Murakami clan (Chugoku)

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The kamon of the Murakami.

The Murakami of western Japan were well-known as pirates of the Inland Sea who generated income by collecting tolls and various fees on shipping. They were descended from Murakami Yoshihiro (d. 1374), and were composed of three branches, each with their own base of operations. By 1550, two of these branches were allied to the Môri. They provided the bulk of the Môri's naval power and thus were key in establishing the Môri's domination of the Inland Sea, which lasted from around 1555-1576.


The Murakami navy dominated the Inland Sea from the late Heian period, up through the Sengoku period. The Murakami are said to have been descended from the Seiwa Genji through Minamoto no Yorinobu. The Murakami name first appears in a record that warriors by the name Murakami fought under the Kôno clan of Iyo province in the rebellion of Fujiwara Sumitomo.

Yorinobu's son Minamoto no Yorikiyo was Shinano no kami, and at some point his descendants took on the name Murakami. The date and circumstances of this shift are unknown, though according to some theories, it was Yorikiyo's son Minamoto no Nakamune or Nakamune's son Minamoto no Morikiyo who first took the name.

At the end of the Zenkunen War (1051-1063), Minamoto no Yoriyoshi was appointed Iyo no kami, and ordered Kôno Chikatsune and his nephew Minamoto (Murakami) Nakamune to oversee the construction of shrines and temples. It seems that the Murakami already had a stronghold on Noshima (aka Iyo-Ôshima), across from Imabari, at this time. Shortly afterwards, a number of members of the clan were exiled (Morikiyo and others to Shinano) as the result of personal struggles between the Murakami commanders, and, supposedly, maligning or disparaging Emperor Shirakawa (r. 1073-1087).

During the Hôgen Rebellion (1156), Morikiyo's second son Murakami Tamekuni sided with Emperor Sutoku, and during the Genpei War (1180-1185) a few decades later, Murakami Nobukuni served Kiso Yoshinaka in his defense of Kyoto, while Murakami Motokuni, according to the Heike Monogatari, fought in the battle of Ichi-no-tani.

While Tamekuni built up his power and wealth in Shinano, his younger brother Murakami Sadakuni turned to piracy, making Awaji and the Shiwaku Islands his bases, marking the origin of the Inland Sea branch of the Murakami clan around the 1160s.

Little is known about the history of the family between the end of the Heian period, and the Nanboku-chô period (the time of Murakami Yoshihiro). However, it is known that during the Jôkyû Disturbance of 1221, the Murakami and Kôno sided with Emperor Go-Toba; after their defeat, the two clans cooperated to maintain control over shipping in the Inland Sea. A century later, the Murakami actively supported Emperor Go-Daigo in the Kemmu Restoration of 1333. Having made Iyo-Ôshima (Noshima) his base, Murakami Yoshihiro claimed command of the entire Murakami clan, and raised an army on imperial orders. Alongside Doi and Tokunô clan forces, he attacked and defeated Hôjô Tokinao, and then moved on Kyoto, where he launched an attack on the Rokuhara Tandai.

The Murakami sided with the Southern Court during the Nanboku-chô conflicts, inviting the Kôno to join them in doing so, and swearing allegiance to Prince Kanenaga, who was a key Southern Court figure in Kyushu. With the aid of the Kikuchi clan of Higo province, they defeated the Kôno and eliminated Northern Court power in Iyo, expanding the Murakami's own power in the Inland Sea.

Following the death of Murakami Yoshihiro in 1374, however, the family split in three.

Division of the Clan

The three branches, known as the Kurujima Murakami[1], Noshima Murakami, and Innoshima Murakami after the islands where they were based, are said to have each been founded by one of three brothers, around 1419. Accounts vary as to whether these were three sons of Murakami Yoshiaki, or his two younger brothers and himself. Yoshiaki was, in any case, the son of Murakami Morokiyo, who was adopted from the Murakami clan of Shinano by Yoshihiro, who had no biological sons of his own.[2]

Yoshiaki, also known as Masafusa, established his base on Noshima, while Akitada, also known as Yoshifusa, and Akinaga, also known as Yoshitoyo, took Innoshima and Kurujima respectively.

