Utsunomiya Shigetsuna


Utsunomiya Clan

Sengoku Daimyō

Shimotsuke Province

Lifespan:  Ōnin 2 (1468) to 11/8 of Eishō 13 (1516)

Rank:  bushō, sengoku daimyō

Title:  Senior Fourth Rank (Lower), Governor of Shimotsuke, Director of the Imperial Cavalry of the Right Division, Military Governor of Shimotsuke

Clan:  Shimotsuke-Utsunomiya

Father:  Utsunomiya Masatsuna

Mother:  Daughter of Ishizuka Yoshichika

Siblings:  Okitsuna, Mumo Kanetsuna, Shionoya Takatsuna

Wife: [Formal] Daughter of Nasu Sukechika

Children:  Tadatsuna, Zuiunin (wife of Ashikaga Takamoto), daughter (wife of Yūki Masatomo)

Utsunomiya Shigetsuna served as a bushō and sengoku daimyō and seventeenth head of the Shimotsu-Utsunomiya clan during the Sengoku period.

During the early part of the Sengoku period, Shigetsuna rebuilt the Shimotsuke-Utsunomiya clan after it had fallen from power owing to a continuing series of battles and internal rebellions from the Muromachi period.  He reorganized the administration and his retainers.  Shigetsuna battled against capable contemporaries responsible for rejuvenating their respective clans such as Satake Yoshikiyo and Ashina Moritaka, in addition to the daimyō from neighboring clans such as the Nasu, the Naganuma, and the Iwaki.  His achievements expanded the influence of the clan, enabling the Shimotsuke-Utsunomiya to attain prosperity en route to becoming the greatest power in northern Kantō.  In his role as a sengoku daimyō of the Shimotsuke-Utsunomiya, Shigetsuna was known as the leader most responsible for the prominence of the clan,  achieving a hegemony in northern Kantō.


Shigetsuna was born in 1468 in Utsunomiya Castle as the eldest son of Utsunomiya Masatsuna, the military governor of Shimotsuke Province.  His mother was the daughter of Ishizuka Yoshichika, a member of the Satake clan of Hitachi Province.  Masatsuna may have been the son of Haga Moritaka and a sibling of Haga Takamasu.  Alternatively, Masatsuna was the second son of Utsunomiya Hitotsuna and the younger brother of Utsunomiya Akitsuna.

In the era of Utsunomiya Ujitsuna during the Nanbokuchō period (1336 to 1392), the Utsunomiya clan experienced their peak years, serving as the military governors of Shimotsuke, Kōzuke, and Echigo provinces.  The clan rose to become the leading power in the sattayama system of governance established by Ashikaga Takauji in the early stages of the Muromachi bakufu to govern ten provinces in the Kantō.  The collapse of this system led to the rapid decline of the clan.  In the era of Utsunomiya Mochitsuna (1396 to 1423), the Muromachi bakufu appointed the clan to serve as the military governor of Kazusa Province and as a member of the Kyōto fuchishū (military families from the Kantō and Tōhoku regions who maintained direct relations with the supreme shōgun of the Muromachi bakufu).  Nevertheless, owing to ongoing conflict with the Kantō kubō, the clan fell again into disfavor.  Shigetsuna’s uncle (Utsunomiya Akitsuna) and father (Utsunomiya Masatsuna) engaged in diplomacy with supporters of the Koga kubō, making every effort to revive the Utsunomiya clan.  In the era of Akitsuna and Masatsuna, based on the blood relationship between Akitsuna and the Oyama clan, the Utsunomiya transferred control of the Minami District and a portion of the Tsuga District in Shimotsuke to the Oyama clan in exchange for guardianship from Oyama Mochimasa and inclusion in the Oyama family.  This enabled the Utsunomiya to avoid an invasion by the Oyama.

