Azai Clan (浅井氏)

Azai clan (also referred to as Azai-shi, Azai uji) was a Japanese clan. The clan was a family of kokujin (local samurai) in Omi Province (Shiga Prefecture) and a Sengoku daimyo (Japanese territorial lord in the Sengoku period), which held influence over Kita Omi (Northern Omi Province).

There is a theory that the Azai clan was a local ruling family and a descendent of a family, whose origin was gunji (a district manager) or in a similar social class in Omi Province, although the clan proclaimed that its honsei (original name) was of the Fujiwara clan. It was in the mid-level position among the hereditary vassals of the Kyogoku clan. In a military epic 'Kohokuki,' its name appears as one of the 12 clans of konpon hikan (primal vassals), in which such clans as the Imai, the Kawake, the Akao, the Anyoji and the Mitamura were also included.

Some of the family lineages moved to Owari Province, and served the Oda clan or theTokugawa clan (There are contradictory or different theories.)

Although the name '浅井' often pronounced as 'Asai' in dramas and others, it should be read 'Azai' as mentioned above, and even in Shiga Prefecture today, it is read 'Azai.'
However, there are different theories, including Keiichi MIYAJIMA, the author of "Azai Sandaiki" (story about the three generation of the Azai family) (enlisted below as a reference), argues as follows:

In principle, the Chinese letter '浅' is never read as 'aza' in Japanese reading.
In "Setsuyoshu" (one of Japanese-language dictionaries and notation of characters), Ekirinbon edition (edition compiled by Ekirin), the clan's surname is read as 'Azai,' however, this reading is similarly applied to that of the Asakura clan as 'Azakura.'
Etymologically it is reasonable to understand that the surname 'Asai' of the Omi-Asai (and not Omi-Azai) clan was a result of the phonetic change of the name of 'Asahi-go' village. And based on the above mentioned reasons, he insists that it should be read 'Asai' as normally.

Omi-Azai clan

Heads of the Omi-Azai clan

Sukemasa AZAI

Hisamasa AZAI

Nagamasa AZAI

Summary of the history

The clan appeared in Kita Omi (Northern Omi Province)
In the generation of Sukemasa AZAI, the Kyogoku family's government system came to be practically managed by kokujin-shu (a group of local samurais) lead by the Asami clan, an influential local ruling family, throughing the Kyogoku clan's family troubles, who was a shugo daimyo (Japanese provincial military governor which came to acquire an authority as a Japanese feudal lord) ruling over the three counties of the northern territory of Omi Province.

According to a common theory, in due course, the Azai clan expelled the Asami clan, who was aiming at enhancing its autocratic rule, and instead, the Azai clan grew gradually and became a Sengoku daimyo (Japanese territorial lord in the Sengoku period), by making the Kyogoku clan as its puppet and handling the influential vassals of the Kyogoku family. Afterwards, Sukemasa opposed Sadayori ROKKAKU in Minami Omi (Southern Omi Province due to the attempt to expand his influence, and he was once backfooted by Sadayori's offensive. Therefore, Sukemasa built an alliance with the Asakura clan in Echizen Province, and he fought back against Sadayori's offensive with the support from the Asakura clan, and gradually enhanced his dominance over the Kita Omi, the northern territory of Omi Province.

Way to the independence with many hardships
However, during the generation of Hisamasa AZAI, who succeeded the family rein after Sukemasa's death, the clan suffered frequent invasions of those neighboring daimyo, including the Kyogoku clan, Rokkaku clan and the Saito clan. To break this situation, it was necessary to establish a coalition with the northern neighboring Asakura clan.

In the course of time, the threat from the east had disappeared due to the fall of the Saito clan, however, it was difficult to block the Rokkaku clan's northing.

Especially, while the Azai clan received fierce attacks from Sadayori's son, Yoshikata ROKKAKU, Hisamasa's first legitimate son, Nagamasa AZAI, was not only forced to take the daughter of a Rokkaku's vassal to wife, but he, whose name was Shinkuro, was also obliged to change his nanori (the name one refers to himself as when reaching adulthood, in his case, 'Nagamasa') to 'Katamasa'; the Azai clan was gradually cast down to a position of the Rokkaku clan's retainer. Such a week-kneed diplomacy of Hisamasa fermented dissatisfaction among his retainers.

