Kira Yoshihisa (吉良義央)

Yoshihisa KIRA was a koke (master of ceremony) in the early Edo period. He is known through the villain's role in "Chusingura" (the title of a Kabuki drama). His childhood name was Saburo, and he went by the name Sakon. He was Jushiijo (Junior Fourth Rank, Upper Grade) Sakonoe gon no shosho (Provisional Minor Captain of the Left Division of Inner Palace Guards), Kozuke no Suke. He is often called Kozuke no Suke KIRA. His real family name was Genji (Seiwa-Genji, or Minamoto clan). His family crest was maruni futatsu biki (two lines in a circle) and gosan no kiri (literally, "five three paulownia").

Incidentally, his name was conventionally pronounced 'Yoshinaka,' but now it is considered 'Yoshihisa' based on a written seal of old documents assembled at Kezo-ji Temple in Kira-cho, Aichi Prefecture.

Place of origin

On October 6, 1641, he was born the eldest legitimate son of Yoshifuyu KIRA (4200 koku), koke hatamoto (direct retainers of the Edo bakufu), and a niece of Tadakatsu SAKAI (a daughter of Tadayoshi SAKAI) at the residence of Kira on the street of Edo Kajibashi. According to another account, he was born at Shiroishi, Fujioka City, Gunma Prefecture, where the jinya (regional government office) was located. Yoshifuyu's mother was from the koke Imagawa family, so he was related to Ujizane IMAGAWA.

His mother was the eldest daughter of the taishin hatamoto (greater vassal) Tadayoshi SAKAI (a biological younger brother of tairo (chief minister) Tadakatsu SAKAI (the lord of the Obama domain of Wakasa Province)). His stepmother was a younger sister of his mother.

He had five younger brothers: Yoshisue TOJO (hatamoto with 500 koku), Yoshitaka TOJO (hatamoto with 300 bags of kirimai (an allowance in rice), Fuyusada TOJO (an adopted son of Yoshisue), Fuyushige TOJO (an adopted son of Yoshitaka), and Kosho (a disciple of Hozobo Koyu, a Buddhist monk of Iwashimizu Hachiman-gu Shrine in Yamashiro Province). He had two younger sisters, and one of them was married to a man of the Ando clan.

On April 13, 1653, he was granted an audience with the shogun, Ietsuna TOKUGAWA. On January 30, 1658, he was invested with Jushiino jiju (Junior Fourth Rank Chamberlain) of Kozuke Province (see also shinno ninkoku (provinces whose gubernatorial posts were reserved as sinecures for imperial princes) for the reason he was not Kozuke no kami (the governor of Kozuke Province) but Kozuke no suke (the assistant governor of Kozuke Province) despite his high court ranking).

In May 1658, he was married to Baireiin (later known as Tomiko), a younger sister of Tsunakatsu UESUGI, the lord of the Yonezawa domain in Dewa Province. There is an anecdote about his marriage, which states that Tomiko fell in love with the beautiful Yoshihisa at first sight, but no such evidence can be found in reliable materials. According to "Uesugi Nenpu" (Uesugi's chronological record), it was a marriage ordered by the bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun): 'On April 7, 1658, Hyobu CHISAKA told (Tsunakatsu) that he had been ordered to marry Sanhime to Kozuke no Suke KIRA by Masayuki HOSHINA in front of the assembled company such as the roju (senior councilor) Tadakiyo SAKAI, Nobutsuna MATSUDAIRA and Tadaaki ABE. The Kira clan was related to the Ogigayatsu-Uesugi clan by old marriage connections, and he had two sons and four daughters (the eldest son Tsunanori UESUGI, the second son Saburo KIRA, the eldest daughter Tsuruhime, the second daughter Furihime, the third daughter Akurihime, and the fourth daughter Kikuhime) (however, the second son Saburo and the second daughter Furihime died young).

High lineage

In 1659, he began attending the court with his father. Although he was a dependent, he got 1000 bags of rice as a hiinryo (an allowance for the person who doesn't succeed to a property) in addition to a karoku (hereditary stipend).

In September 1662, he first went to Kyoto as an envoy of the gozonmon built by Ouchi Sento Imperial Palace, and was granted an audience with Emperor Gosai. Subsequently, he went to the capital (Kyoto) 24 times throughout his life: 15 times as an envoy of New Year's greetings and nine times as an envoy of the bakufu.