Shigetsuna was born at the height of the Ōnin-Bunmei War in Kyōto, while the Kyōtoku War raged in the Kantō, marking the arrival of the chaos that defined the Sengoku period.


In 1477, Shigetsuna’s father, Masatsuna, made copies of scrolls to bring good fortune planned for the inauguration of a new shrine for the Utsunomiya in the following year, but that autumn he died of illness while on deployment at Kawamagari in Shiroi in Kazusa Province.  Consequently, Shigetsuna became the seventeenth head of the Shimotsuke-Utsunomiya clan at the youthful age of ten.  Shigetsuna then hosted the inauguration of the new shrine for the Utsunomiya as scheduled in 1478.

After succeeding Masatsuna, Shigetsuna took advantage of confusion following the death of Oyama Mochimasa, the capable head of the Oyama clan, to invade the Tsuga District, demonstrating his abilities from an early age.  Before long, the Utsunomiya clan regained its stature.

Political rivalries with the Mumo and Haga clans

Shigetsuna’s father, Masatsuna, had for a period of time inherited the Mumo clan, a branch of the Shimotsuke-Utsunomiya.  When Shigetsuna took over as the head of the clan, many of the senior retainers were from the Mumo.  These retainers dismissed the youthful Shigetsuna and asserted their influence over the clan.  Dissatisfaction among the retainers with the succession of Shigetsuna as head of the clan led them to launch a revolt in support of Shigetsuna’s younger brother, Mumo Kanetsuna.  To overcome the situation and establish his governance, Shigetsuna joined with allies including Haga Takamasu and Haga Kagetaka to forcibly remove all of the senior retainers from the Mumo clan and seize control.  He further received public recognition from Ashikaga Shigeuji, the Koga kubō, and thereby vanquished his enemies.  These developments reflected a struggle for political influence between the Haga and Mumo clans, and the loss by the Mumo resulted in their fall from influence and the rise of the Haga.

There was competition among members of the Haga clan itself in which Haga Kagetaka prevailed.  From the time of Haga Takahisa, the Haga clan were members of the Utsunomiya, and in the era of Utsunomiya Ujitsuna who achieved the peak years for the clan, Haga Takana was active.

Consolidation within the Utsunomiya

During the Kyōtoku War, Shigetsuna strengthened control over clans associated with the Shimotsuke-Utsunomiya, including the Shionoya, the Kasama, the Yokota, the Takō, the Imaizumi, the Kaminokawa, the Mibu, and the Nishikata, reinforcing their status as retainers.  In parallel, he asserted direct governance over branches of the Utsunomiya such as the Mumo, the Matsuno, the Haga, and the Mashiko.  Toward the end of the fifteenth century, the clan reached its apex under the leadership of Shigetsuna.  This organization served as the model for the Utsunomiya domain in the Sengoku period.

Rise of the Haga clan

In the early stages of formation of the Utsunomiya domain, the Haga and the Mumo wielded the greatest influence.  In the era of Shigetsuna, Haga Takamasu, Haga Kagetaka, and Haga Takakatsu served as heads of the Haga clan.  After prevailing in a political struggle against the Mumo clan, Haga Takamasu continued to support Shigetsuna.  After the demise of Takamasu in 1488, Haga Kagetaka supported Shigetsuna.  In 1497, after the death of Kagetaka, his son, Takakatsu, seized control, and ordered public exonerations in lieu of Shigetsuna.  Takakatsu’s seal appears on jointly signed proclamations issued by Shigetsuna during the period that Takakatsu served as head of the Haga clan.  Around this time discord arose between Shigetsuna and Takakatsu.

The Battle of Uenodai

Around this time, Shigetsuna endeavored to revitalize the Shimotsuke-Utsunomiya clan after a series of internal rebellions contributed to the decline of the clan during the Muromachi period, and he proactively expanded its influence.  In 1491, Shigetsuna invaded Kanuma and prevailed in battle against the Kanuma clan at Uenodai.  In this battle, Kanuma Norikiyo, the lord of Kanuma Castle, was killed, and the Kanuma clan extinguished.  Kanuma Castle fell to the Utsunomiya forces, while the Watanabe at Kazono Castle and the Nanma at Nanma Castle surrendered to Shigetsuna.  Through these events, the Kanuma area came under the Utsunomiya domain.

