(The following translation is taken from Owada Tetsuo’s “Mōri Motonari – The strategy and tactics of a master general”, published by Mikasa Shobō in 2013. The book is a general introduction to the character of Mōri Motonari, considered one of the most influential rulers during the era of the Warring States and who had a profound impact on those daimyō and jitō families located in Aki and Nagato provinces (what would eventually be known as Chōshū). The extract below, from the introduction to the book, is an exploration of the genealogy of the Mōri and how they came to occupy the lands from which they would earn their fame. The numbers in parenthesis after paragraphs refers to the location of the information in the Kindle version of the book).
Motonari in his youth, and the limits of endurance
Birth of the Mōri clan - the founding period of the Kamakura Bakufu
The Mōri clan traces its origins to Ōe Hiromoto, a retainer of merit who emerged during the formative period of the Kamakura Bakufu. Following receipt of an invitation extended by Minamoto no Yoritomo, Ōe travelled from Kyoto to Kamakura in the 1st year of Ganreki (1184). He was appointed as the head of the Kumonjō (which later became known as the Mandokoro, in other words the centre for the administration of the Bakufu), and served as an aide to Yoritomo, later being assigned to positions such as shugo and jitō (both of which in the Kamakura era referred to retainers granted estates originally belonging to aristocratic families, and overseers of those estates).
Such was the value of Ōe’s service that he was granted the territory of Mōri-no-shō (毛利荘) in Sagami province, Shimazue-no-shō (島末荘) in Suō province (now known as Tōwa-chō, in Ōshima-gun, Yamaguchi Prefecture), Yamamoto-no-shō (山本荘) in Higo province (Uekimachi, Kamoto-gun, Kumamoto Prefecture, now part of Kumamoto City), and Kuruma-no-shō (栗真荘) in Ise province (now Shiroko, Suzuka City, Mie Prefecture).
The Ōe clan had served generations of emperors as imperial tutors (jidoku), fulfilling their role at court as instructors in letters and literature in the same manner as the Sugawara clan. Yet it was Hiromoto’s generation who first underwent the transition from ‘tutor’ to ‘retainer’. Hiromoto had six sons and five daughters. His eldest son, Chikahiro, was adopted into the household of Kuga Michichika, Minister of the Interior (naidaijin), while his second son Tokihiro and third son Masahiro adopted the surnames of the Nagai clan and Nawa clan respectively. His fourth son, Suemitsu, took the surname Mōri, while his fifth son Tadanari took the surname Kaitō. His sixth son entered the priesthood. (Loc.303)
So, the surname Mōri finally made an appearance. Its origins lay in the name of the Mōri-no-shō (毛利荘) in Sagami province, bestowed by Ōe Hiromoto upon his family. In other words, as a consequence of the division of inheritance among Hiromoto’s various offspring, the fourth son of the family, Suemitsu, took up residence in the above area and adopted the shōen’s name as his own. (Loc.334)
The Mōri-no-shō from which the Mōri clan took its name is believed to extend from the northern part of Atsugi City in Kanagawa Prefecture, all the way through to the southwest of Aikawa-machi in Aikō-gun in the same prefecture. It is important to note, however, that one shouldn’t read the name ‘Mōri-no-shō’ with the lengthened vowel, but should instead read it as ‘Mori-no-shō’. This is because in some documents from the period, the character for ‘woods’ (森, mori) is used (thereby giving an indication of how the title was pronounced).
No historical documents survive that explain when the Mori-no-shō was founded, however in the “Sonbi Bunmyaku” and volume three of the “Heiji Monogatari”, there is a record that the Mori-no-shō in Sagami province was ruled by Minamoto no Yoshitaka, the younger brother of Minamoto no Tameyoshi. We know that Yoshitaka was referred to as the ‘ruler of Mori’, and so it appears that the it had been established as a shōen around the end of the Heian period. (Loc. 334)
Minamoto no Yoritomo is entertained at Mori-no-shō
Furthermore, it appears that there was another lineage who bore the name Mōri separate to that of Mōri Suemitsu at Mori-no-shō. The existence of a warrior retainer who went by the name of Mōri Kageyuki has been confirmed, who lived from the late Heian to the early Kamakura periods. It’s been hypothesized that this individual might have belonged to one of the pioneer families that developed the region (Loc.334), however this theory is scant on details. Mōri Kageyuki appears to have been affiliated with the army that Minamoto no Yoritomo took with him to attack the Taira at the Battle of Ishibashi-yama. (Loc.353)
The entry in the “Azuma-kagami” marked for the 18th day of the 1st month of the 1st year of Yōwa (1181) states that “At Mori-no-shō in Sagami province there is a tale a monk who resided there and went by the name of Inkei”. This makes it clear that a monk known as Inkei lived at the shōen, and is believed to have been a member of the family of Mōri Kageyuki mentioned earlier. The use of the title “Mori-no-shō” in this manner also reveals that it had already been established by the time the entry was made. (Loc.353)
As we continue to read the “Azuma-kagami”, we learn that the Mori-no-shō was divided into an upper and lower half. For example, when we examine the entry for the 8th day of the 8th month of the 5th year of Genkyū (1194), it reads “it is said that Inaba Zenji…received guests in lower Mori-no-shō”. In other words, what this tells us is that Inaba Zenji, otherwise known as Ōe Hiromoto, played host to Minamoto no Yoritomo. The same entry records that on that day, Yoritomo made a pilgrimage to Hinata Yakushi. While on the way there, he dropped by the residence of Ōe Hiromoto in lower Mori-no-shō and received Ōe’s hospitality.
