzōji Kaneie

Mother:  Keigin-ni (daughter of Ryūzōji Tanekazu)

Siblings:  Sister (wife of Yae Muneteru), Takanobu, Nobukane, sister (second wife of Inuzuka Naoshige), Naganobu, Nabeshima Naoshige (brother-in-law)

Wife:  Daughter of Ryūzōji Iekado

Children:  Masaie, Takahira, Egami Ietane, Gotō Ienobu, Tamatsuruhime (wife of Kamachi Shigenami), Oyasu, daughter (wife of Kuramachi Nobutoshi)

Ryūzōji Takanobu served as a bushō and sengoku daimyō of Hizen Province during the Sengoku and Azuchi-Momoyama periods.

Known under the nickname of the Bear of Hizen, Takanobu is counted among the Three Powers of Kyūshū (along with Shimazu Yoshihisa and Ōtomo Sōrin).  Although the lineage of the Ryūzōji came to an end, descendants of the Ryūzōji family remain in Saga Prefecture and the cities of Isahaya and Ōmura in Nagasaki Prefecture.  Nabeshima Naoshige was the younger brother-in-law of Takanobu.

While in the priesthood, he called himself Chūnagon Engetsubō.  After returning to secular life, he first adopted the name of Tanenobu.  After receiving one of the characters from the name of Ōuchi Yoshitaka, he changed his name to Takatane and then Takanobu.  He preferred the title of goshū-nitō no taishu, or the Governor-General of Five Provinces and Two Islands, but was called by his nickname of Hizen no kuma, or the Bear of Hizen.

Takanobu usurped the Shōni clan, defeated the Ōtomo clan, and grew into a military power on a par with the Shimazu clan.  He was called one of the Three Powers of Kyūshū but erred in a conflict against the allied forces of the Shimazu and Arima clans and died at the Battle of Okitanawate in 1584.

There are various theories regarding the origins of the Ryūzōji clan but the most persuasive is a branch of the Hizen-Takagi clan descended from Fujiwara no Takaie, a noble from the Heian period from the Fujiwara Hokke.

Succession to the headship of the clan 

On 2/15 of Kyōroku 2 (1529), Takanobu was born as the eldest son of Ryūzōji Kaneie (the grandson of Ryūzōji Iekane) at the Higashi-Yakata Tenjin residence at the Mizugae Castle in the Saga District of Hizen.  His mother, Keigin-ni, was a courageous character who provided a foundation for his decisions.

During his youth, Takanobu was taken in and raised by his great-uncle, the head priest Gōkaku at the Hōrin Temple.  In 1536, at the age of seven, he entered the priesthood and Chūnagonfusa or Chūshō.  His Buddhist name was Engetsubō.  Around the age of twelve or thirteen, he had the intelligence of a twenty-year-old as well as exceptional physical strength.  When he was a monk of fifteen years old, a dispute erupted between his fellow monks at the temple and some of the neighboring residents whereupon the monks fled inside the temple and closed the gate.  In an effort to enter the grounds, six or seven residents attempted to enter while Engetsu himself pushed back on the gate but owing to his strength it broke and flattened four or five of the residents.  The survivors then fled in fear.

In 1545, Engetsu’s grandfather, Ryūzōji Iesumi and father, Kaneie, were murdered by Baba Yorichika upon suspicion of plotting a rebellion against their lords, the Shōni clan.  (Yorichika was a senior retainer of the Shōni.)  Engetsu was then taken by his great-grandfather, Ryūzōji Iekane, to escape for protection under the Kamachi clan of Chikugo Province.  In 1546, Iekane, with the support of Kamachi Akimori, rebelled, killed Yorichika, and revived the Ryūzōji clan.  Soon thereafter, however, Iekane, in his old age, died of illness.  Aware of Engetsu’s abilities, Iekane expressed in his will a desire for Engetsu to return to secular life and inherit the Mizugae-Ryüzōji clan.  Accordingly, the following year, Engetsu, led by a senior retainer named Ishii Kanekiyo, left the temple, entered Kanekiyo’s residence, adopted the name of Tanenobu (later known as Takanobu), and succeeded Iekane as the head of the Mizugae-Ryūzōji.  Among the elders of the family, there was a division of opinion with respect to Tanenobu’s succession to the headship.  They then made a pilgrimage to the Hachiman Shrine and pulled three thin strips of bamboo to inquire as to the will of the Shintō gods.  On all three occasions, they chose Tanenobu so a decision was made for Tanenobu to inherit the clan.

