Horibe Taketsune (堀部武庸)

Taketsune HORIBE (1670 - March 20, 1703) was a member of the Forty-seven Ronin of Ako (lordless samurai of Ako Domain). He was the most excellent swordsman among the Forty-seven Ronin gaining popularity equivalent to that of Yoshio OIHSI. He was a leader of a group called Edo Kyushin-ha (a radical faction in Edo). He was well known as his common name, Yasubei.


He was born at the Nakayama residence in Togawa near the Shibata-jo Castle as the first son to Yajiemon NAKAYAMA (200 koku), a retainer of the Mizoguchi clan in the Shibata Domain, Echigo Province. His mother was the sixth daughter born to Morimasa MIZOGUCHI, a retainer of Shibata Domain, and Akika MIZOGUCHI, the fifth daughter of the first lord of Shibata Domain Hidekatsu MIZOGUCHI. Accordingly, Yasubei was a great-grandson of Hidekatsu MIZOGUCHI. He had three older sisters: his oldest sister Chiyo died at an early age; his next oldest sister Kin got married to Yagozaemon NAGAI, a wealthy farmer in Ushizaki village, Nakakanbara-gun; and his third oldest sister got married to Shingozaemon MACHIDA, a retainer of the Mizoguchi clan.

As his mother died in May (1670) shortly after giving birth to Yasubei, he was left to his maternal grandmother Akika MIZOGUCHI for a while and brought up until the age of three by Akika as her own son. After the death of Akika, he returned to his father's place again and had been brought up only by his father since then.

However, when Yasubei was 13 years old in 1683, his father was driven out of the Mizoguchi clan and became a ronin (lordless samurai). There are various opinions about Yajiemon becoming a ronin; the one from "Seishinfu" (the biographies of retainers of Shibata Domain) is most convincing that Yajiemon was driven out of the domain to take the blame for the accidental fire of a castle turret.

Soon after becoming a ronin, his father Yajiemon died. After Yasubei was orphaned, he was taken in by his maternal grandfather Shirobei MIZOGUCHI, however, Morimasa also died about two years later, so he was taken in by the Nagai family his sister Kin married into. In 1688, at the age of 19, he came up to Edo, counting on Shingoemon SATO, the Nagai family's relative, and started training in Masaharu HORIUCHI's fencing dojo near the Koishikawa Ushi-tenjin Shrine. As he soon distinguished himself because of his natural fencing talent, he was conferred full mastership in fencing. He was called the big four of the Horiuchi fencing dojo and received many requests for giving lessons at daimyo's mansions. Accordingly, he got a steady income and had a detached house in Ushigome Tenryu-ji Take-cho (present-day Nando-machi, Shinjuku Ward) in 1690.

Meanwhile, on March 6, 1694, he was so intimate with his dojo mate Rokurozaemon SUGANO (a retainer of the Matsudaira clan in Saijo Domain, Iyo Province) that he pledged a bond of uncle and nephew with him. When Rokurozaemon had to fight a duel in Takadanobaba, Yasubei assisted him in the duel and cut down three enemies (Duel in Takadanobaba).

Yasubei's performance in the duel became the talk of the town of Edo as "Juhachi-nin giri" (cutting down of 18 men with a sword). Hearing this, Kanamaru HORIBE, a retainer of the Asano clan in Ako, wanted an adoption arrangement with Yasubei. At first, Yasubei rejected it with the excuse that he should avoid the extinction of the Nakayama family's line, however, Yahei's wish was so strong that he reported to his lord Naganori ASANO, saying, "Even though the Horibe surname is lost, I want to adopt Yasubei NAKAYAMA as husband for my daughter." Since Takumi-no-kami (the head of Bureau of Skilled Artisans) was not a little interested in Yasubei NAKAYAMA, a famed master swordsman, he gave Yasubei an unprecedented permission to keep his Nakayama surname and become an adopted son-in-law of the Horibe family on July 18, 1694.

