Kato Kiyomasa (加藤清正)

Kiyomasa KATO was a Busho (Japanese military commander) and Daimyo (Japanese feudal lord) from the Azuchi-Momoyama period to the early Edo period. He was the first lord of the Kumamoto Domain, Higo Province. He served Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI as a retainer, distinguished himself in various battles and was given the northern part of Higo. After the death of Hideyoshi, he became a retainer of the Tokugawa Clan and, due to his distinguished military service in the Battle of Sekigahara, became the lord of the Kumamoto Domain in Higo Province. He was one of the 'Shizugatake-no-shichihon-yari' (the seven excellent military commanders in Hideyoshi's army at the battle of Shizugatake). He was famous for being devoted to the Toyotomi family even after the death of his lord Hideyoshi. In 1910, Jusanmi (Junior Third Rank) was posthumously conferred on him.

He was a retainer trained from boyhood by Hideyoshi.

He was born on August 4, 1562 as the child of Gorosuke (Kiyotada) KATO, a blacksmith from Owari Province in Nakamura, Aichi County (Aichi Prefecture) in Owari Province (present Nakamura Ward, Nagoya City). While his father died in Kiyomasa's childhood, his mother Ito was one of the female cousins (or a distant relative) of Omandokoro (Mother of the chief Adviser to the Emperor), biological mother of Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI. For that reason he served Hideyoshi as his blood kin and in 1576, was given a stipend of 70 koku in crop yields. As a promising relative, Kiyomasa's growth was anticipated by Hideyoshi, who treated him kindly. Kiyomasa continued to show loyalty to Hideyoshi throughout his life to reciprocate Hideyoshi's mentorship.

His days as a retainer of the Toyotomi family

After Nobunaga ODA died in 1582, Kiyomasa followed Hideyoshi and participated in the Battle of Yamazaki. In the Battle of Shizugatake in 1583, he distinguished himself by defeating Masakuni YAMAJI, the enemy general, for which Hideyoshi gave him a territory of 3,000 koku in crop yields as one of the Shizugatake-no-shichihon-yari.

With Hideyoshi having taken the position of Kanpaku in July 1585, Kiyomasa was raised to Jugoi (Junior Fifth Rank) and appointed Kazue no kami (the head of budget bureau). From 1586, Kiyomasa followed Hideyoshi in an expedition against Kyushu and when Narimasa SASSA, who entered Higo Province, was punished by being deprived of his fief due to his misgovernment, Kiyomasa was given about 195,000 koku, half of Higo Province, and made Kumamoto-jo Castle his castle where he usually resided. There is an anecdote which relates that when he was ordered to choose between half of Higo Province and Sanuki Province, he chose Higo. His administration in Higo was a great success, and in particular he exhibited his remarkable ability, beyond the well-known flood control, in commercial policies such as making wheat a local specialty and using it to settle trade with Spain and Portugal.

In the Bunroku-Keicho War which started in 1592, he sent troops to Yi Dynasty Korea. He became Shusho (commander-in-chief) of the second squad in the Bunroku War and placed Naoshige NABESHIMA and Yorifusa SAGARA under him. The second squad led the advance guard on a different route from that of Yukinaga KONISHI's first squad. After landing at Busan on May 28, he competed with Yukinaga KONISHI for the capture of the capital, Hanseong, and on June 12, he entered Hanseong via Nandai-mon gate (great south gate). After the capture of Hanseong, he went on northward with the first squad of Yukinaga KONISHI and the third squad of Nagamasa KURODA, defeating the Korean troops of Kim Myeong-won in the Battle of Imjin River. After this, his troops separated at Kinkoeki in Hwanghae Province from the first squad and the third squad, went in a northeastern direction to Hangyong Province, defeating the Korean troops of Kan Katsusei, subjugating Hangyong Province and capturing two Korean princes (Prince Imhaegun and Prince Sunhwagun) alive. Furthermore, Kiyomasa distinguished himself in many actions including his advance to Orangkai (present northeastern region of China) crossing the Korean border, the Tomanko River.

In the second battle of Jinju Castle in June 1593, the Kato troops took charge of attacking the castle from the north side, while his followers, Gidayu MORIMOTO and Kakubei IIDA, assembled a Kikkosha (an armored vehicle), on which they scrambled to be first in the advance guard, competing with Mototsugu GOTO, a follower of Nagamasa KURODA, and made the castle fall.