Initially, these branch families served the Kôno clan shugo of Iyo province, maintaining public order on the Inland Sea, collecting maritime customs taxes, and the like. They were sometimes said to be the top of all the 18 families which served the Kôno, and headed the naval side of the Kôno standing armies. When Iwagijima was attacked by pirates in 1462-63, and when Ômishima was attacked by forces from Aki province in 1522, the Murakami fought back. They maintained fortresses not only on the three islands after which each branch family took its name, but also on many other small islands in the Inland Sea. In addition to these military functions, and overseeing trade and shipping in general, the Murakami played a major role in a variety of other maritime activities in the Inland Sea, including tugboat activities, seeing to the shipping of official goods and the transport of officials, aiding those shipwrecked or adrift, and the like. Unlike the majority of clans, who relied on agrarian sources of income and power, the Murakami built up their power, and wealth, through maritime activity.

The Murakami supported forces of the Ashikaga shogunate against Akamatsu Mitsusuke, shugo of Harima province, in a number of conflict in the 1420s-40s. In 1427, the head of the Innoshima branch family, Murakami Akinaga, also known as Matasaburô Yoshitoyo, fought alongside Yamana Tokihiro, shugo of Bingo province, in a punitive attack on Akamatsu, who had positioned himself against the shogunate. The following year, he was named jitô of the Inland Sea island of Tashima, as a reward.

Murakami Yoshiaki, head of the Noshima branch family, then led the clan in supporting a shogunal attack on the Akamatsu clan in 1441, after the assassination of Shogun Ashikaga Yoshinori by Akamatsu Mitsusuke. Yoshiaki continued to show his loyalty to the shogunate even after the outbreak of the Ônin War and Shogun Ashikaga Yoshitane's being driven out of Kyoto by Hosokawa Masamoto. As Yoshitane made his way to Suô province (modern-day Yamaguchi prefecture), he was welcomed by the Murakami of Noshima; Yoshiaki then accompanied the former shogun to Suô, relying on Ôuchi Yoshioki of Suô to back Yoshitane's restoration to the shogunate.

Meanwhile, Akinaga of Innoshima was succeeded by Murakami Yoshisuke, who served as Bitchu no kami. Yoshisuke responded to an appeal by Kôno Norimichi, shugo of Iyo, in 1449, to attack Sare castle, and in 1453, was assigned by Kanrei Hosokawa Katsumoto to serve in the guard of Kôno Harumichi. Innoshima also engaged in maritime trade, trading with Ming China with a 600-koku ship called Kumano-maru. In 1464, the Murakami were officially named jitô of Innoshima by the shogunate.

It is said that at this time, the Innoshima family controlled 31,322 kan in holdings, an equivalent to roughly 150,000 koku in Edo period terms.

Sengoku period

Among the Murakami most prominent and active in the Sengoku period were father and son Murakami Michiyasu and Murakami Michifusa of Kurujima. Michiyasu's wife was a daughter of Kôno Michinao, and in 1541, Michinao named Michiyasu his successor, but some prominent Kôno clan retainers were opposed to this and supported Kôno Michimasa as successor instead. They launched an attack against Michinao and Michiyasu, who fled to Kurujima. The conflict was eventually resolved with Michimasa being named successor; the Murakami thus never became successors to the Kôno clan.

Shortly afterward, Iyo was invaded by a combined Ôuchi-Hosokawa force. Murakami Michiyasu of Kurujima led the forces of Kôno Michinao against them, and repulsed the Ôuchi navy.

