The Kira clan (吉良氏)

The Kira clan is one of the most prestigious samurai families in Japan; listed below are this family's three notable lines of descent.

The line of the Kira clan (Osauji branch) which is descended from the house of the Ashikaga family branch of the Seiwa-Genji (Minamoto clan):
The Mikawa-Kira clan

The line of the Kira clan (Yoshitsugu branch) which is descended from the house of Ashikaga family branch of the Seiwa-Genji:
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The line of the Kira clan which is descended from the MINAMOTO no Tameyoshi line of the Seiwa-Genji (Minamoto clan):
The Tosa-Kira clan

The Kira clan of the Ashikaga lineage of Seiwa-Genji (Minamoto clan)
The original family name is Genji (Minamoto clan). The family line belongs to the Ashikaga clan, which is descended form the Kawachi-Genji (Minamoto clan), a branch family of the Seiwa-Genji (Minamoto clan).

The illegitimate eldest son of Yoshiuji ASHIKAGA (the third family head of the Ashikaga clan), Osauji KIRA, and his younger brother Yoshitsugu KIRA established the Kira clan. The family of older brother, Osauji, became "The Mikawa-Kira clan," then the family of younger brother, Yoshitsugu, established "The Oshu-Kira clan."

The Kira clan was considered as the most distinguished noble family among the Ashikaga clan, and the Kira clan held the family status as Renshi (noble sibling) with the Imagawa family, a branch of the Kira family. The status was even said as, "if the Imperial Palace (Ashikaga family to inherit the shogunate) dies out, the Kira inherits the succession to the family headship, and the Imagawa inherits the formality when Kira dies out." This means that the Kira and the Imaga clans were allowed to succeed the family estate of the head family of Ashikaga, if the lineage of the Ashikaga Shogunate family died out.

However, the high family status was not conjoined with the military power in both the Mikawa and the Oshu clans, and their family fortunes were dull. The continuance of them as daimyo (Japanese territorial lord) was ended. However, these two lines succeeded to retrieve the family names in the Edo period.
(For each family lines, will be explained in detail below.)

Mikawa-Kira clan

The Kamakura period

It originated from around the13th century, the first son of Yoshiuji ASHIKAGA (the third family head of the Ashikaga family), Osauji established his home base in Kiranosho, Aomi County, Mikawa Province (present Nishio City and Hazu County, Aichi Prefecture), then commenced calling himself, 'Kira.'
In those days, Kiranosho reached out to the east and the west of the Furuyahagi-gawa River, so it was divided into two as the west and the east, and called, 'Tojo' (The castle exists in Shiroyama, Madarame, Kira-cho, Hazu County) and 'Saijo' (The castle presently exists in Nishio City). Osauji based himself in Saijo, and for a while after that, his family line was called the Saijokira clan. Additionally, the origin of the word of kira as Kiranosho of Mikawa Province, is said to be derived from the word 'kirara' (in yamato-kotoba [words of Japanese origi]) which is mica, since the clan had a mica mine within its shoen from long time ago.

After the Jokyu War, the Ashikaga clan received much of the shoryo (territory) within Mikawa Province, but Osauji of the Kira clan was the position to be entrusted as the supreme commander and the supervisor among them. It shows that the Kira clan was receiving the deep trust from the head family of Ashikaga.

Based upon this background in posterity, both families, the Shibukawa clan and the Ishibashi clan were called 'goikke' (head and branch family of Ashikaga), and received exceptional treatment. Establishing the hierarchy as "if the Imperial Palace dies out, the Kira inherits the succession to the family headship, and the Imagawa inherits when Kira dies out" among the people, is due to this background. However, the possibility remained low for the Kira clan to be a successor of the head family of the Ashikaga clan, since there were many bekke (branch family) families in the Ashikaga Shogun family; the Kamakura kubo (Governor-general of the Kanto region), the Kogakubo (descendants of one of the Ashikaga families that held the office of the Kanto district administrator), and the Horigoe Kubo.

