Kuroda Yoshitaka (黒田孝高)

Yoshitaka KURODA, also known as Josui KURODA, was a military commander and feudal lord during the period spanning over the Sengoku period (period of Warring States), the Azuchi-Momoyama period and the Edo period. He was the lord of Nakatsu-jo Castle in the Buzen Province. Yoshitaka was his real name but his common name Kanbei and his Buddhist name Josui, which he took up after entering the priesthood, are well known. He served Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI as his close aide by playing an active role in covert operations to induce defection and to negotiate with other feudal lords. He was a Christian feudal lord with the baptismal name of Don Simeon.


He was born the legitimate heir of Mototaka KURODA in Himeji on January 1, 1547. According to some documents such as "Kansei Choshu Shokafu" (genealogies of vassals in the Edo bakufu, Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun), the Kuroda clan was said to originate from the samurai class in Kuroda Village, Ika County, Omi Province (presently Kuroda, Kinomoto-cho, Ika-gun, Shiga Prefecture), but this remains uncertain. The Kuroda clan came to Harima during the time of Yoshitaka's grandfather Shigetaka KURODA and worked for Masamoto KODERA who was a minor feudal lord having power in the Banshu plain with Gichaku-jo Castle (presently Eastern Himeji City) being at its center. Masamoto had a high opinion of the Kuroda clan and appointed Shigetaka as a senior executive and the chief of staff of Himeji-jo Castle. Masamoto additionally gave his adoptive daughter in marriage to Shigetaka's son Mototaka and had Mototaka go by the family name of KODERA.

The Banshu (Harima Province) Years

Around 1567, becoming head of the family, Yoshitaka married a daughter of Koresada KUHASHI and assumed the post of the chief of staff of Himeji-jo Castle.

In 1573, minor feudal lords in the Harima region, such as the Kodera clan, became wedged between the two major powers including Nobunaga ODA, who was expanding his power base in Kinai (the term referring to five provinces around Kyoto including Yamashiro, Yamato, Kawachi, Izumi and Settsu) and Terumoto MORI, who had established his stronghold in the Sanin and Sanyo regions. In 1575, Nobunaga ordered Hideyoshi HASHIBA (Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI) to stay in Harima. Appreciating Nobunaga's ability, Yoshitaka recommended his lord Masamoto to render homage and service to the Oda family from early on and, in addition, persuaded the powerful people in the neighboring areas.

His Years as a Retainer under the Oda Family

In 1578, however, the lord of Miki-jo Castle Nagaharu BESSHO, who was the heavy weight in Harima, rose in revolt against the Oda clan. This reeled the other powers in Harima. Further, Murashige ARAKI, who was a Nobunaga's senior retainer and had been made in charge of the Settsu Province, rebelled against Nobunaga and locked him and his people in Arioka-jo Castle (Itami City, Hyogo Prefecture).

Yoshitaka got inside of Arioka-jo Castle to urge Murashige to reconsider but the negotiations broke down and he was captured. A year later, Arioka-jo Castle fell, whereby Yoshitaka was rescued by Toshiyasu KURIYAMA but since Yoshitaka had been confined in a dungeon with extremely poor living conditions for a prolonged period, he developed leg joint problems leaving him with a minor walking difficulty. Thereafter, he consequently started to command while riding in a palenquin rather than horseback in the battlefield.

When Murashige rebelled, since his lord, Masamoto KODERA, also revolted against Nobunaga in concurrence with Murashige, Masamoto was conquered by Nobunaga's heir Nobutada ODA. Taking a dim view of having the surname of a rebel, Yoshitaka returned to his original family name of KURODA. The rescued Yoshitaka was given a property with ten thousand koku in the Harima Province and began to play an active role as an aide to Hideyoshi.

In 1580, Yoshitaka offered his castle to Hideyoshi saying, 'Himeji-jo Castle is the ideal place to govern Banshu' and moved to Kozan-jo Castle in Shikito county. In 1581, Hideyoshi captured Tottori-jo Castle in Inaba using siege tactics. Based on strategy, since Hideyoshi had Tottori-jo Castle completely surrounded and cut its food supply after buying up all the rice in the area, people in Tottori-jo Castle were devastated by starvation that left them with no other options but to surrender in three months; it is said that it was Yoshitaka who suggested this idea to Hideyoshi.

