Kusunoki Masashige (楠木正成)

Shigeko, a younger sister of Fujifusa MADENOKOJI

Masashige KUSUNOKI was a military commander who lived in Kawachi Province from the end of the Kamakura period to the period of the Northern and Southern Courts. He was called "rebel" by the Kamakura Shogunate. He participated actively as a leading figure in the Kenmu Restoration with Takauji ASHIKAGA and others. He served not only as a clerk at the office of Rewards, the warriors' office, and the land record office, but also as the magistrate of agency of Kenmu Government to file lawsuits and the military governor of Izumi. He was posthumously awarded the rank of Senior First Rank in 1880. After the betrayal of Takauji, Masashige played a major role in the military of the Restoration and gave his loyalty to the Emperor until his death. He fought against the army of Takauji ASHIKAGA and committed suicide in Minatogawa. He has been called the Elder Lord of Kusunok 'Dai-Nanko' after the Meiji period. As his father is said to have been Masatoo, Masaharu, Masazumi, Masayasu or Toshichika KUSUNOKI, depending on various genealogical charts, it is not certain who his father was.

Origin of the Kusunoki clan

The Kusunoki clan is said to be descended from TACHIBANA no Toyasu of the Iyotachibana clan (Ochi clan) in Iyo Province. As a genealogical chart before Masashige of one family of the clan varies from those of the other families, however, the charts were likely to be created in later generations. Because there is no geographical name derived from the family name "Kusunoki" in Kawachi Province, some insist that the clan served as low-level official of the Tokuso family of the Hojo clan and moved later to Kawachi (a territory of the Tokuso family of the Hojo clan), but others have different opinions, including one that states that that the clan originally came from Musashi Province (Kanto region). Besides, some suggest that it was derived from the Hata clan.

Documents of the Kamijima family "Kamijima-ke bunsho"(a manuscript in the end of the Edo period) was found in the old family in Ueno City, Mie Prefecture, in 1962.


It is believed that Masashige was born in Akasaka Village, Ishikawa District, Kawachi Province (present-day Chihaya-Akasaka-mura, Minamikawachi-gun, Osaka Prefecture). Because there is no historical material proving his birth date and the first half of his life is mostly unknown, there is no one else whose origin is so mysterious as that of Masashige, although he is highly well-known in Japanese history. Despite exhaustive efforts by several historians, a true picture of Masashige could only be seen in a period of six years from raising an army in 1331 to committing suicide in Minatogawa in 1336.

Because his name was recorded in historical materials in 1331 as 'Hyoenojo KUSUNOKI of Akuto' at wa-wakamatsu-sho in the territory of Rinsen-ji Temple, he is considered to have been a member of a powerful clan that was called 'Akuto' and worked in distribution of quicksilver and others in the area around Kawachi, which was not registered in the record of lower-ranking vassal of the Kamakura shogunate 'Gokenin cho' by Kamakura shogunate. Since he already had a government post at that time, it is believed that he had served the Imperial Court and had kept contact with Emperor Godaigo or his acquaintances before.

As he heard of raising an army of Emperor Godaigo that year, he also raised an army at Shimoakasaka-jo Castle to fight against Jobutsu YUASA (Battle of Akasakajo Castle). It is believed that the person who introduced Masashige to Emperor Godaigo was Kanemitsu IGA or Monkan, a monk of the Shingon Sect. While Emperor Godaigo was exiled to Okinoshima Island, Masashige and Imperial Prince Morinaga, who fought with him in Yoshino in Yamato Province (present-day Nara Prefecture) and other places, held Kamiakasaka-jo Castle in Kawachi Province and Chihaya-jo Castle, which was a a castle built on a mountain to take advantage of the mountain's topography, built in the middle of Mt. Kongo (Kongo mountainous district), using guerrilla tactics, excrement attack and others, to fight against a huge army of the bakufu.