Now, even though it is said that the shōen had been divided into upper and lower sections, there is no mention in either any literature or records, starting with the “Azuma-kagami”, of an upper Mori-no-shō. Also, it is said that the remains of Mōri Suemitsu’s residence are located at Iiyama in Atsugi City, which would put it in the middle of Mori-no-shō. (Loc.353)
Were the Mōri descended from the Imperial family?
Although Mōri Suemitsu became a member of the Council of State (hyōjōshū) from the 1st year of Tenpuku (1233), before this time, in the period from the 6th year of Kenpo (1218) to the 3rd year of Shōkyū (1221), he became a member of the priesthood at Chōrakuji after meeting Ryūkan (a renowned priest of the late Heian – early Kamakura period), adopting the priestly name of ‘Saia’. In the 1st month of the 1st year of Hōji (1247), the same year as the Battle of Hōji (which will be discussed later), an inscription was made on the base of a statue of Prince Shōtoku kept by the temple of Tenshūji (located in modern Gyōda City in Saitama Prefecture). The inscription reads “Offered by the venerable Saia”. This is the same ‘Saia’ as referred to above, - i.e., Mōri Suemitsu. (Loc.378)
Furthermore, Ryūkan was invited to the Mōri estate belonging to Suemitsu and spent his final years there, passing away at Iiyama on the Mōri estate. The remains of that residence became the foundation for the temple of Kōfukuji at Iiyama. As such, we can suppose that Iiyama in Atsugi City served as the site for Mōri Suemitsu’s residence. (Loc.378)
While we have revealed most of the details of the origins of the Mōri clan, one further point remains to be clarified. That concerns what came before the appearance of Ōe Hiromoto (Loc.378).
When we examine the Mōri clan genealogy, we find that it claims Ame-no-hohi-mikoto (a god of Japanese mythology) as its founder. Part way through this genealogy, after claiming descent from Nomi-no-Sukune (regarded as the father of Sumo wrestling) and Ōe no Otondo (a courtier and Confucian scholar of the Heian period), it arrives at the famous Ōe Masafusa (a famed poet, scholar, and tutor to emperors Shirakawa, Horikawa and Toba). Hiromoto is allocated the position of grandson of Masafusa. (Loc.404)
However, the “Genealogy of the Ōe clan” in the 7th volume of the “Zoku Gunsho Ruijū” claims that the Emperor Heizei founded the family, thus confirming a clear difference with other theories. In truth, even the genealogy that Mōri Motonari himself wrote had notes of caution, stating “the grandchild of Emperor Heizei was the son of Prince Abo Shinnō” and that “25 generations have passed from Emperor Heizei to Motonari”. In other words, the Mōri had become separated from the Imperial family. However, if we pursue the theory that the line of the descent came from the Emperor Heizei, then the explanation for the clan name Ōe vanishes into thin air.
In the 1st year of Meiji (1868), scholars Kondō Yoshiki and Kondō Kiyoshi made a submission to the Mōri clan, which determined that Ame-no-hohi-mikoto was the founder of the family, thereby giving it a divine genealogy. Despite this, the theory of descent from Abo Shinnō could not be dismissed, leading to a division of usage which established that ‘the lineage comes from the gods, while the bloodline comes from the Emperor.” (Loc. 404)
The Mōri enter Yoshida-no-shō in Aki province
So how was it that a noble family like the Mōri, that grew and developed in the Kantō region, came to plant themselves in Aki province (in the far west of Japan)? One of the main reasons is thought to have been the “Battle of Hōji” that broke out in the 1st year of Hōji (1247). According to records, a leading figure within the Kamakura Bakufu, Miura Yasumura, got into an argument with the Shikken Hōjō Tokiyori, thereby transforming Kamakura into a battleground. Miura was defeated, and the conflict was later regarded as the catalyst for the monopoly that the Hōjō would hold over the office of Shikken. (Loc. 420)
At the time, the household of the Mōri was under the control of Suemitsu. Suemitsu’s wife was the daughter of Miura Yoshimura, aka Yasumura’s younger sister. This particular point would prove crucial in what was to follow.