From the battles for the independence to the family destruction

In 1560, after sending his wife of the forced marriage back to her family, Shinkuro challenged the decisive battle against the Rokkaku clan, leading his hard-line retainers, and won an overwhelming victory over Yoshikata in the Battle at Norada. When the Azai clan achieved the independence from the Rokkaku clan, the Azai's retainers forced Hisamasa to be retired, and Nagamasa came to succeed the rein of the family. However, Hisamasa was not completely out of the political matters, and still had a certain influence even after his retirement.

Nagamasa concluded an alliance with Nobunaga ODA, who was gaining his force by gripping the control over Mino Province at that time, and married Oichi no kata, Nobunaga's younger sister, to ensure the peace and security of the Azai clan. It was an effective alliance as a strategy against the Rokkaku clan, however, in 1570 when Nobunaga advanced his troops to Echizen Province to conquer Yoshikage ASAKURA, Nagamasa worried over coping with it.

Because, the Azai clan was tightly keeping the alliance with the Asakura clan as well as building the alliance with the Oda clan, thus the opinion within the family was split over the decision which side to support.

His father, Hisamasa, and his retainers insisted that 'the family should not cut off the Asakura clan which had been a great benefactor to the family,' urging Nagamasa to annul the alliance with Nobunaga and help the Asakura clan. Nagamasa, who was totally undecided between the two sides, finally broke the alliance with Nobunaga, and his troops attacked the Oda army from behind (Battle of Kanegasaki).

This attack brought the end of the alliance between Nagamasa and Nobunaga, and after that, these two great rivals started to intensify the confrontation between them. However, in the Battle of Anegawa which broke out the same year (1570), Nagamasa failed to make full use of his home-court advantage and could not predominate the battle.

Later, not only the Asakura clan, but also the other feudal lords who were suppressed by Nobunaga until then, such as the Miyoshi clan in Settsu Province and the Rokkaku clan, once Nagamasa's sworn enemy, strengthened confrontational postures against Nobunaga, then the conflict against the Oda clan went back and forth. The resistance forces had been leading the Oda clan temporally.

However, the Asakura clan's indecisive strategy failed to eliminate Nobunaga, and after they lost the greatest opportunity due to the death by disease of Shingen TAKEDA, who had launched the Westing Operation against Nobunaga, the resistance forces, including the Azai clan, were exposed to the Oda army's large-scale counterattack.

In 1573, Yoshiaki ASHIKAGA, one of the sworn allies forming the coalition against Nobunaga, was banished, and then, in the Siege of Odani-jo Castle, Hisamasa and his son Nagamasa were besieged their headquarters, the Odani-jo Castle by the Oda army. Although the Asakura clan, on which the Azai clan was relying as the last resort, once sent auxiliary forces to the Odani-jo Castle, pulled them back to its home base, Echizen Province, due to its own strategic reasons. On the way of the withdrawal, the Asakura's auxiliary forces were heavily chased by the Oda's army, and the Oda army finally invaded into the Asakura's territory in Echizen Province, and destroyed the Asakura clan (the Battle of Ichijodani Castle).

Completely left unsupported, the father and son of the Azai clan killed themselves, and the Azai clan died out.

Other lineages
The lineage of Akimasa TAYA (the surname was changed later to Miyoshi) and the lineage of Shinbachiro AZAI of the Owari-Azai clan survived as hatamoto of Edo bakufu (direct retainers of the Edo bakufu, which is a form of Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun in the Edo period).

