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Môri Motonari

1497 - 1571



The Lord of Koriyama

Motonari inherited a clan that claimed direct descent from Oie Hiromoto, an advisor to Minamoto Yoritomo who served the Hojo well after Yoritomo's death. Hiromoto's son assumed the name Môri, and in 1336 Aki province became the clan's homeland when Môri Tokichika was appointed Jito there. The clan experienced a power struggle in the 1470's that saw the main Môri line absorb both it's branch families.

Motonari was born Shojumaru, the second son of Môri Hiromoto, a daimyo who struggled against the local Takeda clan (not to be confused with the Kai branch of that family) and the encroaching Oûchi. In 1499, Hiromoto found himself in the path of a looming Amako invasion from Izumo, and allied with Oûchi. At the time, Oûchi Yoshioki was becoming involved in the gunboat politics of Kyoto and while he was away, the Amako grew stronger. In 1506 Hiromoto died, and was succeded by his eldest son, Okimoto, who ended up assisting Yoshioki in Kyoto for a short period. It happened that he died in 1516, and Motonari was named to act as guardian to the late lord's young son, Komatsumaru. Komatsumaru in turn was to die in 1523, after which Motonari became the official head of he clan. Evidently, Môri's predecessors had died under unclear circumstances, for there is a legend that it was Motonari himself who dispatched them. At any rate, Motonari did not inherit a particularly enviable position. The most powerful daimyo in Aki, Takeda Motoshige, took advantage of Okimoto's death to make a play for Môri land, and in Izumo the Amako began to rattle their sabers. Luckily for the Môri, however, their young lord quickly proved himself a man of action. Takeda had set out to take Koriyama Castle (the Môri's chief bastion since the early 14th Century) but found his troops intercepted and routed by the numerically inferior Môri clan. This victory carried a certain prestige value for Motonari, but was quickly over-shadowed by greater events. In 1518 Amako Tsunehisa made a series of raids into the Oûchi's lands, falling back with the return of Yoshioki from Kyôto. In 1521 a formal peace treaty was signed between the two clans but this lasted for but one year. In 1522, Tsunehisa marched into Aki, forcing Motonari, whose lands sat directly in the Amako's path, to submit. Motonari was immediately dispatched against Kagamiyama Castle while Tsunehisa himself struck at Kanayama. Motonari was successful in his endeavor, but Tsunehisa made no progress against Kanayama and retreated. Also in 1522, Motonari married the daughter of Kikkawa Kunitsune; this match would not only secure the friendship of the Kikkawa but would in time produce three fine sons. Any sense of security this marriage brought was shaken in 1524, when Môri suffered the defection of his vassal, Katsura Hirozumi, and was forced to defeat the traitor in open battle not far from Koriyama.

In 1528, Oûchi Yoshioki passed away and was succeded by his son Yoshitaka. The Amako made an effort to capitalize on this turn of events, but with only minimal success. Yoshitaka proved, at least initially, to be a competent enough leader, and held the Amako's ambitions in check while extending Oûchi authority in Buzen province. For his part, Môri drifted back into the Oûchi's camp, and set about consolidating the Môri's holdings in Aki, and gathering local allies, chief among these being the Shisido, Kumagai, and Amano. Efforts by the Amako to bring the Môri back under their sway failed, and in 1540 Amako Akihisa (Haruhisa) sent a sizable army into Aki. Motonari was heavily outnumbered and shut himself up in Koriyama. Akihisa made little impression against the hill-top fortifications and settled for burning Koriyama's accompanying town - Yoshida - to the ground. Still unable to convince Motonari to submit, Akihisa sat down for a siege-a decisive mistake, as it turned out. Oûchi Yoshitaka dispatched his general Sue Takafusa (Harukata) to relieve Koriyama, and in early October Sue arrived. Caught between two forces, Akihisa's army fell back, and in a desperate rear-guard action his trusted general Uyama Hisakane was killed.

The following year, old Amako Tsunehisa died. Sensing a great opportunity in both this and Haruhisa's earlier defeat, Oûchi Yoshitaka and Môri invaded Izumo in 1542. Initially, the campaign went well enough, but at length it bogged down and dragged into 1543. By the time the allies reached Gassan-Toda Castle, their troops were weary and at the absolute limits of there supply lines. At this critical point, while the Oûchi and Môri were preparing for a siege, the Amako lashed out, routing the invaders and driving them all the way back to Nagato and Aki. Motonari returned to Koriyama to lick his wounds while Yoshitaka, his confidence shattered, retreated into the finery and luxury of Yamaguchi. In fact, the failed expedition could be seen as benefiting Môri in the long run. With Yoshitaka's lapse into inactivity, Motonari had more room to expand throughout Aki, and play kingmaker with various local lords. In the meantime, the Amako took advantage of their recent victory to push their influence into the lands to their east - Hôki, Mimasaka, and Bitchû.

