Throughout Japan’s rich history, you can find numerous clans that have had an influence on how Japan turned out to be. Some clans were known because of all the wars they were able to win while others were known for their political strength and influence as well as what they were able to do with it. There were also clans that became well known because of the great story behind their rise to power and a perfect example of such a clan is the Miyoshi clan.
The Origin and Background of the Miyoshi Clan
Much like the other Japanese clans, the Miyoshi clan also descended from the bloodline of an Emperor. In this case, it was Emperor Seiwa as well as the Minamoto clan through the Seiwa and Genji clans. If those weren’t enough accolades, you should know that the Miyoshi clan also happened to be a cadet branch of the Takeda and Ogasawara clans. With these things being said, it becomes clear that they were an influential family from the very beginning of their existence.
Prior to being called the Miyoshi, they were of the Ogasawara clan through Ogasawara Nagafusa. In the 14th century, Nagafusa decided to settle down with his lady in Shikoku. 8 generations later, his descendant would settle down in the Miyoshi district of the Awa province. He liked the place so much, then decided to take its name and that is how the Miyoshi clan was born into the world.
It may seem too simple to believe but this did actually happen quite a lot during those particular times in Japan. People in power or those in high positions in the government took the names of the places they loved for their own. It served both the person and the place because the place would be recognized or gain attention through the actions of the people who took its name and the people would be recognized by the beauty and size of the place or land that they took their name from.
They served the Hosokawa clan commendably as their vassals during the time when the Hosokawa clan was one of the most powerful clans in Shikoku. This period was actually during the Sengoku period. There were many branches of the Hosokawa trying to gain an advantage in taking the position of kanrei so the Miyoshi, as the retainers of the Hosokawa clan under Hosokawa Sumimoto, aided this purposes.
Destiny has a funny way of presenting itself at the right time and this usually leaves you in awe of how one thing could relate to another after some time. In the case of the Miyoshi clan, destiny blessed them with Miyoshi Motonaga’s father, Miyoshi Yukinaga, who paved the way for the Miyoshi clan to rise eventually. Of course, during the time that he aided Sumimoto, he did not know the fortunate ripple it would create for his clan in the decades to come because it would be these ripples that would lead to the most prosperous times for their clan. It was in the year of 1506 that Yukinaga led an army with Sumimoto against Hosokawa Masamoto. They attacked Masamoto in Kyoto and this attack forced Masamoto to flee the capital.
A couple of interesting events followed this like the murder of Hosokawa Masamoto by the hands of Kozai and Sumiyuki. There was also an Ouchi army which supported Hosokawa Takakuni and Ashikaga Yoshitane that drove Yukinaga and Sumimoto to leave Kyoto and go to Shikoku. This fight over Kyoto did not end as control of the area would interchange between the two parties for a couple of years. This would eventually end when in the year of 1520, Takakuni was able to completely shut down the Sumimoto faction in Kyoto with the help of the Rokkaku which inevitably led to Yukinaga getting cornered. He opted to die via the honorable way of the samurai so he committed the tradition of seppuku. For those who do not know, the act of seppuku is when a samurai decided to take his own life through self-disembowelment. The belief behind is it that it shows honor through bravery because taking your own life is better than enslavement or capture. It exemplifies the fact that one can truly be free from the fear of death.
The Story of Miyoshi Motonaga
Aside from the fact that Miyoshi Motonaga’s dad was Miyoshi Yukinaga, not much can be found about the younger years of Miyoshi Motonaga.There are a couple of interesting facts about these years like how he also went by the name Miyoshi Nagamoto but there most details recorded of his life were certainly focused on the latter parts of his life. He had four children who were namely Miyoshi Nagayoshi, Miyoshi Yukiyasu A.K.A Jikkyu, Miyoshi Fuyuyasu A.K.A Atagi, and Miyoshi Kazunari A.K.A Sogo.
Motonaga’s story picks up a year after his father died. In the year of 1521, he was recorded that he finally completed the work he was doing on the Miyoshi stronghold which was located in Settsu, particularly in Saki. This stronghold was referred to by his father as the “Mandokoro”. Like his father, he served the Hosokawa clan as a retainer and it was a man named Hosokawa Harumoto that he acted on behalf of.
