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The Hosokawa Clan

A Brief Glance into its Great History

The Early History

Few families have played as long and important role in Japanese history as the house of Hosokawa. Since it was founded more than six hundred years ago, the family's leaders have taken two paths to prominence in distinguished service to the goverments of their time, and in the great traditions of Japanese art and scholarship. The Hosokawas were mirrors of what Japan understood to be chivalry warriors: poets, tea masters, trusted councilors, stout fighters and visionary thinkers.

In the early fourteenth century, the Hosokawas were a lesser branch of the Ashikaga clan. The head of that family, Ashikaga Takauji, had settled them as his vassals in the province of Mikawa, about midway between Kyoto and Kamakura. The Hosokawas could look east and west to the two poles of sovereignty in Japan of their time. The imperial court in Kyoto was the center of learning and culture. The militart government in Kamakura controlled the vast estates that produced most of the country's wealth and supported most of the population.

In 1331 Ashikaga Takauji was sent by the ruling Hojo clan to subdue civil war in central Japan. He brought along his vassal Hosokawa Yoriharu, and at this point the Hosokawa house emerge from the obscurity of provincial history. Takauji had decided the time was ripe to betray the Hojo. He seized the capital in the name of the emperor Go-Daigo's name. Hosokawa Yoriharu left the role of provincial farmer-warrior behind as his lord was now the de facto ruler of Japan.

The Hosokawas prospered under their Ashikaga patrons, beginning with the appointment of Yoriharu as military governor of the province of Awa, on the island of Shikoku. Holding such a post under the Ashikaga shogunate called for considerable military skills. Yoriharu acquitted himself well in Awa, governing there for almost twenty years before Takauji recalled him to the mainland to help deal with the guerilla warfare still being waged by the Southern Court. Yoriharu left three sons. The elder son, Yoriyuki, went to Kyoto to serve the shogunal court.

Yoriyuki's talents and ambitions would raise the family to even greater prominence. By imperial appointment, the shogun was nominally the military head of the state and the Hosokawas became kanrei, council, directly under the shogun. Ahikaga Takauji died in 1358 and his heir, Yoshiakira, appointed Hosokawa Yoriyuki mentor to his infant son, Yoshimitsu.

The age of the Ashikaga shogunate (1338-1573) saw the flowering of nearly everything that we associate with the classical culture of Japan. No drama, monochromatic painting, tea ceremony, garden and landscape design – all have their beginning here. The shogunal palace was a salon as brilliant as any the world has ever seen. The inner circles of power in Japan were open to families, like the Hosokawas, that produced not only warriors, but artists and scholars as well.

Ashikaga Yoshimitsu and Hosokawa Yoriyuki seem to have gotten on well. Yoriyuki was a remarkably capable regent, taking a larger view on the welfare of the realm. He managed to settle the conflicting claims to land in the provinces that had been a major source of dissension among the great houses. He devised reliable sources of tax revenue for the military government. More importantly, he turned the office of the kanrei into a crucial instrument of mediation, preserving the delicate balance of power between the shogun and the clans.


1305 - 1358, was the founder and first shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate.


1358 - 1408, was the 3rd shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate.


1329 - 1392, was a prominent samurai of the clan and a remarkably capable government minister under the Ashikaga shogunate serving as a Kyoto kanrei.


1430 - 1473, was kanrei to the shogun during Japan's Muromachi period. He is famous for his part in the creation of Ryoan-ji, a temple with a great rock garden, and for his involvement in the Onin War.


1534 - 1610, was a daimyo of the Sengoku period. His son, Hosokawa Tadaoki, also called Sansai, went on to become one of the most prominentpersons of the Hosokawa House.


1563 - 1646, was a daimyo of the Sengoku period. He was a man of letters and poems, and an able practioner of the tea ceremony having studied under the great tea master Sen no Rikyu.


1586 - 1641, was a daimyo of the early Edo period. He was head of the Kumamoto domain, was a student of Shinkage Ryu and a patron of the swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi.

Age of the Warring States

In 1467-1477 arose the Onin War, from a struggle between two rival charmants to the shogunate. It split Japan into a patchwork of warring domains and petty fiefsoms that would not be unified again for more than a hundred years. The early phase of the war was confined almost entirely to Kyoto. Pitched battles in the streets involved hundreds of thousands of troops and left most of the capital burned and gutted. The shogunate itself ceased to be a viable political institution. By the end of the fifteenth century, the office of kanrei, in effect the House of Hosokawa, constituted the only remnant of central government.

In the early sixteenth century, however, the branch of the Hosokawa family that had produced so many formidable kanrei left the center stage. Hosokawa Fujitaka became the head of a new blood line in 1554. He was the son of shogun Ashikaga Yoshiharu. He was a seasoned fighter, his military career would eventually include fiftyfour campaigns during the latter part of the Age of the Warring States. The Ashikaga government had collapsed and the way was open for the more ambitious of the minor warlords to seize the estates.

Fujitaka himself had no such desires. He seems to have decided early in life that the fortunes of his house would depend not on its military might but on the restoration of peace and order. 

Hosokawa Tadaoki was given the Province of Tango in 1580. Soon after that, he married Hosokawa Gracia, the daughter of Akechi Mitsuhide. In 1582, Akechi Mitsuhide rebelled against Nobunaga and Nobunaga was killed. Akechi turned to Hosokawa Fujitaka and Hosokawa Tadaoki for help. They refused to help him, and Mitsuhide was defeated.

Tadaoki was present on Hideyoshi's side in the Battle of Komaki and Nagakute in 1584 and the Odawara Campaign in 1590. During the 1590s he became friend with Tokugawa Ieyasu and in 1600 sided with him against Ishida Mitsunari in the Battle of Sekigahara. Ishida had attempted to gain some leverage over those leaning towards Ieyasu by taking as hostages all those whose families were in Osaka Castle, included Tadaoki's wife Gracia. To avoid capture, Gracia ordered a servant to kill her and set fire to their quarters. 

At the Battle of Sekigahara Tadaoki commanded 5,000 men. He was awarded a fief in Kokura and went on to serve at the Siege of Osaka in 1614–1615. He was succeeded by Hosokawa Tadatoshi, 1586–1641, who was present at the Siege of Shimabara in 1637–1638. In 1632 Tadatoshi received a huge fief in Higo (Kumamoto), where the Hosokawa family remained until 1871.

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