Saito Dosan (斎藤道三)

Dosan or Hidetatsu SAITO was a military commander during the Sengoku period. He was the first head of the SAITO clan, which was a Sengoku daimyo (provincial lord) in Mino Province (southern part of Gifu Prefecture).

Dosan rose in the world from a monk, through an oil-seller, to a Sengoku daimyo, and along with Soun HOJO, Dosan was considered the epitome of a man's rise to a daimyo by gekokujo (the low oppress the high). However, according to an old copy of 'Rokkaku jotei josho', which was discovered while "Gifuken-shi" (history of Gifu Prefecture) was being compiled, Dosan didn't complete his domination of Mino Province in one generation, but over two generations with his father, Shinzaemonnojo NAGAI; this is now considered to be the reliable opinion.

His father was Shinzaemonnojo NAGAI (Bungo no Kami, the highest official in Bungo Province). Dosan was known by various names such as: Horenbo, Shogoro (Shokuro) MATSUNAMI, Masatoshi (Kankuro) NISHIMURA, Norihide (Shinkuro) NAGAI, Hidetatsu (Shinkuro) NAGAI, Toshimasa (Shinkuro) SAITO and Dosan; however, Norihide FUJIWARA (NAGAI), Toshimasa SAITO and Dosan are the only ones that appear in reliable historical materials.

His sons were Yoshitatsu SAITO, Toshiaki (Genbanosuke) SAITO, Magoshiro (Tatsumoto, Tatsushige) SAITO, Kiheiji (Tatsuyuki, Tatsusada) SAITO and Toshiharu SAITO. It is said that Michitoshi NAGAI was either Dosan's younger brother or son from when he was young. His daughters include the legitimate wife of Yoritsuna ANEGAKOJI and Nohime (legitimate wife of Nobunaga ODA).

He ruled Mino Province as a lord until 1554, at which point he passed on his family estate to Yoshitatsu, but Dosan soon severed all ties with Yoshitatsu; Dosan was killed by Yoshitatsu's army at the Nagara-gawa River April, 1556.

Dosan's Career Appearing in the Historical Materials

Dosan had a nickname of "Mino no Mamushi" (viper of Mino Province), who became a Sengoku daimyo by destroying his master, but such an image of Dosan changed greatly in the process of compiling "Gifuken-shi" which started in 1960's. While compiling the history book, a document called "A Copy of Rokkaku Jotei Josho" dated July, 1560, was found among the "Documents Owned by Takuichiro KASUGA" (later renamed to "Documents Owned by Chikara KASUGA").
This old document was written by Yoshitaka (Shotei) ROKKAKU, shugo (governor) of Omi Province, and addressed to his vassals, HIRAI and GAMO; even though the beginning part is missing it has the following content:

The grandfather of (Yoshitatsu) SAITO jibu was Shinzaemonnojo, who was a monk of the Myokaku-ji Temple.

Shinzaemonnojo took the family name of NISHIMURA and came to Mino Province to serve Yajiro NAGAI.

Shinzaemonnojo gradually proved his talent, and he was allowed to use the family name of NAGAI.

After Yoshitatsu's father, Sakon no taifu (Dosan), succeeded his father Shinzaemonnojo, [Dosan] killed the heir [of the Nagai family], took over various political positions and then called himself SAITO.

Dosan and his son, Yoshitatsu, severed their ties as father and son, and Yoshitatsu killed his father.

It has been viewed traditionally that Dosan took over the [Mino] province in one generation; however, because of the discovery of this document, it became very likely that this take over occurred over two generations, with Shinzaemonnojo and Dosan. The name, "Shinzaemonnojo NAGAI," which is considered to be Dosan's father's, is also detected in old documents; his name appears in "Todai-ji Temple Joshi Geko Chumon" dated July, 1526 (collected in "The Documents Preserved by Kansei TSUTSUI") and "Bakufu Bugyonin Hoshoan" dated February 19th, 1528 (collected in "Old Documents Gathered by Akita Domain"). On the other hand, the first time Dosan's name appears in historical materials is as "Norihide FUJIWARA" in a document dated June, 1533; this name also appears in a document signed jointly by Kagehiro NAGAI and Norihide NAGAI, dated November 26 of the same year.

First Half of His Life

The following chronological description is based on the traditional view of Dosan.