Thereafter, Tanenobu obeyed Ryūzōji Tanemitsu, the head of the main branch of the Ryūzōji clan (the Muranaka-Ryūzōji).  In 1547, upon orders of Tanemitsu, he attacked Shōni Fuyuhisa, ousting him from Seifukuji Castle.  In 1548, after Tanemitsu died, Tanenobu wed his widow and succeeded him as the head of the clan.  Many retainers including Ayabe Shigeyuki were dissatisfied with the take-over of the clan by Tanenobu.  To suppress the dissenters, Tanenobu joined forces with Ōuchi Yoshitaka, the most prominent sengoku daimyō in Western Japan.  In 1550, he was conferred the title of Governor of Yamashiro and received one of the characters from the name of Yoshitaka so, on 7/1, changed his name to Takatane.  Then, on 7/19, he took the name of Takanobu.  With the backing of the Ōuchi clan, Takanobu suppressed the opposition from the retainers of the Ryūzōji.

Later that year, after the death of the formal wife of a senior retainer named Nabeshima Kiyofusa (the daughter of Takanobu’s grandfather, Iesumi), Takanobu’s mother, Keigin-ni, became a second wife of Kiyofusa as an exceptional resource to support Kiyofusa and his son, Nabeshima Naoshige.  By this means, Takanobu became a relative of the Nabeshima.

Unification of Hizen Province

In 1551, Ōuchi Yoshitaka died in a revolt led by a senior retainer named Sue Takafusa (later, Sue Harukata).  This is known as the Tainei Temple Incident.  Having lost his key patron, Takanobu was ousted from Hizen by Tsuchibashi Hidemasu, a retainer who covertly colluded with the Ōtomo clan in a plot to back Ryūzōji Akikane as the head of the Ryūzōji clan.  Takanobu again fled for protection under Kamachi Akimori, the lord of Yanagawa Castle in Chikugo Province.  In 1553, with the support of the Kamachi clan, Takanobu raised arms and prevailed, recovering control of Hizen.  Oda Masamitsu submitted to Takanobu while Hidemasu was captured and executed.  Akikane, the older brother of Takanobu’s formal wife, was sent back to the Saga District and granted landholdings.

Thereafter, Takanobu focused on expanding his power.  In 1559, he attacked his former lords, the Shōni clan.  At Seifukuji Castle, he cornered Shōni Fuyuhisa, compelling Fuyuhisa to take his own life.  He completely decimated the Shōni as a daimyō family.  He then subdued kokujin, or provincial landowners, in Hizen such as the Egami and Inuzuka clans.  In 1560, he crushed Chiba Taneyori, followed by the surrender of former retainers of the Shōni including the Baba and Yokodake clans.  In 1561, Takanobu defeated Kumashiro Katsutoshi at the Battle of Kawakamikyō and, by 1562, established his authority over eastern Hizen.

Takanobu’s rapid ascent to power raised concerns among neighboring daimyō such as the Arima and Ōmura clans.  In 1563, the two clans joined forces and invaded eastern Hizen but Takanobu allied with Chiba Tanetsura and defeated them.  This is known as the Battle of Nizakatōge.  This enabled Takanobu to extend his influence into southern Hizen, causing concern for Ōtomo Sōrin of Bungo Province who then supported Shōni Masaoki, a surviving member of the Shōni clan.  Former retainers of the Shōni, the Baba and Yokodake clans, joined in resisting Takanobu.  In 1569, Sōrin himself led a large army to invade Hizen but Mōri Motonari invaded Bungo so Sōrin withdrew from Hizen.  This is known as the Battle of Tafuseguchi.  After Sōrin defeated Motonari, in 1570, he assigned his younger brother, Ōtomo Chikasada, to serve as the commander-in-chief of a contingent of 3,000 forces to have them invade Hizen.  Takanobu, however, repelled them with a surprise attack led by Nabeshima Nobuo (later known as Nabeshima Naoshige).

Later, Takanobu succeeded in forging an advantageous peace with the Ōtomo clan.  Next, Takanobu prevailed at the Battle of Imayama but it was a localized conflict so, at this juncture, he was unable to eliminate the governance of the Ōtomo in Hizen.  After the Battle of Imayama, the Ōtomo sent a notice to Takanobu regarding a mobilization of forces.  Meanwhile, his son, Ryūzōji Masaie, received one of the characters from the name of Ōtomo Yoshishige (Sōrin) and adopted the name of Shigetomo.  Whenever Takanobu decimated neighboring kokujin or forced their submission, Sōrin would dispatch a messenger to conduct an inquiry but, in the end, he obtained recognition of territory acquired as being within his vested rights and, until the Battle of Mimikawa, he steadily increased his territory and grew his power.

In 1572, Takanobu expelled Shōni Masaoki from Hizen.  In 1573, he pacified western Hizen and, in 1575, eastern Hizen.  In 1576, he invaded southern Hizen and, by 1577, forced the surrender of Ōmura Sumitada.  In 1578, he subdued Arima Shigezumi (later known as Arima Harunobu) of Matsuoka Castle and thereby unified Hizen.  In the fourth month of 1580, he transferred headship of the clan to his lineal heir, Masaie, and retired to Suko Castle.  Despite retiring, Takanobu continued to wield the political and military authority of the clan.