Over the next few years, Motonari managed to put a son into the top positions of two powerful Aki clans-the Kikkawa and Kobayakawa. His second son Motoharu went to the Kikkawa, and his third son, Takakage, went to the Kobayakawa.

Môri Motonari - The 21st Century Illustrated Japanese History For Children, P. 174
Môri Motonari

Motonari's eldest son and heir, a onetime goodwill hostage of the Oûchi, was Takamoto, the father of the future Môri Terumoto. By 1550, both Motoharu and Takakage had become the lords of their respective clans, and not a moment too soon, for turmoil erupted in Suo. As mentioned, Oûchi Yoshitaka had retreated from affairs of state following the Izumo debacle in 1543. During the next seven years, he handed over most military matters to his retainers, notably the Naito and Sue Takafusa, contenting him self with court intrigue and the China trade. It would seem that Sue had attempted again and again to warn his lord against neglecting military affairs, going so far towards the end as to insinuate that someone close to the Oûchi might rebel. In 1550, that someone turned out to be Sue himself. When Takafusa revolted, Yoshikata was forced to flee Yamaguchi and, finding that none of his major retainers were willing to help him, committed suicide. Sue quickly made a thin attempt to legitimize his actions by placing a ready-made Oûchi puppet (a member of the Otomo clan) in Yamaguchi.

Môri's immediate reaction to Sue's rebellion is unknown, but for the next few years he paid the new lord of the Oûchi lip service. Neither warrior seems to have trusted the other, and conflict between the two was perhaps inevitable. Motonari, however, bided his time. He expanded the Môri presence in Bingo province (taking Takiyama in 1552) and strengthened his ties with the Murakami, a family (of three branches) that was essentially an Inland Sea pirate organization. Môri's alliance with Murakami Torayasu would pay dividends for years to come.

The Battle of Miyajima

In 1554 Motonari dropped all pretenses and broke from Sue, prompting the latter to gather a large army of as many as 30,000 men. Motonari, while stronger then ever, could scarcely muster half that. Nonetheless, he fared well in the early stages of their conflict, defeating Sue troops at Oshikihata in June. By using what had already become hallmark Môri trickery and by bribing a number of Sue's men, Motonari managed to balance out the odds somewhat. For his part, Sue made no major moves against Koriyama, and with the end of the year's campaigning season, Motonari was allowed some breathing space.

In the early summer of 1555, Sue was again threatening, and Motonari was hard-pressed. Harukata was by no means a poor fighter, and the danger of his retainers and allies deserting the Môri led Motonari to adopt a bold and unorthodox scheme. His plan involved Miyajima, home to the Itskushima Shrine and a place combatants had traditionally avoided on religious grounds. The suggestion to occupy this place, which was strategically located just off the Aki coast in the Inland Sea, actually came from Môri's generals. Initially, Motonari refused the idea on tactical grounds. For Miyajima to be a viable base of operations, Sakurao Castle - the nearest fort on the mainland to Miyajima-would also have to be held. Should Sakurao fall, any army on Miyajima risked being isolated. Yet Môri's own doubts led him to form a clever plan: why not lure Sue into just such a trap? Naturally, such a tactic would require Sue to act accordingly, and for inducement, Motonari immediately gave orders that Miyajima was to be occupied, and a fort thrown up quite near the Itskushima shrine. In September, Sue fell into the trap. He landed with the bulk of his army on Miyajima and assaulted the (intentionally) thin defenses of Miyao Castle. When the island had been secured (including the capture of Sakurao), Sue threw up a few fortifications on To-no-oka (Pagoda Hill) and sat down to plot strategy. From his point of view, it should be noted; the capture of Miyajima was a strategic boon. From this secure springboard he could embark to almost any point along the Aki coast, as well as Bingo. Since the following autumn, Môri had assumed a largely defensive posture, and Sue had some reason to feel comfortable in his new forward headquarters. Sue thus made his second great mistake - he became complacent.

Môri put his strategy into effect. Within a week he retook Sakurao and played his trump card - Murakami Torayasu. Gathering the pirate's naval strength, he set out to surprise Sue on Miyajima, and picked a perfect night on which to do so. On 1 October, after dark and in a driving thunderstorm, Motonari and his sons put to sea. As a diversion, Kobayakawa Takakage sailed straight past the Sue positions on To-no-oka while Motonari, Takamoto, and Kikkawa Motoharu landed just to the east and out of sight. Takakage doubled back around and landed at dawn, attacking the Sue forces practically in the shadow of Miyajima's great Torii Gate. Motonari then assaulted the confused Sue troops from behind, and the result was a rout for Sue Harukata, who committed suicide at Oenoura, a small island inlet. Many of his troops followed suit, and for Motonari, the battle was utterly decisive. While it would take the Môri until 1557 to force Oûchi Yoshinaga to commit suicide and years longer to completely bring Suo and Nagato under their control, Motonari was now the most powerful lord in western Japan.