Additionally, in 1582, during the campaign to capture Takamatsu-jo Castle in Bitchu, which the military commander for the Mori clan, Muneharu SHIMIZU, was in charge of, Hideyoshi had colossal dikes built to flood the castle and it is said that it was again Yoshitaka who suggested this strategy to Hideyoshi.

Years as a Retainer under the Toyotomi Family

During the Takamatsu-jo Castle campaign, the Incident at Honno-ji Temple took place and Nobunaga died a violent death.
It is said that upon learning of Nobunaga's death, Yoshitaka said to Hideyoshi, 'Your lucky opportunity has arrived, hasn't it?'
It is also said that Hideyoshi made peace with Terumoto MORI and turned around in Chugoku (the area covering the present five prefectures including Okayama, Hiroshima, Tottori, Shimane and Yamaguchi) leading his army back to Kyoto based on the suggestion offered by Yoshitaka.

He participated in the Battle of Shizugatake in 1583 and the Battle of Komaki Nagakute in 1584. Participated in the campaign to conquer Shikoku (one of the islands making up Japan covering four prefectures including Tokushima, Ehime, Kagawa and Kochi) in 1585. At that time, predicting the strategies of the enemy commander Motochika CHOSOKABE, Yoshitaka took control of the castles on the enemy side one after the other.

In 1586, he was assigned as Jugoinoge (Junior Fifth Rank Lower Grade) Kageyushi (Board of Discharge Examiners). During the Kyushu Campaign in 1587, he worked as a supervisor for the troops of the Mori clan and the Ukita clan contributing to their victory. After restoring order in Kyushu, he was awarded 125,000 koku in Nakatsu, Buzen Province. Some influential Kokujin (warriors living in the respective province) including Shigefusa KII and Shigekane NONAKA rose in revolt but were put down by Yoshitaka who subsequently had Kii murdered and successfully brought the territory under control.

Not long before that time, Yoshitaka was baptized as a Christian at the suggestion of Ukon TAKAYAMA. In August 1587, however, while Ukon TAKAYAMA and the other Christians defied the Anti-Christian Decree issued by Hideyoshi and were subsequently banished as punishment, Yoshitaka led the way in renouncing the faith. It is detected in the letters written by Luis FROIS that Yoshitaka's renunciation of the faith sent shock waves among the missionary priests and various Christian feudal lords.

In 1589, Yoshitaka transferred the headship of the family to his heir Nagamasa KURODA and went into retirement thereafter referring himself to as Josuiken (hereinafter Yoshitaka will be referred to as Josui).

After transferring the headship of the family to his son, Josui continued to serve Hideyoshi as his close aide. During the Odawara Campaign in 1590, Josui went inside Odawara-jo Castle to successfully persuade Ujimasa HOJO and his son Ujinao HOJO to a bloodless surrender. He, thereafter, was presented with the celebrated sword Nikko Ichimonji by Ujinao HOJO (a collection of the Fukuoka City Museum designated as a national treasure).

Josui participated in Hideyoshi's invasion campaigns to Korea (the Bunroku and Keicho Wars) starting in 1592; but, after invoking the wrath of Hideyoshi by feuding with one of the five magistrates Mitsunari ISHIDA, he retired taking the name of Josui Ensei in 1593.

It Is said that, thereafter, Josui lived at Nakatsu-jo Castle enjoying his retirement at leisure.

The Battle of Sekigahara

In September 1598, Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI died. It is said that Josui came to Kyoto in December of that year and stayed at his residence in Fushimi. A letter that Josui wrote to Hiroie KIKAWA around that time remains in existence.

In times like this, I feel delighted.
Dare I say that there will be a war in the near future.'
I suggest that you will be prepared.'

