Lifespan: Eiroku 10 (1567) to 4/29 of Keichō 20 (1615)
Rank: bushō, rōnin (wandering samurai)
Lord: Uncertain → Katō Yoshiakira → Kobayakawa Hideaki → Matsudaira Tadayoshi → Fukushima Masanori → Toyotomi Hideyori
Wife: Daughter of the Kabeya-Sakai clan
Children: Sakai Heibei Naotane
Ban Naoyuki served as a bushō from the Sengoku period to the early Edo period. He later changed his name to Ban Danemon after a promotion owing to his contributions in Korea.
Naoyuki’s origins are uncertain. Having the same surname as Ban Naomasa, a senior retainer of the Oda from Owari Province, Naoyuki may have been a relative. Alternatively, he may have been (a) Suda Jirōzaemon, a rōnin, or wandering samurai, from the Yokosuka group of Tōtōmi Province, (b) a servant of the Chiba clan from a village in Kazusa Province, (c) a retainer of the Odawara-Hōjō clan serving Hōjō Tsunanari, or (d) an inhabitant of Tamanawa in Sagami Province, serving as a foot soldier for Hōjō Ujikatsu, lord of Tamanawa Castle. Naoyuki began his career in a low-level support role for the mounted infantry unit under Sakai Masahisa, a retainer of the Oda. Owing to his contributions, Oda Nobunaga promoted Naoyuki to the status of a samurai.
According to certain accounts, he had the vice of drinking saké and acting violently. This led him to kill someone, for which he was expelled from the clan and left to wander several provinces and, as one of the possibilities noted above, became a soldier for Hōjō Ujikatsu. Or, Naoyuki may have become a rōnin after the Conquest of Odawara in 1590 in which Toyotomi Hideyoshi defeated Hōjō Ujinao. Or, according to another account, Naoyuki became an impoverished rōnin after having received a stipend of 200 koku while serving Taki Gonemon (a retainer of Kobayakawa Takakage), whereupon servants of Kimura Shigekore (a retainer of Toyotomi Hidetsugu) took pity upon him, gave him clothes, and recommended to their lord, Katō Yoshiakira, that he take him in. Yoshiakira is known for posterity as one of the Shizugatake no shichihon-yari, or Seven Spears of Shizugatake, an elite group of soldiers who served as the vanguard in battle for Toyotomi Hideyoshi at the Battle of Shizugatake.
Based on several accounts, Naoyuki assumed the name of Shigure Sanosuke while wandering the provinces.
From 1590 to 1592, Naoyuki served under Yoshiakira, a retainer of Toyotomi Hideyoshi and daimyō based in Matsuyama in Iyo Province. Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s expeditions to the Korean Peninsula, known as the Bunroku-Keichō Campaign, occurred over two periods (1592-1593; 1597-1598). In preparation for this expedition, Yoshiakira assigned Naoyuki, upon recommendation of the servants, to be the standard-bearer of a blue silk banner displaying the Japanese symbol known as the hinomaru in the middle. Naoyuki carried this prominent flag (approximately 130 centimeters in length) on his back, achieving valorous results in battle for which he earned a stipend of 350 koku. At the Battle of Shissenryō, a clash at sea between the Japanese and Korean navies, Naoyuki and seven men succeeded in capturing three enemy patrol boats.
After the battles in Korea, Naoyuki was rewarded with a stipend of 1,000 koku and promoted to commander of the infantry. At this time, he changed his name to Ban Danemon, commensurate with his higher rank.
In 1600, Naoyuki commanded the infantry at the Battle of Sekigahara. Disobeying orders, he unilaterally sent the ashigaru, or foot soldiers, on the attack. Enraged, Yoshiakira reprimanded Naoyuki, telling him that he did not have the ability to serve as commander. Naoyuki then left a Chinese verse on Yoshiakira’s bench stating that “Seagulls soar in the heavens, do not remain in small waters,” whereupon he left his stipend and fled. This reportedly further upset Yoshiakira, who dispatched a banishment order, forbidding anyone from providing shelter to Naoyuki.
