The subjugation of the Emishi (蝦夷征討)

The subjugation of the Emishi means the conquest of the Emishi (later called the Ezo), the indigenous inhabitants in the northern and northeastern parts of ancient Japan, carried out by the imperial court. From the centralized view of history in those days, it was called the conquest of the Emishi.

Kofun Jidai (the Tumulus Period):

The earliest reference to the Emishi/Ezo (northerners or northeasterners of Japan) was made in "The Chronicle of Japan." According to an estimate, this reference was considered as no more than a legend. However, according to the history of ancient Japan, Wo, in "The History of the Song Dynasty," the following description was found in a memorial presented to the emperor (the southern dynasty) by the Japanese king Bu in 478.

Sodei, wearing armor himself, went on expeditions across many mountains and rivers, finding no time to rest in any comfortable place.'
To the east, he conquered fifty-five countries of Emishi (northern/northeastern barbarians).'
To the west, he subjugated sixty-six countries of Shui (western barbarians).'
Across the sea, he subdued ninety-five countries along the Northern sea.'

From this description, we can see that the Emishi/Ezo (northerners and northeasterners) were already living there at that time, and their subjugation was being undertaken. From the age of Prince Yamato Takeru, it is believed that some members of the KAMITSUKENU clan were engaged in subjugation of the Emishi/Ezo. This fact is assumed as evidence that the Kenu clan had wielded great influence over the Emishi/Ezo (northerners and northeasterners) from a long time ago. For instance, many assimilated Emishi (fushu) used to the family name of Kimiko-be, which was a common family name among subordinate people belonging to the Kenu clan.

Before the era of Emperor Shotoku:

In around the seventh century, the Emishi/Ezo (northerners and northeasterners) had presumably lived widely over most parts of the Tohoku Region, north of the center of modern day Miyagi Prefecture and northern Yamagta Prefecture, and most parts of Hokkaido (current local public body). However, from around the Taika era, the development of the Ezo area began in a strained international context, starting with the installation of the Nutari stockades in 647, and followed by the continued construction of stockades in and northward of modern day Niigata and Miyagi prefectures. In 658, ABE no Hirafu led 180 navy ships to conquer the Emishi/Ezo (northerners and northeasterners). However, besides individual battles, there was no full-scale war between the Emishi/Ezo and Imperial armies. Like MICHISHIMA no Shimatari, some Emishi/Ezo were able to have successful careers in the Imperial Court. In general, it may be presumed that relationships were rather peaceful in those days.

The Thirty-Eight Years' War

In 770, a chief of the Emishi/Ezo army was defeated in a battle with the Imperial army and was forced to retreat to his homeland, and in the following year, 771, a delegate from Bo-Hai Dynasty arrived at Noshiro of Dewa Province (modern day Noshiro City in Akita Prefecture). At that time, Noshiro of Dewa province was in the Emishi/Ezo power. Judging from this fact, some researchers insist that the Emishi/Ezo seem to have already risen in revolt in the northern part of the Ou Region (Mutsu and Dewa provinces) in the early Hoki era (770-789) under the reign of Emperor Konin. Be that as it may, it was Emperor Konin who began to take a hostile policy toward the Emishi/Ezo. In 774, OTOMO no Surugamaro, a provincial inspector (azechi), was ordered to go on an expedition to subdue the Emishi/Ezo (northerners and northeasterners). This marked the beginning of the age of the Thirty-Eight Years' War to subjugate the Ezo people, which lasted until 811. Generally, this age is divided into four periods.

The First Period:

Under the Commander-in-Chief of the Defense of the North (chinju-fu shogun), local fighting occurred in order to subjugate Emishi/Ezo forces who had invaded Momonou Castle. Uprisings of Emishi/Ezo inhabitants spread over to the areas along the Sea of Japan, including the revolt of the Emishi/Ezo of Shiwa village, which was then under the domain of the Dewa province. Then, Isawa region became to be acknowledged as a stronghold of Ezo armies. Although fighting continued mainly in the Dewa province for the last half of this period, most rebellions by Emishi/Ezo people are considered to have ceased by 778, partly thanks to the collaboration of IJI no Azamaro and others.

The Second Period:

This period extended from 780 to 781. It is also called the Revolt of IJI no Azamaro (the Revolt in Hoki era).

On May 1, 780, Azamaro killed KI no Hirozumi and others at Iji Castle, while the army of assimilated Emishi people attacked and plundered Taga Castle and set the fire to it.

Although the subsequent development of these battles was not recorded in any official history, there is a view that these events were closely related to the standoff at Yurisaku fortress, the seizure of Omuro-sai fortress, the temporary abandonment of Akita-jo castle, and the destruction by fire of two public offices of Ogachi and Hiraka counties, both in Dewa province. In 781, one year after FUJIWARA no Oguromaro was appointed as Great General for the East Subjugation (seito taishi), all the rebellions are believed to have temporarily ended.