It suggests that Josui anticipated a major upheaval over supremacy in the country and that this was going to happen in the not too distant future. In 1600, after Ieyasu TOKUGAWA and his allies moved their troops to defeat Kagekatsu UESUGI of Aizu, Mitsunari ISHIDA and his allies denounced Ieyasu and moved their troops (the West) against him and thus the Battle of Sekigahara began. Since the wife of Josui's heir Nagamasa was an adoptive daughter of Ieyasu, Nagamasa became an ally of Ieyasu around the time of Hideyoshi's death and recruited many daimyo from Toyotomi's side to Ieyasu's side. Further, leading the best force of the Kuroda army, Nagamasa accompanied Ieyasu and rendered distinguished service in the main battle of Sekigahara.

Josui was in Kyushu in those days. Learning that Mitsunari ISHIDA started to move his troops, Josui began his course of action as an ally of Ieyasu (the East). Since the majority of Kuroda's army was with Nagamasa, giving peasants in the Kuroda territory an outfit allowance from his treasury, Josui quickly put together a new army of approximately 10,000 men. Leading this army, Josui invaded the Bungo Province on October 15.

On that day, backed by Terumoto MORI, Yoshimune OTOMO, who had joined the West with aspirations to rebuild the family fortune, moved his army into the Bungo Province and siege Kitsuki-jo Castle of Tadaoki HOSOKAWA who belong to the East. The commanders Yasuyuki MATSUI and Tatsuyuki ARIYOSHI at Kitsuki-jo Castle asked Josui for reinforcements and, in response, Josui moved his army and clashed with the army of Yoshimune OTOMO at Ishigakibaru (presently Beppu City) on October 19. The Kuroda army was victorious over the Otomo army due in part to contributions by one of the 24 Kuroda Cavalries Tamonobu MORI and the other warriors.

Thereafter, Josui began to capture various castles belonging to the feudal lords that had joined the West including Naomori KUMAGAI's Aki-jo Castle, Kazunao KAKIMI's Tomiki-jo Castle, Kazuyoshi OTA's Usuki-jo Castle, Takamasa MORI's Tsunomure-jo Castle and Hinokuma-jo Castle, Katsunobu MORI's Kokura-jo Castle, Nobutomo (信友) MORI's Kawaradake-jo Castle one after the other. In early December, leading 40,000 men including the armies of Kato, Tachibana and Nabeshima, Josui moved the troops to defeat Shimazu, who was the last enemy force remaining in Kyushu, but, on December 17 when his army advanced toward Minamata, Higo Province, he received a cease-fire order issued as a result of a reconsiliation agreement reached between Ieyasu TOKUGAWA and Shimazu whereby he returned to his castle and his army was dismissed.

It is said that Josui's ultimate objective was to take on Ieyasu for supremacy by putting Kyushu under his command to lead its military might to east. There is irony in that his son Nagamasa's successful performance contributed to ending the Battle of Sekigahara in a short period of time.

If, however, Josui was indeed serious about seizing supreme power, it would have required a thorough consultation with his son Nagamasa and, considering Josui's finess, it seems more puzzling than being dismissed as an oversight. In light of the above, some argue that it was cunning calculation to put pressure on Ieyasu by acting as if he had ambition for supremacy to ensure that Ieyasu appreciated the Kuroda family's capability and the fidelity of Josui's son Nagamasa; because, Ieyasu would treat the Kuroda family accordingly, and this would lead to the continued existence and ultimate prosperity of the Kuroda family.

In reference to this, there exists the following anecdote.

After the Battle of Sekigahara, when Nagamasa came home and proudly said, 'Esquire Ieyasu took my right hand and praised my work,' Josui said to his son, 'What was your left hand doing then (Why didn't you kill Ieyasu with the other hand)?'
This left Nagamasa speechless.

Conversely, in view of the fact that this sort of anecdote was in public circulation, it seems even more unlikely that Josui was seriously pursuing supreme power (since, if he was, he would have kept it in the strictest secrecy). Rather, it seems that this anecdote served to emphasize Nagamasa's fidelity to Ieyasu by contrasting with the scheming Josui.

The Edo Period

After the Battle of Sekigahara, Nagamasa was awarded the territory of Chikuzen Najima (Fukuoka) with 523,000 koku in recognition of the top deed of valor by Ieyasu. Josui also moved from Nakatsu-jo Castle to Fukuoka-jo Castle and thereafter lived in retirement completely outside politics. On April 19, 1604, Josui died at the official residence of the Fushimi clan in Kyoto. He died at the age of 59.