Mituuji, a child of Osauji, took the side of Yasumori ADACHI during the Shimotsuki Sodo (a political change to the Kamakura Bakufu), subsequently Mituuji was subdued and killed by the order of the Hojo clan
In 1333, Sadayoshi, child of Mitsuuji strongly proposed Takauji ASHIKAGA, who was sojourning in Mikawa Province on the way the Kyoto, on the mission destroying the power of the Emperor Godaigo's side, 'be the side of the Emperor, and stand up for defeating the Kamakura bakufu.'
This became the final cause, and Takauji decided to attack Rokuhara Tandai (an administrative and judicial agency in Rokuhara, Kyoto), which was the beginning of the Kamakura bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) collapsing drama.

From the period of the Northern and Southern Courts (Japan) to the Muromachi period
A child of Sadayosh, Mitsuyoshi took the side the Tadayoshi ASHIKAGA during the Kanno disturbance. Mitsuyoshi moved from place to place to fight with Mitusada who was his legitimate son, they also obeyed the Southern Court (Japan) for a while, then finally surrendered to the Muromachi bakufu.
The first generation of Kira clan, Osauji, built a retreat for his old age called 'Maruyama-gosho.'
However, besides the Kira clan remained in Kyoto and served as a trusted vassal of the shogun family, the clan did not inherit the shugoshiki (post of provincial constable) in Mikawa Province, or Musashi Province, their substantial power was limited to that of a small feudal lord.

While Mitsuyoshi and Mitsusada, father and son, were away from the home ground in Kiranosho in Mikawa Province, an incident happened; Takayoshi who was the fourth son of Mitsuyoshi embezzled the Tojo of Kiranosho, then became independent as the Tojokira clan. After this incident, the Takayoshi's family line of the Tojokira clan and the Saijokira clan, which had limited power over the Saijo, persisted on the legitimacy of their respective clans, the conflict continued for over a century staged upon Mikawa Province between the descendents of the two. During the Onin war, both families participated in the battle; Yoshisada of the Saijo family belonged to the East squad, and Yoshifuji of Tojo the family belonged to the West squad. (Furthermore, this is not the same definitions divided as the establishment of the Kira Clan; 1. the Kira clan of Osauji lineage referred to themselves as the Saijokira clan; 2. the Kira clan of Yoshitsugu lineage referred to themselves as the Tojokira clan.
The Saijo family and Tojo family of this period must be considered as separate from the Tojokira and Saijokira clans in the historical past.)

The Sengoku Period (Period of Warring States)
As well as its dull influence, the Mikawa-Kira clan could not settle the internal dispute between the Saijokira clan and the Tojokira clan. Therefore, its family fortunes deteriorated remarkably. During that time, the Mikawa-Kira clan received pressure from the Imagawa clan, who was a branch family and the shugo (a provincial constable of Suruga Province) of Suruga Province. It was around the era of Yoshitaka of Saijokira, Saijokira lost Hikumanosho which was their home ground in Totomi Province.

Reaching this far, the Saijokira and the Tojokira of both families finally realized the foolishness of their internal tribal rivalry, made Mochihiro of the Tojokira clan to adopt Yoshiyasu of the Saijokira clan as heir to establish peace, then ended the longtime rivalry. It was the beginning of the Kyoroku era (1528 to1531) and the Tenbun era (1532-1555). Because of its opposition to the Imagawa clan, Yoshiyasu supported the Oda clan in Owari Province who was also resisting the Imagawa clan, then started to maintain the defense system. However, it was not enough to recover the family fortunes which was decayed by the longtime rivalries, and was subsequently defeated by the fierce attack of Yoshimoto IMAGAWA in 1549. Yoshiyasu was captured then detained in Suruga.