Women of the Omi-Azai family
Bunna keishu ni (文和慶集尼) (Naomasa's mother)
Kuraya AZAI (Naomasa's daughter and Sukemasa's wife)
(Tsuruchiyo, Akimasa's wife)

Kaizu no Tsubone
(Akimasa's first daughter, Masataka's wife, Naomasa MIYOSHI's mother, Yodo-dono or later Sugen-in, jijo [a waiting woman] of Senhime)

Aeba no Tsubone (one of the wet nurses of Yodo-dono)
(Akimasa's second daughter, Nagaaki NAITO's mother, Yodo-dono's wet nurse)

Chiyozuru AZAI (according to a theory, Hisamasa's mother)
Keian AMAKO (Sukemasa's wife, according to a theory, Hisamasa's mother)
Matsuichi AZAI (Hisamasa's first daughter, Sadayori MITAMURA's wife)
Jukei AZAI
(written as 寿慶 or 壽慶, Hisamasa's second daughter, Tadatane AZAI's wife)

(Ako IGUCHI, Hisamasa's wife)

Kenkyuni SHOAN
(Aku, Hisamasa's first daughter)

Omi no kata (Lady Omi) (Yoshitatsu SAITO's wife)
Maria KYOGOKU (Hisamasa's daughter, Maria KYOGOKU, Takayoshi KYOGOKU's wife)
Dainini (大弐尼)
(Hisamasa's daughter, Yoshisane ROKKAKU's wife)

Sadatake HIRAI's daughter (Nagamasa's wife)
Oichi no kata (Nagamasa's wife)
(Chacha, Nagamasa's daughter, Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI's wife)

(Hatsu, Takatsugu KYOGOKU's wife)

(Ko [written as 江 or 督], later she was called Eyo, Hidetada TOKUGAWA's Midaidokoro [shogun or minister's wife], mother of Iemitsu TOKUGAWA and Tofukumon-in)

Yae no kata (Nagamasa's wife, Shichiro's mother)?
Honnen soshin daishi (本念宗心大姉) (Nagamasa's wife, Kusu's mother)
Kusu AZAI (Nagamasa's daughter)

(Sonyo, Azai Tanba no kami (Governor of Tanba Province)'s wife, Sukechika AZAI's mother)

Jukin (寿忻) (Sukechika AZAI's wife)
Eikyu (written as 永久 or 恵久) (Azai Tanba no kami's first daughter)
(Jusei, Azai Tanba no kami's second daughter, Hyoegoro (兵衛五郎) AZAI's wife)

Tsushima no Tsubone
(Sadamasa AZAI's daughter, a lady-in-waiting for Tofukumon-in)

Dewa no Tsubone
(Kiyotada AZAI's daughter, a lady-in-waiting for Tofukumon-in)

Retainers of the Azai clan
For the retainers of the Azai clan, as well as the hereditary vassals of the Azai clan such as the Tanabe, the Hota (保多), the Yano and the Endo, there were who once in the same position as the Asai clan as retainers of the Kyogoku clan, such as the Kaizu (海津), the Koyama, the Mitamura, the Yagi, the Fuse, the Imai, the Isono and the Atsuji. The scarce number of the hereditary vassals was, therefore, a serious problem for the Azai clan ruling ruling over Omi Province. During the Sukemasa's reign at least, the political situation was influenced by the Kokujin (local samurais) union-tinged regime; the controlling system of the Azai clan was gradually strengthened along with the generations.
According to the fact that after the Tenmon era, the clan assigned Kazumasa ISONO to Sawayama-jo Castle, which was originally the home castle of the Ogawa clan, and after Naikuranosuke DODO (the castle lord at that time) died in battle, instead of his home base Isonoyama-jo Castle, and the Atsuji clan to the Yamamotoyama-jo Castle, which was the headquarters of the Asami clan, it can be thought that the Azai clan was planning a kind of 'rotating stationary system of branch castles.'

However, the ruling situation was not quite centralized, and during the Nagamasa's reign, many of the retainers among the ex-hereditary vassals of the Kyogoku clan seceded from the Azai clan, when the battle against Nobunaga ODA prolonged. According to Tadachika KUWADA, during the Eiroku era, there were 73 branch castles in the Azai's territory.

