A look at the rise of the richest feudal clan of Edo Japan and the city they built
First of all, apologies for the massive delay. The end of the financial year is always very busy, and as of April I have also been teaching an Introduction to Japanese History class at Kanazawa University, which keeps me busier than I expected.
Some of the comments I have received have let me know that I might have jumped in at the deep end, as it were, with too much detail and Kanazawa and the Maeda clan, and left some readers wondering what exactly I was on about. So over the next couple of weeks I hope this time to be able to give you some idea of how the city came to be, with a special focus on just who these Maeda guys were anyway.
Kanazawa, as I have mentioned, is a castle town, the type of city that dominated the Edo period. These were the local government centre and home of the regional daimyo, or lord. The word daimyo literally means “Great Name.”
The centre of the castle town is, naturally, the castle. Kanazawa Castle dates back to the fifteenth century, when it was the centre of power for the Ikko Ikki, which was a Buddhist sect that had overthrown the old regional governor and established what is called “The Peasant’s Kingdom” in the district of Kaga – which is the southern part of Ishikawa Prefecture. So let’s look at this a little more.
During the fifteenth century, the powers of the central Shoguns in Kyoto was waning, and their regional governors were assuming even greater powers, carving out their own little fiefs and passing them on to their sons. In the domain of Kaga, which covers the southern half of what is now Ishikawa Prefecture, the priest Rennyo, of the Jodo Shinshu sect of Buddhism, arrived to proselytise. Rennyo’s brand of Buddhism quickly spread among the samurai and peasants. The followers of Rennyo were directly under the control of the fortress-like Ishiyama Honganji temple in Osaka, and were known as the Ikko sect, the “Single-Minded” sect. At the time, due to the diminishing power of the hereditary regional governors of Kaga, the Togashi family, central control over the region was weak. This allowed groups of Rennyo converts to increase their political ambitions, leading to the end of the rule of the Togashi governors in 1488.
Oyama Gobo and the Peasant’s Kingdom
For the next hundred years, Kaga was ruled by the Ikko peasants, who created a kind of republic known by history as “The Peasant’s Kingdom”. Their principle stronghold was the basilica of Oyama Gobo, on the tip of the Kodatsuno ridge. Backed by high hills and flanked on two sides by rivers, it was a natural fortress, and the eventual home of the Maeda lords. Around the basilica, in what is now the second and third baileys, the first proper town grew, with priestly residences and other religious buildings as its core, and around them came the merchant areas. Many of these districts have survived to the present day, in name if nothing else. This type of town, peculiar to the Warring States Period, was a fortified temple town, and in its basic structure bears a great deal of resemblance to mediaeval European towns, with the temple or church in the centre and the entire town enclosed in some form of fortification, usually a high wall surrounded by a moat, often dry.
The End of the Peasant’s Kingdom
In the year 1580, a general under the warlord Oda Nobunaga named Sakuma Morimasa attacked the Peasant’s Kingdom, and succeeded in overthrowing the Ikko, while Nobunaga finished dealing with the Ishiyama Honganji. Granted an income of 50,000 koku (bushels of rice) from Nobunaga, Sakuma proceeded to recreate the town as a military base. However his rule was short-lived: in 1583 Toyotomi Hideyoshi, with Lord Maeda Toshiie as his advance guard, invaded, and Toshiie was granted the fief of Kaga in addition to that of the Noto peninsula which he already possessed. So now the long history of the Maedas in Kanazawa begins. Just who was this guy Toshiie anyway? I have mentioned a few things about him before, but now it is time for a general history, which I hope is not too dry. Dry is good, if it’s fine champagne. But history? No excuse for that….
Maeda Toshiie and Kanazawa
Maeda Toshiie was born in 1537, in the village of Arako in Owari Province (present-day Nagoya: I have shown the rough locations of the old provinces on the map below), the son of Maeda Toshiharu, the lord of Arako Castle. In other words, something like the son of a Baron in England. High ranked, but not amazingly so. In the same year, in the same province, Toyotomi Hideyoshi was born, and three years before that, Oda Nobunaga. And five years later in Mikawa Province next door, Tokugawa Ieyasu was born. Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and Ieyasu are three of the most famous names in Japanese history, and contemporaries of Toshiie. Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and Ieyasu were primarily responsible for the reunification of Japan after 150 years of civil war; however Toshiie’s role has usually been obscured by the Big Three. Nevertheless, Toshiie was a very powerful lord, and the close friend and confidant of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and it was only his death in 1599 that prevented him from playing a larger role in the establishment of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
After his father died in 1569, Toshiie found himself the head of the Maeda Clan, and the lord of Arako Castle with its fairly minor income. He was already known as a formidable warrior: in 1551, the fifteen-year-old Toshiie won his first victory at the Battle of Kayazu. He took his first head in that battle, and in another battle in 1556 he defeated a man known for his ferocity, earning the praise of Nobunaga. Toshiie’s income was tripled, and due to his courage he was given a position directly serving Nobunaga. In 1573, Toshiie was given 100,000 koku in Nibu, in the south of Echizen Province, and thus, at the age of 39, became a daimyo, or domain lord. A steady but not flashy rise to power. But he wasn’t finished.
