Ōuchi Yoshitaka


Ōuchi Clan

Suō Province

Ōuchi Yoshitaka

Lifespan:  11/15 of Eishō 4 (1507) to 9/1 of Tenbun 20 (1551)

Rank:  sengoku daimyō

Titles:  Junior Fifth Rank (Lower), Junior Fifth Rank (Upper), Master of the Eastern Capital Office, Senior Fifth Rank (Lower), Deputy Governor of Suō, Governor of Chikuzen, Junior Fourth Rank (Lower), Vice Governor-General of Kyūshū, Provisional Assistant Captain of the Left Division of Imperial Guards, Junior Fourth Rank (Upper),  Provisional Vice Minister of the Military, Senior Fourth Rank (Lower), Deputy Governor of Iyo, Junior Third Rank, Chamberlain, Senior Third Rank, Minister of Military Affairs, Junior Second Rank

Bakufu:  Military Governor of Suō, Nagato, Iwami, Bizen, and Chikuzen provinces

Clan:   Ōuchi  

Father:  Ōuchi Yoshioki

Mother:  Daughter of Naitō Hironori (Higashimuki-dono)

Siblings:  Ōmiya-hime (older sister, wife of Yoshimi Takayori then Yoshimi Masayori), (Yoshitaka), sister (formal wife of Ōtomo Yoshiaki), sister (formal wife of Hosokawa Mochitaka), sister (wife of Ichijō Fusafuyu), Hirooki, sister (formal wife of Ashikaga Yoshitsuna)

Wives:  [Formal] Sadako (daughter of Madenokōji Hidefusa); [Second] Osai-no-kata (from the Otsuki clan of  Ōmi); [Consorts] daughter of Naitō Okimori, daughter of  Hirohashi Kanehide (Kōtokuin-goshinzo), daughter of Hattori  Tamon (Ikoma-fujin)

Children: Jukō, Yoshitaka, Yoshinori, Yoshitane

Adopted Children:  Harumochi, Yoshinaga, Ozaki-no-tsubone (wife of Mōri Takamoto)

Ōuchi Yoshitaka was the shugo and sengoku daimyō of Suō Province. After the death of his father, Ōuchi Yoshioki, in 1529, as the eldest son, Yoshitaka succeeded his father to become the sixteenth head of the Ōuchi clan. At the time of Yoshitaka’s birth, Yoshioki served as the taishu, or governor-general, of Suō, Nagato, Iwami, and Buzen provinces. Yoshitaka was a legitimate son of Yoshioki, born at the Ōuchi residence. His mother was the daughter of Naitō Hironori, the deputy military governor of Nagato Province. His childhood name was Kidōmaru – the same name given to successive heads of the clan, including his father and his uncle, Ōuchi Masahiro. This made clear his status as the designated heir to the head of the clan, and to prevent a struggle within the clan for succession. While in his youth, he was also called Suōsuke, providing further evidence that the family treated him as the heir to Yoshioki. He adopted the name “Yoshitaka” after his coming-of-age ceremony in 1520.  At this time, he was formally conferred the Court title of second grade of the fifth rank of honor.

First, he began to take directions from his father and, in 1524, was ordered to dispatch to Aki Province. He led a detached force including Sue Okifusa, a senior retainer, to the Yōkō Temple in Iwakuni, then on to Itsukushima, before attacking the Takeda clan of Aki at Satōkanayama Castle.  The following month, the force lost in battle with Mōri Motonari, an ally of the Amago who joined to support the defenders. Yoshitaka then clashed with the Amago of the Sanin Region.  Thereafter, he wed the daughter of Madenokōji Korefusa, a kugyō, or court noble, from Kyōto.  She was named Sadako and became his formal wife.  In 1523, a confrontation occurred between the Ōuchi and the Hosokawa known as the Ningbo Incident over trading rights with China, after which the Ōuchi secured exclusive rights in the East China Sea. 

Early years as head of the clan

After Yoshioki’s death early in 1529, Yoshitaka became his successor as head of the clan at the age of twenty-two. In the past, retainers of the Ōuchi frequently fought among themselves to decide upon successors, but Yoshitaka was able to become the leader without a disturbance. This likely owed to an absence of siblings following the early passing of his younger brother, Hirooki, in addition to the support of Sue Okifusa, a senior retainer in the clan. Early in 1530, Yoshitaka was awarded the title of first grade of the fifth rank of honor, and later that year, appointed Master of the Eastern Capital Office, or sakyōnodaibu with sakyō meaning seated to the left of the throne while facing South.

