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Katō Kiyomasa (Japanese: 加藤 清正, 25 July 1562 - 2 August 1611) was a Japanese daimyo or fief lord who ruled the Higo province on the island of Kyūshū during the Sengoku period.
He served the military dictator Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who unified Japan, and participated as commander in both of his invasions of Korea. After Hideyoshi's death, power passed to a council of five elders appointed by Hideyoshi to rule until the young Toyotomi Hideyoshi came of age.
However, the council soon broke up into camps led by Ishida Mitsunari and Tokugawa Ieyasu, the latter of which Kiyomasa joined.
When Ieyasu's alliance defeated its opponents at the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, Kiyomasa gained control of an even larger prefecture. He remained loyal to Hideyori for the rest of his life and was possibly poisoned by Ieyasu, who had become a shōgun.
Kiyomasa was born in the village of Nakamura, where he was known as Toranosuke. Kiyomasa's father was a blacksmith who died when Kiyomasa was three years old.
At the age of 18, Kiyomasa joined the forces of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a military leader from the same village. He fought alongside Hideyoshi at the Battle of Shizugatake in 1583 and was rewarded with a fief of 3,000 koku. His success in battle earned him the title of one of the Seven Spears of Shizugatake.
Kiyomasa was already known at the time of the Battle of Shizugatake for his large war helmets, which set him apart from other soldiers. The helmets consisted of two separate helmets, with an elongated, more ornate helmet superimposed on the regular soldier's helmet.
For example, the ornamentation could represent Kiyomasa's emblem, the many. Kiyomasa also became famous in battle for his tradition of ordering the heads of his fallen enemies to be tied to bamboo.
When Hideyoshi became kampaku in the summer of 1585, Kiyomasa was granted the court title of Kazue no Kami (jap. 主計頭) and appointed as Hideyoshi's tax inspector, and was also granted the Kumamoto fiefdom, which belonged to the daimyo Sasa Narimasa, who had opposed Hideyoshi.
In 1592, Kiyomasa was appointed one of the three senior commanders of Hideyoshi's Korean Battles, along with the Christian daimyo Konishi Yukinaga and Kuroda Nagamasa. He served in the second division, which was to land after Yukinaga's capture of Busan and march with him towards Seoul.
Yukinaga, however, did not wait for his brother-in-arms, but set out with the intention of reaching Seoul before Kiyomasa. An enraged Kiyomasa landed on the Korean peninsula on 28 May and immediately took a second route towards Seoul. The troops met again near Chungju.
Kiyomasa and Yukinaga already had their differences, as a devout Nichiren Buddhist, Kiyomasa hated Christians. He considered his faith a central part of his life anyway, and even had the words "glory to the holy lotus" inscribed on his ticket.
Disagreements between the commanders led to open hatred in Korea, and Kiyomasa, irritated by Yukinaga's victories, even mocked Yukinaga's merchant roots. Angered by this, Yukinaga's subordinates had to work hard to restrain Yukinaga from raising the sword against his ally.
As the Japanese forces approached Seoul, the Koreans abandoned their city and fled northward. Before reaching Seoul, however, the Japanese had to cross the Hanjoki River.
Yukinaga reached the city first, having quickly found a suitable river crossing. Some say that he broke the bridge behind him to slow down his rival, but it is more likely that the bridge was destroyed by the Koreans.
In any case, Kiyomasa had to build rafts to cross the river while Yukinaga's flags already adorned the wall. Kiyomasa's shame was compounded by the fact that he had to persuade Yukinaga to allow his troops into the city.
Two weeks later, Yukinaga and Kiyomasa started to advance northwards. They encountered little resistance until the Imjin River, one bank of which the Koreans had occupied.
Since crossing the river would have required too many casualties, the Japanese decided to pretend to retreat towards Munsan. The Koreans soon went after the Japanese in a disorganised manner and were ambushed by the Japanese.
As a result of the battle, the Koreans suffered heavy losses and fled the scene, opening up a clear route for the Japanese towards Pyongyang, towards which Yukinaga's troops marched. Kiyomasa and his troops, in turn, moved north-east with the intention of reaching the two escaped Korean princes.
Kiyomasa met little resistance, and captured the princes and the girl who was named the most beautiful in the kingdom. During the chase, Kiyomasa's troops ended up in a sparsely populated area and were often attacked by wild animals.
There, soldiers hunted tigers for fun, and Kiyomasa killed a tiger with his spear Kiyomasa's struggle with a tiger has since been frequently depicted in Japanese art Kiyomasa advanced far into northeastern Korea and succeeded in pacifying the region.
Soon the Japanese forces began to experience setbacks, as in the south, the Korean admiral Yi Sun-sin had destroyed much of the Japanese fleet. The Japanese began to suffer from supply problems, and Yukinaga, who had captured Pyongyang, was plagued not only by food shortages but also by harassment from Ming reinforcements.
Kiyomasa, who had advanced as far as Manchuria, had also lost most of his troops and was ordered to return south He started back towards Seoul, where Yukinaga was also eventually forced to retreat from Pyongyang.
In the peace talks that followed, the Japanese were represented by Yukinaga, who, to Kiyomasa's chagrin, promised to return the two captured princes to the Koreans.
The peace did not last long, however, as China considered the retreating Japan as its subject. An enraged Hideyoshi launched a new invasion of Korea. Kiyomasa was again sent to lead the invasion of Korea along with Yukinaga, and was to take Hwangsoksan Castle, among other places.
His most notable battle was the defence of Ulsan in the winter, when he faced a large Chinese overwhelming force, but was able to hold them off until reinforcements arrived.
In 1598, the aged Hideyoshi appointed five deputy governors, a council of five elders, to rule Japan until his son Hideyori was old enough. Hideyoshi died in the same year, ending a long-running project to conquer Korea.
Soon disagreements arose between the members of the council, and eventually it split into two camps around Tokugawa Ieyasu and Ishida Mitsunari. This also split most of the Japanese daimyo into two camps.
Much of the Daimyo in western Japan, including most of the Christians, joined the more Christian-friendly Mitsunari's forces. On the other hand, the Ieyasu side included the Data, Mogami and Maeda clans, mainly from eastern Japan.
Kiyomasa also joined Ieyasu's ranks because he was first and foremost a soldier, unlike Mitsunari, who handled civil affairs. He also believed that Hideyori would remain safer if there was peace between him and Ieyasu. In addition, he believed that Hideyori would be safer if there was peace between him and Ieyasu.
In October 1600, the two sides met in the Battle of Sekigahara, which ended with Ieyasu's victory and Mitsunari's execution. Konishi Yukinaga also died after being captured, so Kiyomasa seized the territories belonging to Yukinaga in Higo for himself, and began widespread persecution of Christians in the region.
Kiyomasa was later present at Nijō Castle when Ieyasu discussed the future of Hideyori. He had armed himself with a dagger with the intention of using it on Ieyasu if Hideyori's life was threatened.
Inspired by the battles in Korea, Kiyomasa decided to fortify Kumamoto Castle to make it invincible. In addition to structurally strengthening the castle, he also planted walnut trees in the castle courtyard to provide food if needed.
Kiyomasa's construction efforts proved successful even in the 19th century, when the castle was besieged during the Satsuma Rebellion. Although the castle's defences were eventually breached, it held up well against more modern warfare.
Before his death, Kiyomasa took the name Seishō-kō. He died in 1611, and is thought to have been poisoned by Ieyasu. Four years later, Hideyori was forced to seppuku after losing a battle against Ieyasu, thus securing his family's position at the head of Japan.