When he learned that Yasumura was engaged in conflict against Hōjō Tokiyori, Suemitsu joined Yasumura’s army without hesitation. Nevertheless, at the battle on the 4th of the 6th month, Suemitsu was beaten and fled to the sanctuary of the temple of Hokedō (法華堂). In the aftermath of the battle, Suemitsu’s eldest son, Hiromitsu, his second son Mitsumasa (also styled Jirō Kurabito Nyūdō), and his third son, Yasumitsu were all forced to commit ritual suicide.
Suemitsu had one son left by the name of Tsunemitsu. At the time of the Battle of Hōji, he was in residence at Sakyo (Sahashi)-no-shō in Echigo province (Kariwa-gun, Niigata Prefecture), and so had nothing to do with Yasumura’s uprising. Hōjō Tokiyori chose not to exact revenge on him, and so settled for appointing him as the steward (jitō) to Yoshida-no-shō in Aki province. However Mori-no-shō was still confiscated by Tokiyori.
Ordinarily, because of his involvement in Yasumura’s revolt, all of Suemitsu’s property and holdings would have been seized by the Shikken. Possibly out of a sense of guilt for having eliminated so many influential retainers on his own side, the punishment due for Tsunemitsu was set aside by Tokiyori. In the end, this decision ensured the continuation of the Mōri clan. (Loc.420)
Unfortunately there is no information available that tells us when and under what circumstances Suemitsu was granted either Sahashi-no-shō in Echigo and Yoshida-no-shō in Aki. It may be that in relation to Sahashi-no-shō, this was inherited from Hiromoto, however as for Yoshida-no-shō, it may have been given as a reward for Suemitsu’s involvement in the Jōkyū War. At any rate, Tsunemitsu later divided Sahashi-no-shō into its northern and southern parts, with everything south of the Nagatori River becoming Minami-jō shō, and everything north of the same river becoming Kita-jō shō. (Loc.439) The division of property by inheritance continued under Tsunemitsu, with his eldest son Motochika inheriting the property of Kita-jō shō, while his fourth son Tokichika inherited Minami-jō shō. Indeed, Tokichika managed to gain possession of both Minami-jō shō and Yoshida-no-shō. This occurred around the 15th day of the 7th month of the 7th year of Bunei (1270). (Loc.439)
Having inherited both properties, Tokichika found himself appointed as a member of the Hyōteishū, one of the highest councils of the Kamakura Bakufu located at Rokuhara in Kyoto. In order to pay for his upkeep while resident in the capital, the Bakufu granted Tokichika the property of Kagata (加賀田) in Kawachi province (now part of Kawachi-Nagano City in Osaka Prefecture). Minami-jō shō had a production rate of 2000 kan, while Yoshida-no-shō produced 1000 kan. Kagata added another 200 kan to this. In the 4th year of Einin (1296), Yoshida-no-shō was divided up, with the southern part at Toyoshima and Takehara going to a resident pioneer family (the Kazanin), while the northern half of Yoshida and Asahara remained under the control of the jitō (the Mōri themselves).
Tokichika bore witness to many pivotal events in Japanese history, from the downfall of the Kamakura Bakufu, the establishment of the Kenmu Imperial government, through to the founding of the Muromachi Bakufu by Ashikaga Takauji. He eventually gave Kagata to his eldest son Sadachika, while Minami-jō shō was divided up between his second son Chikamoto (who subsequently gave it to his son Iechika), as well as his third son Hiroaki and Sadachika’s son Chikahira. Tokichika himself also placed the son of Chikahira, Motoharu, in residence at Yamada village in Yoshida-gō, which was part of Yoshida-no-shō (now part of Kamiobara, Kōda-chō, Hiroshima Prefecture). All this took place in the 7th month of the 1st year of Engen (1336), immediately after the defeat of Kusonoki Masashige by Ashikaga Takauji at the battle of Minato-gawa (Minato River). (Loc.462)
Tokichika retained overall control of Yoshida-no-shō, which consisted of 4 gō (sub-divisions) named Yoshida-gō, Asahara-gō, Toyoshima-gō, and Takehara-gō. His main residence (or fortress) was not at Kōriyama (which would later become the seat of power for the Mōri) but instead was located at the peak of Tōnanroku, to the south-east of Kōriyama. The Mōri at the time focused their attention on Yoshida-no-shō, and endeavoured to unite its scattered parts under one rule. (Loc.262)