It has been said that Dosan was born at Nishino oka, Otokuni District, Yamashiro Province in 1494, but there is an alternative view that he was born in 1504, and there are various views regarding his birthplace. According to "Mino no Kuni Shokyuki," his ancestors worked as Hokumen no bushi (royal guards) for generations; his father was called MATSUNAMI Sakon Shogen Motomune, living in Nishino oka as a Ronin (samurai with no lord) for [unrevealed] reasons. Dosan's childhood name was Minemaru, and he entered Buddhist priesthood at Myokaku-ji Temple in Kyoto in the spring time when he was 11 years old, and he was given the Buddhist name Horenbo.

Later, when his younger fellow monk Nichigobo (Namyobo) moved to Jozai-ji Temple (located in present-day Gifu City) in Imaizumi, Atsumi District, Mino Province, to become a chief priest, Horenbo left the Myokaku-ji Temple to return to a secular life and called himself Shogoro (or Kankuro). Shogoro (Dosan) married a daughter of an oil merchant Matabe NARAYA, and became an oil-seller using the name Yamazaki-ya. Shogoro (Dosan), hawking oil on the road, one day came across Nichiun (once known as Nichigobo) of the Jozai-ji Temple in Mino; counting on their old friendship he succeeded in becoming a retainer of Nagahiro NAGAI, Koshugodai (junior deputy shugo) of the TOKI clan, which was Shugo (provincial governor) of Mino Province. Shogoro (Dosan) named himself NISHIMURA Kankuro Masatoshi, inheriting the family name of the NISHIMURA clan, which was a retainer of the NAGAI SAITO NAGAI clan.

Kankuro (Dosan) gradually proved his talent through martial arts and his quick wit, and he gained trust of Yorinari TOKI, the second son of shugo TOKI. When Yorinari lost to his older brother Masayori TOKI in a succession struggle, Kankuro (Dosan) secretly plotted a sudden attack against Masayori at Kawate-jo Castle and drove him out to Echizen, which greatly contributed to Yorinari's assignment to shugo. Trusted greatly by Yorinari, Kankuro (Dosan) plotted to eliminate Nagahiro NAGAI, on whom Yorinari also placed reliance; he killed Nagahiro for a minor reason in 1530 (or 1533), and then took the name of NAGAI Shinkuro Norihide.

In 1538, when Toshinaga SAITO, shugodai (deputy shugo) of Mino Province, died of sickness, Shinkuro (Dosan) inherited Toshinaga's family name and called himself SAITO Shinkuro Toshimasa. In 1539, he made extensive renovations of Inabayama-jo Castle.

There is a strong possibility that a personal history of Dosan mentioned so far is mixed up with a career of Dosan's father Shinzaemonnojo. If "Shinzaemonnojo NAGAI" that appears in the documents from the Daiei era (1521-27) is the same person as Dosan's father, then this implies that Dosan's father was already using the name NAGAI. Moreover, because the name Norihide FUJIWARA (NAGAI) begins to appear from the documents of 1533, it is considered that Dosan succeeded his father around this time. The article of 'Saito Clan' written by Tetsuo OWADA and published in "Family Histories of the 370 Famous Sengoku Daimyo" Shin-Jinbutsuoraisha Co. Ltd., 1996. The document dated November of the same year was signed jointly by Kagehiro NAGAI and Norihide NAGAI (Dosan), which denies the long-held story that Dosan took the family name of NAGAI without permission when he killed Nagahiro NAGAI and did not allow Nagahiro's children to inherit the family name. Also, a ban that was signed by Nagahiro NAGAI was issued in March, 1530, and therefore, at least the death of Nagahiro could not have happened on New Year's Day of 1530.

Gaining of Mino Province

In 1541, Toshimasa (Dosan) poisoned Yorimitsu TOKI (Yorinari's younger brother) to death, which caused a conflict between Yorinari and Toshimasa (Dosan). Though Toshimasa (Dosan) was in a difficult situation for a short time, he attacked Yorinari's residence of Oga-jo Castle and expelled Yorinari and his son, Jiro, to Owari Province, and he became a virtual ruler of the Mino Province. However, there is a recent, alternative view which claims that it was Jiro who was expelled to Owari Province, and that Yorinari stayed in Mino at that time, holding his position as a puppet shugo.