As the success of Masashige and others increased opportunities to overthrow the Shogunate in various regions in 1333, warriors including Takauji ASHIKAGA, Yoshisada NITTA, and Enshin AKAMATSU raised an army to defeat the Kamakura bakufu (Genko War). When Emperor Godaigo returned in triumph to Kyoto, Masashige greeted him in Hyogo to accompany him as a bodyguard.

When Emperor Godaigo's Kenmu Restoration started, Masashige served not only as yoriudo at Kirokujo, but also as secretary at Zasso-Ketsudansho and Shugo of Kawachi and Izumi Provinces. Since Masashige won the deep confidence of Emperor Godaigo in the Kenmu Restoration and the group of Chikamitsu YUKI, Nagatoshi NAWA and Tadaaki CHIGUSA were called 'Sanboku-Isso', it is said that they were 'proud of imperial blessing' (a description from The Record of the Great Peace "Taiheiki"). Soon after Masashige had left Kyoto in winter 1334 to defeat the remnants of the Hojo clan, Imperial Prince Morinaga was captured on suspicion of rebellion to be turned over to Takauji ASHIKAGA.
Because Masashige likely gave up several posts of the Kenmu Government shortly after the capture of Imperial Prince Morinaga, he is considered to have been an important samurai who served warrior-commanders of higher rank 'yoriki' of the Imperial Prince

As Takauji went to win the Nakasendai War in 1335 and seceded from the Kenmu Government, Yoshisada was ordered to track down and kill Takauji, which resulted in the defeat of Yoshisada in the Battle of Hakone Take no Shita, so the Ashikaga side approached to Kyoto, but Masashige contacted Akiie KITABATAKE and others to expel the Ashikaga side from Kyoto.

When the Ashikaga's troops established themselves in Kyushu and approached Kyoto again in 1336, Masashige suggested to Emperor Godaigo that the emperor should abandon Yoshisada NITTA to make peace with Takauji, but the Emperor did not accept his opinion, then Masashige advised him to take the second best policy, that is, a temporary withdrawal from Kyoto, which was also rejected. He was ordered to depart for the front under Yoshisada's command due to the hopeless circumstance, he fought against the army of Tadayoshi ASHIKAGA in the Battle of Minatogawa (present-day Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture) to be defeated, so he is said to have stabbed each other with his younger brother Masasue KUSUNOKI. His posthumous buddhist name is Reikojidaiengiryumanjido.

Not only Masashige's son, Masatsura KUSUNOKI, also known as the Younger Lord of Kusunoki 'Sho-Nanko', but also Masatoki KUSUNOKI and Masanori KUSUNOKI took the side of the Southern Court as well as Masashige to fight against the enemy.

During the warring period, Masashige's wife, Hisako, left Kawachi (Kannabi Village) after the death of her husband Masashige, her eldest son Masatsura and other family members to live in seclusion in Okunoin, Nagataki kamagatani, Ijira-mura, Mino Province. Kannabi-jinja Shrine deifying the clan is at Okunoin. After Hisako had gained the trust of the people in the area, she named the places after Nagataki, Hirai, Kake, Matsuo and so force in Kannabi in Kawachi Province. Her grave is adjacent to the precincts of Nagataki Nana-sha-jinja Shrine, at the foot of Ijira-ko Lake.

Evaluation of Masashige by later generations and his influence

The achievements of Masashige were emphasized in the description contained in the pro-Southern-Court classic "Taiheiki," but in the pro-Ashikaga history book "Baishoron" (Historical tale compiled in 1349) he was described sympathetically. The reason was that Takauji acknowledged Masashige's integrity and handed back the head of the fallen Masashige to his family in a polite way, saying that they must want to see him, although they might feel sad.

As his tactics that excelled at present-day guerrilla warfare became prevalent as military science of Kusunoki-ryu style in the Edo period, Shosetsu YUI, a disciple of Masatatsu KUSUNOKI (Fuden KUSUNOKI), who claimed descent from Masashige, also taught the military science of Nagi-ryu style.