On February 26, 1663, when he went up to the capital for the second time as kashi (ambassador) for the retired Emperor Gosai's newly established cloister government, he was promoted to Jushii (Junior Fourth Rank) at the age of 22. He went to the capital as many as 24 times, which was significant among the koke. Additionally, he worked as an envoy although he was a dependent, which suggests that his ability as a koke was outstanding. It is also said to be because Tsunayoshi admired his excellent ability.

In the intercalary fifth month of 1664, Tsunakatsu UESUGI, the lord of the Yonezawa domain, died suddenly without an heir, so the family plunged into a crisis of being deprived of samurai status and forfeited its territories. However, due to the good offices of Masayuki HOSHINA (father-in-law of Tsunakatsu UESUGI), the eldest son, Sannosuke (later known as Tsunanori UESUGI), was adopted by the Uesugi family, and therefore the Uesugi family was able to avoid the crisis, but ultimately its fief was decreased from 300,000 to 150,000. There is a view that Tsunakatsu died suddenly because Yoshihisa poisoned him, but this is considered a groundless rumor spread by Hachiya FUKUOJI, a feudal retainer of the Yonezawa domain, who lost his position in conflict with Hyobu CHISAKA, Edo-garo (one of the highest-ranking vassals of a daimyo during the Edo period) of the Uesugi family.

Consequently, Yoshihisa came to use the relationship with the Uesugi family positively; he not only made them support him financially but also tried to have his three daughters profitably adopted by Tsunanori. His eldest daughter, Tsuru UESUGI, became a wife of Tsunataka SHIMAZU, the lord of the Satsuma domain, the second daughter, Akuri UESUGI, married Masatake TSUGARU, a kotaiyoriai (landholding liege vassals with alternate attendance obligations) hatamoto, and the third daughter, Kiku UESUGI, also became a wife of Tadahira SAKAI, a hatamoto (Princess Tsuru was divorced from Tsunataka, and Princess Kiku had lost her husband, but later she became a wife of Tsunenari OINOMIKADO, a court noble, and gave birth to a son and a daughter).

In June 1668, he succeeded to a property due to the death of his father Yoshifuyu. He was 28 years old.

In the intercalary ninth month of 1680, he was appointed Sakone no shosho (Minor Captain of the Left Division of Inner Palace Guards), which was the highest rank for a koke, and in March 1683 he was installed as a koke together with Mototsune OSAWA and Yoshisato HATAKEYAMA.

Incidentally, after Tsunenori, the eldest son, was adopted by the Uesugi family, his heir was Saburo, the second son, but he died young on September 28, 1685. Once he had consulted with Tsunanori and the bakufu, they adopted Haruchiyo, the second son of Tsunanori, changing his name into Yoshimasa KIRA, and on May 24, 1690, they took him into the residence at Edo Kajibashi.

On October 9, 1698, he lost his residence at Kajibashi because of the great fire of Edo, but later he rebuilt his residence at Yaesu. Ironically, it was Asano who was in charge of firefighting in that catastrophic event.

Matsu no roka (literally, a corridor of pine trees) incident

On March 13, 1701, both Naganori ASANO, the lord of the Ako domain in Harima Province, and Muratoyo DATE, the lord of the Iyo-Yoshida domain in Iyo Province, were appointed as receptionists for the Imperial envoys of Emperor Higashiyama such as Sukekado YANAGIWARA, Yasuharu TAKANO and Hirosada SEIKANJI, an inshi (messenger from the retired Emperor) of Emperor Reigen. On this occasion, Yoshihisa was ordered to be an instructor, but he was in Kyoto as an envoy to convey New Year's greetings for the Imperial Court; but his condition diminished on the way home so he didn't return to Edo until April 7. While Asano, who was working as a receptionist for the second time, prepared for banquet based on his past experience, a mistake occurred because some of the processes had been changed since the last time. Some people believe a discrepancy arose here.