Kiyotsuna AKAO

Tsunachika KAIHO


Naotsune ENDO

Kazumasa ISONO

Sadayuki ATSUJI


Naoyori SHINJO

Suketada OGAWA

Takatora TODO

Naotaka NOMURA

Tsunechika IGUCHI: one of the 'Kohoku four families' (four distinguished families in the north of Lake Biwa area). It is said that his father Tsunemoto was one of the Sukemasa's senior vassals, and as he died in the Battle of Minoura as a scapegoat for Sukemasa, Sukemasa, with his gratitude, gave his son Tsunechika an important position. Tsunechika's younger sister (according to another theory, his cousin) became the wife of Hisamasa (Ono-dono), and Nagamasa was born.

Hidetoshi OGINO: Governor of Tosa Province. A senior vassal from a branch line of the Azai clan. In Shimizudani, where Odani-jo Castle was located, there is a site of the residence of the Ogino clan called Tosa Yashiki (residence) (named after his official post). During the Battle of Anegawa, he defended the Yokoyama-jo Castle. At the fall of his lord's family, he appealed his submission to Nobunaga, but his surrender was not accepted and he was killed.

Kunisada MITAMURA: Saemon no taifu (sixth- or lower-ranked officer at the Left Division of Outer Palace Guards). He was in charge of the Yokoyama-jo Castle's defense, along with Hidetoshi ONOGI, but he died in the Battle of Anegawa. The Mitamura clan had been one of the konpon hikan (primal vassals) of the Kyogoku clan, but the clan was split into two when the Azai clan extended its influence. Sadayori MITAMURA of the Mitamura clan, supported the Azai side, sometimes counted as a member of the Azai family, since he married Sukemasa's daughter. It is probable that Kunisada was a member of Sadayori's family, although their relationship is not clear. According to the fact that Kunisada's four children died fighting against the Oda army, when Odani-jo Castle was defeated, he was probably about the same age as Hisamasa. He could be Sadayori's brother. Sadayori MITAMURA and his son Mitsuyori also died in battle when the Odani-jo Castle was defeated.

Ujitane ANYOJI: local ruling family in Omi Province. He was originally a hikan (low-level bureaucrat) of the Kyogoku clan. According to a theory, he served as a mediator for the marriage of Nagamasa and Nobunaga ODA's younger sister, however, it is not certain. After the fall of the family of his lord (Azai clan), he served Takatsugu KYOGOKU, and died in 1606. He could be the same person as Tsuneyo ANYOJI, who appears in "Azai Sandaiki" (story about the three generation of the Azai family).

Dosei ASAMI : Tsushima no kami (Governor of Tsushima Province). He was supposed to be a member of the Asami clan, the former lord of the Yamamotoyama-jo Castle, but his relationship with the Asami clan is unknown. As the Asami clan that fought against the Azai clan during the Sukemasa's reign also used the title of Tsushima no kami (Governor of Tsushima Province), they could be father and son.

Iezumi YUGE: commonly called Rokurozaemon. He died in the Battle of Anegawa. The Yuge clan was a senior vassal of the Kyogoku family, but later it served the Azai clan. There is Yugeyakata (Yuge Residence) in Biwa-cho, which is believed to be the site of former residence of the Yuge family.

Katsuhide WAKISAKA: commonly known as Sanosuke (左介). He served the Azai family as a vassal from the generation of Hisamasa. He held the position of sosha (an official) in charge of issuing diplomatic documents and so on. It is probable that he was from the same family as Yasuaki WAKISAKA and his son Yasuharu WAKISAKA, whose birthplaces are close to him, however, their relation is not clear.

Naochika NAKAJIMA: the son of Naoyori NAKAJIMA, Hyuga no kami (Governor of Hyuga Province) and the lord of Yokoyama-jo Castle. Commonly called Sozaemon. After the defeat of the Yono-jo Castle by the Oda army's attack in 1573, no record about him was found.

Naosada KATAGIRI: commonly called Magoemon, Higo no kami (Governor of Higo Province). It is said that he was in charge of the defense of Sugatani of Odani-jo Castle. Later, he served Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI. He was the father of Katsumoto KATAGIRI.