Azai Hisamasa (浅井久政)

Hisamasa AZAI was a Japanese military commander called busho during the Sengoku period (the Warring States period). He was the second head of the Azai clan, the warring lord of Omi Province, and the governor of Shimotsuke Province. He was the father of Nagamasa (賢政 Yoshimasa/Takamasa) AZAI.

Although "浅井" has been pronounced as "Azai" not as "Asai" when it represents the family name and the territory, one of the theory based on the latest research states that it should be pronounced as "Asai" (see "Asai-shi sandai" [The Three Generations of the Asai Clan] by Kei-ichi Miyajima).


The eldest child (or the eldest illegitimate child) of Sukemasa AZAI. His real mother was Kaan AMAGO, a daughter of the Amago clan, who was a concubine (the Amago clan in Omi Province, and the Amago clan in Izumo Province was its branch family. As for his real mother, there are several theories: "Rokkaku Sasaki-shi keizuryaku" [Rokkaku Sasaki Family Tree Rough] and "the Azai family register of deaths" show it was Chiyozuru AZAI.
This woman was a concubine of Muneyoshi [Chikayasu] ROKKAKU, and Hisamasa was an adopted child, whose adopted mother was from the Amago clan.)
His wife was Lady Ono (also called Ago goryonin), a daughter of Tsunemoto IGUCHI, a local ruling family in Omi.

In 1542, when his father Sukemasa died, Hisamasa succeeded to his position as head of the family, but unlike his father he was not celebrated for his valor. It is said that Sukemasa expected Akimasa TAYA (the Taya is a branch family of the Azai) to succeed to the head position as the husband of Tsuruchiyo, his daughter with his lawful wife (an older paternal half-sister of Hisamasa), but Hisamasa, who was born of a concubine when Sukemasa was young, finally took over as head of the family.

Accordingly, his brother-in-law, Akimasa, did not accept Hisamasa's succession to the position of family head by raising a rebellion, which resulted in the significant cause of later trouble in his family. The Azai family headed by Hisamasa was gradually overwhelmed by the power of the Rokkaku clan, and finally the Azai became their subordinate. Hisamasa persistently showed a subordinate posture to the Rokkaku clan by taking in part of Yoshikata ROKKAKU's name, "taka (賢)," into his heir's name as "Takamasa (賢政)," in addition to his marriage with a daughter of Sadatake HIRAI, a vassal of the Rokkaku clan.

Dissatisfied with Hisamasa's weak-kneed diplomacy, many of his vassals forced Hisamasa to retire for transferring his position as head of the family to Nagamasa AZAI, the heir to Hisamasa in 1560, when Nagamasa won a landslide victory over Yoshikata ROKKAKU at the Battle of Norada and became independent from the Rokkaku clan. Hisamasa was even incarcerated on Chikubu Island for a while. However, this coup-like transfer of power has some ambiguous aspects: it is said that Hisamasa maintained a big voice even after his retirement and continued to oppose the establishment of an alliance with an emerging force, the Oda clan, sticking to the amicable relationship with the Asakura clan, which had been maintained since his father was in power.

However, this vague relationship between Hisamasa and Nagamasa resulted in the underlying cause of the ruin of the Azai family. When the Azai family had to make a decision on which side they should take under the serious confrontation between the Oda and the Asakura clans as a partner of both sides, Hisamasa strongly insisted that they should side with the Asakura, and Nagamasa rebelled against Nobunaga, compromising with his father. As a result of a struggle over several years, the alliance of the Azai and the Asakura was defeated by the Oda clan, and in 1573, Hisamasa killed himself in the Kyogokumaru section inside Odani-jo Castle due to fierce attacks from the Oda army while Nagamasa soon fell on his sword, which resulted in putting an end to the Azai family as a feudal lord in just three generations.

Reappraisal by Later Generations

In general, Hisamasa is often regarded as a foolish family head, who was not able to anticipate the currents of the times. Many of the history books regarded as grounds for the theories where Hisamasa was an imbecile are considered to be academically apocryphal, and most of them were exaggerated or embroidered in later years. One of the widely accepted theories in recent years is that Hisamasa was not so incompetent as regarded.

Reassessment of Subordination to the Rokkaku Clan

The alliance between the Asai and the Asakura had already existed when Sukemasa AZAI, the father of Hisamasa and the grandfather of Nagamasa, was in power. Sukemasa, who was the provincial constable of Minami Omi, had established an alliance with the Asakura clan when he was in conflict with the Rokkaku family, the head family of the Kyogoku serving as the provincial constable of Kita Omi, who once was the master of Sukemasa. Headed by the wise ruler Sadayori, the Rokkaku family was in the ascendant, and the gap in power between the two families could not be bridged even by Sukemasa, who was a brilliant ruler. In fact, Sukemasa escaped to Mino and Echizen several times.

