Nagao Clan

Sentōin and Masakage

Echigo Province

Lifespan:   Daiei 4 (1524) or Kyōroku 1 (1528) to 2/15 of Keichō 14 (1609)

Other Names:  Ayahime

Clan:  Ueda-Nagao

Father:  Nagao Tamekage

Mother:  Daughter of the Uesugi clan

Husband:  Nagao Masakage

Children:  Yoshikage, Seienin (second wife of Uesugi Kagetora), Akikage (Uesugi Kagekatsu), Hana (wife of Jōjō Masashige (or Hatakeyama Yoshiharu))

Sentōin was a lady living in Japan from the Sengoku to early Edo periods.  She was the mother of Uesugi Kagekatsu, a daimyō and member of the Council of Five Elders during the Toyotomi administration.

Sentōin (first known as Ayahime) was born as the daughter of Nagao Tamekage, a sengoku daimyō in Echigo Province.  Her natural mother (the formal wife of Tamekage) was a daughter of the Jōjō-Uesugi clan while Uesugi Kenshin was her younger brother of a different mother.

Sentōin became the formal wife of Nagao Masakage of the Ueda-Nagao family.  The couple was engaged in 1551.  She bore two sons and two daughters.  The eldest son, Yoshikage, died at the age of ten, while the second son, Akikage (later known as Uesugi Kagekatsu), was adopted by Kenshin as his designated successor in the absence of a natural son.  According to military chronicles from the Edo period, the eldest daughter, Seienin, wed Hatakeyama Yoshiharu and the second daughter, Hana, wed Uesugi Kagetora (the natural son of Hōjō Ujiyasu).  Currently, however, it is understood that Seienin wed Uesugi Kagetora while Hana wed Jōjō Masashige (or Hatakeyama Yoshiharu who was adopted by Masashige).

In 1564, after Masakage drowned in Nojiri pond near Sakado Castle, Sentōin was invited by Kenshin to move to Kasugayama Castle.  In 1578, the death of Kenshin triggered a succession struggle in the Uesugi family between Kagetora and Seienin’s brother, Uesugi Kagekatsu.  This is known as the Otate Conflict.  At this time, Sentōin fled Kasugayama Castle (held by Uesugi Kagetora) and, together with her daughter, Seienin, and children holed-up in the Otate, a residence below Kasugayama Castle built for Uesugi Norimasa (the prior Kantō-kanrei, or deputy shōgun of the Kantō), which was also used by Kenshin for the conduct of political affairs.  After the conflict, she returned to Kasugayama Castle.  Later, Sentōin received protection from Kagekatsu and accompanied him during transfers to Aizu in 1598 and to Yonezawa in 1601.

In 1609, Sentōin died.  Her grave is at the Rinsen Temple in the city of Yonezawa.  Owing to her efforts toward its construction, she is called a founder/rejuvenator of the temple.  The actual characters to write her name are confirmed from the death register kept at the temple.  She is also said to have recommended Naoe Kanetsugu to serve as an attendant to Kagekatsu.

Sentōin enjoyed a smooth relationship with her husband, Masakage.  At the Jōkei Temple in the city of Yonezawa, there is a hanging scroll with a portrait of Sentōin and Masakage.  In the upper part are the mortuary tablets of the couple and the Buddhist names of Sentōin’s family and a depiction of the coming of Amida Buddha to welcome their spirits.  Owing to the young and informal appearance of Sentōin, it is surmised that she painted the scroll after the death of Masakage.  The Buddhist names of many family members lost during a succession struggle in the Uesugi family known as the Otate Conflict were separately added to pray for their souls over a long period.