In 1530, he led military action in northern Kyūshū against the Shōni clan of Hizen Province and the Ōtomo of Bungo Province. Yoshitaka put senior retainers, Sue Okifusa and Sugi Okitsura, in charge of an army of 10,000 men to lead an attack in the Battle of Tadenawate against Seifukuji Castle, the main base of Sukemoto Shōni.  Despite the greater number of attacking forces, Ryūzōji Iekane and Baba Yorichika, commanders of the Shōni, led a spirited counterattack near a tributary of the Chikugo River, defeating the Ōuchi army.  After this battle, Iekane received support from powerful landowners in the southern area of the Saga Plain, strengthening his voice in the Shōni clan and serving as a catalyst to become a sengoku daimyō of Hizen Province. Despite the loss to the Shōni, Yoshitaka made progress on other fronts, subjugating the Matsuura clan of Hizen Province, pacifying the coastline of northern Kyūshū, and acquiring trading rights with the Asian continent.

In 1532, the Ōtomo joined forces with the Shōni to attack. Yoshitaka readied his army in Chōfu, and in order to justify an invasion of northern Kyūshū, appealed to the Imperial Court for the official post of dazai daini in the second grade of the fourth rank of honor, a position in charge of diplomatic and defense affairs for Kyūshū, but was refused. In 1534, Yoshitaka conspired with Ryūzōji Iekane to have him rebel against the Shōni in an attempt to weaken the clan. He further ordered Sue Okifusa to attack the Ōtomo at their home base in Bungo Province, dispatching Okifusa with an army of 3000 men under his command to Shimonoseki in Nagato Province.  The forces then departed to the Usa District of Buzen Province to await the Ōtomo. Ōtomo Yoshiaki responded by ordering 2,800 mounted soldiers under the command of Sōda Chikakado to Mount Ōmure in Buzen to defend against the invasion. The opposing forces faced off against one another on the border of Buzen and Bungo provinces.  In the Battle of Seibagaharu, the Ōuchi used scouts to track the movements of the Ōtomo, and made a sudden attack upon the mounted battalion of the Ōtomo army camped near Mount Ōmure. Although the Ōuchi benefited from the element of surprise, the tide turned once other units of the Ōtomo comprised of local fighters descended upon the Ōuchi from all directions, resulting in an overwhelming defeat for the Ōuchi. Notwithstanding this setback, Yoshitaka attacked Shibukawa Yoshinaga, the chief official of the Muromachi bakufu based in Kyūshū, in an effort to eliminate the Shibukawa clan.  In this same year, Yoshitaka donated 2,000 kanmon to Emperor Go-Nara in connection with his enthronement, followed by another appeal for the post of dazai daini. Emperor Go-Nara approved this for one day, only to have it revoked one day later.

In 1536, Emperor Go-Nara finally conferred upon Yoshitaka the post of dazai daini, providing the justification that he sought to invade northern Kyūshū. In the autumn, he joined the Ryūzōji clan to attack and defeat Shōni Sukemoto at Takuno Castle in Hizen Province, nearly completing the pacification of northern Kyūshū. In this year, Ryūzōji Tanemitsu, the eighteenth head of the Ryūzōji clan, was appointed the deputy military governor of Hizen. In 1537, Ashikaga Yoshiharu, the twelfth shōgun, offered Yoshitaka to participate in affairs of the Muromachi bakufu.  He attempted to travel to Kyōto, but was blocked by the Amago clan who controlled the Sanin Region and were making inroads to the south, causing Yoshitaka to abandon plans to focus on the economic affairs of the territory.  In 1538, Yoshitaka reconciled with his longtime rival, Ōtomo Yoshiaki, through the mediation of Yoshiharu.

Battles with the Amago clan

In 1540, Amago Haruhisa, the grandson of Amago Tsunehisa, attacked Aki Province, leading to the Siege of Yoshida-Kōriyama Castle, home base of the Mōri, from 1540 to 1541. Yoshitaka responded by dispatching Sue Takafusa as the commander of forces to attack the Amago army, along with support from the Mōri. In 1541, the ongoing conflict witnessed the decimation of local clans allied with the Amago, including the Takeda (under Takeda Nobuzane) and Tomoda (under Tomoda Okifuji) by which the Ōuchi gained control of Aki. Kokujin, or local daimyō and samurai, from Aki and Bingo provinces switched allegiances from the Amago to the Ōuchi, and notices were issued to influential kokujin in Aki, Bingo, Izumo and Iwami provinces urging them to abandon the Amago.

