A letter to a youth
“I thank you over and again for the many heartfelt letters that you have sent to me. I was particularly pleased to receive the protective charm with a prayer enclosed in it. I’ve been able to secure a little more free time over here, hence if you could make your way to Kasugayama castle we could talk for a while.
(P.S) I am happy that you’ve sent me many letters. Your calligraphy has certainly improved. I will send you an example (to use for study).
13th day of the 2nd month, Terutora (personal signature)
To Lord Kichiheiji”
Kenshin and his adopted son
The ‘Terutora’ that wrote the above letter (whose name characters were ordinarily read as 輝虎) was Uesugi Kenshin. The receiver, referred to above as Kichiheiji, was Kenshin’s adopted son, who would later be known as Kagekatsu. The letter itself was written by Kenshin while he was in camp. The addendum to the letter was included after the main content was written, and was included in the space to the right of the main content, which would have been blank. As addendums often began with the phrase “尚々(nao nao)” (meaning often), such letters are referred to as ‘Nao naosho’ . (149)
The date on the letter merely states ‘’the 13th day of the 2nd month’’, and there is no mention of a year. By way of comparison, the editor of the ‘Historical Records of Echigo and Sado’ (越佐史料, Etsusa Shiryō), who created the collection of records of the Uesugi household that includes the above letter, did so in the 5th year of Eiroku (or 1562). We know that Kichiheiji was adopted by Kenshin as an adopted son in the 7th year of Eiroku (1564). As such, we may presume that the letter was written in Eiroku 5, when Kichiheiji had not yet become Kenshin’s son. It might now prove worthwhile to examine the relationship that Kichiheiji had with Kenshin, and how it developed over time. (149)
Kichiheiji was born in the 1st year of Kōji (1555). He was the second son of the lord of Sakato castle, Nagao Masakage, while his mother was Kenshin’s older sister. As such, he was Kenshin’s nephew. However, on the 5th day of the 7th month of the 7th year of Eiroku, Kichiheiji’s father, Masakage, while enjoying a boating spree on Lake Nojiri in the company of the lord of Biwajima castle, Usami Sadamitsu, drowned after falling out of the boat. As a consequence, Kichiheiji was placed under the care of his uncle, Kenshin, and moved to Kasugayama. It was around this time that Kichiheiji was adopted by Kenshin. (149)
If the letter was written in Eiroku 5, then we can presume that Kenshin was engaging in correspondence with Kichiheiji before deciding to adopt him, yet what was the real situation? According to one theory, Kenshin and Nagao Masakage had an acrimonious relationship that spanned a considerable period of time. Given the fact that Masakage died under mysterious circumstances, it is possible that Kenshin, aware that Masakage might become an obstacle to his rule in the future, ordered Sadamitsu to kill Masakage. (150)
One thing that should be remembered, however, is that the above letter was presumably written in the 2nd month of the 5th year of Eiroku, when Kenshin was in the process of repairing his relationship with Masakage. It is true that Kenshin expelled his elder brother, Harukage, from Kasugayama castle in the 17th year of Tenbun (1548), an act for which he earned the ire of Masakage (considering that Masakage was the head of the Nagao family at the time). Masakage and Kenshin crossed swords with one another in Tenbun 19 and 20, and so were definitely enemies. Yet Masakage eventually called a truce and placed himself under Kenshin’s rule as a vassal. In Kōji 2 (1556), while Kenshin was journeying to Mt Hiei, Masakage, as the representative of all of Kenshin’s vassals, pleaded for Kenshin to return to Echigo province, and so was appointed to the position of ‘first scribe’. (150-151)
In the 11th month of Eiroku 5, Kenshin ordered Masakage to take up residence in Kasugayama castle while he launched an attack on the Kantō region. Masakage was accompanied by his son, Kichiheiji, together with his wife, the elder sister of Kenshin. Hence there is every possibility that Kenshin treated them very well. (151) As is commonly known, Kenshin was a firm believer in the god Bishamonten (毘沙門天). Before leaving on a campaign, Kenshin was shut himself up in a temple to Bishamonten, and there he would pray for success in battle. It is said that Kenshin did this in order to strengthen his exceptional powers, which is another reason he never lived in the company of women (among other theories). (151) Kenshin never took a wife, neither did he make use of concubines. As a consequence he didn’t have any heirs of his own.