Command of the Western Provinces
  The Môri Domain, circa 1569

The next five years were occupied with reorganizing the newly acquired Oûchi territories. In addition, a string of battles with the powerful Ôtomo of Kyushu began over Moji Castle, a vital stronghold in the extreme northern tip of Buzen province. Moji would change hands a number of times until finally being secured by Takamoto in 1561 (See Ôtomo Sôrin).

As might be expected, the Amako were less then willing to give up their own dreams of dominance in the Chugoku region and continued to defy the Môri. Yet in 1562, Amako Haruhisa died, leaving his less then gifted son Yoshihisa to carry on the struggle. Haruhisa had not done much to prepare Yoshihisa for his struggle. Years before, Haruhisa had ordered the death (for reasons unknown) of his uncle, Kunihisa, and since that point until his death done little beyond harassing the Môri in Iwami and Bingo and making an ultimately fruitless pact with the Ôtomo.

Motonari wasted little time in taking advantage of Haruhisa's death. In 1562 Iwami was finally taken, and a campaign directed to cut Gassan - Toda off from its supply lines initiated. Then, in 1563, Takamoto was dead. His passing was sudden, and the Amako were suspected as having a hand in it. Had that been the case, it was a useless gesture, for while the loss stung the Môri clan, it bought the Amako precious little time. In the fall of that year the Môri invested Shiraga Castle, a vital 'satellite' of Gassan-Toda in Izumo. An Amako effort to relieve the garrison failed, and the castle surrendered in October after 70 days. Shiraga's fall all but isolated Gassan - Toda, and Môri led his 25,000 on to the Amako stronghold in the spring of 1564. Heavily outnumbered and facing starvation, Yoshihisa nonetheless managed to resist one Môri assault in April that cost Motonari some moderate losses and forced him to withdraw to reorganize. In the September of 1565, Motonari returned, and this time resolved to starve Gassan - Toda into submission. To assist in this policy, Motonari let it be known that the Môri would accept no deserters from the castle, content to keep all of the besieged within the walls and eating up the Amako's dwindling supplies. For a final touch, he made a move to undermine the leadership of the defenders. A certain Uyama Hisanobu, the son of the late Uyama Hisakane (the skilled warrior killed in Haruhisa's failed attack on Koriyama), had shown himself to be a man of both wise judgment and unshakable dedication to the Amako. Motonari therefore had rumors spread within the castle walls about Uyama's loyalty, prompting Yoshihisa to have the unfortunate fellow killed. This, not surprisingly, did not go over so well with the other retainers, and when Motonari lifted his ban on deserters, thousands of half-starved men fled the doomed castle. Finally, in January of 1566, Yoshihisa surrendered. Perhaps to the surprise of everyone involved (including Yoshihisa himself), Môri spared the defeated man's life, allowing him to take up a monk's habit.

Motonari lived for five more years, passing away at the age of 74, one of the greatest warlords of the mid-16th Century. Under his leadership the Môri had expanded from a few districts in Aki to rule over ten of the Chugoku's eleven provinces, and Motonari was known even in his day as a master of wiles and trickery, a warlord whose schemes won as many battles as his soldiers. Interestingly, he is best remembered for an event that probably never took place-the 'lesson of the three arrows'. In this parable, Motonari gives each of his sons an arrow to break. He then gives them three arrows bundled, and points out that while one may be broken easily, not so three united as one. The three sons were of course Takamoto, Motoharu, and Takakage, and the lesson is one that Japanese children still learn in school today. He in fact had a total of six other sons, two of which appear to have died in childhood. The others included Motoaki, Motokiyo, Motomasa and (Kobayakawa) Hidekane.

Shiji Hiroyoshi, Kuchiba Michiyoshi, Kumagai Nobunao, Fukuhara Sadatoshi, Katsura Motozumi, Kodama Naritada, Kokushi Motosuke, Hiraga Hirosuke, and Ichikawa Tsuneyoshi assisted Môri Motonari in his rule. His greatest generals, however, were his own sons Kobayakawa Takakage and Kikkawa Motoharu, the 'Two Rivers' (a play on the 'Kawa' charactors in their names).

The well known 'one line, three stars' emblem of the Môri was inherited from the family's descendant, Ôe Hiromoto.

In addition to being a gifted general Motonari was also a noted poet and patron of the arts. Surviving letters written by his grandson Môri Terumoto describe Motonari as a strict and demanding man with a sharp eye. He was succeded by Terumoto, who was the son of the late Takamoto.

See also The Môri Genealogy, The Môri Clan Timeline