Battles against the Ashina and Naganuma clans

In the course of expanding his domain, in 1503, Shigetsuna clashed frequently with the Naganuma clan of Aizu over the Shiobara area in Shimotsuke.  Moreover, during the same period, Ashina Moritaka of the Ashina clan took steps to invade northern Kantō with the aim of wresting control from the Utsunomiya of Hōkine in Shimotsuke.

The Battle of Katakaku-ikusagaya

In 1509, Ashina Moritaka had Naganuma Masayoshi lead forces to the Katakaku Plain in Sekiya.  Shigetsuna responded by leading a vanguard group of bushi known as the kisei-ryōtō, members of the Shionoya and retainers including the Ōdachi, the Yamamoto, and Shiobara Tsunamune to confront the enemy forces at the Saburō Abyss at Kataashizaka on Mount Wada.  The Sekiya clan based at Tano Castle, descendants of a twelfth century bushō known as Taira-no-Sadayoshi, suddenly betrayed the Utsunomiya in favor of the Ashina and aimed to secretly convey the movements of the Utsunomiya forces to the Ashina, but once Shigetsuna became aware of the situation, he attacked.  This resulted in a rout of the Ashina forces and an overwhelming victory for the Utsunomiya in the Battle of Katakaku-ikusagaya.  In 1510, after the Utsunomiya reclaimed Shiobara, Shigetsuna assigned the area to his younger brother, Shionoya Takatsuna.  Shigetsuna also appointed Shionoya Tsunamune as lord of Shiobara Castle in recognition of his valiant efforts in the battle.

The Eishō Discord (within the Shimotsuke-Utsunomiya clan)

Early in the Sengoku period during the Eishō era (1504 to 1521), discord erupted between Shigetsuna and Haga Takakatsu, which ultimately evolved into the Utsunomiya Disturbance.  The confrontation arose in the context of political policy differences between Ashikaga Masauji (the Koga kubō) and his son, Ashikaga Takamoto in 1506.  Takamoto fled to the protection of Shigetsuna, the father of his wife, Zuiunin.  The Utsunomiya clan had an important role in this conflict within the Koga kubō branch of the Ashikaga clan that triggered the Eishō Conflict (Eishō no ran).  Shigetsuna proceeded to intervene in the conflict, eyeing the opportunity to expand his influence.  Shigetsuna supported his son-in law, Takamoto, while opposing Takamoto’s father, Masauji.  Meanwhile, Haga Takakatsu, the most influential member of the family, disagreed with Shigetsuna and backed Masauji, causing a division of the Utsunomiya family.

In 1507, a conflict occurred between retainers, namely, the Kasama and the Onuki clans, by which Kasama Tsunachika, the lord of Kasama Castle, attacked Onuki Nobutaka (Haga Nobutaka), the lord of Onuki Castle. Shigetsuna headed out in support of the Onuki and rescued Nobutaka from a precarious situation at the Siege of Onuki Castle.  This conflict between retainers may have been triggered as a result of the confrontation between the Utsunomiya and Haga clans.

Shigetsuna’s retirement and the backing of Tadatsuna

Owing to concern regarding the lack of unity among the Utsunomiya family, and to further consolidate his authority, he committed to the purge of the Haga clan.

In 1511, the conflict between Shigetsuna and Haga Takakatsu deepened, escalating into military conflict.  Through the artifice of Takakatsu, Shigetsuna was forced into retirement.  At the same time, Shigetsuna’s eldest son, Utsunomiya Tadatsuna, received the support of Takakatsu, and, in 1512, Tadatsuna became the eighteenth head of the Utsunomiya clan.