For a general of the Sengoku era, the absence of any heirs meant that the household that he represented would cease to exist upon his death. Kenshin would certainly have given this fact some thought. It is generally believed that the first child born to the union of Kenshin’s elder sister and Masakage, Kichiheiji, became Kenshin’s favourite candidate for adoption should circumstance allow it. As Kenshin regarded Kichiheiji in this manner, he began corresponding with him from an early stage, and included in his letters words of praise for Kichiheiji’s brushwork and promises of examples of Kenshin’s own writing. (151)
In the “Records of the Uesugi Household” there are three examples of calligraphy for study; the ‘Iro Hadzukashi’, the “Uesugi Kenshin Shomei Shōsoku’, and the ‘Uesugi Ke Kachū Myōji Tsukushi’, that were written by Kenshin himself. Each of these would have been sent to Kichiheiji to assist his education. (152)
If the above letter was sent in Eiroku 5, then Kichiheiji would have been 8 years old at the time. As such, the ‘Iro Hadzukashi’ is most likely to have been the example that Kenshin sent to Kichiheiji. The fact that Kenshin sent such writing to Kichiheiji instead of his father Masakage demonstrates that Kenshin had a fair degree of confidence in his brushwork. When one looks at Kenshin’s writing, one can tell that he learnt the Shōrenin style of calligraphy from Konoe Taneie, and that he was very good at it. (152)
In the ‘Uesugi Ke Kachū Myōji Tsukushi’, a number of the more important retainers in the Uesugi household are included towards the end of the calligraphy, those names being ‘Hōjō Aki no Kami’, ‘Hōjō Tango no Kami’, and ‘Nawa Jirō’ etc. Altogether there are 77 names, and at the very end, there is the following;
“5th year of Tenshō, 23rd day of the 12 day Hōin Yamato Nao Kenshin”
As this was written in the 5th year of Tenshō (1577), Kichiheiji had already undergone his naming ceremony and adopted the personal name of Kagekatsu. Since Kagekatsu was a youthful general of 23, Kenshin obviously thought that it was important for him to learn the names of all of his senior retainers while also mastering his brushwork. (13)
The Otate no Ran
However, one year after handing over the ‘Uesugi Ke Kachū Myōji Tsukushi’, on the 13th day of the 3rd month of Tenshō 6, Kenshin suddenly passed away in Kasugayama castle. After his death, his two heirs became involved in an internal dispute that split the household in two, as which became known as the Otate no Ran (or the ‘War of the Household’). (154)
In addition to Kichiheiji, in the 3rd month of the 1st year of Genki (1570), Kenshin had accepted the seventh son of Hōjō Ujiyasu, Saburō, as a hostage on the occasion of his forging an alliance with Ujiyasu. Saburō was later adopted by Kenshin. When Saburō came of age, he was given the name “Kagetora”, the same name that Kenshin himself had used during his younger days. Kagetora was also one year older than Kagekatsu, and was married to Kagekatsu’s younger sister. (154)
While he was alive, Kenshin did not make an effort to designate who would succeed him upon his death. Hence after Kenshin died, the household was divided over his succession. Eventually, on the 24th day of the 3rd month of Tenshō 7 (1579), Kagetora was forced to flee to Samegao castle where he later committed suicide, thereby leaving Kagekatsu the victor.(154-155)
Upon examination of the above letter, it certainly seems that Kagekatsu was well regarded by Kenshin, and that he made every effort to gain his favour. Yet supposing the letter had originally been meant for Kagetora and that following his victory Kagekatsu erased any trace of Kagetora’s influence. The truth is that we will never know for certain. (155)