At about ten o'clock on the morning of April 21, ASANO slashed at him with a sword in a great corridor of the castle. ASANO was arrested by Yoriteru KAJIKAWA, hatamoto, and others, whereupon Yoshihisa was carried to the sotetsu no ma (a room of cycad) by Koreuji SHINAGAWA, koke, and Yoshiyasu HATAKEYAMA. Thanks to Douu KURISAKI, a surgeon, he was saved, and eventually the sword wound on his forehead disappeared. Later, he was examined by Tadashige OKUBO, a metsuke (inspector of foot soldiers).
According to 'A Record by Okado,' which was written by Shigetomo OKADO, a metsuke who had examined ASANO, KIRA answered, 'I haven't done anything to deserve his enmity, and takumi-no-kami (the head of the Bureau of Skilled Artisans) seems to have just become insane; besides, I'm so old that I don't remember why he could have hard feelings against me.'
ASANO was ordered to commit hara-kiri by the shogun Tsunayoshi TOKUGAWA, whom the situation had angered.

On May 3, he asked to be released from a position of Koke-kimoiri (performing good offices for nobles), but there was a rumor that he was in conflict with retainers of the old Ako domain, and his neighbor the Hachisuka clan, from the Tomida domain in Awa Province, also worried, so in September the bakufu order the Kira family to move to a residence of Nobumochi MATSUDAIRA (hatamoto with 5,000 koku) in Honjo (Sumida Ward). Honjo in those days was located in an out-of-the-way place in the suburbs of Edo. There are also those who argue tenaciously that the bakufu deserted him because the distinguished Kira family was ordered to move to such an inconvenient place by the bakufu, or that the bakufu wanted the family to be attacked.

Also, on September 23, around the time of his move, those who seemed to be close friends of Yoshihisa, such as Yasutoshi SHODA, a Ometsuke, (the man who said that Naganori ASANO was a criminal and made him commit hara-kiri in the garden), and Fuyushige TOJO (Yoshihisa's younger blood brother), shoinhanshi (the shogun's bodyguard or the castle guard), were relieved of their posts because 'they were not doing well' and they were made kobushin (samurai without official appointments who received small salaries).

While Motohiko IZAWA, a writer, said, 'he might have been held responsible for having recommended and approved a man like Asano as a receptionist,' and suggested a view that the Kira family receive a punishment due to the failure in selecting a person.

Additionally, Baireiin did not accompany him when he moved but instead moved to a suburban residence of the Uesugi family in Shiba-Shirogane. There are various theories about it (as follows), but none is certain: he worried about being attacked and was anxious about his wife; they came to be on bad terms because Tomiko said, 'Asano committed hara-kiri, so why don't you do that too?'; or, because the new residence was small, he could not take a lot of maid-servants.

On January 8, 1702, Yoshihisa submitted a request for retirement. Apparently there was no hope of making a comeback to koke-kimoiri, so he took the initiative before he was punished by the bakufu, which was supported by popular opinion, and his request was immediately accepted. Yoshimasa KIRA, an adopted heir, succeeded to a property. Yoshihisa retired and took his place among omote-koke (koke without a title).

In July 1702, Nagahiro ASANO came into the custody of the main family of Asano. Kira planned a tea party to be held on January 20, 1703, but the shogun Tsunayoshi was going to visit the residence of Yoshiyasu YANAGISAWA on the day, so it was rescheduled for the 30th. Through Sohen YAMADA, a master of tea ceremony, this information was conveyed to Shinbei WAKIYA (actually, he was Gengo OTAKA, one of the 47 retainers), who was a disciple of Sohen. Yoshio OISHI, the former hitto karo (head of chief retainers) decided on the date of the raid.

The end of his life

At midnight on the 31th, 47 Ako Roshi (lordless samurai of the Ako domain), including Oishi, attacked the residence of Kira. Yoshimasa and his retainers fought in defense, and Yoshihisa hid in a charcoal shed. Ako Roshi searched in vain for Kira, but he wasn't so easily found. Chuzaemon YOSHIDA and Jujiro HAZAMA heard somebody talking in the charcoal shed beside the kitchen, so they tried to enter it, but bowls and charcoal were thrown at them, and two retainers of the Kira family attacked them with swords. After they defeated the retainers, Jujiro HAZAMA lanced something that moved in the back. Yoshihisa tried to resist with his short sword, but he was cut down by Tadashichi TAKEBAYASHI.