A Portrait of Maeda Toshiie
Locations of Provinces Connected with Maeda Toshiie
Click on an image to see a larger version.
In 1581, the 45-year-old Toshiie was granted the 230,000 koku fief of Noto, the peninsula sticking out into the Sea of Japan north of Kanazawa, and became the lord of an entire province. Now he had to start playing for keeps, since he had a lot more to keep. In the Battle of Shizugatake (1583) between Hideyoshi and the powerful lord Shibata Katsuie, Toshiie took a neutral position. At first he had set out with the Shibata forces, but withdrew part-way, retreating to Fuchu Castle and going over to Hideyoshi. Toshiie’s position was delicate: Katsuie had his third daughter, Ma’a, as hostage, but two more of his daughters had been adopted into Hideyoshi’s family. This sort of thing happened all the time back in the day. However, for the preservation of his clan, Toshiie had to make the most politically wise choice, so he sided with Hideyoshi. Hideyoshi’s forces were victorious, as they usually were, and although Toshiie pleaded with Hideyoshi to spare Katsuie’s life, it was to no avail: Shibata Katsuie committed suicide in the flames of his castle.
By 1590 Toyotomi Hideyoshi had unified Japan, and was the undisputed master of the realm. However he was not eligible for the coveted title of ‘Shogun’ as he was not of Minamoto descent – by this time it had become customary that the Shogun was a member of the house of Minamoto, the first Shogunate house, but Hideyoshi, being of low peasant stock, couldn’t even pretend to be connected (like everyone else did). So he had to be contented with the lesser title of Taiko, Grand Regent.
Hideyoshi was anxious about his young son Hideyori’s future, and in 1595 asked Toshiie to be his guardian. In his Will, Hideyoshi wrote “I have known Toshiie for many years, and his uprightness is well known. I wish to install him as Hideyori’s guardian.” However Hideyoshi was argued out of leaving Toshiie as sole regent, largely by Toshiie himself, and so a council of regents was set up to govern until Hideyori would be of age.
In 1595, Toshiie, along with Tokugawa Ieyasu and three others, was chosen by Hideyoshi to act as regent. Ieyasu was the most powerful of the daimyo under Hideyoshi, but Toshiie was probably the second-most. Toshiie may not have as high a rank or as many provinces as Ieyasu, but he was much more the distinguished soldier, trusted by Hideyoshi, and was far more popular. The Chief Regent was however, in terms of money, power, and title, Ieyasu. Nevertheless, Toshiie had been asked by Hideyoshi to take full responsibility for Hideyori, which showed that he was actually the one Hideyoshi trusted most. Another reason for this is that Hideyoshi realised that after his death the one who would be the greatest threat to his government would be Ieyasu. Loyal Toyotomi generals like Ishida Mitsunari didn’t get along with Ieyasu, and this lead to a confrontation, with Toshiie as the only one who could prevent a war as Hideyoshi had foreseen. Hideyoshi died in 1598, after his final aborted attempt at conquering China through Korea had failed, and thus the political succession became every so slightly highly unstable. Anyone who has seen or read James Clavell’s “Shogun” knows what happens next: cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war….
The close relationship between Toshiie and Hideyoshi is well known; however Toshiie’s wife Matsu and Hideyoshi’s wife Nene had perhaps an even closer relationship. When they had lived in Kiyosu while their husbands were young soldiers under Nobunaga they had been neighbours, and had even put a gate in their fence to allow easy access, to borrow soy sauce or so. Even when Hideyoshi had conquered the entire country, they still remained friends. At the flower-viewing festival at the Daigoji Temple in 1598, Toshiie and Matsu were the only guests who came as a couple, and Matsu was treated as a member of the Toyotomi family. In her later years she visited Nene in Kyoto after she was released from her hostage duties in Edo. Matsu herself was to spend much of the rest of her life as a hostage in Edo to ensure the loyalty of the Maedas, finally retiring to Kyoto when her position as hostage was taken over by Toshinaga’s widow.
