The Yamada Incident occurred on 3/23 of Tenbun 21 (1552) and involved killings of family members arising from a succession struggle within the Munakata clan in Chikuzen Province in northern Kyūshū. Sue Harukata of Suō Province was said to have instigated the slayings in a bid to gain influence in the Munakata region. A series of conflicts within the Munakata clan are referred to as the Munakata Disturbance.
Course of events
During the Sengoku period, the Munakata clan was a landowner governing the Munakata region in Chikuzen Province. The clan served as the Ōmiyazukasa or high priest of the Munakata Shrine which wielded influence in the area.
The Munakata clan served the Ōuchi clan. In 1547, Munakata Masauji (the seventy-sixth head of the family) was succeeded by his adopted nephew, Munakata Ujio. Ujio wed the only daughter of Masauji named Kikuhime as his formal wife. After the death of Masauji, in the ninth month of 1551, Sue Harukata (a senior retainer of the Ōuchi) cornered his lord, Ōuchi Yoshitaka, at the Tainei Temple in Nagato Province whereupon Yoshitaka killed himself in an event known as the Tainei Temple Incident. Ujio, who had served Yoshitaka, was also killed at this time. This led to divisions within the Munakata clan with respect to the selection of a successor, with one faction supporting Ujio’s younger brother, Chiyomatsu, and another faction backing the illegitimate son of Masauji, Nabejumaru (later known as Ujisada).
In the midst of these circumstances, Harukata instructed Ishimatsu Norimune (also known as Ishimatsu Masabei Naosue) to carry out a plan on 3/23 of Tenbun 21 (1552) by which he slaughtered Masauji’s widow (Yamada-no-tsubone), Ujio’s widow (Kikuhime), and four lady’s maids (Koshōshō, Mikazuki, Sayo, and Hanao) at the Yamada residence in the foothills of Mount Haku in Chikuzen. The residence turned into a sea of bllod while the attackers pillaged the home of its valuables. The victims were buried behind the residence below the mountain cliffs. Chiyomatsu’s mother took him to the village of Kurate to hide, but those in the faction supporting Ujisada concluded that if Chiyomatsu were allowed to survive, one day there would be a calamity so assassins tracked down and killed both of them in the village of Yamaguchi in Miyawaka. The assassins buried them and marked the location by planting a pine tree, known as matsu.
Sue Harukata was a cousin of Ujisada and, in a bid to gain influence in the Munakata region, sent Ujisada from Suō, instigating the attack because he viewed Munakata Masauji as an impediment and sought to eliminate the role of his successors in the region.
After the incident, members of the Munakata family involved in the killings died one after another under mysterious circumstances, giving rise in the Munakata territory to rumors of revengeful ghosts connected to the incident.
Around the sixth anniversary of the event, when Ujisada’s younger sister, Irohime, was enjoying sugoroku ( a board game played with dice) with her mother, she suddenly displayed disheveled hair and shrieked at her mother claiming that she (Irohime) was the wife of Masauji (Yamada-no-tsubone) and was resentful for the killing of herself and her daughter (Kikuhime). As though possessed, she lunged at her mother’s throat, and after a throng of people nearby came to separate them, she yelled that today the widow would take revenge against the targets of her enmity, whereupon retainers who supported Ujisada were said to have suddenly died that same day. Before long, Irohime’s crazy behavior subsided, and, although the wound on her mother’s throat healed, she died of another illness.
After the Yamada Incident, Nabejumaru adopted the name of Ujisada and he became the eightieth high priest of the Munakata Shrine. He attributed numerous mysteries and misfortunes in the family and their territory to the tragic events in his youth, so he built a shrine in Tajima, donated land as a source of funding for events at the Zōfuku Temple, prepared flowers and incense, and invited numerous monks to hold a Buddhist memorial service for the six slain individuals including Kikuhime. Within his territory, he constructed fifty-six temples and endeavored for the repose and consolation of the souls of the victims, but, the curse of the revengeful spirits persisted toward the descendants of those who were the target of revenge. After the death of Ujisada, his widow named Saitsuru arranged for six Jizo (guardian deity of children) statues to be placed in the Zōfuku Temple to console the souls of the victims. She also donated memorial funds to the Entsū Temple and the 今宮殿 to mourn for Chiyomatsumaru and his mother.
The Ishimatsu clan that ordered the killing of Kikuhime and the others along with the families of Nonaka Kageyu and Mine Genba who carried out the attack were cursed, giving rise to well-known stories in Munakata. Rumors of the revengeful ghost of Kikuhime continue to persist to this day.