The Third Period:

In 789, a large scale conquest of Emishi/Ezo's lands was launched by KI no Kosami, who had been appointed as a Seito Shogun (a general to subdue eastern barbarians) in the previous year. KI no Kosami, who had stayed in Koromogawa village with his troops without charging forward until the end of May, was rebuked by Emperor Kanmu for his immobility. He then advanced his troops toward Isawa, which was regarded as a stronghold of Emishi/Ezo forces. About four thousand soldiers from the central and rear forces of the Imperial army stationed at three locations to the west of Kitakami-gawa River crossed the river and marched along the east bank. The main forces of the Imperial army detected ahead of them about three hundred Emishi/Ezo troops gathered near 'the residence of Aterui, (a chief commander of the Emishi/Ezo forces)', according to "The Chronicle of Japan Continued." They were soon engaged in battle and, at the beginning, the Imperial army had the edge over the Ezo. Chasing the Emishi/Ezo army, the Imperial army entered Subuse village, where they had intended to meet the front force of the Imperial army stationed on the west side of the river, which, however, had been blocked by the Emishi/Ezo army and had failed to cross the river. At that time, the Emishi/Ezo army was joined by about eight hundred additional soldiers to stage a counter charge against the Imperial army.
The Imperial army took to flight, leaving 25 soldiers killed, including the adjutant general HATSUSEBE no Zenri, 245 soldiers shot by arrows, 1,036 soldiers drowned in the river and another 1,257 soldiers who crossed the river without clothes. Thus, the expedition of KI no Kosami is now understood to have resulted in failure. There is no other example in the ancient history of Japan of a small army defeating a much larger one comparable to the battle which arose in late May or early June (the Battle of Subuse).

In 794, another expeditionary army was sent to subdue Emishi/Ezo lands, headed by Seii Tai-shogun (the great general who subdues the barbarians) OTOMO no Otomaro, and the deputy general Tamuramaro SAKANOUE.
Details of fighting in this expedition were not recorded in historical materials other than "Ruiju Kokushi" (classified national history) which mentioned that 'the expeditionary army of the deputy general SAKANOUE Osukune Tamuramaro conquered Ezo barbarians.'
Despite the fact he was just one of four deputy generals, Tamuramaro was the only person whose name was written in historical records. Tamuramaro seems to have played a central role in the expedition.

In 801, Tamuramaro SAKANOUE, who was newly appointed as Seii Taishogun (a great general who subdues barbarians), went on an expedition and successfully subjugated Emishi/Ezo barbarians. Though Aterui, a leader of the Emishi/Ezo army, survived, Tamuramaro decided to suspend hostilities against the Ezo army seemingly due to the predominant war situation, which may be presumed now from the fact that, in the year after he had returned to Kyoto, Tamuramaro went back to Mutsu Province in order to construct Isawa-jo Castle in the area he procured by fighting against the Ezo. According to "Nihonkiryaku" (The Abbreviated History of Japan), Tamonokimi Aterui and Iwagunokimi More together with more than 500 soldiers surrendered to Tamuramaro, and although Tamuramaro had an opinion to spare the lives of Aterui and More and to let their fellow armies lay down arms, his vassals opposed his suggestion and executed Aterui and More in Kawachi Province. "Nihon Koki" (the Later Chronicles of Japan) also notes that this expedition suppressed as far as Hei-mura village.

The third period in the series of campaigns to conquer the Emishi/Ezo barbarians ended in 803 when Shiwa-jo Castle was constructed.

The Fourth Period:

In 811, it was FUNYA no Watamaro who subjugated Hei-mura village and instituted Waga, Hienuki and Shiwa counties. From the description in "Nihon Koki" (the Later Chronicles of Japan) that Nisatta and Heii villages were also conquered, some say that Imperial expeditionary forces reached the northern end of mainland Japan. In the following year, Tokutan-jo Castle was constructed and it functioned until the middle of 9th century, but the three newly instituted counties were later abandoned.


After that, systematic expeditions against Emishi/Ezo barbarians were suspended, and only rebellions of ifu (half-assimilated Emishi) or fushu (fully-assimilated Emishi) under the Imperial governance were recorded ever since. Nevertheless, inhabitants of the Tsugaru and Oshima peninsulas were still called Emishi or Ezo.


In 110, Prince YAMATO Takeru subdued a rebellion of Emishi/Ezo, (which is a legend).

In 367, when a rebellion of Ezo arose, KAMITSUKENO no Tamichi was dispatched to suppress it, but was killed in action at the floodgate at Ishi, (which is a legend).

In 581, there was an invasion of Emishi/Ezo (northerners and northeasterners).

In 637, the Emishi/Ezo (northerners/northeasterners) refused to pay a visit to the Imperial palace and raised a rebellion, which was successfully suppressed thanks to the quick-witted wife of KAMITSUKENU no Katana.

In 647, the Nutari stockade was built.

In 648, the Iwafune stockade was built.