Koryu Kagemitsu, a sword made by a sword craftsman Kagemitsu, which had been handed on to later generations as his carrying sword (a property of Tokyo National Museum), passed into the possession of Emperor Meiji as his carrying sword through Asaemon YAMADA. Emperor Meiji is said to have carried the sword, even when the Imperial headquarters were relocated to Hiroshima.

The Meiji Government looked for descendants of Masashige to confer descendants of the meritorious retainer of the Southern Court the dignity of a peerage, but it was not possible even for the state power to identify his direct descendants based on scientific evidence, although many clans throughout the nation claimed descent from the Kusunoki clan. For this reason none of the Kusunoki clan were raised to the peerage, while descendants of the Nitta, Kikuchi and Nawa clans were baronized.

But descendants of the Kusunoki clan were identified based on scientific evidence at the Dai-Nanko 600th anniversary in 1935, so the Kusunoki family council has been organized at Minatogawa-jinja Shrine and continues to exist.

Masashige KUSUNOKI after death

Because Masatora KUSUNOKI, who claimed to be a descendent of Masashige, petitioned through a donation that Masashige be pardoned from being named an enemy of the court, he was pardoned by order of Emperor Ogimachi in 1559. In the Edo period he was revaluated as a loyal subject by imperialistic historians of Mitogaku.

In the latter half of the Edo period he was often enshrined by advocates of reverence for the Emperor, which led to the foundation of Minatogawa-jinja Shrine, and also, it made a major impact on foundation of Shokon-sha Shrine such as Yasukuni-jinja Shrine.

After the Southern Court had been legitimatized through the argument on legitimacy of either Northern or Southern Court in the Meiji period, he was called Dai-Nanko and was compared in 'kodan' storytelling and other sources to the genius strategist Zhuge Liang of "Romance of the Three Kingdoms." In the emperor-centered historiography which is based on state Shinto, he was praised as 'an exemplary loyal subject' or 'a true Japanese' who went off to war with a heavy gait, being prepared to die for his cause, so that he was worshiped also in the moral training education.

As values were changed and the study of medieval history in a historical science progressed after the war, his character as a rebel was emphasized, such that Eiji YOSHIKAWA drew a different image of Masashige from that of prewar times in his book "Shihon Taihei ki".

Military song 'Sakurai no Ketsubetsu'

This is a song about the parting of Masashige and his son Masatsura, and it was published in June 1899. The lyrics were written by Naobumi OCHIAI and the music was composed by Tomoyasu OKUYAMA.

OCHIAI, a scholar of Japanese classical literature and a professor of Daiichi High School (the first old-education-system high school), published the lyrics with a title of 'Sakurai Ketsubetsu' (parting at Sakurai) for the first chapter of the marching song for students with a title of 'Minatogawa.'
The composer, Tomoyasu OKUYAMA, was a teacher of Okayama normal school.

Graveyard/mausoleum/historic sites

Burial Mound for Head "Dai-Nanko Kubi-zuka"

The mound is located in the precincts of Kanshin-ji Temple of Koyasan Shingon Sect in Kawachinagano City, Osaka Prefecture. The severed head of Masashige delivered by order of Takauji ASHIKAGA after the Battle of Minatogawa is entombed there. Tacchu-in of Kanshin-ji Temple, which is said to have been reconstructed by Masashige's great-grandfather, Shigeuji KUSUNOKI, is an ancestral temple of the Kusunoki clan.

Nagijinja Shrine

It is a sessha (auxiliary shrine (dedicated to a deity close-related to that of a main shrine)) of Takemikumari-jinja Shrine in Chihayaakasaka-mura, Minamikawachi District, Osaka Prefecture, and the enshrined deity of Nagijinja Shrine is Masashige KUSUNOKI. It is believed that the private deity of the Kusunoki clan is enshrined in the main shrine, Takemikumari-jinja Shrine. This originates from the fact that a statue of Masashige carved by Emperor Godaigo himself was enshrined there in 1337, and later, Emperor Gomurakami gave the shrine the name 'the deity of Nagijinja Shrine'. It is the oldest shrine deifying Masashige KUSUNOKI.