After Toshiie’s death in April 1599, his son Toshinaga had enshrined him at Utatsu-Hachimangu Shrine (now called the Utasu Shrine) at the foot of Utatsuyama in Kanazawa, and made it a duty of the samurai to secretly pay their respects, since the Tokugawas would not permit open veneration. When feudalism was abolished and the fiefs disbanded after the Meiji Revolution, former samurai built Oyama Shrine on the site of the Kanaya Palace, once part of the castle. I showed you the shrine gate in the very first blog entry.
In summary, Toshiie was a powerful warlord and close friend of the ruler of all Japan; however his early death opened the way for Ieyasu to take control of the country. It is possible that if Toshiie had lived long enough for Hideyori to come of age, the Tokugawa Shogunate would never have been formed. Thus, Toshiie’s life – or rather, his death – was a pivotal moment in Japanese history.
Toshinaga and Toshitsune
Toshiie’s oldest son, Toshinaga, was born in 1562, when Toshiie was 26. At twenty he married Nobunaga’s daughter Ei, and from being lord of Fuchu Castle in Echizen, he went on to successively govern three smaller castles before inheriting stewardship of the Maeda Clan in 1598. At the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, he sided with Tokugawa Ieyasu and thus was able to further enlarge the lands left him by his father to an incredible 1.2 million koku, by far the largest domain outside the Shogun himself. He succeeded his father’s position as one of the Five Regents that Hideyoshi had appointed to govern while his son was a minor, though Toshinaga kept his ears to the ground and was careful to protect his lands against Tokugawa pressure. He died in 1614 after retiring to Toyama Castle.
Toshie’s younger son Toshitsune, the third lord, is generally credited with ensuring the Maedas’ dominance, by his alliances by marriage with the Tokugawa and the care he took to avoid any pretence of military ambition. Instead the vast wealth of the Maedas was channelled into arts and crafts, many of which are still nationally renowned. The “Million-koku Culture” bloomed as a result of the vast wealth of the region. As both a large domain and an “Outer Lord” (daimyo who submitted to Ieyasu only after he won the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600) the eyes of the Shogunate were constantly on Kaga, and to keep it at bay, the Maedas poured their efforts into cultural rather than military pursuits. The third Lord Maeda, Toshitsune, formed the Kaga Workmanship Office and promoted lacquer and gold-and-lacquer-work; and the fifth lord, Tsunanori, collected works of art and artisans from all over the country. The roots of this cultural flowering go back to the days of Toshiie and Toshinaga, when Kaga gold-leaf, inlaid work, and calligraphy were well-known even then.
Although reduced later, when the third lord split his domain up between his three sons, Kaga still provided an income in excess of a million ‘koku’. This is the famous ‘Kaga Hyakumangoku’ that you will encounter no doubt at some stage in the tourist literature. A ‘koku’ was the unit of income for samurai in the feudal period, and is about 150kg of rice. At current Japanese prices, that makes a million-koku income the equivalent of more than thirty billion yen, or an income of US$300,000,000 per year.
On the 14th of April 1631, fire broke out near the Sai Bridge. It consumed much of the city, including the castle. In 1632 Toshitsune ordered the construction of a canal to bring water from the upper Sai River to the castle to alleviate the water shortage problem in the castle. A bold plan was drawn up: water would be drawn from far upstream, and channelled through kilometres of canals and pipes down to the castle. The pipes were carefully laid at a 750:1 slope for about 3.3 kilometres along the Kodatsuno ridge. The water was fed to the castle under the moat that lay between it and what is now Kenrokuen by an artesian well, and the large lake, Kasumi-ga-Ike, in Kenrokuen acted as an emergency supply. Rumour has it that the lake in fact has a plug, which could be pulled to suddenly increase the water in the moats.
In the Meiji Period, castles were now the property of the central government, and in their infinite short-sightedness they tore most of them down. In Kanazawa’s case the castle became the base for the Ninth Division of the Imperial Army, and those buildings which were in the way were torn down, and most of the rest perished in a fire in 1888. The Army occupied the castle until after WW2, when it was disbanded, and in 1949 the site became the new home of Kanazawa University, which stayed there until about ten years ago when it moved to its big new campus in the hills. Now the site is a park, and finally is open to all who visit.
In Part Two, which should be posted at the same time, I will give a brief overview of the urban landscape.
View Historical Walking Guide to Kanazawa in a larger map