On the other hand, the Asakura family was also at the highest of its prosperity at that time. Even the Asakura family had a flash point of Ikko sect's revolt in the northern area, and they were not willing to directly conflict with the Rokkaku family, a large force. The alliance with the Azai clan, who controlled Kita Omi, was reasonable enough to leave as a buffer zone. Sharing a mutual interest, the alliance between the Asakura and the Azai seemed to have been established.

However, after the death of Takakage ASAKURA (the tenth head) and Soteki (宗滴) ASAKURA, the Asakura family was not so powerful as in the past, and the alliance had little significance. Therefore, Hisamasa is regarded to have transferred to the Rokkaku family from the Asakaura family. In fact, the Azai family ran into difficulty due to repeated attacks from the Kyogoku clan and Dosan SAITO in the neighboring province, Mino when they subordinated themselves to the Rokkaku clan.

Under the protection from the Rokkaku clan as their subordinate, the Azai family was able to concentrate on the management of their territory while preventing invasions from other powers with restraints put on them. In fact, Hisamasa succeeded in building up the foundation for the Azai family's rise to a feudal lord while stabilizing political circumstances (mentioned later) and putting effort into taking control of powerful local clans who were forced to be affiliated with the former lord, Sukemasa AZAI, at sword point.

In addition, the Azai family maintained the family name as a feudal lord without reducing the territory even under the control of the Rokkaku clan, which was a rare case for a subordinate lord. The Matsudaira family ceded part of their territory to Yoshimoto IMAGAWA and Nobunaga ODA. Taking this into account, Hisamasa seems to have had superior ability in diplomacy. Subordination, often regarded as a sign of weakness, may have been a means to protect his territory, and Hisamasa seems to have succeeded in the field of diplomacy.

Reappraisal in Domestic Administration

Hisamasa made significant achievements also in domestic administration. First, he implemented flood control and irrigation projects. Issuing regulations and documents to conciliate the confrontation over where to use river water among the villages in Kohoku, he put pressure upon the local ruling families who seemed to be preventing the conciliation.

Here is one of such episodes.

Those days the villages located at the foot of mountains in Odani suffered serious water deficiency. It was the Iguchi clan, a local ruling family, that controlled the water flow of the Takatoki-gawa River, the water source around there.

Although Hisamasa put pressure upon the Iguchi clan at the request of the villagers, the Iguchi clan made an unreasonable demand of an enormous amount of tribute in order to keep them quiet. However, a rich clan in Nakano (now Higashiazai County) accepted this demand, so the Iguchi clan reluctantly agreed in the end. (There is also an anecdote that in the meantime a daughter of that clan in Nakano sacrificed herself to obtain water.
The weir was named "Mochinoi" after the rice cake loaded on 1,000 oxen to be delivered part of the tribute, commemorating their deed.)

Although Hisamasa secured water and expanded the irrigation project, a conflict was caused over the water among the villages. For mediation, Hisamasa prescribed the size of weirs for unification, the volume of water consumption and the priority among the villages.
(These rules have been strictly observed until today since the Edo period.)

In addition, Hisamasa built rokubo (a complex of temples) on the top of the mountain where Odani-jo Castle is located while guaranteeing the ownerships of territory to temples and shrines with reinforced taxation policies.

In addition, Hisamasa extended Odani-jo Castle and constructed earthworks.

Furthermore, Hisamasa, who was well known as a man of culture, proactively promoted culture including Noh (he had an exclusive Noh player, Tsurutayu MORIMOTO), and enjoyed falconry and renga (linked verses), which led to a bad reputation in later generations.

Reassessment of the Transfer to Nagamasa

In general, whether or not a fight have taken place, the influence of the former head is completely lost in the family when the position is forcibly transferred in a coup. Taking account of the fact that Hisamasa incarcerated in Chikubu Island returned to Odani-jo Castle under reconciliation with Nagamasa and his vassals, this transfer incident may be regarded as only a play to closely unite the vassals by releasing dissatisfaction with Hisamasa that was growing in the Azai family through the transfer of the head position to Nagamasa.

In other words, this transfer did not actually aim to deprive Hisamasa of his political power. In addition, the party against which a coup was launched often tries to regain control of the power when that party has been maintaining the power even after the loss of position, which did not occur in the Azai family. Taking these into consideration, there is a high possibility that this transfer may have been a play aiming to become independent from the Rokkaku family.

Reassessment of the Confrontation with the Oda Clan

It is said the reasons why Hisamasa insisted that they should side with the Asakura clan were as follows: "the alliance had been maintained since Sukemasa was in power;" "they were deeply indebted to the Asakura clan for joint fights against repeated attacks from the Saito, the Kyogoku, and the Rokkaku clans;" and "Hisamasa himself was skeptical about the character and policy of Nobunaga."