Nagataki Nana-shajinja Shrine

The grave of Hisako, the wife of Nanko (Masashige KUSUNOKI), is adjacent to the Nana-shajinja Shrine in Nagataki, Yamagata City, Gifu Prefecture, and the characters of "Hachioji-gu Shrine" (literally Eight, King, Temple, Shrine (or Palace)) are engraved on it. But it is also said that the wife of Nanko was entombed at Nanpian Kanon-ji Temple of Myoshin-ji Temple school of the Rinzai sect in Tondabayashi City, Osaka Prefecture (former Kannabi Village), which is an ancestral temple of the Kusunoki clan.

After Masatsura and Masatoki KUSUNOKI had fallen in the Battle of Shijonawate in 1348, the wife of Masashige made a thatched hut. After she had called herself Haikyoni (literally, "the defeated nun of mirror") and had prayed to Buddha for the happiness of the dead members of the Kusunoki clan, she left there in the period of war to live in seclusion in Okunoin, Nagataki kamagatani, Ijira-mura, Mino Province. After Hisako (her birth name was Minamie) had gained the trust of the people in the area, she named some places in Ijira after Nagataki, Hirai, Kake or Matsuo of her birthplace Kannabi Village. The Kannabi-jinja Shrine in Okunoin deifies Minu no Okimi, the father of TACHIBANA no Moroe, who is believed to be the forefather of the Kusunoki clan. According to a legend of Kannabi Village, Hisako, the wife of Masashige KUSUNOKI, went on a pilgrimage with a statue of the Kannon as a small portab;e statue of Buddha, but she did not know when to stop. Her grave is on the west side of the precincts of Nagataki Nana-shajinja Shrine at the foot of Ijira-ko Lake. The main reason for her visit there appears that she followed the track of Yoshisuke WAKIYA, who was a younger brother of Yoshisada NITTA, succeeded to the commander after death of his brother, got defeated in Hokuriku region, also got defeated in the last battle, i. e., the Battle of Neo-jo Castle, with a pro-Southern-Court group of Mino, avoided the headquarters of the Northern Court in Motosu District in lower reach of Neo-gawa River, fled to Ijira with the vassals of Jirozaemon IJIRA, who fought with him, and finally went back to Yoshino.

Minatogawajinja Shrine

The main enshrined deities of the shrine is Masashige KUSUNOKI (Dai-Nanko), while the divine spirits of his son Masatsura KUSUNOKI (Sho-Nanko), sixteen clan members and Takeyoshi KIKUCHI who fell in the Battle of Minatogawa are enshrined as associated deity. The divine spirit of Hisako, the wife of Dai-Nanko, was also enshrined with them after the war. It was founded as a shrine in 1872, i.e., relatively recently. The gravestone "A tomb of loyal subject Nanshi" was erected by Mitsukuni TOKUGAWA at the graveyard that had existed before the foundation of the shrine. The precincts of the shrine contain not only the graveyard but also the place where he is said to have committed suicide with his family members in the Battle of Minatogawa (some disagree with this opinion).

Ibarakijo Castle

That was a castle built in Ibaraki City, Osaka Prefecture. It is deserted today.

Hoken-to Tower (Nanko 600th anniversary tower)

A tower was built in 1940 at the former site of the fort of Joshinji Temple (auxiliary fort of Kamiakasakajo Castle) by donations from pupils, students, teachers and others throughout the country to mark the 600th anniversary of his death. The height of the tower was set at approximately thirteen meters, because he died in battle at the age of forty three. The family crest, Kikusui-mon (pattern of floating flowers on a stream) and the characters of emblem on the flag "Wrong, Right, Law, Power, Heaven" are engraved on the tower. (The emblem on the flag is not based on historical facts, but on a tradition.
Refer to the article about "Wrong, Right, Law, Power, Heaven".)

Nanko ubuyu no ido (well for Nanko's first bath)

"Nanko ubuyu no ido," which is said to be a water well for Nanko's first bath, is a few minutes walk away from his birthplace.

[Original Japanese]