The Maeda clan (前田氏 Maeda-shi) was a samurai clan of Japan during the Sengoku era and mainly dominated the Hokuriku region until the Meiji renewal.
The origins of the Maeda clan are unclear, although in Toshiie's time it was stated that they were descended from Sugawara no Michizane through whom they took the plum blossom family crest.
However historically they came from the village of Arako (now in Nagoya city) in Owari province.
Maeda Nagatane (1550-1631) entered the service of Maeda Toshiie, and his descendants became hereditary servants of the Maeda clan of the Kaga domain. This branch received the Kazoku title of danshaku (baron) after the Meiji Restoration.
A cadet branch from Owari Province received Arako Castle in what is now part of Nakagawa-ku, Nagoya.
Maeda Toshimasa (died 1560) entered the service of Oda Nobuhide who ruled Owari province from his castle at Kiyosu. His son Toshihisa (died 1587) also served the Oda clan and was forced to retire in favor of his brother, Toshiie.
Another famous member of the family was Maeda Toshimasu, commonly known as Maeda Keiji. Although he was biologically the son of Takigawa Kazumasu, he was adopted by Toshihisa.
He is remembered as a great warrior. According to legend he broke through the front line of the Mogami clan by leading a group of only eight knights during a battle in which he fought for the Uesugi clan.
Maeda Toshiie was one of Oda Nobunaga's leading generals. He began his career from the bottom, climbing the ranks and placing himself under Nobunaga's personal command and later became an infantry captain (足 軽 大将 ashigaru taishō).
From his youth he was a close confidant of Nobunaga and a friend of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. After defeating the Asakura clan, he fought under Shibata Katsuie in the Hokuriku region contributing to the suppression of the Ikkō-ikki, participated in the Battle of Anegawa in 1570 and the Battle of Tedorigawa in 1577.
Eventually, he was granted the fief of Fuchu in Etchū province (30,000 koku) and in 1581 he received the entire province of Noto (230,000 koku), to which he added other territories in Kaga province to form the Kaga domain.
Nobunaga was also granted the fief of Fuchu in Etchū province.
After Nobunaga's death he pledged allegiance to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and his territories were expanded to cover all three provinces of Noto, Kaga, and Etchū, with a total value of over one million koku.
Toshiie divided the fief among his sons. His eldest son Maeda Toshinaga participated in the Battle of Sekigahara and built Kanazawa Castle; he was recognized as daimyō of the Kaga domain under the Tokugawa shogunate.
The Maeda clan maintained good relations with the Tokugawa clan through marriage ties, and although it was a Tozama clan, it was allowed to use the name "Matsudaira" as an honorific.
The clan continued to rule the Kaga domain from their headquarters in Kanazawa from 1583 until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Maeda Toshitsune created two cadet branches of the clan at Toyama (100,000 koku) and Daishōji (70,000 koku).
Another cadet branch of the clan was established by Maeda Toshitaka, the fifth son of Maeda Toshiie, in the Nanokaichi domain of Kōzuke province. All of these cadet branches continued to be ruled by the Maeda clan until the Meiji restoration.
However, the Maeda clan was often plagued by incidents of O-Ie Sōdō, and many firstborn sons of the clan died young or without heirs. The clan did not play a major role in the Boshin War.
After the beginning of the Meiji period, former leaders of the various branches of the clan retained important positions under the Kazoku system.