The Kira clan afterward, Yoshiaki, who was Yoshiyasu's biological younger brother from the Saijo Kira clan was pushed in as the successor by the Imagawa clan, then allowed to continue the family name. In other words, this did not mean the Kira clan as an independent feudal lord, but the Kira clan was forced to obey Yoshimoto IMAGAWA.

However, the Imagawa clan's power gradually declined after Yoshimoto was killed at the Battle of Okehazama. The Kira clan opposed to Ieyasu TOKUGAWA, who was aiming to become the ruler of Mikawa Province. After participating in the battles of Zenmyo-tsutsumi and Fujinami-nawate, the Kira clan surrendered to Ieyasu. After that, when the Mikawa Ikko Ikki (an uprising of Ikko sect followers in Mikawa Province) broke out, the Kira clan took part in the uprising riot, and again fought against Ieyasu. However, the rioting side was defeated by Ieyasu, and the Kira clan's fortune declined at an accelerated pace.

Although its fortunes was dull and struggled financially, the Kira clan still had a high pride as the most noted family in the Ashikaga clan. With a mediation of Nobunaga ODA, the Kira clan managed to reach making an alliance with the Shiba clan, Shugo(provincial constables) of Owari Province, and its branch family, the Ishibashi clan. However, the Kira clan caused a fight due to a disagreement on seating order with Yoshikane SHIBA. The Shiba clan, was also a noble family among the Ashikaga Shogunate family, equal to those, the Shogun family and the Kira clan.

Edo period
A child of Yoshiyasu, Yoshisada, was promoted by the Tokugawa clan, due to that his mother was the younger sister of Kiyoyasu MATSUDAIRA. In the generation of Yoshishada's child Yoshimitsu, received the master of "ko-ke" (shogunate official in charge of advising kyo-o-yaku in taking care of envoys) status provided with 3,000 koku in former Kiranosho. Thereafter, the Kira clan continued as a family managing the protocol of Edo bakufu.

It is well known that, Yoshinaka, a grandson of Yoshimitsu, caused a discord with Naganori ASANO regarding the guidance of the protocol, and it developed into the Genroku Ako Incident. In this incidence, not only the former head of the household of Yoshinaka who had been retired was killed, but also Yoshimasa, the family head, had a hard time receiving the punishment of Kaieki (forfeit to rank of Samurai and properties), as asked to take responsibility for the disturbance.

Later, in 1732, Yoshizane, a grandson of Yoshinaka's younger brother, asked the Edo bakufu for the permission to have its former name back, from the Tojo family to the Kira family, and was permitted to do so.

The Oshu (Musashi) Kira clan

The original family name is Genji (Minamoto clan). The same line as the Kira clan in the previous section.

it originated from when, the fourth son of the Ashikaga clan Yoshitugu settled his home base at Kiranosho in Mikawa Province, the same as his older brother Osauji, and then he commenced calling himself, 'Kira.'
As Osauji was based in Saijo of Kiranosho, Yoshitsugu owned Tojo, then called the Tojokira clan. The residence in Tojo was Tojo-jo Castle, it was located in present day Shiroyama, Madarame, Kira-cho, Hazu County.