Expansion of power

In 1578, after Ōtomo Sōrin suffered a major defeat to Shimazu Yoshihisa at the Battle of Mimikawa, Takanobu took advantage of disarray in the Ōtomo clan to conquer their territory and establish complete independence from the Ōtomo.  In the course of becoming a sengoku daimyō, he then caused the kunishū who had been opposed to him to submit to the Ryūzōji.  By 1580, he garnered control of Chikuzen, Chikugo, Higo, and Buzen provinces.  In 1580, Takanobu murdered Kamachi Shigenami (who was conspiring with the Shimazu) and then slaughtered Shigenami’s family at Yanagawa.  In 1583, after Akahoshi Muneie betrayed orders from Takanobu, he killed the young son and daughter who had been tendered as hostages by the Akahoshi so some of the bushō under his command also began to hold an impression of him as a cruel figure.

In 1581, the Ryūzōji army led by Ryūzōji Masaie invaded Higo Province.  By the fourth month, participants included Shōdai Shinden of the Yamaga District, Kumabe Chikanaga of the Kikuchi District, Ōtsuyama Sukefuyu, Tohara Shinun, Kai Sōun (Kai Chikanao) of the Mashikinokōri District, Kōshi Chikatame of the Kōshi District, Jō Chikamasa of the Akita District, Akahoshi Muneie of Waifu, and Sagara Yoshihi of the Kuma District.  Nabeshima Nobumasa with the vanguard forces subdued Akahoshi Chikataka of Waifu and Uchikuga Shigefusa of the Yamamoto District.  After completing their operations in Higo, the Ryūzōji forces returned to their base.

In the eighth month, Shimazu Yoshihiro marched north and attacked the Sagara clan at Minamata Castle so the Sagara, the Aso, and the Kai clans requested support from Ryūzōji Ieharu who was encamped in Nankan.  Ieharu quickly dispatched reinforcements that caused Yoshihiro to pull back to Yatsushiro.  In 1583, Ieharu led allied forces from Chikuzen, Chikugo, Hizen, and Higo totaling over 37,000 troops while the Shimazu gathered forces from the Ijūin, the Niiro, the Kabayama, and the Kiire to confront them across the Takase River, but through mediation by Akizuki Takezane, it was agreed that the territory to the southeast of the Takase River would be held by the Shimazu and the territory to the northwest would be held by the Ryūzōji.  In 1584, the two sides settled.  After hearing of this arrangement, Takanobu was indignant that the clan settled with the Shimazu without even one battle.  The diary of Uwai Kakuken (a chief retainer of the Shimazu) has an entry favorable to the Shimazu stating that, on 9/27 of Tenshō 11 (1583), a messenger of Tanezane went to Kumamoto and after mediating with the Shimazu a peace with the Ryūzōji and plan to jointly eliminate the Ōtomo, Takanobu and Tanezane said they would look up to Shimazu Yoshihisa as the military governor of Kyūshū.


In the third month of 1584, Arima Harunobu defected from the Ryūzōji clan.  Yasutomi Sumiharu, the lord of Fukae Castle and his son, Sumiyasu, who were relatives of Harunobu from the same area, had from earlier been aligned with the Ryūzōji so Harunobu attacked Fukae Castle and was joined by additional forces from the Shimazu.  Takanobu responded by directing forces to strike the Arima in support of the defenders at the castle.  Takanobu, however, became irritated with a delay in the assault by the Arima so he led a large army himself and committed to a final showdown against the allied forces of the Arima and the Shimazu.

The Ryūzōji army was comprised of 25,000 soldiers while the Shimazu army was less than 10,000 soldiers, representing a significant difference in military power.  After the Ryūzōji were drawn into a narrow area that made it difficult to maneuver with a large army, Shimazu forces led by Shimazu Yoshihisa and Shimazu Iehisa on one side and Arima forces on the other launched attacks from the flanks, incurring a bitter defeat.  In addition to losing many soldiers, the Ryūzōji suffered the loss of their leader, Takanobu, by a retainer of the Shimazu clan named Kawakami Tadakata.  Takanobu was fifty-six years old.  Upon receiving news of the death of Takanobu, Nabeshima Naoshige, a senior retainer of the Ryūzōji, attempted to take his own life, but was stopped by other retainers and withdrew to Yanagawa.

Takanobu’s head was taken by the Shimazu army and, after an inspection by Shimazu Iehisa, Naoshige refused to accept the return of his head, reflecting the animosity between the clans, so it was buried at the Gangyō Temple in Tamana.  Currently, Takanobu’s gravesite is at the Kōden Temple in Saga Prefecture but the location of his head is the subject of various theories.  There are sites in Nagasaki and Saga prefectures identified as burial mounds of Takanobu.