However, in addition to the fact that he returned the two Korean princes as a bargaining chip during negotiations, he had a confrontation in 1596 with Mitsunari ISHIDA over a peace settlement with Ming, for which he incurred the displeasure of Hideyoshi and was temporarily brought back to Kyoto. The confrontation between Kiyomasa and Yukinaga KONISHI had become intensified. When they crossed the sea from Kyoto to Korea, Yukinaga KONISHI secretly informed the Korean troops of Kiyomasa's possible landing point so that they could kill him. While Yukinaga KONISHI earned some trust from the Ming and Korean sides due to this, he took advantage of the situation and later lured the Ming and Korean troops out into the open and attacked them.

In the Keicho War of 1597, Kiyomasa again led the advance guard on a different route from that of Yukinaga KONISHI and after he attacked the Hwangsoksan Castle and forced it to surrender, he occupied Chonju, the capital of Jeolla Province. Furthermore, after he advanced to Jincheon, Chungcheong Province, he stationed his troops in the Sosenpo Wajo (Japanese-style castle). The Japanese side planned for Yoshinaga ASANO and Mototsugu SHISHIDO, a retainer of the Mori family, to newly construct the Ulsan Japanese Castle at a place to the east of the Sosenpo Wajo where Kiyomasa set up Nawabari (castle plan; general term for the layout of a castle and its component structures) and assign Kiyomasa to defend the castle after its completion (Nagamasa KURODA was planned to be stationed in the Sosenpo Wajo). However, in January 1598 when a large Ming force attacked the Ulsan Japanese Castle, which was approaching completion, and the Battle of Ulsan started, Kiyomasa hastily entered the castle, leading about 500 close followers. Kiyomasa put out all the effort he could muster to defend the castle which was incomplete and short of water and food supply against large forces of Ming and Korean troops, and kept the castle defended until the arrival of reinforcements with Hidemoto MORI and Nagamasa KURODA. In October 1598, the Ulsan Japanese Castle was attacked again, but the attack was successfully repelled.

Kiyomasa was feared by the Korean people as 'Dog, Oni (Yurei (ghost)) Jokan (superior officer).'
In addition, there is a traditional story which states that Kiyomasa subjugated a tiger (tora) during his military service in Korea, from which a game called Toraken was derived. He is understood to have brought celery into Japan and one of the Imyo (nicknames) of celery is 'Kiyomasa Ninjin' (Kiyomasa carrot).

From the Battle of Sekigahara to the Edo Period

After Hideyoshi died in 1598, Kiyomasa approached Ieyasu TOKUGAWA, one of the Gotairo (Council of Five Elders) and he married an adopted daughter of Ieyasu as the second wife.

Meanwhile, after Toshiie MAEDA died in March 1599, Kiyomasa was involved in an attempted assassination of Mitsunari ISHIDA along with six generals including Masanori FUKUSHIMA and Yoshinaga ASANO. After this scheme failed, he put even more effort into getting close to Ieyasu.

At the time of the Battle of Sekigahara in which Mitsunari raised armies against Ieyasu, Kiyomasa stayed in Kyushu and defeated the powers of the Western Camp in Kyushu one after another, together with Yoshitaka KURODA giving the Eastern Camp of Ieyasu support, including the schemed surrenders of Uto-jo Castle of Yukinaga and Yanagawa-jo Castle of Muneshige TACHIBANA. In the granting of honors after the war, Kiyomasa was given the former territory of Yukinaga in Higo Province and became a Daimyo with 520,000 koku crop yields. In addition, Yukinaga's Uto-jo Castle was demolished in 1612.

In 1605, Kiyomasa was promoted to Jugoi (Junior Fifth Rank) and appointed Jiju (a chamberlain) and the governor of Higo Province. In 1610, he cooperated in the Tokugawa clan's construction of Nagoya-jo Castle in Owari Province. In April 1611, he exercised his good offices by mediating a meeting between Ieyasu and Hideyori TOYOTOMI in Nijo-jo Castle, however, he became ill on the ship on his way back home and died on August 2, 1611 in Kumamoto. He died at the age of 50 (49 if calculated in years completed).

His graveyards are Jochibyo at Hasseizan Honmyo-ji Temple in Hanazono, Kumamoto City, and one at Kinposan Tentaku-ji Temple in Maruoka, Tsuruoka City, Yamagata Prefecture. Furthermore, his Ihai (Ancestral tablet) is at Saishozan Kakurin-ji Temple (Seishoko) in Shiroganedai, Minato Ward, Tokyo. In addition, his memorial tower is located at Choeizan Daikokuin Honmon-ji Temple (Ikegami Honmon-ji Temple) in Ota Ward, Tokyo. Hosai-jinja Shrine, dedicated to Kiyomasa, is the Kato-jinja Shrine located in Honmaru, Kumamoto City.

