Japan has certainly had its share of great warlords during its earlier years. When talking about such people, you can’t help but have people like Oda Nobunaga, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and Toyotomi Hideyoshi enter your mind because they were the most powerful daimyos during the Sengoku period. They were definitely the great ones but there were also other great warlords aside from the three major daimyos of Japan. A powerful warlord who fits this description perfectly is the man named Amago Tsunehisa or Amako Tsunehisa.
An Introduction to the Amako Clan
The Amako or Amago clan is one that descended from the bloodline of Emperor Uda through the Sasaki clan. It was Sasaki Takahisa who started the name for the Amako clan and he changed his name because of the tragic loss he experienced early on in his life. This tragic event was the death of his parents at the age of 3. Since he was an orphan, he was brought up by a nun that truly took care of him and molded him into a great man. Because of this loving act, in the 14th century, he decided to take the name Amako because “ama” in Japanese means nun, and “ko” means son.
Because the Amako clan started with Takahisa, this meant that they were related to the powerful clan of the Rokkaku because Takahisa was the grandson of Rokkaku Takauji. During the Sengoku period, the Amako clan was recorded to have been in constant battles with the Ouchi and Mori clans who coincidentally were their vassals once upon a time. These battles went on for over 100 years and it only ended when one of the three clans finally got the last word.
Overall, the clan leaders of the Amako clan were pretty skilled. They were able to slowly increase their influence while still protecting what they had in the first place. They defended their turf so well that the title of shugo of the Izumo province stayed within their clan for several generations and that is something that was very hard to do because of all the competing clans during those times. Eventually, the clan did lose their prestige for a while during the years of the late 1560’s and early 1570’s but was returned by their final pillar who came in the form of an Amago Katsuhisa with his decision to join the forces of Oda Nobunaga.
How Amago Tsunehisa Gained His Influence and Power
The succession of power and influence within a clan is usually passed down from the head to their next male heir of every generation. This was the case for some of the weakest clans in Japan's history as well as the strongest clans. The Amago clan was also one of the clans who succeeded power in that way and it started with Amago Takahisa. Amago Takahisa founded the clan and was succeeded by his son, Amago Mochihisa, who was succeeded by his son, Amago Kiyosada, who was succeeded by his son, Amago Tsunehisa. It is a fact that Tsunehisa inherited the office of the shugo for the Izumo province because of his predecessors but saying that he was only successful because of the ones who led before him would be a completely untrue statement. He worked very hard despite his inherited wealth and power and he was able to grow these resources even more with the things he did with his time. This might be the pattern you notice as you learn about the different details and events of his rise, reign, and fall.
Amago Tsunehisa was the eldest son of Amago Kiyosada. There is very little information you can find about the childhood of this man aside from the fact that he was called Matashiro in his youth and the fact that, at the age of 15, he was already doing great at duties and work that was meant for a deputy to the clan leader which, in this case, was his very own father. These works were particularly handling the taxation of the Rokkaku clan on goods through the Amako clan’s territory. This detail alone should be able to show you that he didn’t just inherit his influence and power. He really did put in the work early on in his career to be a fit successor to all he succeeded.
His mother wasn’t a hime or a princess but she was the daughter of Maki Tomochika. He was also married to a beautiful woman named Yoshiawa-dono. With his wife, they created several children of whom included Amago Masahisa, Amago Kunihisa, Amago Okihisa, and a couple of other siblings who ended up marrying into families like the Kitajima and Senge families.
The year of 1477 was the year that he officially was given the title of deputy governor of the Izumo province. This was also the year that he received a letter Kei from a man named Kyogoku Masatune, who was the governor at the time as well. It would also be him that would expel Tsunehisa in the year of 1484 but that wouldn’t be the last he would hear from Tsunehisa. This marked the start of harder times for Tsunehisa and his father, who was also thrown out with him.