However, Yorinari gained Nobuhide ODA's support and became and ally of Masayori, who had been banished and was under the protection of Kagetaka ASAKURA (the tenth master of the [ASAKURA] family); with the help of the ASAKURA and ODA clans, Yorinari and Masayori invaded Mino Province under the excuse of returning to Mino. As a result, Yorinari returned to the Ibi Kitakata-jo Castle, and Masayori returned to the Kawate-jo Castle. In September, 1547, Nobuhide ODA set off a large-scale attack against Toshimasa (Dosan) at Inabayama-jo Castle, but Toshimasa (Dosan) shut off the Castle completely and drove the ODA army to the brink of destruction. (Battle of Kanoguchi). Meanwhile, Masayori died of an illness in November of the same year. Toshimasa (Dosan) made peace with Nobuhide ODA under these circumstances, and he sent his daughter, Kicho, to marry Nobuhide's eldest son, Nobunaga ODA, in 1548. According to "Shincho Koki" (biography of Nobunaga ODA), Toshimasa (Dosan) was very surprised when he met Nobunaga at Shotoku-ji Temple (present-day Tomida, Ichinomiya City (former Nishio City), Aichi Prefecture) after Kicho married Nobunaga, because even though Nobunaga was known as empty-headed he showed up formally dressed and he had his guards equipped with many rifles; Toshimasa SAITO (Dosan) anticipated a bright future for Nobunaga and said, "My sons will be tying that empty-headed man's (Nobunanga's) horse."

Because of this reconciliation Toshimasa (Dosan) gained support of the ODA family and defeated the rebels who were against him, including the head of Aiba-jo Castle, Kageoki NAGAYA, and the head of Ibi-jo Castle, Mitsuchika IBI; furthermore, he expelled Yorinari TOKI, who had remained in the Ibi Kitakata-jo Castle, once again to Owari Province, and he completely restored order in Mino Province. After order was restored in Mino, there appeared a scribbling on the Nanamagari Hyakumagari entrance of the Inabayama-jo Castle as follows: "To slay your master and to kill your son-in-law mean the end of your body [a word play on Mino and Owari]. OSADA has done it long ago, YAMASHIRO (Dosan) has done it now." These words imply that what Dosan did was an equal match to the way Tadamune OSADA of Owari Province murdered his former master, MINAMOTO no Yoshitomo, during the battle between MINAMOTO and TAIRA families.

His Later Years

In 1554, Toshimasa (Dosan) passed on his family estate to his son, Yoshitatsu SAITO, shaved his head at Jozai-ji Temple to enter Buddhist priesthood, named himself Dosan and went into retirement at Sagiyama-jo Castle. However, Dosan favored Yoshitatsu's younger brothers Tatsushige and Tatsusada over Yoshitatsu, and it is said that he finally began to think about eliminating Yoshitatsu as the head of the family. The conflict between Dosan and Yoshitatsu became evident, and in 1555, Yoshitatsu killed his younger brothers and raised his army against Dosan. There is a view that the conflict arose because Yoshitatsu was not Dosan's real son but a son of Yorinari TOKI. This is because Yoshitatsu was born in 1527, and his mother, Miyoshino, gave birth to him within a year since Yorinari TOKI gave her away to Dosan.

There were virtually no retainers of the old TOKI clan who wanted to support Dosan because of the way he gained Mino; in April of 1556, Yoshitatsu's army of 17,000 warriors fought Dosan's army of only 7,000 men at Nagara-gawa River (Battle of Nagara-gawa River), and even though Dosan's son-in-law, Nobunaga, sent his army to help it did not reach the battle in time, and Dosan died in the lopsided battle. He was 63 years old. Even though Yorinari TOKI was said to be incompetent many former retainers were still loyal to the TOKI clan, and even after Dosan restored order in Mino he was always troubled by those who posed a threat, which led to a difficulty in ruling the province. This is why Dosan ruled by forcible measures such as killing petty criminals by splitting their bodies using bulls or boiling them in a big iron pot. Shizuo KATSUMATA expresses the following opinion regarding Yoshitatsu's succession to Dosan's family: Dosan's ruthless behavior caused dissatisfaction among his leading retainers, who, in turn, instigated a political change that supported Yoshitatsu, and as a result, Dosan was merely driven out of his position as the head of the clan. According to "Shincho Koki," just before his death in the battle, Dosan left a will that stated that he would give Mino Province to Nobunaga. Dosan considered Yoshitatsu "incompetent," but when he saw the way Yoshitatsu gave commands at the Battle of Nagara-gawa River it is said that he changed his opinion and regretted [what he thought of Yoshitatsu]. Dosan's head was courteously buried in Dosan Zuka (Dosan's grave) by his former retainers who sided with Yoshitatsu. It is said that Dosan's nose was also sliced off when he was killed.