Incidentally, 17 people of the Kira family were killed, including Heihachiro KOBAYASHI, Ichigaku SHIMIZU, Yashichiro SHINKAI, Riemon TORII, Yoichiemon SUDO and Genpachiro SODA (according to another account, 16 people were killed). Twenty-three people, including Shinpachiro YAMAYOSHI, were severely wounded. Other retainers seemed to lose their fighting spirit and did not fight (Roshi, who raided Kira's residence, cried, 'a group of 50 people, a group of 100 people, trying to pretend to be a raid by many people, so a tofu (bean-curd) dealer living in Kira's neighborhood told the people in the residence of the Yonezawa domain about this attack, saying that 'about 150 Ako ronin had conducted a raid).

The bakufu ordered the Uesugi family to supervise the retainers of Kira, but Tsunanori took only seven brave fighters and drove away all the retainers who did not resist. Kobayashi and Shimizu are known as retainers who fought hard, but according to the 'Okochi document' they did not work so much; it goes on to state that the best fighters were retainers who had been sent by the Uesugi family, such as Shinpachiro YAMAYOSHI and Yashichiro SHINKAI. It is said that it was Shinpachiro YAMAYOSHI who cut Yukichige CHIKAMATSU down into the pond.

The head of Kira was dedicated in front of the grave of Naganori ASANO at Sengaku-ji Temple, after which they put it into a box and asked the temple to look after it. The temple made two monks take it back to the Kira family, and Magobe SODA, a chief retainer, and accepted it together with Kunai SAITO. Sengaku-ji Temple keeps an acknowledgment of Kira's head jointly signed by them. Douu KURISAKI, who treated Yoshihisa when he got a sword injury, connected his head to the body, and then he was buried in Kira's family temple, Mansho-ji. His posthumous Buddhist name is 'Reishojidenjitsuzanshokodaikoji,' and he died at the age of 62.

Mansho-ji Temple in those days was located at Ichigaya, but it was renamed Mansho-in during the Taisho period and moved to Nakano, so his grave was also relocated and is now designated as a historic site.

The public's assessment

Yoshihisa isn't very popular because he's known as 'the villain' in Chusingura. However, in his territory--Hazu District of Mikawa Province--he's considered a wise ruler and is still liked due to the golden bank that he built in 1686, as well as flood-prevention projects and the development of new rice fields such as Tomiyoshi Shinden. There is a folk toy called Akauma (a red horse) in Kira Town, and it is said to have been made when Yoshihisa inspected his territory on the back of his red horse.

However, there was no trace of Yoshihisa's visit to his territory (it was confirmed that Yoshihisa went to his territory only once), so it is considered that he was appreciated in the place he came from mainly because the people seemed to have sympathized with their lord, who had been slain.

There are many anecdotes regarding Kira's so-called ill-treatment of receptionists other than Asano Takumi no Kami. However, one must be cautious in regard to such anecdotes because, after "Chusingura" as a tale was completed, people could have made up such stories under the influence of the tale.

It is said that in 1698 Korechika KAMEI, who became a receptionist for Imperial envoys, was treated harshly by Yoshihisa, but Korechika could no longer stand it and therefore notified the chief retainer, Sanekake TAKO. While Sanekake protested against his lord, he secretly called a person who was in charge of supervising money and made him take a box of money from a storage room. He put it into a refreshment served with tea and brought it to the residence of Kira as a gift. He apologized for his lord's impoliteness, begged him earnestly to forgive his lord, and went home. From the following day, he suddenly came to treat Korechika gently, so the situation didn't become serious; this has been handed down as an anecdote about the origin of a noted confection called Genjimaki, made in Tsuwano. The anecdote first appeared in 'Hannichi kanwa (A Half-Day of Leisurely Talk)' (1749) by Nanbo OTA (Shokusanjin), and it was written after "Kanatehon Chusingura (The Treasury of Loyal Retainers)" (first performed in 1748), which contains an episode of Wakasanosuke MOMOI (Korechika KAMEI) and Honzo KAKOGAWA (Sanekake TAKO), so there is a strong possibility that it was created through posterity.

A Record of Reikogimi (information that is Seijin Chushinki-friendly) and A Record of Gijin (as evidence of Mimaki Budayu Nobuhisa, a retainer of the Hiroshima domain) contain an anecdote about Yasutsune KATO (lord of the Ozu domain in Iyo Province) and Masatsune TOZAWA (lord of the Shinjo domain in Dewa Province), who told Asano about Yoshihisa's ill-treatment during the Nikko Buddhist religious service but were persuaded to stand until the end of their services.