During the Battle of Imayama, when there was a division of opinion regarding whether to launch a surprise attack or to hole-up in the castle, Takanobu’s mother, Keigin-ni, recommended a surprise attack so that was the course of action chosen.

Kamachi Shigenami initially cooperated with Takanobu during his invasion of Chikugo.  Takanobu was indebted to Shigenami’s father, Kamachi Akimori, for prior help so he later arranged for his daughter, Tamatsuruhime, to wed Shigenami.  For Takanobu, Shigenami was a powerful yoriki, or officer, for him in Chikugo.  During an attack against Hebaru Shinun in northern Higo, Takanobu learned that Shigenami left the encampment from time-to-time to go to Yanagawa.  This reflected poorly on the Saga forces, straining his relationship with Takanobu.  Leaving the encampment at the height of a battle was a serious matter of desertion.  In 1580, Takanobu led 20,000 soldiers to attack Yanagawa Castle. 

As one of the foremost strongholds in Kyūshū, the castle was not easily toppled.  The defenders, however, were extraordinarily fatigued so, through the mediation of Tajiri Akitane (the uncle of Shigenami who stood on the side of Takanobu), the two sides settled.  Afterwards, it came to light that Kamachi Tsuranami was conspiring with the Shimazu clan so, in 1581, Takanobu plotted with Akitane and Nabeshima Naoshige and, under the pretext of a banquet with a theater event known as sarugaku to celebrate the settlement, lured Shigenami to Hizen and slayed him.  Takanobu then proceeded to slaughter the entire Kamachi family in Yanagawa.  This event is known as the Battle of Yanagawa.  Owing to prior support from Shigenami’s father, Kamachi Akimori, during a period of danger, the Ryūzōji were deeply indebted to the Kamachi clan.  When the wife of Hyakutake Tomokane, one of the Four Divine Kings of the Ryūzōji, encouraged him to deploy for battle, he tearfully replied:  “I expect the killing of Shigenami will lead to the decimation of our family.”  In the end, he did not deploy.  Moreover, Akitane (who served with the vanguard forces for Takanobu) later temporarily defected from the Ryūzōji clan.

From an early age until the unification of Hizen, Takanobu was known as an energetic character.  After retiring, however, he indulged in merrymaking and was distanced from governing by Nabeshima Naoshige owing to his profligate behavior.

According to the accounts of Luís Fróis, a Jesuit missionary from Portugal who resided in Japan during this period, Takanobu was overweight so he rode in a palanquin carried by six people.

Takanobu noted “Delays in judgment cause rot.”  In other words, giving too much consideration to an issue will result in missed opportunities.  Therefore, at crucial moments, swift decision-making is essential.  By applying this principle in practice, in a single generation, Takanobu significantly expanded the territory of the Ryūzōji family.  Moreover, he punished people on the basis of even a small amount of suspicion, engaging in acts that caused a loss of reputation.  For better or worse, these views shaped Takanobu’s life.

According to Fróis, Takanobu appeared to dismiss Christianity.  When his third son, Gotō Ienobu, attempted to convert to Christianity, he violently opposed the idea and forced him to stop.

With respect to the defeat at the Battle of Okitanawate, there is a theory that, although the soldiers in the Ryūzōji army were stuck in the mud and could not easily maneuver, Takanobu recklessly ordered them to attack so the soldiers struggled in desperation in the course of their defeat.  According to one account of battles in northern Hizen, the forces were not advancing to Takanobu dispatched Yoshida Kiyouchi to check out the situation.  Kiyouchi said “The second and third divisions are stuck and the hatamoto forces cannot proceed.  Orders are to attack without fear for their lives.”  This was communicated by Takanobu on his own and, after Kiyouchi absconded in the wake of the defeat, he was found and executed.

Takanobu used two forms of seals for documents, one in the shape of a fan and the other in a trapezoid shape.


Owing perhaps to numerous occasions when Takanobu, from an early age, was expelled from Hizen, he easily became suspicious of people and was known as a merciless individual.  This gave rise to his nickname of the Bear of Hizen.  Meanwhile, some note that his implacable and cunning nature enabled the Ryūzōji to rise in his era from a kokujin to the dominant family in Hizen and for Takanobu to be counted among the Three Powers of Kyūshū.

In his records, Luís Fróis praised Takanobu’s preparations for the Battle of Okitanawate, noting “In terms of his detailed considerations and decision-making, it appeared that even the speed and intelligence of Julius Caeser could not match him.”  Although Julius Caeser was known for swiftness in military affairs, Frōis regarded Takanobu as above him in this regard.  Nevertheless, while Julius Caeser was well-known in Europe as magnanimous for pardoning his enemies, Takanobu was the opposite character.