Notwithstanding the order, Kobayakawa Hideaki was a higher rank than Yoshiakira, so he took in Naoyuki, and offered him terms matching his previous position with a stipend of 1,000 koku and the role of commander of the infantry. Following Hideaki’s death in 1602, Naoyuki broke with the clan and became a rōnin again. Thereafter, through the favor of Ogasawara Yoshimitsu, Naoyuki served Matsudaira Tadayoshi, the son of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Tadayoshi, however, died in 1607, after which Naoyuki broke relations and, once again, assumed the role of a rōnin. Fukushima Masanori then engaged Naoyuki as an umamawari, or mounted soldier, with a stipend of 1,000 koku. This lasted only until the construction of Nagoya Castle in 1609, when Yoshiakira directly insisted that Masanori abide by the terms of the banishment order, so Naoyuki was dismissed from his position.
Owing to this series of events, Naoyuki gave up serving as a bushō, and received lodging at the Myōshin Temple in Kyōto at the invitation of Dairyū Oshō. For a period, he engaged in the rite of tonsure and entered the priesthood, assuming the name of Tetsugyū. Walking about asking for alms while armed with his long sword and short sword invited the scorn of parishioners.
In 1614, Naoyuki returned to secular life at the time of the Winter Siege of Ōsaka. He served under Yamagata Masashige (Saburōemon), advancing on the road toward Ōmi Province. Based on consultations, Naoyuki learned that even if he could win battles with a superior number of forces on the side of the Tokugawa, he could not expect much stipend, whereas with the Toyotomi, he could become a daimyō if he achieved great results. He then firmly decided to return and join the Toyotomi. He was assigned to a group of rōnin under the command of Ōno Harufusa. As the prospect of a reconciliation approached, Naoyuki received permission to launch a nighttime attack. Together with Komeda Kenmotsu, Naoyuki attacked the camp of Nakamaura Shigekatsu, a retainer of Hachisuka Yoshishige, killing scores of troops in the Nakamaura Battalion in an event known as the Nighttime Attack at Honmachibashi. Thereafter, he sat on a folding chair on the Honmachi Bridge, shouted orders to officers and soldiers, and tossed out wooden tags that said: “Ban Danemon – Commander of the Nighttime Attack.” This may have been a show of defiance in response to Yoshiakira’s earlier assault on his abilities as a commander.
In 1615, at the Summer Campaign of the Siege of Ōsaka, Naoyuki served as a unit commander. At the outbreak of hostilities during an attack on Kii Province, he served under Ōno Harufusa to battle against Asano Nagaakira. At the Battle of Kashii, Naoyuki added his own name to the battle standard and sought the honor of serving with the lance-wielding soldiers on the front line. Naoyuki did not get along with Okabe Noritsuna who was in an advance guard, with their personal conflict escalating into a spear-thrusting duel. Meanwhile, clashes with enemy forces broke out before the main contingent under Harufusa could organize with allied resistance forces from Izumi Province. Naoyuki fought against assorted retainers of the Asano, including Tako Sukezaemon, Kameda Ōsumi, Yagi Shinzaemon, and Yokoi Hirazaemon (a retainer of Ueda Shigeyasu). According to one account, Naoyuki was shot in the head by an arrow launched by Sukezaemon, and then fell from his horse, after which he became entangled with Shinzaemon and was killed. Under another account, either Ōsumi or Hirazaemon killed him.
After witnessing the scene, Naoyuki’s comrade named Tannowa Shigemasa slashed his way into the enemy and died in battle. At this time, Harufusa was dining at the Gansen Temple, and upon learning of these losses, hurriedly retreated. Criticism arose among those in Ōsaka that Okabe Noritsuna survived while allowing Naoyuki to be killed. Despite fighting fiercely, Noritsuna was ashamed to pull back, and initially prepared to commit seppuku, but after the fall of Ōsaka Castle, he changed his mind, changed his name, and led a secluded retirement.