Hearing this, Yasubei gave in at last and decided to become an adopted son-in-law of the Horibe family with his Nakayama surname. On August 27, he married Yahei's daughter, Hori HORIBE, to become Yahei HORIBE's adopted son-in-law and a retainer of the Asano clan. After Yahei retired in 1697, Yasubei succeeded to the headship of the family. On that occasion, he was supposed to keep his Nakayama surname under the prior agreement; however, he changed his surname to Horibe. Nevertheless, he was categorized as a newly appointed retainer (the outside retainer) of the Asano clan. Since the Horibe family was a hereditary vassal, this categorization was inappropriate for Yasubei, who was "an adopted son-in law of the Horibe family." It is obvious that Yasubei's family was practically treated as a branch family in contrast to Yahei HORIBE's family because his becoming an adopted son-in-law of the Horibe family was rather exceptional.

Yasubei received a stipend of 200 koku in the Ako Domain, taking posts of Otsukaiban (an administrator serving as an inspector) and Umamawari-yaku or Umamawari (bodyguards).
(Umamawari was regarded as a samurai rank rather than a official post, referring to a samurai who was allowed to ride a horse.)
Samurai who was not allowed to ride a horse belonged to a higher rank of Chugosho (the lowest rank of samurai). At the end of 1698, when Princess Chiyo (the first daughter of Shogun Iemitsu TOKUGAWA), the lawful wife of the lord of Owari Domain Mitsutomo TOKUGAWA, died and many feudal lords sent messengers of condolence to the Owari Domain, Yasubei was nominated as a messenger of condolence by Naganori ASANO and went to the Nagoya-jo Castle in Owari Province.

However, on April 21, 1701, his lord Asano Takumi-no-kami drew his sword on Koke (a master of ceremony) Yoshinaka KIRA at Matsu no Oroka (Great Pine Corridor) in the Edo-jo Castle; Asano Takumi-no-kami was ordered to commit seppuku on the same day and the Asano clan in the Ako Domain was deprived of samurai status and forfeited its territories. Yasubei went to Ako City with Shigemori OKUDA, a feudal retainer assigned to Edo (Bugu bugyo [Official in charge of Armor] and Umamawari with a stipend of 150 koku) and Gunbei TAKATA (Umamawari with a stipend of 200 koku) to meet with Yoshio OISHI, the head of chief retainers in his native province. He insisted that they should lock themselves in a castle or avenge on Kira, however, Kura-no-suke (Deputy chief of Kuraryo, Bureau of Palace Storehouse) persuaded him, saying, "We will of course avenge on Kira, but the restoration of the Asano clan by putting Nagahiro ASANO as the head of the family is the first priority. We should choose the right timing." After they saw the evacuation of the Ako-jo Castle, Yasubei and others returned to Edo.

However, even after that, he kept insisting on the revenge on Kira firmly. He became a leader of the radical faction in Edo and sent a letter to Oishi Kura-no-suke, who secluded from society in Yamashina Ward, Kyoto, to ask him to travel down to Edo. A letter dated on September 21 says, "If we let the man whom our deceased lord risked his life to kill go unpunished, the spirit of the samurai would break down. Even if Daigaku sama is given a stipend of 1 million koku, he (Daigaku ASANO) cannot appear in public because his brother is in such a situation."

To pacify the radical faction in Edo including Yasubei, Oishi Kura-no-suke firstly sent Soemon HARA (Ashigarugashira [the head of foot soldiers] with a stipend of 300 koku), Matanojo USHIODA (Ezu bugyo [Magistrate of provincial map making] with a stipend of 200 koku), and Kansuke NAKAMURA (Yuhitsu [private secretary] with a stipend of 100 koku) to Edo at the end of September, and then Genshiro SHINDO (Ashigarugashira with a stipend of 400 koku) and Gengo OTAKA (Koshimono-kata [an official in charge of swords] with a stipend of 20 koku and a ration for five persons) as well. However, all of them were persuaded by Yasubei and joined tha radical faction in Edo. So, Oishi Kura-no-suke himself had to come up to Edo to convince them including Yasubei.

On December 9, 1701, Oishi Kura-no-suke held talks with Yasubei HORIBE at the residence of Maekawa Chudayu前川忠大夫 in Mita, Edo (present-day Minato Ward, Tokyo). Kura-no-suke promised Yasubei to carry out the revenge on April 10, 1702, which was the first anniversary of the lord's death, and returned to Kyoto.

