Ko no Moronao (高師直)

KO no Moronao (year of birth unknown - April 1, 1351) was a busho (Japanese military commander) in the late Kamakura period and the period of the Northern and Southern Courts (Japan). His official rank was the Governor of Musashi Province. He served as a steward under the rule of Takauji ASHIKAGA in the Muromachi bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun). His original surname was the Takashina clan. NO was commonly used between surname and first name (Ko NO Moronao). KO no Moroyasu was his brother.

Family Lineage

KO no Moronao's family lineage can be traced back to the time when TAKASHINA no Koreaki, who is said to have been an illegitimate child (also said to have been their nanny's younger brother) of MINAMOTO no Yoshiie, the Minamoto clan's master builder, started to live with MINAMOTO no Yoshikuni, Yoshiie's third son, in Shimotsuke Province. From Moronao's time onwards the clan was known simply as KO, and served the Ashikaga clan as a steward for generations.


He was born to KO no Moroshige. He fought in the war against the shogunate as a close adviser of Takauji ASHIKAGA and was assigned as an officer along with his brother Moroyasu at Kubodokoro (a court of justice) and Zasso-Ketsudansho (an agency of the Kenmu government to file lawsuits) during the Kenmu Restoration.

In 1338, Takauji founded the Muromachi bakufu when he was assigned as Seii Taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians"). Moronao enjoyed a great position of authority as a steward for the shogun family.

Moronao conquered not only Akiie KITABATAKE at Sakaiura in Izumi Province in 1338 during the disturbance of the Northern and Southern Courts (Japan) but also the Masayuki and Masatoki brothers of KUSUNOKI in 1348 during the Battle of Shijonawate. Having played an active part in military affairs, he attacked the Southern Court side in Yoshino and made them retreat to Ano (Gojo City, Nara Prefecture).

The bakufu was led by two brothers between whom there were frequent conflicts of interest: the shogun Takauji, and Tadayoshi who was in charge of government affairs. The conflict arose from the opposite personalities of Moronao and Tadayoshi, with strife over authority dividing the bakufu into two groups. Then Moronao, who was displaced from his position as steward due to slanders made by Tadayoshi's close advisers such as Shigeyoshi UESUGI and Naomune HATAKEYAMA, raised an army with Moroyasu and attacked Tadayoshi's residence in Kyoto. The army surrounded Takauji's residence where Tadayoshi was hiding and demanded his handover. Despite Takauji's attempts to create peace between Moronao and Tadayoshi, Moronao managed to wipe out opposing forces of Tadayoshi's in the bakufu, leading Tadayoshi to retire from politics and become a monk. However, it is said that Takauji and Moronao secretly planned the attack together.

After Tadayoshi's retirement, Moronao gained political authority in the shogunate government as deputy for Yoshiakira ASHIKAGA who was Takauji's legitimate child. In 1350, Moronao went to Harima along with Takauji to conquer Tadafuyu, Tadayoshi's adopted child, in the Southern Court. However, by that time Tadayoshi had escaped from his monastic confines in Kyoto to surrender to the Southern Court and gone to join Tadafuyu in the Southern Court; together, they raised an army to conquer Moronao (Kanno Disturbance). In 1351, Takauji, who lost to Tadayoshi of the Southern Court in the Battle of Uchidehama (Uchidegahama) in Settsu Province, accepted Tadayoshi's condition that Moronao and his brother be forced to retire from politics and become monks. However, Moronao was then executed with Moroyasu and their families by Yoshinori UESUGI, who ambushed them as they were being convoyed from Settsu to Kyo.

Portrayal in Tales

In one of the Japanese classics: "Taiheiki" (The Record of the Great Peace), some episodes state that Moronao was a realist who had no respect for Shinto and Buddhist deities. Especially towards authority of the Imperial Family, the book quotes him as saying, "If for some reason a King is needed, let us have one made of wood or metal, and let all the live Kings be banished." However, it was not just Moronao who was against the Imperial Family but also not a few others who did not value the authority of the Imperial Family as high officials. The Ashikaga shogunate was founded in opposition to the Southern Court which was in favor of the restoration of the Emperor's power to rule as in ancient times. In general, samurai in the Ashikaga shogunate did not value the Imperial Family's authority, compared to the ones in the Southern Court.

