The Battle of Shizugatake (賤ヶ岳の戦い)

The Battle of Shizugatake was a war which occurred in 1583 between Hideyoshi HASHIBA (later Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI) and Katsuie SHIBATA near Shizugatake Mountain in Ika District of Omi Province (present Ika County, Shiga Prefecture). It was a fierce battle that split the power of the Oda in two, after which the victor Hideyoshi consolidated his legitimacy to succeed to the authority and system that had been built up by Nobunaga ODA.

The Kiyosu Conference

On July 1, 1582, Nobunaga ODA and Nobutada ODA, Nobunaga's heir and the family head, were killed by Nobunaga's senior vassal Mitsuhide AKECHI at Honno-ji Temple (aka. 'Honnoji Incident' [the Raid on the Honno-ji Temple]). On the heels of that incident, Hideyoshi HASHIBA destroyed Mitsuhide in the Battle of Yamazaki, gaining even greater clout among Nobunaga's old retainers. On July 26, a conference was held in Kiyosu-jo Castle to determine the successor of the Oda clan, which had lost its leader (the Kiyosu conference). In the conference, there was an intense conflict between Katsuie SHIBATA, who fielded Nobutaka ODA, the third son of Nobunaga, and Hideyoshi HASHIBA, who backed Sanboshi (later Hidenobu ODA), the son of Nobutada ODA. At last, approval of Sanboshi's candidacy by Nagahide NIWA, Tsuneoki IKEDA, and others who attended the conference tentatively brought an end to this succession problem. Furthermore, Hideyoshi organized and performed a large-scale funeral for Nobunaga the following month, and in August, he appointed Nagamasa ASANO and Ietsugu SUGIHARA, both of whom belonged to his own clan, as the Kyoto magistrates. Katsuie, Nobutaka, and others became extremely wary of and hostile toward Hideyoshi, since they believed Hideyoshi had performed this series of actions in an attempt to establish his own administration.

Movements in Various Regions

While both sides then actively devised various stratagems in order to win over the surrounding powers, the situation became slightly advantageous to Hideyoshi HASHIBA, due to his gaining allies in Kagekatsu UESUGI, the man behind the Shibata clan in Hokuriku (the northern region), and Ittetsu INABA, a powerful commanding officer in Mino Province, the stronghold of Nobutaka. Meanwhile, Katsuie won over Motochika CHOSOKABE of Shikoku and Saigashu (Ikko adherents of Saiga) of Kii Province, the latter of which especially threatened the rear regions through actions such as attacking castles including Kishiwada-jo Castle in Izumi Province while Hideyoshi was on another battlefield. As an aside, it was perhaps this story of the battle for Kishiwada-jo Castle which became a legend, evolving into the tradition of Octopus Jizo, where a priest riding on a giant octopus beat off Saigashu and Negoroshu (a group of armed priests in Negoro-ji Temple).

In November, Katsuie dispatched Toshiie MAEDA, Nagachika KANAMORI, and Katsumitsu FUWA to Hideyoshi to negotiate a reconciliation. In fact, this was a false truce offer plotted by Katsuie, who feared being locked up in his territory in Hokuriku by heavy snows once winter came. However, Hideyoshi seems to have detected Katsuie's plot, and sought to win the three generals over instead.

On December 26, Hideyoshi, who had earlier assigned Keijun MIYABE to the Sanin region and Masakatsu HACHISUKA to the Sanyo region to deal with the Mori clan, broke the truce and led his large army to Omi Province, attacking Nagahama-jo Castle (Omi Province). Katsuie could not send reinforcements due to the deep snow in Hokuriku, and moreover, the castle commander Katsutoyo SHIBATA, who was also Katsuie's adopted son, readily surrendered to Hideyoshi after only a few days. Hideyoshi's force then occupied Mino Province and took hostages from Ittetsu INABA and others, finally forcing Nobutaka ODA in Gifu-jo Castle to surrender on January 13, 1583.