Dosan's grave is located in Jozai-ji Temple, Gifu City, Gifu Prefecture, and Dosan Zuka in the same city is also considered his grave. A portrait of Dosan and a seal of 'Saito Yamashiro' are preserved at Jozai-ji Temple. Later, in the Edo period, Hatamoto (direct retainers of a lord) INOUE and MATSUNAMI clans were said to be Dosan's descendants.

Now, Dosan Festival has been held annually during the first half of April since 1972 in Gifu City to recall his great achievements for laying the foundation of the city.

Novels

"Kyouyu" written by Ango SAKAGUCHI (first appeared in 'Bungei Shunju' in 1953, and later published in "The Complete Works of Ango SAKAGUCHI vol.14" (Chikuma Shobo) in 1999)

"Sengoku Shiki - Dosan SAITO" written by Gishu NAKAYAMA (Chuokoron-sha Inc., 1957)

"Kunitori Monogatari" (a tale of warriors who struggled to gain a province) written by Ryotaro SHIBA (Shincho bunko, first published in 1971)

"Sandatsu sha" (usurper) written by Miyoji IWAI (Gakken Co., Ltd., 1999)

"Dosan SAITO -To Fight is to Deceive-" written by Miyoji IWAI (Gakken M bunko, 2001)

"Two Dosans" written by Masataka MIYAMOTO (Shinchosha Publishing Co. Ltd., 2002-2003)

Comic Books

"Valiant Golden Province -Dosan-" created by Hiroshi MOTOMIYA (Shuei Sha bunko, 2004)

TV dramas

NHK Taiga Drama "Kunitori Monogatari" (created by NHK, 1973. Cast: Mikijiro HIRA)

New Year Special Jidaigeki (samurai drama) "Kunitori Monogatari, a special edition for the New Year" (created by TV Tokyo Corp., 2005. Cast: Kinya KITAOJI)

Until the father-and-son two-generation view came about, Dosan's image was well established as a "Sengoku Daimyo who rose in the world from an oil-seller to a Daimyo"; because of this, in various folklores, oral literatures and creative works, including the ones produced after the two-generation view came about, Dosan was most often portrayed as "Dosan SAITO" in accordance with the single-generation view.

Dosan has been described as a consummate villain since the Edo Period, but it was Ango SAKAGUCHI who denied the traditional image of Dosan and described him as an pioneer of the era in his work "Kyouyu" (1953). However, it was "Kunitori Monogatari" (1971) by Ryotaro SHIBA as well as the NHK Taiga Drama by the same title (1973) that established the image of Dosan as a pioneer of the era. Since then, many creative works have been produced, including the ones that are based on the father-and-son two-generation view, but the trend continues in portraying [Dosan] as a man of strong character and as a pioneer and a reformer of the era.

Other TV dramas in which Dosan appears

"Heaven and Earth" (NHK Taiga Drama, 1969. Cast: Kanemon NAKAMURA (III))

"Nobunaga ODA (TBS drama)" (created by TBS Inc., 1989. Cast: Hiroki MATSUKATA)

"Nobunaga, KING OF ZIPANGU" (NHK Taiga Drama, 1992. Cast: Shinsuke ASHIDA)

"Nobunaga ODA (TV drama in 1994)" (created by TV Tokyo Corp., 1994. Cast: Masahiko TSUGAWA)

"Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI -Unifier of a Country-" (created by TV Tokyo Corp., 1995. Cast: Tetsu WATANABE)

"Hideyoshi" (NHK Taiga Drama, 1996. Cast: Ryunosuke KANEDA)

References

'Dosan SAITO' written by Eijiro FUKUDA (Collected in "Dictionary of Japanese Hisotry vol.6" Yoshikawa Kobunkan Inc., 1985.
ISBN 4642005064)

'SAITO clan' written by Tetsuo OWADA (published in "Family Histories of the 370 Famous Sengoku Daimyo", Shin-Jinbutsuoraisha Co. Ltd., 1996
ISBN 4404023766)