After the death of Kiyomasa, his son Tadahiro KATO succeeded him; however, Tadahiro was deprived of his status by order of the Bakufu in 1632. The reason, though opinion is widely divided, is said to have been the fact that the Kato family was one of the most influential Daimyo who received kind favors of the Toyotomi clan and so aroused suspicion.

Personal Profile

While Kiyomasa is generally known as a great commander having both wisdom and courage, he is also known as a master of castle construction to rank with Takatora TODO, and was engaged in the construction of many castles including Kumamoto-jo Castle, Nagoya-jo Castle (Hizen Province), Ulsan Japanese Castle, Edo-jo Castle and Nagoya-jo Castle (Owari Province). He actively worked on flood-control in his territory along with Kakubei IIDA and Tosa OKI using Anoshu Guild. As a result, there are many remains in Kumamoto Prefecture that Kiyomasa was involved with even today. The civil engineering technology was so superb that there are many remains which are still being used in the present day, 400 years later. At that time, Kiyomasa mobilized workers irrespective of gender to secure an enormous labor force. However, he paid wages, did not assign more labor to them than needed, and secured time for agricultural affairs by carrying out many of his projects in the farmers' slack season.

Kiyomasa himself was a devout Nichiren Buddhist, who established in his territory many temples of the Nichiren sect of Buddhism including Honmyo-ji Temple. In addition, he is known for introducing the so-called 'Three strikes and you are out' law (this naming was not used at the time of Kiyomasa). That law applied only to Samurai (warriors) and required that a Samurai be ordered to perform Seppuku (suicide by disembowelment) if he commited minor offenses or made blunders in ceremonies three times.

That law applied only to Samurai (warriors) and required that a Samurai be ordered to perform hara-kiri if he commited minor offenses or made blunders in ceremonies three times. It is said that his relationship with Mitsunari ISHIDA became worse as the civilian government group and the military government group were gradually formed under the Toyotomi government, and his relationship with Yukinaga KONISHI was characterized by a scramble to be first in the advance guard in the dispatching of troops to Korea and by frequent conflicts over the borderline of their adjoining territories.

He is said to have had a large body build and stood about 191centimeters tall. However, there is a theory that he was in reality less than 161centimeters tall and he tried to intimidate others with a show of a taller body by wearing an elongated warrior's helmet.

While there are various historic sites and festivals related to Kiyomasa as 'Seishoko-san' in Kumamoto Prefecture (the former Kumamoto Domain) even today, Higo people at that time strongly revered Kiyomasa. It was due to Kiyomasa's undertakings in Kumamoto in contrast to most of the daimyo, who just ruled their territories. Although the Kiyomasa-line Kato clan was deprived of its fief, the reverence of Kiyomasa by the Higo people did not decline even at the time that the Higo Hosokawa family (the lord's family of the Kokura Domain, Buzen Province and the Kumamoto Domain in Higo Province) of the Hosokawa clan was transferred from Kokura Domain, Buzen Province. It is said that the Hosokawa clan considered the popularity of Kiyomasa carefully and entered the territory with a memorial tablet of Kiyomasa at the head of the procession, after which the lord of the domain, Tadatoshi HOSOKAWA, went up to the Honmaru of the Kumamoto-jo Castle, knelt down toward Honmyo-ji Temple (Kumamoto City) where the mausoleum dedicated to Kiyomasa was located, and said 'Please let me look after your castle,' which was exceptional conduct.

Undertakings of Kiyomasa in Kumamoto

Although Kiyomasa ruled Higo Province from 1587 to 1611, he was really substantially settled in Kumamoto for a total of about 15 years due to the dispatch of troops to Korea and so on. In Higo Province before Kiyomasa, no influential Daimyo had appeared and the age of rival Kokujin (local lords) continued, and even Narimasa SASSA was unable to get the situation under control, leaving the province devastated. In such a situation, Kiyomasa went ahead with a plan to increase production by civil engineering technology including flood control, which was his strong point. Although those engineering works were conducted mainly in the farmers' slack season and workers were mobilized irrespective of gender, these were a type of public works and wages were paid, and therefore people were reportedly pleased to cooperate.