However, despite his retirement, Shigetsuna continued to wield control over the clan.  He sent his younger brother, Shionoya Takatsuna (Tadatsuna’s uncle), to the Shionoya clan and arranged for him to become the successor to the Shionoya clan.  Meanwhile, he had another younger brother, Mumo Kanetsuna, become the successor to the Mumo clan.  Earlier, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, he had his older sister wed Yūki Masatomo of the Shimōsa-Yūki clan to forge an alliance between the families.

Shigetsuna’s retirement and the backing of Tadatsuna by Haga Takakatsu was in fact a scheme by which Shigetsuna aimed for complete control of the clan.

The Utsunomiya Disturbance

In the spring of 1514, Shigetsuna murdered Takakatsu, triggering a major rebellion by supporters of the Haga clan.  Shigetsuna responded by attacking all of the residences of senior retainers of the Haga clan.  The Eishō Discord escalated into a major internal conflict known as the Utsunomiya Disturbance.  Through the support of Ashikaga Takamoto and retainers such as Mibu Tsunashige, Shigetsuna managed to suppress the rebellion after approximately two years.  The subordination of the Haga clan into a command structure led by Shigetsuna and his son, Tadatsuna, marked the end of the Utsunomiya Disturbance and the Eishō Discord.

In 1512, Ashikaga Masauji, the second Koga kubō, departed from Koga Castle owing to pressure from opposition forces led by Shigetsuna and Yūki Masatomo.  His son, Ashikaga Takamoto, then entered Koga Castle.  Having prevailed in competition against his father, Takamoto then assumed the position as the third Koga kubō.

Struggle against Satake Yoshikiyo for hegemony

A plot to take over the branch of the Nasu clan aligned with the Muromachi bakufu

In the first half of the fifteenth century, the Nasu clan ruptured into two opposing families, falling into decline.  The Upper Nasu family supported the Muromachi bakufu, while the Lower Nasu family drew upon support from the Kamakura kubō (which later became the Koga kubō) in its rivalry against the Upper Nasu family.  In 1514, Nasu Sukechika, the head of the Upper Nasu family, died.  Shigetsuna had a political alliance with the Upper Nasu which was the family home of his formal wife.  This meant that Sukechika had been Shigetsuna’s father-in-law.  The death of Sukechika gave rise to a succession struggle between Nasu Sukenaga and Yamada Sukehisa.  Amidst the disintegration of the Upper Nasu family, Shigetsuna leveraged his blood relationship to have a member of the Utsunomiya, Utsunomiya Okitsuna, become the successor to Sukechika and revive the clan.  By this means, Shigetsuna sought to attain complete control of the Nasu clan from within, but Nasu Sukefusa from the Lower Nasu family responded to this threat by successfully reuniting the two families before Shigetsuna could achieve his objective.

Prior to his demise, Sukechika aligned himself with Shigetsuna in the Eishō Conflict by supporting Ashikaga Takamoto.  However, after unifying and becoming the new leader of the reunified clan, Nasu Sukefusa sided along with Satake Yoshikiyo and Oyama Shigenaga in support of Ashikaga Masauji in opposition to Shigetsuna.

The Battle of Takebayashi

In the summer of 1514, the Haga clan supported Ashikaga Masauji in an internal conflict in the family of the Koga kubō, but as an outcome of the Utsunomiya Disturbance, came under the control of an administration led by Utsunomiya Shigetsuna and his son, Tadatsuna.  Consequently, Masauji, who had moved to Gion Castle in the Tsuga District of Shimotsuke Province, lost protection from the Haga.  Owing to this impending threat, Masauji urged the Satake and Iwaki clans to assemble for battle.  Satake Yoshikiyo, Iwaki Yoshitaka, and Nasu Sukefusa responded to the appeal by deploying a total of 20,000 forces to invade Shimotsuke.  This served as one of the battles in the rivalry between the Utsunomiya and the Satake for control of northern Kantō.