Early in 1542, Yoshitaka led an expedition to Izumo Province, laying siege to Gassantoda Castle, the home base of the Amago clan, an impregnable fortress in a strategic location in the Sanin Region. The Ōuchi were joined by forces under the command of Mōri Motonari, along with kokujin, or provincial landowners, and their men from Aki, Suō, and Iwami. After entering Izumo, the invading forces took about one and a half months to capture Akana Castle. The First Battle of Gassantoda Castle commenced in 1543 with Amago Haruhisa in command of the defenders. The attackers struggled to advance against the mountain fortress and sustained guerilla attacks by the Amago against their supply routes. Meanwhile, several groups under the kokujin betrayed the Ōuchi. This caused the invaders to flee with the Amago in hot pursuit. Yoshitaka returned safely to Yamaguchi, but his beloved adopted son, Ōuchi Harumochi, drowned when his boat sank while attempting to take a sea route home.

The bitter loss at Gassantoda marked a period of decline for the Ōuchi and a period of revival for the Amago. Upon his return from the expedition to Izumo which lasted for one year and four months, Yoshitaka completely lost the ambition to expand his domain and, instead, devoted his energy to the arts and culture, causing his retainers to split into two factions. Those led by Sagara Taketō wanted the Ōuchi clan to simply do nothing more than maintain the control of their current domains, while those led by Sue Harukata wanted to continue expanding their domain. Yoshitaka sided with the former.

Foreign trade and missionaries

Under the patronage of Yoshitaka, foreign trade and the arts flourished, and the Ōuchi home city of Yamaguchi achieved great prosperity. In 1550, Yoshitaka gave audience to the Portuguese missionary Francis Xavier, who appearing in ragged travel garb and without gift in hand, criticized Yoshitaka for leading a dissolute life, protecting Buddhism, and other perceived vices, whereupon Yoshitaka rejected his request to conduct evangelism in Yamaguchi. Xavier left for the Kinai Region. This same year, a rumor circulated that the Sue and Naitō planned a covert rebellion, causing Yoshitaka to call upon Ōuchi forces to defend his residence. Reizai Takatoyo, one of Yoshitaka’s close advisors, recommended that he strike against the Sue and others, but Yoshitaka refused. In the spring of 1551, Yoshitaka allowed Xavier to visit him again. This time, having learned from his interactions with nobles the importance of appearances, he arrived in splendid dress and presented Yoshitaka with rare gifts suitable for the emperor, including official letters from the Portuguese Governor-General of India and the Bishop of Goa, a telescope, a yangqin, a table clock, a glass pitcher, a mirror, books, pictures, and a pistol. Unlike the initial visit, this time Yoshitaka gave Xavier permission to practice Christianity at the Daidō Temple, which became a center for evangelical activities in Yamaguchi until it was burned down in 1556 during a conflict between the Sugi and Naitō clans, both retainers of the Ōuchi.

Relationship with the Court

Yoshitaka fostered a close relationship with Emperor Go-Nara in Kyōto, and sponsored many imperial rites that the Imperial Court could not have otherwise afforded. In the spring of 1551, the embattled emperor appointed Yoshitaka as the Yamashiro kenshu, or Acting Governor of Yamashiro, the home province of Kyōto, in a bid to leverage the Ōuchi against the ravages of Miyoshi Nagayoshi, the daimyō occupying the capital. Yoshitaka, as Acting Governor of Yamashiro and, by extension, the protector of the Court, embarked on a daring plan to relocate the emperor and the Court to Yamaguchi. High-ranking courtiers and performers of imperial rites moved to Yamaguchi, including dignitaries such as former regent Nijō Tadafusa, a kanpaku, or regent, and retired sadaijin, or grand minister, Sanjō Kinyori, the father-in-law of Takeda Shingen.

By the autumn of 1551, nearly the whole Court, save for the emperor himself and the palace ladies, was in Yamaguchi. The military establishment of the Ōuchi resented Yoshitaka’s apparent “weakness” and his plan to settle the Imperial Court in Yamaguchi – such a move would see privileges accorded to the courtiers and undermine their own standing within the Ōuchi clan. In September 1551, the faction led by Sue Harukata revolted and attempted to take over the Ōuchi clan in the Tainei Temple Incident. With the control of troops in Harukata’s hand, it was over in few days.  The courtiers and ministers were massacred and Yoshitaka, together with his son, Yoshihiro, were forced to perform seppuku at the Tainei Temple in Nagato Province.