Nanbu Harumasa: The 24th Hereditary Chieftain of His Clan

Japan has such a rich culture and history that there is truly much to be learned about how Japan used to be. Among the many phases that Japan went through centuries ago is the feudal period. Back then, Japan was known as feudal Japan. There were several alliances amongst numerous clans as well as battles and sieges against one another. Among the many clans known during the Sengoku period is the Nanbu clan. The Nanbu clan had several samurais that it was proud of having with one of them being Nanbu Harumasa.

The Origins of Harumasa’s Clan

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First off, one may wonder how the Nanbu clan, where Nanbu Harumasa belonged, came to be. The origins of the Nanbu clan can be traced back to the Seiwa Genji of the province of Kai. Just after the Gosannen War, a man named Minamoto no Yoshimitsu was granted ownership of the province of Kai. He and his whole family relocated to the Kai Province.  Minamoto no Yoshimitsu lived long enough and reached the birth of his great-grandchildren.

One of his great-grandsons whose name was Nobuyoshi chose to take on the surname Takeda. However, another one of his great-grandsons whose name is Mitsuyuki decided to take on the name of “Nanbu.” This name was taken after the location where his estates lied, which was also in the province of Kai. Specifically, this location was situated in the town of Nanbu found in Yamanashi.

Now bearing the name Nanbu Mitsuyuki, he provided assistance and joined Minamoto Yoritomo in the Battle of Ishibashiyama. During the Kamakura shogunate, Mitsuyuki also served in several mid-level positions that strengthened his place in the shogunate. The actions of Mitsuyuki made him well-known to the point that he was even mentioned in the Azuma kagami a number of times.

Proving loyal to Minamoto Yoritomo, Mitsuyuki again provided assistance in the conquest of the Hiraizumi Fujiwara, which occurred in the year 1189. Because of this unwavering loyalty, Mitsuyuki was granted with huge pieces of land located in the district of Nukanobu, which was situated in the northeast portion of the region of Honshu. There, Mitsuyuki grew and expanded his clan. Later on, he even built the Shojujidate Castle. The castle is located in what is now known as Nanbu, Aomori.

Horse ranches dominated the estates of the Nanbu clan. Because warhorses were in demand during this period of time, the Nanbu clan became a supplier of warhorses. The Nanbu family solidified their position in the land, grew powerful, and became wealthy. Their horse ranches served as fortified stockades.

The horse ranches were labeled from one to nine, which was from Ichinoge to Kunohe in Japanese. These horse ranches were highly valued at the time. They served as awards to the six sons that Nanbu Mitsuyuki sired. This also formed the six primary branches of the Nanbu clan.

The Kamakura shogunate eventually fell in the year 1333. What followed the Kamakura shogunate was the Nanboku-cho period. During this period, Nanbu Motoyuki, a member of one of the branches of the Nanbu clan, went north with Kitabatake Akiie. This was due to his appointment as the Commander-in-Chief of the Defense of the North. During this time, he was also appointed as the Shugo of the province of Mutsu.

Upon his arrival in the province of Mutsu, Nanbu Motoyuki set about building the Ne Castle. The intention of this construction was for this castle to become a center for the imperial government administration in the estate. The establishment of Ne Castle served as the mark of the official transfer of the seat of the Nanbu clan. From then on, the Nanbu clan had officially moved from the province of Kai to the province of Mutsu.

During his time, Nanbu Motoyuki pledged his allegiance to the Southern Imperial Court. However, a conflict emerged when another branch of the Nanbu clan pledged their allegiance to the Northern Imperial Court, which was the rival of the Southern Imperial Court. This branch of the Nanbu clan resided and ruled the close areas of Sannohe and Morioka. Although it was hard within the Nanbu clan to fix their issues with one another, having pledged to rival imperial courts, these two branches were able to eventually reconcile in the year 1393.

An Overview of Nanbu Harumasa’s Life

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With such a great clan to belong to, one of the many well-known members of the Nanbu family was Nanbu Harumasa. A son of Nanbu Yasunobu, Nanbu Harumasa became a warlord when the clan was already residing in the province of Mutsu. He succeeded his father as the daimyo of the Nanbu clan in the year 1540.

Though his name was rather unique during his time, his use of the name “Haru” was only granted by the shogun Ashikaga Yoshiharu in the year 1539. Just like some of his ancestors, Harumasa also had conquests of his own. One of his attacks was against the Tozawa clan to the south. Emerging victorious, Harumasa was able to seize the district of Iwate.

One of his famous battles was his war against the Akita clan of the region of Ugo. This feud began in the late 1550s. The leadership of Nanbu Harumasa was effective and highly regarded by his peers and the members of his clan. His attacks were also known to be fast and efficient. Because of these, Harumasa ensured that the status of the Nanbu clan became among the most powerful and influential families in the northern province of Mutsu.

While Harumasa had several conquests where he emerged the winner, he also suffered some losses during his lifetime. For one, he was defeated during the rebellion of the Oura (Tsugaru) in the year 1581. He sired a son and named him Nanbu Harutsugu. Harutsugu eventually succeeded Harumasa’s position after Harumasa passed away.

Unfortunately, Harutsugu passed relatively early in the year 1582. Harumasa had an adopted son by the name of Nanbu Nobunao. Nobunao was, later on, named the heir after the passing of Harutsugu. Nobunao did not fail his adoptive father Harumasa and went on to rule over the estates of their family.