He was good at what he did and it showed when he was able to successfully aid Hosokawa Harumoto and Ashikaga Yoshitsuna in their bid for power and influence. He even got them to lodge at the Sakai which, during those times, was a port town near Osaka that served as a major center for trading and other merchant activities. It was also the center for arts and culture which basically meant it had all the attractions an area could offer during those times in Japan so for him to get them a place in such a crowded area was a big hint of how good he was as a retainer or server. He always seemed to find a way to get something using only what he had available to him and that is a skill that cannot be learned by just anyone. The skill of great resourcefulness made him a formidable opponent for anybody but what really made him dangerous was the fact that he knew how to fully utilize his skills to put him at a great advantage.
He was able to aid Harumoto until he assumed the rank of kanrei and with the power of kanrei, he chose to retain Ashikaga Yoshiharu as shogun. Unfortunately, the years that followed this success were the moments that the Miyoshi clan slowly pulled away from the Hosokawa clan as they tried to become powerful as well. They would inevitably clash again with Miyoshi Motonaga challenging Harumoto. Harumoto knew how formidable of an opponent Motonaga was so he immediately allied himself with the monks of the Ishiyama Honganji who were known for this warlike tendencies. With the help of the monks, they were able to trap Motonaga and force him to end his life just like his father did. This happened in the year of 1532.
The Good Times That Followed
Considering the fact that Motonaga loyally served Harumoto as a retainer, he showed no class in the way he decided to trap Motonaga to get rid of him without a sweat. Fortunately, karma exists in this world and that is exactly what Harumoto got from the next generation the Miyoshi clan. If you search the wikimedium, you will find that Motonaga would be redeemed by no other than his own boy, Miyoshi Nagayoshi. He was born on March 10th in the year of 1522 and he was the eldest son of Motonaga.
He didn’t have an easy start to his life. After his father died, he had to struggle with his uncle, Miyoshi Masanaga, to gain back some power. In the year of 1539, he would make his first big move as he led an army into Kyoto to negotiate an alliance with the Hosokawa clan. They were able to find common ground but for the alliance to push through, Masanaga and Nagayoshi had to defeat Hosokawa Ujitsuna, who was a thorn in Harumoto’s scheme to become more influential and powerful.
In the year of 1543, they were able to drive out Ujitsuna from the Sakai area and immediately after this victory, Nagayoshi placed a person that he trusted to manage the administration. This was none other than his younger brother, Sogo Kazunari. Ujitsuna would eventually try his luck in reclaiming the Sakai area in the year of 1546 but his advances were thwarted by Nagayoshi with the help of the political aid given by the members of the city of Sakai as well as his brothers who were in Shikoku.
It was unclear whether or not he had a grudge against his uncle but in the year of 1558, Nagayoshi would suddenly go behind Masanaga's back and eliminate him with the help of Ujitsuna who was keeping Masanaga very preoccupied. This act and seeming change in behavior by Nagayoshi was commemorated by his decision to change his name to Chokei. It was only a matter of time before he would show his intentions to get back at Hosokawa Harumoto in a grand way as he laid siege to the Miyake castle a year after he got rid of Masanaga.
The moves that Nagayoshi made catapulted the power of the Miyoshi clan to new heights as it extended its influence into the Yamato region after the year of 1550. He became a daimyo and then made even more alliances like the one he made with Tsutsui but despite all the power and allies he gained, he remained dependent of the support of his brothers as well as Matsunaga Hisahide. He died in his own time and on his own terms so, in a way, he had the most successful lied of the 3 generations mentioned here.
These generations of the Miyoshi clan were really able to clearly show a category or level that was reached by every succeeding generation. Much like the company called Suzuki that grew and grew in their industry throughout the years, so too did the Miyoshi clan as they transitioned from Yukinaga, who simply served, to Motonaga, who served and then ruled, to Nagayoshi, who successfully ruled. The thing that is so nice about their story is that each of them really had to go through their individual and personal path to enable their successor to reach the heights they did. Lucky for then, Nagayoshi knew how to play with policies and make use of organizations as a tool for him to gain more advantages over his opponents. He also made his moves with a hint of privacy so it was really had for his rivals to predict what he had up his sleeves.