In 658, troops of ABE no Hirafu went on an expedition to Ezo lands along the Sea of Japan, and accomplished it in the following year.

In around 708, the Dewa stockade was constructed.

In 709, when the Emishi harmed freemen with their own lands, Kosemaro, SAEKI no Iwayu, KI no Morohito and others were dispatched to subjugate them. The governor of Mutsu Province KAMITSUKENU no Yasumaro supplied Dewa Province with arms.

In 712, Dewa Province was established. In 720, a rebellion of Emishi arose in Mutsu Province, and a provincial inspector (azechi) KAMITSUKENO no Hirohito was killed. TAJIHI no Agatamori went on an expedition.

In 724, there were rebellions bythe Emishi along the main coastal roads, where the senior secretary of the Mutsu provincial government, SAEKI no Koyamaro, was killed. ONO no Ushikai subjugated rebellions of Emishi/Ezo in Dewa Province. ONO no Azumahito constructed Taga-jo Castle.

In 733, Akita-jo Castle was built by relocating the Dewa stockade.

In 737, Oshika stockade was established.

In 759, Okachi-jo Castle and Momonou-jo Castle were built.

In 767, Iji-jo Castle was constructed.

In 770, when Ukuhau, the Lord Ukame of the Emishi, ran back to his homeplace, MICHISHIMA no Shimatari was dispatched to pursue him.

In 774 and 775, KI no Hirozumi and OTOMO no Surugamaro went on an expedition to defeat Emishi/Ezo troops that had invaded Momonou-jo Castle.
(The Thirty-eight Years' War began.)

In 776, the Emishi in Mutsu Province were subdued. When the Emishi in Shiwa village revolted, SAEKI no Kuramaro was additionally dispatched to help conquer them in Isawa area.

In 777, fighting against rebels continued in Dewa Province, and although the army of Dewa Province did succumb to the Emishi on one occasion, the rebellions were temporarily put down in the following year, 778.

In 780, the Emishi invaded Nagaoka county of Mutsu Province. Kakubetsu-jo Castle was built. The revolt of IJI no Azamaro, (also called the revolt in Hoki era), broke out and MICHISHIMA no Odate, the magistrate of Oshika county, and KI no Hirozumi were killed. Taga-jo Castle was set ablaze. FUJIWARA no Tsugutada, OTOMO no Masutachi, KI no Kosami, OTOMO no Matsuna, ABE no Iemaro and others were additionally dispatched to suppress these uprisings. KUDARA no Shuntetsu joined the expedition. There is a view that the territory of Dewa Province was reduced then.

In 781, FUJIWARA no Oguromaro was additionally sent. The Imperial armies, which eventually achieved some results after their battles against the Emishi, were temporarily dissolved.

In 789, expeditions to subdue the Emishi/Ezo (northerners and northeasterners) were resumed by KI no Kosami and SAEKI no Kazuragi. Massive military operations against the Emishi/Ezo began. At the battle of Subuse, the Imperial army suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of Emish/Ezo barbarians. KOSE no Notari was sent to support the preceding Imperial armies.

In 791, FUNYA no Ohara, OTOMO no Otomaro, Shuntetsu KUDARANOKONISHIKI, Hamanari TAJIHI and Tamuramaro SAKANOUE were dispatched.

In 794, Emishi/Ezo troops were subjugated by Seii Fukushogun (a deputy general who subdues barbarians), Tamuramaro SAKANOUE.

In 797, Tamuramaro SAKANOUE was appointed as Seii Taishogun (a great general who subdues barbarians).

In 801, Tamuramaro SAKANOUE extended his conquest of Emishi/Ezo lands as far as Hei-mura village.

In 802, Aterui and More surrendered to Imperial armies, and were executed. Isawa-jo Castle was constructed.

In 803, Shiwa-jo Castle was built.

In 805, FUJIWARA no Otsugu submitted his suggestion for the Emperor to suspend expeditions to Emishi/Ezo and construction Heian-kyo capital city.

In 811, Heimura village was conquered. Three counties were instituted, namely Waga, Hienuki and Shiwa. FUNYA no Watamaro submitted his opinion to the Emperor that the subjection of the Emishi/Ezo (northerners and northeasterners) should be discontinued.

In 878, the half-assimilated Emishi in Dewa Province raised a rebellion (the rebellion in Gangyo era). In 939, the fully-assimilated Emishi in Dewa Province rose in a revolt (the disturbance in Tengyo era in Dewa Province). From 1051 through 1062, the Abe clan (in Mutsu Province) was subdued through the Early Nine Years' War.

In 1070, the battle against the Emishi in the Enkyu era occurred. From 1083 through 1087, the Kiyohara clan in Dewa Province was subdued through the Later Three Years' War.

In 1189, the Oshu-Fujiwara clan in Mutsu Province was subjugated.
(The Battle of Oshu)

In 1268, the Emishi in Tsugaru area revolted. The Ando clan was subjugated.

In 1320, the great rebellions by the Emishi broke out and continued till 1328..