Harumasa’s Governance During the Sengoku Period

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Harumasa ruled the estates of the clan and its people during the Sengoku period. He was the 24th hereditary chieftain of his clan. The clan had control over seven districts of the northern province of Mutsu, namely, Nukanobu, Kazuno, Iwate, Tono, Hei, Kuji, and Shiwa. However, the family had issues when it came to a strong central authority even though Harumasa was already chieftain. Instead of being solidified as a single clan, the Nanbu clan was composed of branches that constantly competed against one another.

This weakness was seen by the Oura clan as an opportunity to revolt. The Oura clan was initially a cadet branch of the Nanbu clan. Tired of being under the governance of the main branch of the Nanbu family, the Oura clan wanted more power. Seeing this weak spot of the Nanbu clan, the Oura clan planned their rebellion and eventually took action in the year 1572. The leader of this rebellion was Oura Tamenobu.

Tamenobu served as a vice-district magistrate, which was known as gundai hosa in Japanese, under Ishikawa Takanobu, who served as the local magistrate of the Nanbu clan. During his rebellion, Tamenobu attacked the local magistrate and ended up killing Ishikawa. After this, Tamenobu started to seize the castles of the Nanbu clan.

Another local power figure known as Kitabatake Akimura was also attacked by Tamenobu. Emerging a winner, Tamenobu was able to take over Namioka Castle. This feud between the Oura clan and the Nanbu clan continued for two centuries. The fight was passed on from Nanbu Harumasa to his adopted son Nanbu Nobunao.

Tamenobu eventually pledged allegiance to Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the year 1590. Having been confirmed in the holdings of Hideyoshi, Tamenobu was able to remove himself from the grasp of the Nanbu clan. The Oura also altered its name to “Tsugaru” based on the region they were in, which was the region of Tsugaru located on the northwestern portion of the region of Honshu.

Nanbu Harumasa eventually passed away in the year 1582. His death was one of the catalysts that caused the clan to be separated into numerous factions competing against one another. His eventual heir Nanbu Nobunao headed the Sannohe faction. This branch, together with several branches of the Nanbu clan, also pledged allegiance to Hideyoshi in the year 1590. This occurred at the Siege of Odawara.

As a result of this allegiance, the adopted son of Harumasa was acknowledged as the chieftain of the many branches of the Nanbu clan. Furthermore, he was also recognized as the daimyo of his current holdings except for Tsugaru. On the other hand, Kunohe Masazane also wanted to claim the title of Harumasa’s adopted son as the chieftain of the clan.

Believing to have a stronger claim to the title, Masazane formed a rebellion against Nobunao. This rebellion was known as the Kunohe Rebellion. Thankfully, this revolt was quickly suppressed before it got out of hand. Hideyoshi provided compensation to the Nanbu clan due to its loss of Tsugaru. Hence, two districts were added to the existing holdings of the Nanbu clan, namely, the district of Hienuki and the district of Waga.

Harumasa’s adopted son, Nanbu Nobunao learned greatly from his known father. He decided to move his seat from Sannohe Castle to Morioka. He saw this location as a more central option in comparison to Sannohe Castle. He began to build Morioka Castle and the castle town surrounding it in the year 1592. 

Harumasa’s Eventual Heir, Nanbu Nobunao

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Nanbu Harumasa sired a son named Nanbu Harutsugu. However, because his son died soon after the succession, Harumasa’s position was filled in by his adopted son Nanbu Nobunao. Even though Harumasa did not sire Nobunao, the latter still learned greatly from his adopted father. Harumasa was instrumental in the learning and honing of skills of Nobunao.

Born in the year 1546, Nanbu Nobunao was the biological son of Ishikawa (Nanbu) Takanobu. After his father passed away, his uncle Nanbu Harumasa took on the role of being a father to Nobunao. Harumasa’s son also died in the year 1582, which led to Nobunao eventually being recognized as the head of the Nanbu clan.

After Harumasa passed away, Nobunao, as the head of the Nanbu clan, took on the responsibility of making decisions that he thought was best for his clan. One of these decisions was pledging allegiance to Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the year 1590. His submission to Hideyoshi was apparent when he sent horses amounting to a hundred and hawks amounting to fifty as tributes as well as to show his sincerity to Hideyoshi.

Nobunao also provided assistance in defeating Kunoe Masazane. Kunoe Masazane was known to be the last independent daimyo in Japan. Due to his rebellion, many people suffered and died. After the defeat of Masazane with the help of Nanbu Nobunao and his clan among others, Japan was once again unified as one. Masazane was defeated in the year 1591.

After this conquest, Nobunao started to work on Morioka Castle. Aside from this, Nobunao also began to build the town surrounding the castle in the year 1597. Sadly, just two years after the beginning of this construction, Nanbu Nobunao passed away in the year 1599. He had a son by the name of Nanbu Toshinao who continued his work and legacy.

As the Nanbu clan just moved in Morioka, his son Toshinao was the first daimyo of Morioka domain. As the eldest son of Nobunao, Toshinao became the 27th hereditary chieftain of their clan. He helped in the completion of Morioka Castle. Furthermore, he also supported the developed of copper mines in their area.

Toshinao also accomplished other endeavors that surely made his father and adopted great-grandfather proud. He helped solidify the position of the Nanbu clan in Morioka. Furthermore, the people in their property also prospered alongside their victories in his conquests and developments as daimyo of the Nanbu clan.