The Azai would not have subordinated themselves to the Rokkaku family if they had built an alliance with the Asakura family, which implies the possibility that the alliance between the Asakura and the Azai may have not existed.
(However, the following facts should be taken into account: it was difficult for the Asakura family to take military action during the wintertime, and it was hard to willingly intervene in Omi Province in association with Hisamasa's succession to the position of the family head when the tension between the Asakura family and the Ikko sect followers in Kaga was running high again, and the Asakura family was deeply involved in the internal conflict of the Toki family in Mino.)

As collateral evidence of this perception, it is said that the Asakura family and the Oda family, the acting military governor under the control of the Shiba family, had been in an enemy-like relationship since the Asakura family occupied Echizen by depriving the Shiba family, their master, of the territory. If so, Hisamasa would not have accepted the younger sister of Nobunaga, the head of the Oda family in confrontation with the Asakura family, as the lawful wife for his son, under the alliance between the Asakura and the Azai.

In addition, completely surrounded by the Miyoshi clan, the Asakura clan, Ishiyama Hongan-ji Temple, the Takeda clan and the Azai clan, Nobunaga was facing extreme difficulty. At that time, everyone thought that Nobunaga, who was surrounded by such tough enemies, would be ruined sooner or later. However, due to good luck and his unique strategic perspective, Nobunaga escaped the difficulty to become the hegemon.

Taking this into account, the reason Hisamasa abandoned the Oda clan to choose the coalition with the Asakura clan seems to not have been his reactionary emotion, but the result of his strategic perception as a feudal lord. Leading to the ruin of a feudal lord, the Asai clan, Hisamasa seems to have been regarded as a foolish leader who could not read the current of the times.

The Death of Hisamasa

In 1573, the Oda army attacked Odani-jo Castle soon after returning from destroying Ichijodani Castle. Since the Kyogokumaru section was broken through by the Hashiba troops, the Komaru section, where Hisamasa entrenched himself, was disconnected from the castle keep, where Nagamasa stayed. The Hashiba troops continued to attack the Komaru section.
Knowing that he was meeting his end, Hisamasa called Governor Iguchi of Echizen Province, Kiyosada Akao and other vassals, saying,

"I'm committing hara-kiri, so please hold the enemy in check for the time being."

They defended the residence from the Hashiba troops to the death. They literally died in battle.

After drinking the last sake together with Koreyasu AZAI, his relative, and MORIMOTO Tsurumatsu Dayu (鶴松大夫), a Noh dancer, Hisamasa committed hara-kiri. Fukujuan (Koreyasu) assisted Hisamasa in committing hara-kiri by beheading him, and then Tsurumatsu Dayu (鶴松大夫) assisted Fukujuan. Saying, "it is terribly rude to die in the same room together with the lord," Tsurumatsu Dayu (鶴松大夫) went down into the garden, where he committed hara-kiri to die.

Being bureaucratic in domestic administration, Hisamasa died a glorious death like Katsuyori TAKEDA and Nobunaga ODA, who met their end during the same period, showing the spirit of the samurai in Kohoku.

Family Line
Nagamasa AZAI
Masamoto AZAI
Masayuki AZAI
-Older foster brother of Kennyo HONGANJI, but there are different and various theories.
-Another name of Harumasa AZAI, but there are different and various theories.

Kenkyuni SHOAN (昌庵 is also used instead of 昌安)
Maria KYOGOKU (the wife of Takayoshi KYOGOKU)
Daini no tsubone (the wife of Yoshisane ROKKAKU)
Omi no kata (she is also said to have been a younger sister of Hisamasa; the wife of Yoshitatsu SAITO, and the mother of Tatsuoki SAITO)

His grandchildren included Manpukumaru AZAI, Yodo dono (there are various theories), Joko in, Sugen-in, Takatsugu KYOGOKU, Tatsuko KYOGOKU, and Takatomo KYOGOKU.

His great-grandchildren included Tsurumatsu TOYOTOMI, Hideyori TOYOTOMI, Sadako TOYOTOMI, Sen hime, Tama hime, Katsu hime (Tensu-in), Hatsu hime, Iemitsu TOKUGAWA and Tadanaga TOKUGAWA (there are various theories about both of them), Masako TOKUGAWA, Tadataka KYOGOKU, Takahiro KYOGOKU, and Takamitsu KYOGOKU.

His great-great-grandchildren included Michifusa KUJO, Yasumichi NIJO, Kunimatsu TOYOTOMI, Naa hime, Mitsutaka MAEDA, Toshitsugu MAEDA, Toshiharu MAEDA, Mitsunaga MATSUDAIRA, Kame hime (Hojuin), Chiyo hime, Ietsuna TOKUGAWA, Tsunashige TOKUGAWA, Tsunayoshi TOKUGAWA, Takakuni KYOGOKU, Takanao KYOGOKU, and Emperor Meisho.

[Original Japanese]