Kuki Archives: Opposition against Yoshitaka’s Retirement

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything regarding famous members of the Kuki clan. For those not familiar with this, I have a good number of posts regarding the Kuki family and their history as an influential group both in religious practice and military conflicts. Although I do have a topic related to them I was planning to post later this year I will be speaking about a new one that just came to my attention.

A few days ago a report appeared in The Sankei News, a Japanese online news site, about the discovery of a note written by Kuki Yoshitaka shortly after Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s death in 1598. Yoshitaka promised he and his son Moritaka will not retire from service under the guise of a monk. What does this mean, exactly? I looked further into the subject and found more info regarding this matter. Below is the actual note, along with the original Japanese.

The original letter is from Sakai Museum in Osaka, Japan. Both images are from the website Toby City

A quick explanation of the contents, Yoshitaka is promising that there will be no attempt to retire by taking up the guise of one who wants to become a monk without the permission of Toyotomi governing body. On the note, along with Yoshitaka and his son’s signatures are those of 5 magistrates who were involved in structuring Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s governing body, along with their personal seals¹:

  • Natsuka Masaie
  • Ishida Mitsunari
  • Mashita Nagamori
  • Asano Nagamasa
  • Maeda Gen’i

A key word that is associated with this is “hōtai” (法体). Taking such action as hōtai was not uncommon for those warriors who’ve spent most of their career performing military duties to retire by shaving their hair off, and living the remainder of their lives away from normal civilization such as a temple…even if they don’t officially take up vows to become a monk. It is known historically that soon after Hideyoshi’s death that Yoshitaka stepped down as head of the Kuki clan, and made his oldest son Moritaka take up the responsibilities of handling military affairs as the next successor. This was the case since, if we use this note as proof, there was no option for him to retire at a temple as a monk.

Let’s delve into this point a little more deeply. What is so significant about Kuki Yoshitaka retiring soon after his master passed away? For starters, it shows his loyalty to only Toyotomi Hideyoshi. It is also symbolic, that Yoshitaka too “died” with his master, and that he would live his life peacefully away from the turmoil in life wearing monk’s clothing and taking up a Buddhist name. This is not so different from what Hosokawa Fujitaka (father) and Hosokawa Tadaoki (son) did when Oda Nobunaga, Hideyoshi’s predecessor, died during the attack at Honnoji in 1582. Both father & son were in the same position where they expressed undying loyalty to Nobunaga, thus retired from military service by becoming monks.

On the other hand, Kuki Yoshitaka was a seasoned commander who was reaching an age where he may have been tired of fighting. On top of this, right before Hideyoshi’s death he had participated in the 1st invasion of Korea (1592-1598), where he and others were met with a very sour and disheartening defeat, especially in the hands of the Korean navy. It may very well be possible that these factors contributed to Yoshitaka to consider retiring through hōtai. Reason for this is while serving Oda Nobunaga he had much success and received many rewards, yet did not attempt to retire after Nobunaga’s untimely death. Still, this is just speculation.

At the end of the day, the discovery of this note by Kuki Yoshitaka is very significant. Documentations like these help to piece missing information about certain people or events from the past. For those who are interested. I have written numerous articles about the Kuki family and key events in their history, including Kuki Yoshitaka’s career from start to finish. These are under the series title “Kuki Archives”, which you can do a search for. To read the posts about Yoshitaka’s directly, here’s the links to part 1 and part 2.


1) On the actual note, all participants identified themselves by their family names, then by their appointed titles.

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