The period of the Northern and Southern Courts (Japan)
Sadaie was promoted to Oshu Kanrei (shogunate deputy of the northern regions [the former position of the Oshu Tandai who supervised for the civil government and military affairs in Mutsu Province]) from hisashi ban (a person who keeps the night watch staying under the eaves of building) of Imperial Prince Nariyoshi, and settled in Taga-jo Castle in Mutsu Province then became the key person for the Oshu rule of the Ashikaga Administration. Later, when the Kanno Disturbance broke out, Sadaie supported Tadayoshi side and conquered Oshu Kanrei (Shogunal deputy of the northern regions) Kuniuji HATAKEYAMA who took part in Takauji side, but Taga-jo Castle was attacked and defeated by Akinobu KITABATAKE of the Southern Court, who extended his power during the opportunity. Sadaie restored his power once again and fought Akinobu, but died. Sadaie's child, Mitsuie, became Oshu Kanrei and fought with Kuniakira HATAKEYAMA who was a child of Kuniuji HATAKEYAMA and Yoshinori ISHIDO who was a child of the supreme commander of Oshu, Kuniuji HATAKEYAMA. Meanwhile, Takauji succeeded in killing Tadayoshi at the center of Japan, sent Iekane SHIBA as new Oshu Kanrei, thus Iekane SHIBA became the most influential person in Oshu. Mochiie, Mitsuie's child, succeeded after Mitsuie's death, but since Mochiie was too young, Sadatsune who was a younger brother of Sadaie, and Haruie, a child of Sadaie and Mituie's brother fought. In 1367, Yoshiakira ASHIKAGA gave an order that Tadamochi SHIBA and Sadatsune KIRA to be as Oshu Kanrei to hunt down and kill Haruie, and Muneyoshi ISHIBASHI was also dispatched. Haruie lost, and he fell. After that, the Oshu Kira clan could not flourish and continued to decline.

Muromachi period
Oshu Kira clan was on the verge of the extinction, but Haruie restored power gradually after Motouji ASHIKAGA of the first Kamakura kubo (Governor-general of the Kanto region) invited him to relocate into Akima-go, Kozuke Province.

The Oshu Kira clan, served the Kamakura kubo family, was treated with the special rank of 'goikke (head and branch family of Ashikaga) of Kamakura kubo' as the family which descended from the Ashikaga clan, same as kubo (shogunal representative).
It was called 'Ashikaga goikke-shu (troop of head and branch family of Ashikaga)' and 'mugyohai-shu.'
In Shigetaka's days, he built Setagaya-jo Castle and settled in Setagaya, Ebara County, Musashi Province (Setagaya Ward, Tokyo Metropolis).
After that, each time Shigetaka relocated his home ground, those were called, 'Maita-gosho,' 'Setagaya-gosho,' and 'Setagaya-dono.'

The Sengoku Period to Azuchi-Momoyama period
The Oshu Kira clan came under jurisdiction of the Hojo clan through a marriage of expediency, in the similar manner to the Kogakubo, coaxed and became a puppet player of the Gohojo clan who had become the ruler of the Kanto region. A child of Shigetaka, Yoriyasu, was called 'Maita-dono' after marrying a daughter of Ujitsuna HOJO and owing Maita, Kuraki County, Musashi Province (Minami Ward, Yokohama City, Kanagawa Prefecture [Yokohama City]), and was permitted to use his own Inban-jo (license with a seal) although he was in the Gohojo clan's province.

Yoriyasu adopted Ujitomo from the Horikoshi clan (a direct line of the Totomi-Imagawa clan, a family of the Imagawa clan), for the purpose of passing the family estate to him. However, the Gohojo clan fell at the invasion of Odawara by Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI during the Ujitomo's period, and Ujitomo lost his patron. Ujitomo shut himself in the former territory of Setagaya.

After the Edo period
As the Oshu Kira clan followed Ieyasu TOKUGAWA, the high family status was recognized and promoted to ko-ke. From this time, the Oshu Kira clan formally renamed themselves to the Maita clan. This is thought to be for the same reason as the Shinagawa clan, known as a branch family of the Imagawa clan.

In the middle of the Edo period, the Mikawa-Kira clan ended their family line by the Genroku Ako Incident, and the Oshu Kira clan took this opportunity to retrieve their family name 'Kira.'

In addition, the Gotoku-ji Temple is formally established as the Kotoku-in Temple, which was built within the premises of Setagaya-jo Castle, by Masatada KIRA from Oshu Kira clan family. We can see graves of Kira family in the site of Gotoku-ji Temple.

In the Meiji period, the Kira family relocated to the lands of their chigyo-chi (a land given to a feudal load or a samurai as an annual stipend): Terasaki, Chosei County, and Chiba Prefecture.