The retainers of the Uesugi family did not appreciate him very much. The account book had a category such as 'to Kozuke no Suke,' and it was customary for the Uesugi family to adjust accounts payable and pay the costs of construction for the Kira family. The new residence in Gofukubashi was also paid for by the Uesugi family.
Ukon SUDA, Edo kanjo (an official), left a letter to a chief retainer of Yonezawa, in which he wrote that 'before long we will be like the Kira family.'
Therefore, among the dramas concerning Chusingura in recent years, some describe the incident as if Yasunaga IROBE, Edo-garo of the Uesugi family, maneuvered for the killing of Kira, 'a money-eater.'
It is not certain whether it is true or not, but the Uesugi family was painfully hard up for money--partly due to Kira--until the reformation of domain duties by Yozan UESUGI.

Additionally, when the incident was reported to the Imperial Court, Emperor Higashiyama was very glad; this was recorded in the diary of Chancellor Motohiro KONOE. Although Kira had faithfully carried out the decisions of the bakufu, he often served to convey policies that repressed the Imperial Court under order of the bakufu. Therefore, it is conjectured that the Emperor also had something against Kira on his mind.

Yoshihisa was one of the disciples of a tea master, SEN no Sotan, who was in his later years, and had a friendship with tea masters such as Sohen YAMADA, who wrote "Chado benmosho" (a tea-ceremony manual). He had the name 'Bokuichi' (the first letter of his name, Kozuke no Suke, was divided into two), and established the Bokuichi School.

Koke members, excluding Yoshihisa

In 1701, when the swordfight occurred, Kira was in the position of Koke-kimoiri, and at the time there were nine people in such a position. Other than Kira, they were Motokuro HATAKEYAMA (Jushiijo jiju (a chamberlain)), Yoshitaka OTOMO (Jushiinoge jiju (Junior Fourth Rank, Lower Grade Chamberlain)), Koreuji SHINAGAWA (Jushiinoge jiju), Takatsuki KYOGOKU (Jushiinoge jiju), Ujioki TODA (hatamoto) (Jushiinoge jiju), Nobukado ODA (Jugoinoge (Junior Fifth Rank, Lower Grade) jiju), Yoshiyasu HATAKEYAMA (Jugoinoge jiju), and Sadaakira YOKOSE (Jugoinoge jiju) (as of 1701). Kira, Hatakeyama, and Otomo were Koke-kimoiri, and Kira was the oldest and the only Sashosho (Minor Captain of the Left Division of Inner Palace Guards). This is why he was called Koke hitto (highest rank).

A person born in Edo and a rustic daimyo

There is no evidence that Kira had described Asano as a 'rustic daimyo.'
However, Kira was also a hatamoto who had territory in Mikawa Province (Aichi Prefecture). The difference between them had its origin in the problem of hatamoto and daimyo. Hatamoto hardly visited his own territory but instead sent their retainers, appointing them as deputies, and most of the hatamoto entrusted everything to the deputies. Kira also visited his territory (Kira-cho, Hazu District, Mikawa Province) only once but had never visited Shiraishi Village, Midono District, Kozuke Province; or Hitomi Village, in Usui District. Therefore, hatamoto hardly had a sense of identity within his territory. However, the daimyo (especially the tozama daimyo (nonhereditary feudal lords)) tended to have a sense of identity in their lands because they visited the places due to sankinkotai (daimyo's alternate-year residence in Edo) every other year.
They were sometimes laughed at by the hatamoto and fudai daimyo (a daimyo in a hereditary vassal to the Tokugawa family), who called them 'rustic daimyo.'

A kinship relation between Kira and Oishi

Kira and Oishi were distantly related through the Konoe family shodaibu (fourth- and fifth-rank officials), the Shindo and Saito families. To Kira, the one who succeeded to the family home of his wife's mother was related to the Oishi family. However, it is not clear whether they had known each other before the incident.

The thick lines indicate biological children, the thin lines indicate husband and wife, the double lines indicate adopted children; and the dotted lines indicate children adopted by another family.