Sassa Narimasa (佐々成政)

Narimasa SASSA was a busho (Japanese military commander) in the Sengoku (period of warring states) and Azuchi-Momoyama periods. He was born in the Owari Province. His father was Narimune SASSA (also called Morimasa). His common name was Kura no suke. He was one of the palace staff in the Mutsu Province. The family crest was palm. His uma-jirushi (horse insignia) was golden three-layer sedge hat.

Immediate retainer of the Oda family

The Sassa clan was a local clan based in the Hira-jo Castle in Kasugai County of Owari Province. It is said that Sassa family belonged to Sasaki family of Uda-Genji (Minamoto clan), but this is not clear.

Since his brothers Masatsugu SASSA and Magosuke (Naritsune) SASSA were killed in the war one after another, Narimasa took over the family estate and became the lord of the Hira-jo Castle in 1560. He worked for Nobunaga ODA, having made remarkable progress in his war service since he was a horse guard and in 1567, he was selected as kurohoroshu (black knights). On the so called Kanegazaki no nokiguchi (withdrawal from Kanegazaki) in 1570, it is said that Narimasa also participated in the army of the lord, leading a few armed forces of horse guards with Hiromasa YANADA and Masakane CHUJYO and worked to support Hideyoshi using firearms troop.
('Shincho Koki' [Biography of Nobunaga ODA], 'Todaiki' [a famous chronicle describing the Early Modern age])

In the Battle of Nagashino in May 1575, he led firearms troops with Toshiie MAEDA, Masanari NONOMURA, Hidekatsu FUKUTOMI, Naomasa BAN.

The time of Fuchu sannin shu

In September 1575, Nobunaga ODA appointed Katsuie SHIBATA as the head of army corps in Hokuriku-do Road after he conquered the Echizen Province. Nobunaga awarded 33,000 goku of Fuchu, Echizen Province to the Fuchu sannin shu, Narimasa, Toshiie MAEDA and Mitsuharu FUWA as Katsuie's Yoriki (mounted warrior who belonged to a general in the Sengoku period) and Narimasa built the Komaru-jo Castle to use as the headquarters. Although Fuchu sannin shu were the yoriki of Katsuie SHIBATA, they were a half independent flying column of Oda and often dispatched as reinforcement for the siege of Ishiyama Hongan-ji Temple, the stabilization of the Harima Province and the conquest of Murashige ARAKI.

The time of Ecchu Province

In 1580, he was involved in stabilizing the Ecchu Province, the font line of the Uesugi clan against uprising of Ikko sect followers as a support for Nagazumi JIMBO. In the autumn of the same year, he built the Sassa bank. In February 1581, he was awarded half of the Ecchu Province formally and became Shugo (military commander and administrator of province) due to the downfall of Nagazumi and upgraded the Toyama-jo Castle largely to use it as the headquarters.

When Honnoji Incident occurred in 1582, Hokuriku army had just succeeded in the attack of the Uozu-jo Castle, Uesugi's last foothold, after three months of siege. However, the new of conspiracy arrived, warlords drew off and encountered counterattack of the Uesugi army, and Narimasa could not move for the defense. Although Katsuie SHIBATA, who visited Kyoto, was surpassed by Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI, Hideyoshi was reconciled with the also confronted Mori clan and achieved Chugoku Ogaeshi (reaction to Honnoji Incident by Hideyoshi HASHIBA, in which he rushed back to Bichu even though he was in a battle with Mitsuhide AKECHI in Yamazaki which is near the boundary between Settsu Province and Yamashiro Province when he learnt the news).