The Tosa-Kira clan

The original family name is the Minamoto clan. The family was descended from MINAMOTO no Mareyoshi, the fifth son of MINAMOTO no Yoshitomo who was the leader of the Kawachi-Genji (Minamoto clan), a family line of the Seiwa-Genji (Minamoto clan), and a younger maternal half-brother of MINAMOTO no Yoritomo.

Maremochi, the second son of Mareyoshi, was given Kiranosho, Tosa Province (Haruno-cho, Kochi City, Kochi Prefecture) by Yoritomo, and then commenced calling himself, 'Hachiro KIRA,' this is the origin of their family establishment (In another study, the family was descended from Takamori, the first son of Mareyoshi.)
The Kira clan was hikan (low-level bureaucrat) to serve the Gohojo clan during the Kamakura period, but Mareyoshi and Marehide, who were the brothers of the sixth generation after Maremochi, served the Emperor Godaigo. These brothers succeeded on merit through the conquering Rokuhara Tandai at The Genko War. After that, the Kira clan gained recognition as a leader of the Southern Court side in Shikoku region, and accompanied the Kono clan of Iyo Province for a while.

However, the clan became a part of the Northern Court (Japan) side, after that Maretake, a child of Marehide, decided to affiliate with the Hosokawa clan who was the shugo of Tosa Province. The Kira clan participated in an attack on Otakasaka-jo Castle (present Kochi-jo Castle), in where people of the Southern Court side were barricading themselves, and so forth. Through the Onin era to the Bunmei era, Nobumichi served Katsumoto HOSOKAWA as a commander and went to Kyoto, Nobumichi succeeded to distinguish himself during the military service in the Onin War.

In Nobutada's days, with the Motoyama clan and the Ohira clan, the Yamada clan so on, the Kira clan conquered Kanetsugu CHOSOKABE and expanded their power. After the Hosokawa clan lost its power in Tosa Province, the Kira clan obeyed the Tosa Ichijo clan, and assigned to Iyo no kuni no kami (Governor of Iyo Province) by the Ichijo clan when the era of Nobutsune. The Kira clan achieved the height of prosperity at this time. Nobutsune invited the leading expert of Sogaku (Neo-Confucianism), Baikan MINAMIMURA, from Suo Province, and then established the foundation of Tosa Nangaku (neo-Confucianism learned in Tosa).

Around the time of Nobunao who succeeded the family estate after Nobutsune's death, joined the Ichijo clan to break the situation in being caught between the two clans; the Motoyama clan which had expanded power to the center part and the Tosa Ichijo clan in the west part.

In 1540, Shigetoki MOTOYAMA took a chance to attack the Kira-jo Castle while Nobunao was away from the castle hunting at the Niyodo-gawa River, made the Kira-jo Castle surrender, and killed Nobunao at the Niyodo-gawa River.

This led to the fall of the Tosa-Kira clan of the Minamoto family. Shigetoki MOTOYAMA who forced the surrender of the Kira-jo Castle, then came to take the name of Kira, which was a noble family in Tosa.

In addition, there are various theories for the Kira clan's extinction, it is said that the Kira clan was attacked and fell by the Chosokabe clan in 1563, according to "Kira Monogatari" (the Tale of Kira). Another theory suggests that the Kira clan was attacked and fell by the Motoyama clan, but the credibility is low due to Shigetoki MOTOYAMA's pretension of the Kira clan and from the other documents.

Around the end of Eiroku era (1558-1570), after defeating the Motoyama clan, Motochika CHOSOKABE let his biological younger brother and Nobunao's son-in-law, Chikasada, succeed to the family name of Kira. Chikasada assisted Motochika as an influential person of the family, but his child Chikazane, was killed on suspicion for a rebellious act. Thus, the Tosa-Kira clan, as a branch family of the Chosokabe clan, survived for only two generations, and then fell.