On January 24, 1583, Kazumasu TAKIGAWA of Ise Province raised his army and conquered Mine-jo Castle and Kameyama-jo Castle, clearly demonstrating his support of Katsuie SHIBATA. After a temporary withdrawal of his army to Kyoto due to diplomatic maneuverings and diversions to other powers, Hideyoshi resumed the attack next month, followed by attacks in the middle of March on Nagashima-jo Castle, a base of Kazumasu, along with Mine-jo Castle and Kameyama-jo Castle, leading to the surrender of Kameyama-jo Castle on April 24.

Meanwhile, Katsuie SHIBATA, who had been trapped in Fukui-jo Castle in Echizen due to heavy snows but could no longer stand the situation, finally departed with his army for Omi Province at the end of February, digging their way out of the snow.


On May 3, Katsuie arrived at Yanagase in Omi Province with his army of 30,000 men including Toshiie MAEDA and Morimasa SAKUMA, completing the deployment. Hideyoshi immediately sent in troops as well, and deployed his army, said to number 50,000, at Kinomoto on May 10. Neither side launched an attack immediately, focusing on building trenches and forts for a while instead (some structural remnants of that time still exist today). With the battle lines in a stalemate, Hideyoshi returned with part of his army to Nagahama-jo Castle on May 18.

Mino gaeshi (Return to Mino)

On June 6, Nobutaka ODA, who had at one point surrendered to Hideyoshi, raised his army again, joining forces with Kazumasu TAKIGAWA and heading for the town of Gifu-jo Castle. Although Hideyoshi hastened back to Mino with his army the following day, June 7, flooding of the Ibi-gawa River forced him to enter Ogaki-jo Castle. With the majority of Hideyoshi's forces gone from Omi Province, Katsuie, seeing the situation as an opportunity, accepted a proposal from commanding officer Morimasa SAKUMA to mount an immediate attack on Oiwayama Fort on June 9. Oiwayama Fort, defended by Kiyohide NAKAGAWA, was unable to hold out and finally fell, while Nakagawa was killed. They further attacked Ukon TAKAYAMA, who had taken up his position on Mt. Iwasaki; he was also unable to withstand the attack and retreated to the camp of Hidenaga TOYOTOMI at Kinomoto. Having accomplished these feats, Katsuie now ordered Morimasa to retreat, but Morimasa refused and maintained his forces at places including Mt. Oiwa, defying repeated orders by Katsuie.

On June 10, Shigeharu KUWAYAMA, the defending general of Shizugatake Fort, also judged the situation as disadvantageous and began to retreat. As a result, it seemed to be only a matter of time until Morimasa occupied Shizugatake Fort. However, Nagahide NIWA, who was then crossing Lake Biwa by boat, decided that now was the time; despite objections from his subordinates that he should return to Sakamoto for the present, Nagahide changed his course and ventured a landing on Kaizu, which decisively turned the tide of the battle. Encountering the army of Shigeharu KUWAYAMA, which had already started its retreat, 2,000 troops led by Nagahide joined with them to smash Morimasa's forces around Shizugatake, successfully securing Shizugatake Fort in the nick of time.

Furthermore, that same day, Hideyoshi at Ogaki-jo Castle sent his forces back immediately after receiving the news of the fall of Oiwayama Fort and several of his other camps. Departing from Ogaki at 2 PM, the Hideyoshi army traveled the 52 kilometers to Kinomoto, including foothills, in a mere 5 hours. While there have been several theories as to how Hideyoshi succeeded in achieving this incredible marching speed, it is generally said that he arranged in advance to have taimatsu torches lit along roads the army would travel, and even ordered some areas to supply their food on their way. Amazed by the return of Hideyoshi's large force in such a short period of time, Morimasa SAKUMA started to retreat that midnight, but came under blistering attack from Hideyoshi's large force before dawn of the next day. As Morimasa's forces had fought a good fight, Hideyoshi changed the focus of his attack to Katsumasa SHIBATA, who was heading to help Morimasa. Morimasa came to the aid of Katsumasa's forces instead, and a fierce battle ensued.