At the Kiyosu conference after the conquest of Mitsuhide AKECHI, when a fight for power of the Oda family occurred between Katsuie SHIBATA and Hideyoshi HASHIBA, Narimasa took side of Shibata, but he could not participate in the battle of Shizugatake since he could not leave Ecchu due to preparations for the attack of the Uesugi army. (However, he dispatched 600 soldiers with his uncle Heizaemon SASSA as reinforcement) after the death of Katsuie, due to betrayal of the Maeda clan or pressure from the Uesugi family, Narimasa surrendered by making his daughter a hostage and taking the tonsure. He was approved to govern the Ecchu Province and laid his arms. In the next year, 1584, when the battle of Komaki-Nagakute began, although Narimasa indicated a practice swing that he supported Hideyoshi in his letter around March, he supported Ieyasu TOKUGAWA and Nobukatsu ODA in the summer and opposed to Toshiie MAEDA who stood for Hideyoshi and the battle of the Suemori-jo Castle (Noto Province) occurred. Since he also opposed to Kagekatsu UESUGI in the Echigo Province, he was forced to face two-front operations and had hard battle. However, when Hideyoshi and Ieyasu compromised and Narimasa was driven to the extremity, he had a great achievement that he crossed over Hida Mountains and Tate-yama Mountains and entered the Hamamatsu City at midwinter to persuade Ieyasu to have another try. This was so called 'Sarasara-goe' (crossing over Sarasara mountain path). However, he failed to convince him, so he also pressed Nobukatsu ODA and Ichimasu TAKIGAWA to persuade Ieyasu, but good answer was not obtained and the achievement failed in vain.

In the next year, 1585, Hideyoshi started to conquest Ecchu by himself and surrounded the Toyama-jo Castle with his large 100 thousand army. Narimasa surrendered through the agency of Nobukatsu ODA (Battle of Toyama). Thanks to the adjudication of Hideyoshi, his life was saved, but all territories other than Shinkawa County in the east part of the Ecchu Province were forfeited and he was forced to live in Osaka with his wife and children and then worked for Hideyoshi as his Otogishu (adviser).

The time of Higo Province

The achievement in the Kyusyu Conquest in 1587 brought him the Province of Higo. Hideyoshi was said to have ordered him to refrain from rapid reform, but it is not clear whether it can be accepted at face value. Narimasa, who was said to have disease, attempted to perform Taiko-kenchi (Hideyoshi's nationwide land survey) quickly, but local people resisted by the revolt by inhabitant of Higo Province. Therefore, he was accused of the misgovernment and was not condone in spite of the plea for sparing his life of Ekei ANKOKUJI and he was forced to commit seppuku at the Amagasaki Hoen-ji Temple in the Settsu Province (Teramachi, Amagasaki City).
He was died at the age of 53 (53 is most likely, but there are various theories about his age at death, and since birth year was calculated based on this, the accurate birth year is unknown.)
His kaimyo (posthumous Buddhist name) was Seiseiji Teigetu Dokan Daikoji.

His death haiku (Japanese poem): 'Now I open the teppatsu bag (iron bowl bag) in which I put bad dreams of these days.'

Personal Profile

He was often described as an impulsive doer who dislikes Hideyoshi, but it seems that this was largely because of the adaptation in stories created in future ages. Since the Ecchu Province was suffered from flood disaster due to flood of river in the medieval period, Narimasa built bank during his few years of administration in Ecchu, so he was well-liked by people in his dominion. The bank was named Saimin Tsutsumi (saving-people bank) or Sassa Tsutsumi and even now the remains are preserved.

His ability was highly estimated by Nobunaga and this paved the way to Kunimochi Daimyo (Daimyo having domain of a province). Narimasa was one of the vassals who benefited from meritocracy of Nobunaga. His dislike of Hideyoshi may be adaptation in future ages, but it seems that he actually disliked Hideyoshi, since he was so loyal to the Oda clan (Nobunaga) that he attempted to rise in revolt with Ieyasu after Nobukatsu ODA surrendered.

It seems that he created emery more than required; he created animosity on Kagekatu UESUGI since he massacred soldiers in the Uozu-jo Castle opened on the condition that the return of the castle soldiers was accepted, and he killed the 13-year-old second son of Masashige DOI who seceded via crucifixion in front of the Doi army holding the castle. Chogoro KAIONJI pointed this and presented harsh assessment that a person who relied on such cruel methods could not oppose to Hideyoshi, who was good at winning the hearts and minds of the people.

Although Narimasa was often regarded as an adversary of Hideyoshi like Katsuie SHIBATA, since he disliked Hideyoshi and fought in the same Hokuriku area when Nobunaga was alive, a document of the Maeda family describes that he became so upset unlike a lord about the attack of the Toyama-jo Castle usurped by the Uesugi clan and had big quarrel with Katsuie for a period of time, so it seems difficult to say that he had good relationship with anti-Hideyoshi side. Actually, whatever his real feelings might be, after the ruin of Katsuie, he simply took the tonsure without resistance and bowed before Hideyoshi, and he dispatched only a small troop for the Battle of Shizugatake, which might be due to public position of preparations for the Uesugi clan, it is widely thought that especially after the death of Nobunaga, they tied the relationship due to the interest that they did not want to create enemy each other.