After two years, Tsunehisa arranged an attack on the Rokkaku clan stronghold of Tomidajo with an army that had less than 100 warriors. The odds were against them but they were able to succeed with their goal to gain control over the stronghold and this eventually paved the way for Tsunehisa to gain full control over the Izumo province in the year of 1508. The way he succeeded in his quest to regain control and power really personified the drive that was built from the hardships they were forced to go through in the prior years. He took the hard times and molded himself into something stronger rather than just giving up because of the daunting challenges he saw coming his way and in the end, he made the seemingly impossible a reality in his life. This successfully subjugated the Kokujin who were the powerful clans of the region back then.
With the help of the said kokujin, Tsunehisa was able to counter all the attempts of the Ouchi clan, who was led by Ouchi Yoshioki, to head into Kyoto in the year of 1508. He had talked to the kokujin from all over the Chugoku region to inform them of what they were to do once the Ouchi forces got near and this made it impossible for the Ouchi clan to succeed with their goal. He had lost too many times in the past so he really made sure not to waste any more chances. His proactive action to counter the Ouchi clan's attempts is concrete proof that with the right amount of attention to detail and foresight, one can really ensure absolute victory.
Tsunehisa experienced a tough loss when his son, Amago Masahisa, fell in his battle against Sakurai Masamune in the year of 1513. Despite the disheartening loss of his son, he did not lose focus on his end goal and so he continued to make all the moves he saw fit to do to be able to get what he wanted. By the year of 1520, he successfully was controlling a total of 11 domains which were the Inaba, Hoki, Izumo, Oki, Iwami, Mimasaka, Bizen, Harima, Bitchu, Aki, and Bingo domains. There may be some that call him heartless for being able to wage war despite his son's death. On the other hand, you can also look at it as him letting the pain and loss drive him harder towards his goal instead of letting it destroy him. In any case, it is a much better gesture to win a war for a lost loved one than to lose your loved one and the war at the same time.
The Latter Years of Amago Tsunehisa’s Life
The loss of Masahisa really shook the belief of Amago Tsunehisa in himself. There was even a time before he was able to control all 11 domains that he offered the leadership of the clan to his prober, Hisayuki. Luckily, his brother knew better and did not take the position and later on, Tsunehisa would regain his focus and take full control of their clan once again with full belief and determination.
This was great but the fact remained that he needed a successor. Masahisa had died but he did have a son named Akihisa, who will later be more prominently known as Haruhisa, Tsunehisa named Akihisa his heir. It would be important to know that the character of Mori Motonari comes in during this period of time because when Tsunehisa took the Aki province, he made Motonari a vassal or retainer of his. This was an excellent call by Tsunehisa because it would be Motonari’s plans that would eventually lead to the capture of the Kagamiyama Castle and the downfall of Kurata Fusanobu. Unfortunately, it would not be long because Motonari turns his back on the Amako clan to rejoin the Ouchi clan when the Ouchi regained control over the Aki province.
In 1528, Tsunehisa saw another opportunity to expand their influence with the death of his great rival, Ouchi Yoshioki. He made his move towards the east because this was where the Iwami silver mines were located and it was a valuable location to gain control over. He succeeded in this venture as well and their clan’s power grew even more. Greed would soon cause internal problems for Tsunehisa when the retainers of Okihisa convinced him to challenge the succession of the leadership of the clan that he had already decided on. This resulted in the exile of Okihisa which somewhat pushed him to commit suicide upon realizing that he could never go back to his clan again.
Soon after this incident, Tsunehisa decided to officially retire from his position and let Akihisa have his time on the throne. Tsunehisa felt that Akihisa was still a little too inexperienced though so in the beginning years of Akihisa’s reign, Tsunehisa was still calling the big shots with regards to the clan’s businesses. Fortunately, Akihisa was fine with the terms of their arrangement so he never took it personally or took offense to it.
Considering all the details of Tsunehisa’s life that have been mentioned, it can be seen that he valued privacy. He never veered away from family and his decisions were made with the opinions of his clan members. That wasn’t a common trait for leaders like him to have but it did contribute to his success as a leader of the Amako clan. His story is a great one to learn from because he really started from the bottom in a way. He was expelled from his position of power and he found a way to make a comeback from the decline. Not only did he make a comeback, he was able to bring provide his clan with power and influence that they never ever had before and that is something that is worth writing in the history books.