However, after returning to Kyoto, Kura-no-suke did not even come up to Edo, much less rose to action although the first anniversary of their lord Asano Takumi-no-kami's death had passed. To meet with Oishi again, Yasubei came to Kyoto on July 23, 1702. He intended to cut down Oishi if occasion required. Actually, Yasubei planned to stop over Osaka and carry out the revenge resolutely by placing Soemon HARA as a leader. However, on August 11, it was decided that Daigaku ASANO was handed over to Hiroshima Domain for life, and consequently, there was no longer any hope for the restoration of the Asano clan. After all this, Oishi Kura-no-suke made up his mind to take action. Oishi Kura-no-suke invited Yasubei to have a meeting in Maruyama, Kyoto, and definitely decided to carry out the revenge. To inform his comrades in Edo of this decision, Yasubei left Kyoto and returned to Edo on September 1. On September 3, he gathered his comrades in a boat on the Sumida-gawa River to inform them of the decision made in Kyoto.

Then, on January 30, 1703, the Forty-seven Ronin of Ako including Oishi Kura-no-suke and Yasubei HORIBE carried out the attack on Kira Kozuke-no-suke's mansion located in Matsuzaka, Honjo. Yasubei rushed into the back gate and fought furiously with a long Japanese sword. After more than one-hour fight, the Ronin of Ako killed Kira Kozuke-no-suke at last, realizing their long-cherished desire.

After the raid, the Ronin of Ako was broken into four groups and put under guard of four different daimyo's mansions; Yasubei was placed in the custody of Sadanao MATSUDAIRA along with Yoshikane OISHI, the legitimate son of Oishi Kura-no-suke and others. On March 20, 1703, the bakufu ordered the Ronin of Ako to commit seppuku, and then he committed seppuku at the residence of Matsudaira Oki-no-kami (Governor of Oki Province) assisted by Choei HAGA 波賀朝栄, a retainer of the Matsudaira clan. He died at the age of 34. He was buried in the Sengaku-ji Temple in Takanawa, Edo, which is the same temple his lord Asano Takumi-no-kami was buried. His posthumous Buddhist name was Toun Kiken Shinshi 刃雲輝剣信士. Kotozane HORIBE, his relative, succeeded to the family name of Horibe; the Horibe clan continued to exist as a feudal retainer of the Kumamoto Domain.

The Horibe clan originated from the Omi Genji Sasaki clan, and was a branch family of the Mabuchi clan founded by Hirosada MABUCHI, Sadatsuna SASAKI's son. It is said that the Horibe clan had served the Rokkaku clan, the head family of the Sasaki clan, for generations, however, the head family was overthrown in the Oda-Toyotomi era; and subsequently, the Horibe clan came to serve the Asano clan. The family crest of the Horibe clan was Meyui mon, which represented the origin of the Sasaki clan.


After 70 years from the raid in 1774, an old woman named Myoken-ni who announced herself to be as Yasubei HORIBE's wife built a hermitage in the Sengaku-ji Temple and had a reminiscent talk about the Ronin of Ako, which created a sensation in Edo. However, since Yasubei's wife Hori died at the age of 45 in 1720, this old woman was a phony. Her tombstone was remained beside graves of the Ronin in Sengaku-ji Temple.

In addition, Yasubei left "Horibe Taketsune Nikki" (Diary of Yasubei HORIBE), which was an important material for the study of the Forty-seven Ronin of Ako. It is a collection of important documents about the raid compiled by Yasubei, and just before the raid, he asked his dojo mate named Kotaku HOSOI, who was a Confucian scholar and his intimate friend, to compile it, so that it was retained to this day.
(It was included in "Kinsei Buke Shiso" [Warrior Ideology in early-modern times] by Iwanami Shoten, Publishers.)

Yasubei HORIBE was especially popular among the Forty-seven Ronin, because even though he was a great swardsman, he had a heartwarming relationship with his father-in-law Yasubei. There are some Chushingura (The Treasury of Loyal Retainers) -related stories in which Yasubei is a main character.

Yasubei had no blood relationship with his father-in-law Yahei, however, their gestures and manners were quite alike (according to a memorandum of Denemon HORIUCHI). The intimacy between them must have been deeper than that between a parent and his child who love each other.

[Original Japanese]