Personal Profile

With respect to the career of Yoshitaka, it is said that there are many exaggerations in military epics written in the Edo period in order to glamorize military strategists in action.

He and Shigeharu TAKENAKA (Hanbei TAKENAKA) were referred to as the twin jewels of Hideyoshi and were called the Double Hanbei or the Two Hanbei.

Hidetaka TOKUGAWA said that Yoshitaka was the Choryo (a brilliant military strategist in ancient China) of today (Meisho Genkoroku (The Sayings and Doings of Famous Warriors)).

It is said that Yoshitaka had ugly scars caused by the syphillis he contracted.

Although he was portrayed to be ambitious aiming to grab supreme power, Yoshitaka never once betrayed his lord. He was betrayed by Masamoto KODERA rather than betraying Masamoto. And, with respect to Ieyasu TOKUGAWA during the Battle of Sekigahara, both Yoshitaka and Masamoto were vassals under the Toyotomi family with no master-servant relationship between them, belonging to the East as allies.
Ango SAKAGUCHI said of Yoshitaka, 'Although he was brilliant, he was nothing more than a warmonger with a second rate aspiration.'


It is said that, when Nobunaga died during the Incident at Honno-ji Temple, Yoshitaka said to Hideyoshi, 'Your lucky opportunity has arrived, hasn't it?'
It is said that, thereafter, Hideyoshi began to fear Yoshitaka's Machiavellian mind. It has been said that the fact that Hideyoshi awarded Yoshitaka, who had numerous achievelents, with the territory of Nakatsu in the Buzen Province far away from Osaka with only 120,000 koku (which seems like a stingy package in comparison to what Hideyoshi gave to the other daimyo such as Kiyosama KATO or Masanori FUKUSHIMA, who had always been with Hideyoshi) proves this.

There are some historical sources documenting Hideyoshi's apprehension toward Yoshitaka as follows:

What Hideyoshi is always afraid of in this world include TOKUGAWA and KURODA.
However, TOKUGAWA is a gentleperson.'
That scarred-head KURODA cannot be trusted with any matters' (Meisho Genkoroku).

Yoshitaka was 44 when he transferred the headship of the family to Nagamasa and it is said that he retired in his prime to secure his personal safety knowing that Hideyoshi was apprehensive about him. There is an anecdote as below.

Hideyoshi asked his vassals, 'Who is going to govern the country after me?'
The vassals mentioned Ieyasu TOKUGAWA and Toshiie MAEDA but Hideyoshi mentioned Kanbei KURODA (Yoshitaka) and said, 'If Kanbei so decides, he will assume supremacy while I am still around.'
His close aide asked Hideyoshi, 'But my lord, Esquire Kanbei is a daimyo with only 100,000 koku,' and Hideyoshi said as follows:
None of you knows what he really is cable of.'
If I gave him one million koku, he will snatch the power from me right away.'
It is said that, hearing about this exchange through word of mouth, Kanbei offered to retire for fear of his personal safety.

It seems that he deliberately circulated information about his retirement to see how the people around him would react. On the other hand, however, the rise of young staff such as Mitsunari is said to have been the other reason.

Kanbei was said to be cold towards his retainers. It is said that he was cold towards his retainers on purpose so that they would not kill themselves on the death of Kanbei, or so that his retainers would devote their fidelity to Nagamasa who was the head of the Kuroda clan at that time.

When Murashige rose in revolt, Yoshitaka was sent to persuade him to reconsider but, with Yoshitaka not returning for a prolonged period of time, Nobunaga jumped to the conclusion that Yoshitaka had defected to the Murashige side and ordered to kill Nagamasa who was left with Nobunaga as a hostage. Shigeharu (Hanbei) however secretly gave harbor to Nagamasa. To remember their gratitude towards Shigeharu, the Kuroda family consequently adopted the family crest of the Takenaka family as theirs (this family crest refers to Kuromochi. Kuromochi is a family crest to hope for an increase in the amount of koku).

His last words were 'Do not try to gain other people's favor and do not wish for wealth.'