It was Kiyomasa who changed the place-name of 'Kumamoto' (隈本[隅本]) to 'Kumamoto' (熊本).

Before the 'Major improvement work for Shirakawa and Tsuboigawa,' Shira-kawa River (Kumamoto Prefecture) and Tsuboi-gawa River (Kumamoto Prefecture) used to merge at the area around the current City Hall of Kumamoto City; however, Kiyomasa changed the course of the rivers to the current one by building stone embankments.

He conducted improvement works for the four major rivers in Kumamoto. They included the replacement of Kikuchi-gawa River, a dam for cormorant fishing on Midori-kawa River, a dam for worshipping from a distance on Kuma-gawa River and several improvement works on Shira-kawa River.

He conducted reclamation and improvement of banks in the Kumamoto Plain and the Yatsushiro Plain.

He adopted a remarkably experimental technology for irrigation channels (Babakusu no Ide) in the irrigation works for the Shira-kawa River system, mainly to the Kumamoto Plain.

Furthermore, the current Hori-kawa River (Kumamoto Prefecture) had canal-cutting work started by Tadahiro KATO and completed by Tadatoshi HOSOKAWA. It was an irrigation channel connecting Shira-kawa River with Tsuboi-gawa River.

After Kiyomasa's death

Although the Hosokawa family started to rule the province, the popularity of the family among the people never surpassed that of 'Seishoko-san.'
This could be described in modern terms as a reversal phenomenon of the private and public sectors. While the wealthy farmers developed lands, accumulated wealth and strove for new developments, the Hosokawa clan is said to have been held in contempt as 'Poor Tonosama (feudal lord) in Higo' and to have left many of its debts unpaid. As a distinguished family, the Hosokawa clan continued to be made uneasy after all by the ghost of their predecessor, without asserting any ultimate authority. On the other hand, developments progressed steadily through the proposals by peasants as Tsujun-kyo Blridge.


He knew Gidayu MORIMOTO and Kakubei IIDA since they were boys together. One day, they agreed that the winner in a Kendo (swordsmanship) match would become a lord and the loser a retainer. Kiyomasa won and the agreement was kept, and his two friends continued to have a trustworthy master-servant relationship with Kiyomasa as his trusted assistants.

There is an anecdote which relates that he was able to put his fist into his mouth. When Isami KONDO, the leader of the Shinsengumi (a group who guarded Kyoto during the end of Tokugawa Shogunate) came to know of this anecdote, he is said to have put his fist into his mouth after the manner of Kiyomasa, whom he admired.

Even in peacetime, he always carried three sho (about 5.4 liters) of rice, Miso (Bean paste) and 300 mon of silver coins with him.
At one time, his close friend, Masanori FUKUSHIMA, said to him, 'They are heavy on your side, aren't they?'
To that remark, Kiyomasa is said to have replied, 'I myself want it light, but if I wear these like this, my retainers follow suit and never fail to be prepared for a battle.'
Furthermore, he is said to have dismissed a page who forgot to carry army provisions on his side in peacetime, accusing him of negligence.

Kiyomasa conflicted with Mitsunari over the dispatch of troops to Korea, as a result of which he was summoned home to Kyoto by Hideyoshi and placed under house arrest in Fushimi. However, when the Great Fushimi Earthquake occurred in 1596 and Fushimi-jo Castle where Hideyoshi lived collapsed, Kiyomasa is said to have quickly hurried to Hideyoshi with a party of 300 soldiers under his command and acted as escort. Regardless of his status of being confined to his house, Kiyomasa hurried to Hideyoshi without the latter's permission, which could have had him ordered to commit seppuku if there was the slightest mistake; however, Hideyoshi is said to have forgiven Kiyomasa for his fault in Korea, praising his loyalty.
Due to this, Kiyomasa was called 'Earthquake Kato.'

While Kiyomasa never forgot his lifelong loyalty to the Toyotomi clan, he recognized the ruling power of Ieyasu, who frightened him.
When his friend Masanori was ordered to construct Nagoya-jo Castle in Owari Province for Yoshinao TOKUGAWA, a child of Ieyasu, he grumbled, 'Why should I give my help to even construct a castle for a son of Ogosho (Ieyasu)?'
To that, Kiyomasa is said to have advised, 'If you don't like it, then go back to your province and prepare for battles.'

After the Tokugawa period started, the militaristic spirit came to be suspected as intention of rebellion. And then, when it became trendy among Daimyo to shave off their whiskers, Ieyasu ordered a retainer to visit Kiyomasa and to hear his intention. To the recommendation for him to shave off his whiskers, Kiyomasa declined, saying, 'I feel comfortable when my beard touch the cheek protector of my armor', by which he came to be seen as a staunch Busho.