Meanwhile, Utsunomiya Tadatsuna deployed as a proxy for Shigetsuna, serving as a commanding general at the youthful age of seventeen.  Tadatsuna led forces against the Satake and Iwaki at the Nasu entrance.  The Nasu clan supported Masauji and maintained an alliance with the Satake so it was an unfavorable location for the Utsunomiya forces to engage in battle.  Tadatsuna lost and the Utsunomiya forces retreated.  Satake Yoshikiyo from Hitachi Province and Iwaki Yoshitaka from Mutsu Province led the effort in pursuit of the retreating forces.  The clans confronted one another again at Takebayashi in Utsunomiya in Shimotsuke.  Shigetsuna rushed reinforcements to the front and succeeded in repelling the attack under the leadership of allies including Yūki Masatomo, Yamakawa Tomosada, and Mizutani Katsuyuki.  At the same time, Shigetsuna fought against supporters of Ashikaga Masauji in the Battle of Mobara in Shimotsuke.

After the Battle of Takebayashi, Shigetsuna carried out a scheme to persuade Nasa Sukefusa to switch his support from Masauji to Takamoto.  Shigetsuna then had Sukefusa sever ties with the Satake and Iwaki and form an alliance with the Utsunomiya.  Shigetsuna relied upon this alliance in the Battle of Nawazuri.

The Battle of Nawazuri

In 1516, two years after Shigetsuna’s victory against the Satake and the Iwaki at the Battle of Takebayashi, Satake Yoshikiyo of Hitachi and Iwaki Yoshitaka (the sengoku daimyō of Mutsu) led a large contingent of allied forces in an invasion of Shimotsuke.  Owing to illness, Shigetsuna had Tadatsuna, his eldest son and designated heir, deploy on his behalf, confronting and battling against opposition forces comprised of the Satake and the Iwaki near the Jōhō Temple territory governed by the Ue-Nasu branch of the clan in Nawazuri.  Tadatsuna achieved an overwhelming victory, causing the Satake and Iwaki forces to retreat with the Utsunomiya in pursuit.  Tadatsuna prevailed again in territory of the Mumo clan in Shimotsuke, continuing the assault to Tsukiore in Hitachi and delivering a devastating blow to the Satake and Iwaki forces.  In the course of this rout, the Satake lost numerous forts and castles.

Ashikaga Masauji incurred a decisive loss in this battle, after which Ashikaga Takamoto became the third Koga kubō both in name and in substance.  This had the effect of strengthening the authority of Shigetsuna (Takamoto’s father-in-law) and Tadatsuna (Takamoto’s brother-in-law), enabling them to secure their positions as the preeminent powers in northern Kantō.  Furthermore, the Utsunomiya prevailed in their rivalry against the Satake clan to establish a hegemony in northern Kantō, extending their influence into the greater Kantō area.  Shigetsuna himself became the most powerful warlord in northern Kantō.

The later years

Despite having further aspirations, Shigetsuna died at the age of forty-nine in Utsunomikya Castle in 1516.  The next year, Satake Yoshikiyo, the powerful head of the Satake clan, died and was succeeeded by his son, Satake Yoshiatsu.  The death of these two clan leaders within a short period of time triggered a change in circumstances in the northern Kantō.  Under the leadership of Shigetsuna, the Shimotsuke-Utsunomiya resolved their internal conflicts and rose to become the most powerful sengoku daimyō in northern Kantō.  The era of Tadatsuna witnessed the Daiei Discord and a precipitous decline of the clan, while in the era of Okitsuna, Haga Takatsune, Haga Takataka, and Mibu Tsunafusa acted with despotic abandon.  As a result, the Shimotsuke-Utsunomiya fell behind neighboring powers including the Satake, the Nasu, and the Gohōjō.