The Azai Clan

The Azai Clan

After three generations, the Azai clan of Odani Castle met a tragic fate

place Area: Nagahama access_time Published: 2020.12.03

Name in Japanese: 浅井氏
Pronunciation: azai shi

The Azai were a family based in the northern Ōmi region during the Warring States period. Over three generations, they controlled the area of Nagahama and Hikone from their base at Odani Castle. During this time, they interacted with other regional clans, sometimes making advances, sometimes suffering defeats. The family are regarded as exemplars of the capricious fates and personal horrors that many people experienced during the turbulent Middle Ages of Japan.

Azai Sukemasa 1491-1542

Sukemasa was born to a common sake brewer who was a vassal of the Kyōgoku clan, which dominated northern Ōmi at that time. When an inheritance struggle broke out among the Kyōgoku, Sukemasa emerged as the leader. Thereafter, the Azai clan were in bitter conflict with the Rokkaku clan in southern Ōmi, with both clans inflicting defeats on each other. Sukemasa completed Odani castle around 1525. Rokkaku Sadayori attacked it in 1538, and Sukemasa fled the castle temporarily to Gifu. Although he was able to return, he was forced to manage continued conflict with the Kyōgoku and Rokkaku. He allied with the Asakura clan of Fukui to counter his rivals in Ōmi. Sukemasa died aged fifty-two, having established the Azai as a regional power.

Azai Hisamasa 1526-1573

Sukemasa’s son Hisamasa was regarded as a mediocre leader, who succumbed to pressure from the neighbouring Rokkaku and became semi-subordinate. When his son, Nagamasa, rebelled against the Rokkaku and won independence, his vassals forced Hisamasa to retire. However, he retained some influence, and Hisamasa strongly advised his son to abandon his alliance with Oda and side with the Asakura, with disastrous consequences for the clan. A few days before the fall of Odani Castle, he committed suicide.

Azai Nagamasa 1545-1573

Growing up, Nagamasa saw the decline in his family fortunes under his indecisive father. As a youth, the Rokkaku forced him to take a name reflecting his vassalage and to marry the daughter of another vassal. At the age of fifteen, Nagamasa led a revolt of some of the Azai’s hard-line vassals, and gained independence from the Rokkaku, who went into a decline of their own. He sent back his wife and took a name of his own choosing.

To secure his position, Nagamasa formed a new alliance with Oda Nobunaga and married Nobunaga’s younger sister Oichi. He had three daughters Chacha, Hatsu, and Go and one son Manpukumaru by a concubine. However, Nobunaga attacked the Asakura, and Nagamasa sided with his old allies and battled with Nobunaga. The tide turned against him and Odani Castle fell after a long siege. Nagamasa sent his family out of the castle and committed suicide in the castle.

Oichi 1547-1583

Oda Nobunaga’s younger sister was considered a wise and beautiful woman. Nobunaga ordered her to marry Azai Nagamasa with whom she had a loving marriage. When Nagamasa decided to send Oichi and his daughters out of the beleaguered Odani Castle, Oichi petitioned her brother Nobunaga for her husband’s life. Nobunaga offered his brother-in-law relocation to Yamato Province if he surrendered and submitted. However, Nagamasa refused to surrender and continued his resistance for the next two days, when he committed suicide. After spending some nine years under the generous protection of her clan, she married Shibata Katsuie. However, when Katsuie was defeated at Shizugatake in Ōmi by Hashiba Hideyoshi, she committed suicide with her husband at Kitanosho Castle in Fukui.

Manpukumaru 1564-1573

Nagamasa’s son was born to a concubine, not to Oichi who became his foster mother. When it became clear that Odani Castle would fall, Nagamasa sent his wife and three daughters out to the protection of Nobunaga who was Nagamasa’s brother-in-law. Since Nagamasa was himself a formidable warrior by the age of fifteen, capable of planning and executing the defeat of long-term rivals the Rokkaku clan, he couldn’t entrust his ten-year old son, Manpukumaru, to Nobunaga because the boy would always be a threat. In addition, unlike Oichi and her daughters, who were Nobunaga’s sister and nieces, Manpukumaru was unrelated to Nobunaga. Nagamasa secretly sent the boy out of the castle under the protection of a vassal. However, he was soon found by Hashiba Hideyoshi’s forces and was sentenced to impalement. The sentence was carried out at Sekigahara.

Chacha 1567-1615

Chacha became a concubine of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, when she was known as Yodo-dono, and gave birth to Toyotomi Hideyori. After Hideyoshi’s death, she took control of the Toyotomi family affairs as Hideyori’s mother, but the Toyotomi eventually came into conflict with Tokugawa Ieyasu. They lost to Tokugawa in the Siege of Ōsaka and she committed suicide with Hideyori.

Hatsu (Jōkō-in) 1570-1633

Hatsu entered the Kyōgoku family as the legal wife of Kyōgoku Takatsugu. The Kyōgoku family was a prestigious samurai family who were officers of the Board of Retainers to the Muromachi Shogunate. They were also the former lords of northern Ōmi and the main retainers of the Azai family. Hatsu was married to the highest-ranking samurai family among the three sisters. However, this changed when the Azai supplanted the Kyōgoku, and later still when the Hashiba overthrew the Azai.

Prior to the Battle of Sekigahara, her husband, Takatsugu, was given the province of Wakasa and he became the lord of the Obama domain due to his achievement in stopping the forces of the Western army at Ōtsu Castle in Ōmi in the Battle of Ōtsu Castle. After Takatsugu died, she became a nun and took the name Ohatsu. During the Siege of Ōsaka, she worked as an envoy for the Toyotomi to improve the relationship between the Toyotomi and Tokugawa to whom her sisters were married. She supported his husband and revived the declining Kyōgoku as a daimyō family. She experienced the fall of four castles, Odani, Kitanosho, Ōtsu and Ōsaka.

Go (Sugen-in) 1573-1626

After marriage to Saji Kazunari under the Oda regime, under the Toyotomi regime, Go married Hideyoshi’s adopted child, Hidekatsu. She then became the wife of Tokugawa Hidetada, the son of Ieyasu and later the second Tokugawa shogun. She gave birth to eight children, including Tokugawa Iemitsu, the third shogun, and Minamoto no Kazuko, who became wife of Emperor Go-Mizu-no-O and the mother of Empress Meishō. In contrast to her two older sisters, who left no offspring to posterity, her lineage continues to the current Emperor Akihito and his son.