The Nabeshima Disturbance occurred in 1607 (in the early Edo period) as a disturbance involving the Saga domain of Hizen Province. In particular, this relates to the usurpation of the Ryūzōji clan by the Nabeshima clan in the wake of the death in battle of Ryūzōji Takanobu. Related to this incident is a legend known as the Ghost Cat of the Nabeshima Disturbance described at the end of this section.
In 1584, Ryūzōji Takanobu (a sengoku daimyō based in Hizen Province) was killed in a pincer attack by Shimazu and Arima forces at the Battle of Okitanawate. Takanobu was succeeded by Ryūzōji Masaie. Owing to Masaie’s frail health, Nabeshima Naoshige, a senior retainer and younger brother-in-law of Takanobu, took control of governing Hizen. In 1590, upon orders of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Masaie was compelled to retire while his eldest son, Ryūzōji Takafusa, inherited the headship of the clan. Hideyoshi issued to Takafusa a written license with his seal to guarantee the security of his landholdings. At the same time, he acknowledged a fief of 44,000 koku for Nabeshima Naoshige and 7,000 koku for his eldest son, Nabeshima Katsushige. Thus, although the Nabeshima were retainers of the Ryūzōji clan, Hideyoshi gave them official recognition of landholdings on a par with a daimyō. Meanwhile, in so doing, he implicitly acknowledged their governance of the province. Once deployments began for the Bunroku Campaign on the Korean Peninsula, Naoshige and Katsushige led the Ryūzōji army across the sea to Korea.
Following the death of Hideyoshi, the next ruler of the country, Tokugawa Ieyasu, ignored the Ryūzōji clan and recognized the governance by the Nabeshima clan of Hizen Province. Therefore, Ryūzōji Takafusa was relegated to service as the nominal lord of the province under the supervision of Ieyasu. Having matured, Takafusa felt despair with his position, so, on 3/3 of Keichō 12 (1607), after stabbing to death his wife at his residence in Sakurada in Edo, intended to take his own life. His retainers stopped him at the last moment and he received medical attention so he survived, but his injuries were more severe than realized, so gradually he lost his spirit and aimed to take his own life again. This time, the wound on his belly split and caused a lot of bleeding, after which, on 9/6, he died. His father, Masaie, suffered severe heartache, and, owing to frail health, on 10/2, soon followed Takafusa in death. This marked the bitter end of the main branch of the Ryūzōji family. After his regrettable demise, Takafusa’s remains were cremated in Edo and interred at the Yasunaga Temple (affiliated with the Nanzen Temple branch of the Rinzai sect) below Saga Castle.
The remaining branches of the Ryūzōji, including the Taku, the Suko, and the Isahaya clans, gathered behind Nabeshima Katsushige to become the successor to Takafusa. Katsushige was the eldest son of the meritorious retainer named Nabeshima Naoshige who had brought prosperity to the main branch of the Ryūzōji family. The Edo bakufu agreed with their recommendation, resulting in the formal establishment of the Saga domain with the Nabeshima clan serving as the lords of Hizen. In 1613, the bakufu issued a written license with a seal to Naoshige recognizing the landholdings of the Saga domain totaling 357,000 koku.
While the transfer of power from the Ryūzōji to the Nabeshima itself was not problematic, the death of Takafusa, followed by the early death of the son of Nabeshima Katsushige, gave rise to a series of rumors, including that the ghost of Takafusa had appeared, dressed in white clothing, and riding on a horse around the town at night. This story evolved so that the cat previously kept by Takafusa became a wandering ghost seeking revenge against Naoshige and Katsushige. Ultimately, the cat was exterminated by loyal retainers of the Nabeshima clan. In an effort to calm the spirits of the Ryūzōji, Naoshige built the Tenyū Temple.
The deaths of Takafusa and Masaie did not mark the end of the main branch of the Ryūzōji family. Takafusa’s son, Ryūzōji Sueaki, and Takafusa’s younger brother, Ryūzōji Shuzen, survived. In 1607, both of them were still young so were ignored while, upon orders of Naoshige, Sueaki entered the priesthood.
In 1634, Sueaki and Shuzen made an earnest appeal to the Edo bakufu to revive the Ryūzōji family. This appeal continued until 1642, but the bakufu refused to grant their request. A verdict was rendered by which Sueaki was sent to Hoshina Masayuki of the Aizu domain in Mutsu Province while Shuzen was sent to the Yamato-Kōriyama domain. Consequently, the prospect of a revival of the Ryūzōji family came to an end.
After having usurped the authority of the Ryūzōji family, Naoshige finally died on 6/3 of Genna 4 (1618) at the age of eighty-one. At this time, Naoshige had a tumor in an ear, and, advanced in age, died in agony. This led to rumors that his painful death was retribution from the departed spirit of Takafusa.
Legend – the Ghost Cat of the Nabeshima Disturbance
One of the legends is associated with Nabeshima Mitsushige, the second head of the Saga domain of Hizen. In this story, Mitsushige took disfavor with a retainer named Ryūzōji Matashichirō who served as his competitor in the board game of go, whereupon Mitsushige slayed him. Beside herself with grief, Matashichirō’s mother who cared for his cat then killed herself. After licking her blood, the cat became a ghost, entered the castle, and tormented Mitsushige each night. The cat was then exterminated by a loyal retainer of Mitsushige named Komori Hanzaemon and the Nabashima domain was rescued.
In later years, legends of the ghost cat from Saga became well-known through plays, books, and movies. In one story, a cat possessed by the resentment of the widow of the Ryūzōji clan cannibalizes the mother and wife of Komori Hanzaemon, cursing the home with their spirits. In another account, a cat that becomes possessed after mistreatment by Komori Handayū (a retainer of the Nabeshima domain) cannibalizes his lover, transforms into her appearance, and exacts revenge against the home, but is later exterminated by Itō Kōta and others. Meanwhile, one play performed in the late Edo period gained widespread popularity but was later canceled owing to complaints from representatives of the Nabeshima domain.