The Noshima branch was active in the Sengoku period, however, as well, and was considered the head family of the clan throughout, even though at times other branch families stood against them. When Ôuchi Yoshioki and Ashikaga Yoshitane made their return to Kyoto, Murakami Masafusa (Yoshiaki) provided naval support for their efforts on land. He then journeyed to Kyoto himself, along with his eldest son, Murakami Takakatsu, defeating enemies at sea near Amagasaki, Akashi, and Hyôgo, and fighting in land battles at Funaoka-yama, Hachiman, and Yamazaki as well.

Takakatsu died in 1527 with no direct obvious heir, his son Murakami Yoshimasa having died previously. The family was then split, with some supporting Yoshimasa's son Murakami Yoshimasu to become head of the family, and others supporting Yoshimasa's nephew Murakami Takeyoshi and Takeyoshi's uncle Murakami Takashige. The conflict developed into outright violence, numerous clashes eventually ending in victory for Takeyoshi, and the beginning of what is sometimes considered the "golden age" of the Noshima Murakami.

Takeyoshi was named Yamato gonnokami in 1549. He lent military support in the following years to Shoguns Ashikaga Yoshiteru and Yoshiaki, and to Ôuchi Yoshitaka and the Kôno clan of Iyo province, but while the Innoshima joined up early with the Môri clan, and the Kurujima served the Kôno, Takeyoshi and the Noshima Murakami cannot be considered to have been in the direct service of any daimyô, but rather to have built for themselves a position of relative independence. Takeyoshi married a daughter of Murakami Michiyasu of Kurujima, thus tying the Noshima and Kurujima Murakami somewhat closer together.

Murakami Yoshimitsu was the head of the Innoshima branch family during the core of the Sengoku period. He married a daughter of Nomi Munekatsu, admiral of the Kobayakawa clan navy. The Innoshima Murakami were thus the first of the three branches to develop close relations with the Môri clan, beginning in 1544, even as they sought to gain some degree of independence from the Noshima Murakami. In that year, Ôuchi Yoshitaka, who sought to extend his influence over Bingo and Aki provinces, requested aid from the Môri and from Murakami Naoyoshi of Innoshima, against Sugihara (Yamana) Masaoki, lord of Kannabe castle in Bingo, who had sided with the Amako clan. Naoyoshi agreed, and came to serve under Nomi Munekatsu and Kobayakawa Takakage, as he headed the Kobayakawa navy.

Ôuchi Yoshitaka was killed soon afterwards, in the rebellion of his close retainer Sue Harukata, and Ôtomo Yoshinaga became head of the Ôuchi clan. The Môri (and Murakami) supported Sue in this for a time, but gradually turned against Sue, desiring greater independence.

In 1555, the three branch families accepted the invitation of the Môri clan (conveyed via Nomi Munekatsu) to join forces at the battle of Miyajima against the Sue clan, and, led by Murakami Takeyoshi of Noshima, are said to have contributed significantly to the Môri victory. The Sue fled in a storm for which their opponents were better prepared, and the Murakami went after them, burning Sue ships and destroying their navy.

The Murakami maintained a strong relationship with the Môri for much of the remainder of the Sengoku period, and took part in many battles on the side of the Môri, as the Môri set their sights on control of Suô and Nagato provinces. This relationship was, however, quite shaky at times.

More specifically, Takeyoshi led Murakami navies in the Môri campaign against the Amako and Ôtomo from 1559 onwards. However, in 1568, for some reason, the Murakami hesitated to join battle, and in fact made agreements of some sort with the Ôtomo. The Murakami and Môri reconciled in 1570, but the very next year, Takeyoshi turned again on the Môri, joining up with the Uragami clan and opposing the Môri in their efforts to conquer Bizen and Sanuki provinces (modern-day Okayama and Kagawa). In response, Kobayakawa Takakage deployed the Kurujima and Innoshima navies to cut off supplies to the Noshima Murakami. Môri Motonari died in the sixth month of that year (1571), and Takakage spared no time in blockading the island of Noshima, and crushing the navy of the Miyoshi clan of Awa province which sought to come to Noshima's rescue. Takeyoshi submitted once again to the authority of the Môri clan in 1574, and never again betrayed them.