In his later years, he was deeply troubled over his moral obligation toward the Toyotomi family and his survival in the Tokugawa government. Probably due to this, he deeply studied the Rongo (Analects of Confucius), even writing in cinnabar. While things didn't look too good in the relationship between Tokugawa and Toyotomi, he is said to have lamented by saying to his pet monkey, 'Would you like to learn the teachings of Confucius, too?' when he saw the monkey scribbling in his Rongo book in red imitating him during a boat trip from Osaka.

When Kiyomasa ruled a territory of 240,000 koku crop yields in the northern part of Higo Province, a rebellion led by powerful local families occurred in Amakusa, the territory of Yukinaga KONISHI. When his troops participated in the battle to lend a hand, he engaged in single combat with a well-known heroic figure, Danjo KIYAMA. When Danjo, an expert archer, was going to shoot an arrow, Kiyomasa said, 'This is one-on-one combat, so let us fight openly and fairly with swords' and instantly threw away the spear he held. Danjo saw it and also threw away his bow, then Kiyomasa immediately picked up his spear, attacked and defeated his opponent.

In that same rebellion, Kiyomasa sent a messenger to the rebels holding Shiki-jo Castle for a peace talk. When the Shiki-jo Castle side sent a group of soldiers to receive Kiyomasa's representatives, Kiyomasa's troops suddenly attacked and massacred them, and took up a position giving a gleeful chuckle.

A bereaved child of Danjo KIYAMA who called himself Goro YOKOTE and was proud of his phenomenal strength, was watching for an opportunity to take revenge for his father's death working as a laborer in the construction site of Kumamoto-jo Castle. However, Goro is said to have been buried alive by Kiyomasa, who came to know his plan, throwing stones and sand into a well in the castle in which he was working. However, there are various theories, one of which is an anecdote that Goro was accepted by Kiyomasa and became his loyal retainer. There is a huge concave-shaped stone called 'Kubikakeishi' in the castle which is said to have been carried by him.

Cause of death

While the cause of Kiyomasa's death is understood to have been emaciation due to sexual overindulgence (venereal disease) according to "Todaiki" (a famous chronicle describing the Early Modern age), some say it was Togasa (syphilis) and some say it was murder by poisoning by Ieyasu or his followers. In 1613, two years after the death of Kiyomasa, Yoshinaga ASANO, one of the most influential Daimyo under the patronage of the Toyotomi clan, also died of venereal disease. It was true that Ieyasu was wary of both Kiyomasa and Yukinaga as influential Daimyo under the patronage of the Toyotomi clan. Since the two Daimyo died of the same disease and suddenly as well, it touched off speculation of murder by poisoning by Ieyasu. There are several theories for murder by poisoning including that of poisoning by dishes served in the meeting at Nijo-jo Castle and by a poisonous bun. Shotaro IKENAMI made the deeply entrenched murder by poisoning theory the subject matter of his novel "Castle in the fire country."

There is a theory that the cause of his death was Hansen's disease and it is said that many visited Kato-jinja Shrine dedicated to Kiyomasa to pray for their recovery from illness in the ages when there were many patients. Incidentally, it was not uncommon that the Honmyo-ji Temple (Kumamoto City) got crowded with patients disabled by syphilis or Hansen's disease until the 20s of the Meiji period (around the end of 19th century). That was due to the fact that visitors to the temple as believers treated Kiyomasa whose tomb was located there as a kind of god, begging for mercy and curing them of their diseases. However, that phenomenon occurred in the temples and shrines throughout the country, and therefore the above description of the belief is not so reliable. Hannah Riddell, a female missionary of the Church of England, one of the persons who left behind a great achievement in the history of the Hansen's disease in Japan, was greatly shocked to see a crowd of patients at the temple and came to devote her life to give aid to patients suffering from Hansen's disease.

Sign Language Motifs

To say 'Kato' in Japanese sign language, there is a sign imitating the action of 'holding a spear in both hands and thrusting it out.'
That sign is said to have to do with the fable of Kiyomasa KATO subjugating a tiger (there are other ways to say it including a sign for 'Ka' of the finger alphabet used with a sign to show 'to' [Japanese wisteria], a plant, and a sign imitating a mustache with one finger, which has to do with Cha KATO.)

[Original Japanese]