Uragami Munekage served as a bushō and sengoku daimyō of Bizen Province during the Sengoku and Azuchi-Momoyama periods.
Rupture of the clan
Munekage’s father, Uragami Muramune, was killed at the Daimotsu kuzure, a surprise attack led by Akamatsu Harumasa and Hosokawa Harumoto in the village of Daimotsu in Settsu Province. Following this event, Munekage’s older brother, Uragami Masamune, succeeded his father as head of the clan at an early age. However, in 1551, Munekage and Masamune had a difference of opinion concerning how to respond to an invasion by Amago Haruhisa into Bizen Province. This led Munekage to establish an independent base of power joining with the kunishū, or families of local influence, who were exposed to the threat posed by the Amago clan. After Masamune allied with the Amago, the two factions entered into a confrontation that ruptured the Uragami clan.
In 1554, Munekage raised an army from Tenjinyama Castle, allying with the Mōri to oppose the alliance between Masamune’s faction and the Amago. Munekage, together with the main forces from the Mōri, along with reinforcements led by Mimura Iechika from Bitchū Province aligned with the Mōri, overran the allied forces of Masamune and the Amago throughout the province. By around 1560, Munekage had ousted Masamune’s forces from the eastern portion of the province and held the most power in Bizen. However, similar to the circumstances of the Mimura in Bitchū, Munekage remained under the protection of the Mōri, and was subject to intervention by the Mōri in internal affairs, so as of this time Munekage had not yet achieved the break out to become a sengoku daimyō. Moreover, friction arose between Munekage and the Mimura clan owing to the expanding influence of the Mimura in Mimasaka Province. Although the faction led by Munekage’s older brother, Masamune, had been severely weakened, many enemy forces remained a threat in Bizen.
Separation from the Mōri
Around the fifth month of 1563, Munekage settled with Masamune, and free of that anxiety, he dove into battle against Mimura Iechika. By the twelfth month, Munekage severed relations with the Mōri and began to head down the path toward becoming a sengoku daimyō. In 1564, Masamune and his eldest son, Kiyomune, were killed by Akamatsu Masahide. Uragami Narihide inherited the clan without an apparent change in activity. Meanwhile, after continuing to focus on battles with the Mimura, in 1567, Munekage succeeded in expelling the Mimura and Mōri from Bizen after prevailing at the Battle of the Myōzen Temple. Later that year, he assassinated Narumune, head of the main branch of the Uragami, and, in 1568, decimated the Matsuda clan, a prominent kokujin in Bizen. With the exception of Kojima in the Seto Inland Sea, the Uragami expanded their domain to all of Bizen and the southern portion of Mimasaka.
Ukita Naoie, together with his retainers, the Oka and the Osafune, made significant contributions to the results achieved by Munekage on the battlefield, but were strongly independent forces. Their status as allies existed to the extent of being somewhat militarily subordinate to Munekage, not the typical subservient relationship between a lord and his retainers. Meanwhile, Munekage imposed direct control over numerous strategic locations, such as sea lanes, in the Ukita territory, and dispatched representatives to impose restrictions on the governance of these areas. While the Uragami expanded their influence to Mimasaka, the territory awarded to Naoie was limited to the western portion of Bizen. Mimasaka was governed by kokujin, or provincial landowners, such as the Numoto and Kanno clans. This had the effect of placing Naoie in the position of a lower-level retainer. Nevertheless, Naoie managed to increase his influence in Bizen through the efforts of his retainers and by taking control of a portion of the territory formerly held by the Matsuda. Later, these developments proved detrimental to Munekage.
Conflict on multiple fronts
In 1569, under the pretext of providing support, Munekage joined with Akamatsu Yoshisuke and Akamatsu Norifusa (the former military governor of Harima), Kodera Masamoto, and influential kokujin from Harima to seize the territory in Harima that had been inherited by Masamune. Munekage then led combined forces from Bizen and Mimasaka in a bid to eliminate formidable opponents under Akamatsu Masahide. Meanwhile, Munekage actively supported forces opposed to the Mōri including Amago Katsuhisa who aimed to revive the Amago clan. Further, he allied with Ōtomo Yoshishige (known as Sōrin), a sengoku daimyō located in Bungo Province in Kyūshū, revealing his opposition to the Mōri.
In response to the attacks by Munekage’s forces, Masahide appealed to Oda Nobunaga and Ashikaga Yoshiaki, the shōgun, for reinforcements. This appeal was made in the same year that Nobunaga had marched upon the capital and installed Yoshiaki as a nominal figure under his control. During the eighth and ninth months of 1569, Nobunaga dispatched forces led by Ikeda Katsumasa and Bessho Yasuharu to attack Munekage. Meanwhile, after secretly collaborating with Nobunaga, Ukita Naoie launched a rebellion, resulting in a precarious situation for Munekage. However, after toppling several castles in Harima, the combined forces sent by Nobunaga and Yoshiaki retreated from Harima, allowing Munekage to corner Masahide in Tatsuno Castle. In the eleventh month, Munekage compelled Masahide to surrender and seized his territory. This left Naoie completely isolated in Bizen, whereupon he plead to Munekage for forgiveness and was given license to return to his service.