In the 1570s, the Noshima Murakami supported the Môri in supplying rice and other supplies to the Ishiyama Honganji, in defiance of Oda Nobunaga's ten-year efforts to besiege the fortress. Takeyoshi's son Murakami Motoyoshi, alongside Nomi Munekatsu, commanded the Môri navies to victory against the Oda navies in the 1576 first battle of Kizugawaguchi, where the Innoshima Murakami contributed their skill with fire arrows, again defeating Oda attempts to block supplies from reaching the Ishiyama Honganji. Murakami Kagehiro, lord of Kasaoka castle in Bitchû province, played an important role in this battle, and the links forged between his family and that of Noshima brought the Murakami into even stronger control of a wider area near/around the Inland Sea.

Murakami Yoshimitsu and the Innoshima Murakami continued to fight under Nomi Munekatsu at this time, and were granted Mukaishima, which neighbors Innoshima to the north, for their service. The successful defense of Moji castle against siege in 1561 was among the more prominent of their battles against the Ôtomo clan at this time.

The Môri (and their vassals, the Murakami) eventually suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the Oda navy, however, in the 1579 second battle of Kizugawaguchi, where the Oda employed iron-reinforced ships called tekkôsen.

Meanwhile, while Murakami Michiyasu and the Kurujima Murakami more broadly had maintained a strong relationship with the Kôno clan, Michiyasu's son Michifusa rose up against the Kôno, beginning in 1579. He had become head of the Kurujima branch family after his older brother Murakami Michiyuki gave up the succession to become head of another family, the Tokui clan.

Under Oda and Toyotomi

In 1582, Michifusa succumbed to schemes by Toyotomi Hideyoshi and came to fight for Oda Nobunaga against the Kôno and Môri, suffering defeat at their hands. Seeking to extricate the region from Oda/Toyotomi domination, father and son Murakami Takeyoshi and Motoyoshi led the Noshima and Innoshima Murakami against Kurujima, seizing Kurujima castle, and forcing Michifusa to flee the region. Fleeing to Bitchû and joining Toyotomi Hideyoshi in earnest, he became one of Hideyoshi's closer associates. Michifusa returned to Kurujima two years later, after, in the wake of Nobunaga's death, hostilities between Hideyoshi and the Môri (and the allies of the Môri, including the Kôno and the Murakami of Noshima & Innoshima) had ended. It was around this time that the Murakami of Kurujima came to be known as the Kurujima family (i.e. not as the Murakami), as this was the name that Hideyoshi, apparently, used to refer to them.

Michifusa served in the advance guard for Hideyoshi's 1585 Invasion of Shikoku, in which he fought against the Noshima and Innoshima Murakami; for his service, Hideyoshi granted him Noma and Kazahaya districts in Iyo, a holding worth 14,000 koku. He then fought alongside the Môri in Hideyoshi's 1587 invasion of Kyushu, and in particular in the attack on Urutsu castle. In the siege of Odawara in 1590, he joined forces with the navies of the Katô and Kuki clans, attacking the castle from the sea. The Kurujima also took part in Hideyoshi's Korean Invasions, in which Michifusa and his older brother Michiyuki would die in battle, the former in the battle of Suyeong.

Murakami Yoshimitsu of Innoshima had no direct heirs, and so adopted Murakami Kagetaka, son of his younger brother Murakami Sukeyasu, to succeed him as head of the Innoshima family. Kagetaka took part in Hideyoshi's invasion of Kyushu alongside his cousins from Noshima, but died of illness, and was succeeded by his younger brother Murakami Yoshisuke.