However, in midst of this fighting, the army led by Toshiie MAEDA on the Shibata side, deployed on Mt. Shige, abruptly left the front lines. Consequently, forces that had confronted Toshiie joined the attack on the Shibata force. After the armies of Katsumitsu FUWA and Nagachika KANAMORI on the Shibata side began to retreat as well, Hideyoshi's forces, which had earlier destroyed the army of Morimasa SAKUMA, rushed at the main force of Katsuie SHIBATA. Vastly outnumbered by Hideyoshi's forces, Katsuie's forces could not hold out and were routed, eventually forcing Katsuie to retreat to Kitanosho-jo Castle in Echizen.

After the Battle

Although Katsuie had managed to escape to Kitanosho-jo Castle, the castle was besieged by Hideyoshi's army led by Toshiie MAEDA on June 13, resulting in the suicides of Katsuie, his wife Lady Oichi, and others the next day. Morimasa SAKUMA tried to run away but was captured and decapitated. His head was put on public display at Kyoto's Rokujo-gawara riverbed. Without the backing of Katsuie SHIBATA, Nobutaka ODA and Kazumasu TAKIGAWA lost the power to fight, surrendering to the Hideyoshi side the following month. Soon after, Nobutaka was ordered to commit Seppuku (suicide by disembowelment) and Kazumasu was ordered to shave his head and become a priest.

As a result of this battle, many old retainers of the Oda clan approached Hideyoshi and sought to serve as his vassals. Two days after the end of the battle, on June 15, Hideyoshi sent a letter to Takakage KOBAYAKAWA, a senior vassal of the warlord Terumoto MORI in the Chugoku Region, to inform him that the battle had resulted in his victory, implicitly prompting the Mori clan, which had kept a neutral stance, to submit itself to Hideyoshi. Completing the postwar process, Hideyoshi soon began to build Osaka-jo Castle in the Kinai Region (provinces surrounding Kyoto and Nara), and in June of the same year, was appointed Jushiinoge (Junior Forth Rank, Lower Grade), Sangi (councilor) by the Imperial Court. In addition, warlords across the country, including Ieyasu TOKUGAWA, Kagekatsu UESUGI, Terumoto MORI and Yoshimune OTOMO, dispatched envoys to Hideyoshi one after another to celebrate his victory and to establish friendly relations with him, all of which also symbolized Hideyoshi's assumption of power in the Kinai Region.

Seven Spears of Shizugatake

Among those who had achieved the greatest feats on the Hideyoshi side, the following seven warriors came to be called the "Seven Spears of Shizugatake" by later generations. In fact, there were others such as Sakichi SAKURAI and Heisukekazumitsu ISHIKAWA who also received citations and were awarded thousands of koku of stipends. The number of "seven" was a mere play on words made up in later years (However, the feats that were said to be theirs were performed only during the running battle after Hideyoshi's victory had been secured. The honor of launching the attack fell to a group of samurai called sakigakesyu [the vanguard], which included Yoshitsugu OTANI and Mitsunari ISHIDA). These seven soldiers later gained great power in the Toyotomi government, which may have been a result of Hideyoshi's excessive trumpeting of his favorite men, who had been trained by him since their childhood, since Hideyoshi did not have his own powerful hereditary vassals.
However, Masanori FUKUSHIMA was quoted as saying 'I don't want to be lumped in with men like Wakisaka, it's quite annoying', and Kiyomasa KATO was also said to hate it when people talked about the 'seven spears.'
Judging from these anecdotes, presumably there was a growing recognition even at the time that the story of the 'seven spears' was close to fiction.

When the Tokugawa took control of the government, most of the families derived from these 'seven spears', except for the Wakisaka clan, faced hardships, including dispossession of their territories by the government in an effort to destroy the families.

Masanori FUKUSHIMA (1561 - 1624)

Kiyomasa KATO (1562 - 1611)

Yoshiaki KATO (1563 - 1631)

Yasuharu WAKISAKA (1554 - 1626)

Nagayasu HIRANO (1559 - 1628)

Takenori KASUYA (1562 - 1607)

Katsumoto KATAGIRI (1556 - 1615)

[Original Japanese]