Having avoided the threat from Nobunaga, in 1570, Munekage turned his attention toward the southern portion of Bitchū Province. Munekeage continued to engage on a variety of fronts. Based on a request from Amago Katsuhide, Munekage dispatched forces to Izumo Province, he sent a detached force to aid Akamatsu Norifusa in the east, and he attacked Bessho Nagaharu at Miki Castle in the Minō District of Harima. In 1571, Munekage cooperated with Shinohara Nagafusa of the allied Miyoshi clan to defeat the Mōri at the island of Kojima (a portion of Bizen Province) in the Seto Inland Sea. In the autumn of 1571, he repelled attacks by the combined forces of the Mōri and Mimura against Saita and Matsushima castles. In 1572, however, following an end to skirmishes between the Ōtomo and Mōri in northern Kyūshū, the Mōri army headed in unison toward the east. Munekage then sought to have Nobunaga and Yoshiaki mediate a settlement with the Mōri. Initially, Mōri Terumoto failed to respond to the offer for negotiations, but in the autumn, a peace deal was reached between the Mōri and Uragami, and castles vacated by both sides.
A second rebellion by Ukita Naoie
In the twelfth month of 1573, Munekage reconciled with Bessho Nagaharu through the devices of Nobunaga, whereupon Munekage received a letter from Nobunaga recognizing Munekage’s governance of Bizen, Harima, and Mimasaka provinces. At this point, Munekage surpassed his former lords, the Akamatsu, earning a status equivalent to his former role of military governor, and realized the peak years of prosperity for the Uragami clan. This rise illustrated the phenomenon of gekokujō, whereby retainers usurped the authority of their former lords in the Sengoku period. However, this letter meant that the Kodrea and Bessho clans in control of eastern Harima would be subordinate to the Uragami, giving rise to opposition contrary to the will of Munekage. These conflicting interests caught the attention of Ukita Naoie, who secretly probed whether to bring to Bizen the grandchild of Masamune, Uragami Hisamatsumaru, who was under the care of Kodera Masamoto. With the consent of Masamoto, Naoie brought Hisamatsumaru into the Ukita territory.
In the third month of 1574, Ukita Naoie supported Hisamatsumaru and rebelled a second time against Munekage. This led to fighting between the Ukita army and forces under Munekage known as the Tenjinyamashū, or the forces from Tenjinyama, throughout Bizen and Mimasaka provinces. Munekage quickly brought in external forces, forming alliances with Mimura Motochika of Bitchū and Miura Sadahiro of Mimasaka. He appealed to Ōtomo Yoshishige and Miyoshi Nagaharu for support, but these daimyō could not send forces owing to circumstances in their own domains. Unlike Naoie’s previous rebellion, on this occasion he brought in Hisamatsumaru as a figurehead, and through prior planning, gained support for the rebellion among kunishū in Mimakasa including the Numoto and Kanno clans, in addition to clans under Munekage’s governance in Bizen, resulting in an unavoidably bitter conflict. Moreover, while observing these events, Mōri Terumoto ignored requests from Nobunaga to mediate peace between the warring parties. Instead, Terumoto decided to support the Ukita to topple the Uragami who had repeatedly opposed the Mōri as the vanguard for the Oda army. In the sixth month of 1575, the Mōri routed Mimura Motochika, and, in a series of battles known as the Bitchū hyōran, provided earnest support to the Ukita and forced Munekage into a difficult position.
Senior retainer of Munekage including Akashi Yukikatsu joined the rebellion. In the ninth month of 1575, he slipped out of Tenjinyama Castle in the Wake District of Bizen while under siege by the Ukita army, initially retreating to the protection of Kodera Masamoto in Harima. Thereafter, Munekage received reinforcements led by Araki Murashige, sent by Nobunaga, and established a base.
Circumstances after Munekage’s ouster from Bizen
Despite Munekage’s dire circumstances, including the ouster from Tenjinyama Castle, some of his retainers remained on his side. From his base in Harima, Munekage maintained secret communication with former retainers of the Uragami such as the Tsuboi and Baba clans. Together with Uragami Hidemune from his family, Munekage conducted covert operations in Bizen while seeking an opportunity to launch a comeback. In his effort to revive the clan, until 1577, Munekage traveled several times to Kyōto to meet with Nobunaga, but failed to secure support. In the end, Munekage had to act independently. Around the twelfth month of 1578, Hidemune, along with the Tsuboi, the Baba and other forces from Bizen opposed to the Ukita, joined together on the island of Kōfuku in the Sea of Hyūga to raise arms. Meanwhile, Munekage led soldiers from Harima to converge with Hidemune and the others. This rebel army succeeded in recapturing Tenjinyama Castle from the Ukita. However, in the fourth month of 1579, Hidemune and the Tsuboi retreated to Harima, and the rebellion was apparently crushed during this period. As a result, the few remaining supporters of the Uragami in Bizen were swept up, so that Munekage could not, in the end, manage to reclaim Bizen.
There is a lack of authenticated sources regarding Munekage’s final years. According to one unauthenticated source, Munekage was invited by Kuroda Nagamasa to move to Chikuzen Province in Kyūshū, whereupon he entered the priesthood and died of illness in old age. There is further legend that his youngest son, Narimune, was raised by a former senior retainer of the Uragami named Takatori Bitchū-no-kami. Following the death of Bitchū-no-kami at the Battle of Sekigahara, Narimune escaped to Kyūshū, and later secretly returned to Bizen to settle.