Inokuma Incident


The Inokuma Incident occurred in the seventh month of Keichō 14 (1609) as a scandal involving numerous senior officials in the Imperial Court.  Not only did this incident expose chaos among the nobility, it served as a catalyst for the Edo bakufu to assert control over the Imperial Court and for the subsequent abdication of Emperor Goyōzei (the 107th emperor of Japan from 1586 to 1611).

Inokuma Noritoshi

As a cadet family of the Yamashina, the Inokuma were a family of nobility with a fief of 200 koku.  Inokuma Noritoshi, the head of the Inokuma family, was known as an exceptionally handsome young man comparable to Hikaru Genji of the famous account known as the Genji mongatari, or Ariwara no Narihira, a noble and composer from the Heian period.  Moreover, his hair style and method of tying his waistband reflected the spirit of kabukimono, a sub-culture of individuals residing in metropolitan areas during the early Edo period who favored extravagant attire, whimsical behavior, and a particular interest in the arts.  His fashion, called Inokuma-yō, gained popularity in Kyōto.  From early on, however, Noritoshi had a habit of philandering with court ladies as well as married women, garnering the ignoble reputation of being “the worst offender among nobles.”

While in his youth, Noritoshi inherited the Takakura family, but owing to circumstances in the family and Imperial Court, he was appointed as the head of the Yamashina family.  Later, he was removed from the line of succession and became the head of the newly formed Inokuma family.  Moving from one family to another with whom he had no blood relationship posed a difficult challenge which may have had an influence on his later behaviors.

In the second month of 1607, Noritoshi’s illicit relationships with court ladies became known.  This news upset Emperor Goyōzei who responded by censuring (or disowning) Noritoshi.  Noritoshi was punished with banishment from Kyōto.  He initially tried to abscond but then soon returned to the capital.  Thereafter, his behavior did not change and, to the contrary, he solicited other nobles and continued illicit relationships with court ladies.

Profligacy among the nobility

At one time, Kasannoin Tadanaga, a noble with the title of Major General of Imperial Guards of the Left Division, fell in love with Hirohashi-no-tsubone, the daughter of Hirohashi Kanekatsu (the Chief Councilor of State and buke-tensō, or intermediary for communications between the Emperor and the military families) who was also cherished by Emperor Goyōzei.  Tadanaga then requested a dentist named Kaneyasu Bingo who was permitted frequent access to the Imperial Court (whose younger sister, Sanuki, also served as a high-ranking court lady) to serve as an intermediary for written communications.  By this means, Tadanaga and Hirohashi-no-tsubone began a series of secret rendezvous.  News of these liaisons sparked the interest of Noritoshi and, beginning with Asukai Masakata with whom he had a prior friendship, proceeded to attract other nobles and court ladies to engage in group orgies in various locations.

Promiscuous behavior by so many people could not go unnoticed.  Some of the women resented Asukai Masakata.  At the time, the Matsushita family (descended from the Kamō clan) surpassed the Asukai family in the family business of kemari, or kickball, and a license for the activity was also issued to the Matsushita family.  In an era when the revenue of manors had largely ended and family businesses became an important source of income, the Asukai could not accept the conduct of kemari activities by the Matsushita and appealed to the bakufu.  In 1608, a verdict was rendered in favor of the Asukai.  A daughter of the Matsushita family serving in the palace eavesdropped on secret conversations about the illicit activities of court ladies and sought to frame nobles in the detested Asukai family by detailing their activities to the Emperor.

In the seventh month of 1609, Emperor Goyōzei finally learned of the acts of promiscuity which incurred the Imperial wrath.  Understanding that the activities had been discovered, the nimble Noritoshi fled to Kyūshū.  To avoid capture, he is said to have even contemplated sailing to Korea.

Intervention by the Kyōto shoshidai

Angered by the events, Emperor Goyōzei ordered that all of those involved in promiscuous acts be sentenced to death, but the existing laws governing nobles did not have a death penalty.  Moreover, at the time, the authority of the Edo bakufu reached to the noble class and the bakufu had the rights to conduct an investigation.  Upon hearing of the situation, Tokugawa Ieyasu, the Ōgosho or former shōgun of the Edo bakufu, ordered Itakura Katsushige (the Kyōto shoshidai, or director of security in Kyōto) and his third son, Itakura Shigemasa, to conduct an investigation.

In the course of the investigation, it was learned that more individuals than expected were involved so it was feared that if all of them were sentenced to death, it would trigger chaos.  Furthermore, the shoshidai was informed that Shinjō Tōmonin (Kajūji Haruko, the mother of Emperor Goyōzei) fervently appealed for lenient measures.  Following numerous communications between Ieyasu in Sunpu and Katsushige in Kyōto, a plan was formulated for the punishments.

In the ninth month, Noritoshi, who went underground in Hyūga Province, was apprehended and taken to Kyōto.  On 9/23, Katsushige returned from Sunpu and announced the punishments of eight nobles, five court ladies, and one lower-level official.  Emperor Goyōzei was very dissatisfied with the punishments, but prominent Court officials led by Shinjō Tōmonin approved so the punishments were confirmed.

On 10/17, Noritoshi was executed at the Jōzen Temple and Kaneyasu Yoritsugu was executed on the riverbed of the Kamo River.


Despite asserting that all of those involved in the incident be sentenced to death, Emperor Goyōzei was persuaded by those around him to consent to less harsh measures proposed by the bakufu.  In despair at being unable to respond as desired, thereafter, he frequently stated that he would abdicate his position.

From an earlier time, Emperor Goyōzei desired to abdicate the throne to his younger brother, Imperial Prince Hachijō-no-miya Toshihito, but the prince had earlier connections to Toyotomi Hideyoshi and, owing to friction between the Toyotomi family and the bakufu, the bakufu was not supportive of the transition.  Moreover, this did not align with the wishes of Tokugawa Ieyasu who sought to have Masako (the daughter of Tokugawa Hidetada later known as Tōfuku-Monin) wed the son of Emperor Goyōzei, Prince Kotohito (later known as Emperor Gomizuno-o) so Emperor Goyōzei was stalled from abdicating his position.  In the end, the abdication to Prince Kotohito was deferred until 1611.  With respect to the entry to the Imperial palace by Masako, another notable event known as the Madam Oyotsu Incident occurred in 1619 involving the younger sister of Noritoshi.

Meanwhile, the bakufu identified this as an opportunity to strengthen their control over the nobles at once, resulting, in 1613, in the enactment of the Laws for Nobles.  This was followed, in 1615, by additional regulations governing the actions of nobles associated with the Imperial Palace.