Beginning in 1588, Hideyoshi issued edicts against piracy, and the Noshima and Innoshima Murakami saw all their privileges and powers on the Inland Sea, which they had enjoyed for centuries, vanish. They attempted to continue to collect levies, but were chastised by Hideyoshi, who had banned such activities. Takeyoshi and his son Motoyoshi were spared seppuku only by the mediation of Kobayakawa Takakage. They were, however, forced to leave the Inland Sea, and to reestablish themselves in Nagato province (Yamaguchi; Chôshû) or Chikuzen province (Fukuoka). The Innoshima were a bit more fortunate, and were able to maintain their holdings in the Inland Sea, though much of their maritime power and privileges were lost.

The Noshima and Innoshima Murakami thus submitted to Hideyoshi eventually, but were never again fully aligned with Kurujima. Thus the era of the three families, united, sailing the Inland Sea, came to an end with the era of Hideyoshi's rule.

Under Tokugawa

Michifusa's son Murakami Yasuchika, who succeeded his father as head of the Kurujima, sided with the Western Army in the battle of Sekigahara. Upon their defeat, he lost all of his holdings and followers, except for a small number of retainers. However, due to the good graces of Honda Masanobu and others, he was allowed, the following year, to become a daimyo once again; he was granted Kusu district in Bungo province, and his line, which came to be known as the Kurujima, governed that district until the Meiji period.

The Noshima and Innoshima Murakami besieged Iyo Matsumae castle while the battle of Sekigahara took place further east, and Murakami Motoyoshi died in battle later in that campaign, at a place called Mitsuhama. Murakami Yoshisuke of Innoshima and his younger brother Murakami Yoshitada died in battle as well. The Innoshima were forced to depart from their holdings in Bingo province, i.e. the Inland Sea islands of Innoshima, Mukaishima, and others, and followed the Môri to Nagato province. Murakami Motomitsu, a son of Yoshisuke, became head of the family, but his retainers were scattered, and he was forced to give up his holdings in Nagato, returning to Innoshima, where he died. Murakami Yoshikuni, a son of Yoshitada, then took over, and his descendants served the Môri navy down until the Meiji period.

Murakami Takeyoshi of Noshima, father to the late Motoyoshi, died in 1604 at Yashirojima (aka Suô-Ôshima), which had been granted him years early by the Môri in return for his aid against the Ôuchi. Takeyoshi's successor, Murakami Mototake, served the Môri in a prominent naval capacity, and the descendants of the Noshima Murakami continued to serve the Môri, as Chôshû domain (Hagi han) vassals, through the Edo period.

Meanwhile, other branches of the Murakami had employed Iwaishima and Nagashima (today parts of the town of Kaminoseki) in Suô province (today, eastern Yamaguchi prefecture) as their base of operations, ensuring the security of the sea lanes, and charging customs and tolls on ships passing through the harbors, from a castle situated there. By 1600, the castle was gone, and these activities had ceased, but even after the Môri re-allocated the sub-fiefs within their domain to bring more territory (including parts of Kaminoseki) more directly under Môri control, Murakami branch families continued to hold Iwaishima and parts of Nagashima as their own sub-fiefs.[3]

Members of the Murakami clan


  • "Kurujima-shi." SENGOKU Buke kaden. Accessed 7 June 2011.
  • "Murakami (Innoshima) shi." SENGOKU Buke kaden. Accessed 21 June 2011.
  • "Murakami (Noshima) shi." SENGOKU Buke kaden. Accessed 21 June 2011.
  • Terada Shôichi (ed.). Meijô wo aruku 3: Iyo Matsuyama-jô. Tokyo: PHP Kenkyûsho, 2002.
  1. Also sometimes referred to as a new family/clan, the Kurujima (either 来島 or 久留島).
  2. According to some accounts, it was not Murakami Morokiyo, but Kitabatake Akinari, grandson of Kitabatake Chikafusa, from whom the three branches were descended. According to others, it was Murakami Yoshitane, not Yoshiaki, who was the relevant son of Morokiyo.
  3. Martin Dusinberre, Hard Times in the Hometown: A History of Community Survival in Modern Japan, University of Hawaii Press (2012), 20.