The Sassa clan was said to originally belong to Nobuyasu ODA, a guard of Owari and head of the Iwakura-jo Castle (Bukoyawa) and according to Shinchoko-ki (biography of Nobunaga ODA), there is a anecdote that since there was a rumor that Narimasa attempted to assassinate Nobunaga ODA, Narimasa apologized.

In the Battle of Keikai during attack of Mino in 1562, he and Toshiie MAEDA offered the neck of Mataemon INABA each other, which remained unsettled, so Katsuie SHIBATA cut the neck and reported what happened to Nobunaga and Nobunaga commended three of them (according to Jyozankidan and Meisho Genkoroku [the collections of anecdotes of great commanders in Japanese history]). However, according to 'Shincho Koki,' it was Narimasa and Tsuneoki IKEDA who avenged Inaba and it is highly possible that the anecdote of Shibata and Maeda was invented later since they went together to the Hokuriku area as the attack army. Actually, Toshiie MAEDA told that he disliked Narimasa because although in the Toami murder for which Toshiie paid the penalty of temporary banishment, he forgave the sin of stole of Toami due to the petition of Narimasa, he spoke ill of him.

It is said that there were constant streams of applications to be his vassal since he was so lavish that he awarded more chigyo (fief) than the rokudaka (stipend) he first presented after starting to work as his vassal, when a new vassal was hired. In the interview with the applicant, he emphasized 'how the military achievement was made in the past' and he was willing to hear the story.

There is an anecdote that Ujisato GAMO asked Hideyoshi whether he could use the 'Three-layer sedge hat' uma-jirushi (horse insignia); Hideyoshi said 'the uma-jirushi ('Three-layer sedge hat') was used by heroic Narimasa SASSA during the Siege of Odawara in 1590. You would allow to use it when you achieved appropriate feat.'
Ujisato worked outstandingly in the Siege of Odawara having wounds all over his body and succeeded in being allowed to use the uma-jirushi. (Jyozankidan, a collection of anecdotes compiled in the Edo period) Narimasa tended to be underestimated due to the bad reputations created by the winners Hideyoshi or Maeda, but Hideyoshi and Maeda seemed to have highly recognized the heroic act of Sassa as an army commander and there are many heroic records commending him.

In the Toyama Prefecture, Narimasa, who conducted good politics such as embankment works and remained faithful to the last, is more popular than the Maeda clan, who reigned as the lord of the Kaga and Toyama domains all through the Edo period and betrayed his boss Katsuie SHIBATA in the Battle of Shizugatake in contrast.

Lawful wife: Jikoin

Daughter of Sadakatsu MURAI

First son: Matsuchiyomaru

Killed in punitive expedition of uprising of Ikko sect followers in Nagashima in 1574.

First daughter: Zuisenin

Wife of Narimasa's vassal Gorobe MATSUBARA

Second daughter: Teruko SASSA

Wife of Narimasa's nephew Seizo SASSA, second wife of Kanpaku (chief adviser to the Emperor) Nobufusa TAKATSUKASA

Third daughter: Mitsuhidein

Wife of Nobunaga's seventh son, Nobutaka ODA

Fourth daughter: Shojuin (daughter of Narimasa SASSA)

Wife of Narimasa's vassal Ujioki JINBO

Fifth daughter

Wife of Kagemochi YAMAOKA

It is said that there was a daughter who married painter Takanobu KANO.

Since he had no sons other than Matsuchiyomaru who died young, he had several adopted sons including Katsuyuki SAKUMA, younger brother of Morimasa SAKUMA, but his family estate was not succeeded and he had no direct line descendant. His branch descendant (his older sister) includes Munekiyo SASSA who worked for Mitsukuni TOKUGAWA (a person who is said to be the model of Sukesaburo SASAKI, Suke-san in 'Mito Komon'), and Atsuyuki SASSA (former head of the Cabinet Security Affairs Office).

The daughter held hostage by Hideyoshi (although she was said to be his second daughter, details are unknown, maybe because she was an infant of nine years old.) and her foster mother were killed in the way of crucifixion in Kyo no Nanakuchi (seven entrances of Kyoto).