The Success of Tsugaru Tamenobu

Throughout Japan’s history, there have been a number of personalities and figures that really stood out because of the wars that happened.  In Tokyo alone, there had been dozens of historic fights that happened but a perfect example of such a stage wherein warriors got to showcase their skills was the Boshin War which happened at the start of the Meiji Restoration. During that same period of time, there was a man that rose in power, not only for his skills as a warrior but also because of his skills in politics. His name is Tsugaru Tamenobu and learning about him should be interesting because he is only one of a few people in Japanese history that succeeded in his conquests in life by doing things in his unique way.

By 不明。 (弘前城資料館収蔵(革秀寺蔵)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Story behind Tsugaru Tamenobu’s Name

Initial research on this man would instantly reveal to you the information that he was a Japanese daimyo that started his office during the late Sengoku period until the early Edo Period wherein the Tokugawa military government ruled. It would also probably show you that he died a couple of months before the month of July in the year of 1607. Tamenobu, in the early stages of his life, was known as Oura Tamenobu. This was because he was the son of Oura Norinobu and resided in the Oura Castle.

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He would eventually be adopted by his uncle, Tameaki, and it would be him that he mentors into the lord of Oura. It was also during this time in his life that he also served the Nanbu family as a vassal. While he was the lord of Oura, he defeated strong enemies in battle like Kitabatake Akimura. Victories tend to make a person braver and in the year of 1581, his bravery would reach a milestone as he went against the Nanbu clan to establish himself as an independent power.

This made the relationship between the two clans very tense because the Oura clan was actually a branch family of the Nanbu clan line, who was also the daimyo family for the Morioka Domain. In a sense, Tamenobu’s declaration of wanting to be an independent power technically was also an indirect declaration of the beginning of a familial war due to the conditions. To certify his seriousness with his declaration, one of the first things he did was to attack Ishikawa Takanobu. This was a big deal because Oura Tamenobu actually worked for Ishikawa Takanobu as the Nanbu clan’s local magistrate. This clan war would continue on while the Nanbu clan had Nanbu Nobunao as their head.

Eventually, Tamenobu would give his support to Toytomi Hideyoshi and this alliance would force him to participate in Hideyoshi’s Odawara Campaign in the year of 1590. It was also in this year that Tamenobu would official change his name from Oura Tamenobu to Tsugaru Tamenobu in honor of the whole Tsugaru region that was practically under his control already during those times.

The Different Stories about Tsugaru Tamenobu Based on the Nanbu and Tsugaru Clans

By Mukai (Mukai's file) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Whenever a coin is flipped, you are always certain that there will be an ura or a hidden side. This ideology also applies to historic stories sometimes because of how one side of the story can turn out to be a completely different story on the other side of the tale. Considering the degree of familial ties involved in the battles between the Tsugaru and the Nanbu, it is almost inevitable to have just one version of certain events in their history.

A perfect example of such an event would be when Tamenobu technically declared war against the Nanbu clan. This declaration was the main act that pushed Tamenobu to drive the Nanbu forces out of their critical castles like the Ishikawa, Daikoji, and Aburakawa castles. According to the accounts of the Tsugaru clan, Tamenobu was able to accomplish these victories because of his genius in the battlefield. Of course, this praise for his tactical skill was not mentioned at all in the accounts of the Nanbu clan because according to their records, Tamenobu won those battles not because of his superiority in tactics but because of his usage of cheap tricks like poisoning the lords of the said castles so that the lords and their forces could not fight a fair fight.

As anticlimactic as it may be and however you try to put it or cover it up, whether or not he did use cheap tricks to win doesn’t matter now because during those times, a victory was a victory and no reasoning or method of winning can ever change that undeniable fact. This wasn’t anything like a university competition wherein a team or a person could be disqualified if they disobeyed certain rules and regulations. In those times of war, sadly, the end did justify the means.

How Tamenobu Succeeded by Using His Wits

By そらみみ [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

Tamenobu was a skilled warrior but his skills in war alone wouldn’t have gotten as far as he did in his lifetime. He succeeded to rise in influence, power, and land by choosing the right people to support. He supported Hideyoshi, and in return, he grew his resources tremendously with the spoils of war. This wasn’t his best move yet though because that would certainly have to be the decision he made in the year of 1600.

It was the year that the Battle of Sekigahara happened and in that battle, Tsugaru Tamenobu chose the right side to support once again by choosing Tokugawa Ieyasu in his Sekigahara Campaign. After Tokugawa and his allies won, the clan of Tamenobu was given a large increase in their territory as a reward. In addition to the growth in territory, they were also allowed to keep the domain of Hirosaki.  Koku was the term they used to describe the largest of an area and according to the data of the historians, the domain of Tsugaru grew from 45,000 koku to 100,000 koku in a matter of months.

Eventually, their clan would grow strong and big enough to expand once more. With this being said, in the year of 1656, there was a major branch of the Tsugaru clan that was created. This particular branch of their family was initially given the ranking called hatamoto but as they progressed, they reached the ranking of daimyo status. With this, they became the daimyo family of the Kuroishi Domain or the Kuroishi-han.

All of this was attained by lowering his pride and using his wits. It clearly had very little to do with his skills in fighting because his choices on who to support put him in a situations or positions wherein all he had to do was give support and not take the lead. If he wasn’t as smart as he was, he might have engaged in wars with the people who decided to support in reality and if that happened, there would be no way that Tamenobu would reach the heights that he reached with the help of the great lords that he aided in battle. It is for this reason why Tamenobu was a unique character of his time.

Others might think or say that all he did was led other people fight for his fights but if you really look closely in the details of these events, you will eventually realize that it might have been the other way around. He might have let them think he was handing people like Hideyoshi and Ieyasu control over his men for the same cause these leaders had, but, on the other hand, he might have just known or trusted his gut that those people would succeed and that he would be able to ride that wave of success if he went about things with them the right way. After all, there are no codes or articles that ever made that way of rising into power a dishonorable one.

People may not agree or approve of how Tamenobu got things done but there is no denying that he was a winner of his time because of the choices he made. He had some help here and there to get to where he was but if you look into what he did when he reached the peak of his career, you will realize that his success was also a product of his skills in politics. Through politics, he was able to continuously grow the value of their territory without the need for further bloodshed.

In a time when bloodshed was the primary way in getting what you wanted, this man found an alternative way to do it and for that, he should be recognized as a pioneer of his time. He was a great leader and a man who really stood by what he believed in. Taking into account all the wealth that he was able to provide his clan, he should also be certainly recognized as a grand provider, in addition to all the things mentioned about him above. With all the information about Tsugaru Tamenobu laid out in front of you, how you decided to see him and recognize him would be completely up to you. Just don’t forget to consider both sides of his stories when you do your research to get a wider perspective on what type of man he was during his time.