Moronao, having fallen in love with Takasada ENYA's wife, sent her a love letter which he had Kenko YOSHIDA, the author of "Tsurezure Gusa" (Essays in Idleness) write but he was rejected by her. In the book "Taiheiki" Moronao, who was upset about the rejection, had Takasada take the blame for a rebellion, for which he and his family were sentenced to death.

The "Kanadehon Chushingura" (The Treasury of Loyal Retainers) is based on the Genroku Ako Incident in the Genroku era, adapted to the setting of "Taiheiki." It features Naganori ASANO as Hangan ENYA (Takasada ENYA) and Yoshihisa KIRA as KO no Moronao, and the incident originates with Yoshinaka's love for Hangan ENYA's wife. The Chinese character '塩,' a part of ENYA's name, applies to the Chinese character for salt (塩) which is a specialty of Ako City, Naganori's territory, and the Chinese character '高,' a part of KO no Moronao's name, which applies to 'Koke' (高家), a position of master of ceremony which Yoshihisa held.

Evaluation of his character

The KO brothers were branded as wicked from anecdotes in the "Taiheiki" and stories written in later ages. However, although according to nobles' diaries that told how evil he was and descriptions of him in the "Taiheiki," Moronao had allowed his samurai to usurp shoen (manors in medieval Japan), this was in fact a common act among samurai at that time. Even Takatsune SHIBA, a powerful military commander in Tadayoshi's group who was cooperative with nobles, temples and shrines in power, received a direct petition in the form of Kasuga Shinboku (Kasuga Shrine's sacred tree), which was often used as a means of protest, when he usurped Kofuku-ji temple's shoen. There were two types of samurai in the bakufu: those who had come from samurai families since the Kamakura bakufu, and emerging samurai who used to be called akuto (a villain in the medieval times) and were illegitimate children forced to stay with their families. It is believed that the former, along with conservative power such as nobles, temples and shrines, supported Tadayoshi while the latter, who claimed security of rights for the possession of the shoen without oppression from the former, supported Moronao. It is supposed that nobles, temples and shrines in power who were intelligentsia and left many records in the period, had conflicts with emerging samurai who opposed them and the Ashikaga clan who protected these samurai.

Moronao introduced "bundori kirisute no ho" (a type of militant rule) to create maximum mobility of the army for large battles. Samurai used to carry the heads of commanders from opposing armies who they had killed as proof of distinguished service in battle until gaining approval from a military commissioner, however, Moronao made a military command to abandon the head as soon as a fellow samurai had checked it. The command was described as revolutionary at that time and it was a good example of Moronao's rationalism.

There is an anecdote in the "Taiheiki" that suggests Moronao was broad-minded. When an attack by Masatsura KUSUNOKI's army began during the Battle of Shijonawate, a vassal called Takamoto KAMIYAMA (Rokuro-zaemon) visited Moronao's camp. Kamiyama, visiting Moronao's camp in battle without a suit of armour, tried to steal Moronao's to get through the crisis he was facing. Moronao walked past when Takamoto was having a struggle with Moronao's subordinates who were questioning him. Moronao said "For the one going to fight instead of me, a suit of armour is nothing" and he gave Takamoto his armour. During the Battle of Shijonawate, a fierce attack by the Southern Court led by Masatsura KUSUNOKI chased Moronao into a corner. However, Kamiyama appeared all of a sudden and sacrificed himself for Moronao.

Other notes

"Mounted Warrior" on the hanging roll owned by the Kyoto National Museum has always been thought of as Takauji ASHIKAGA in history textbooks etc. However, in recent years, there is a skeptical view about it, which claims that the warrior is actually Moronao or Morofuyu.