Konishi Yukinaga

Konishi Yukinaga

Konishi Yukinaga (Japanese: 小西 行長, 1555 - 6 November 1600) was a Japanese Christian daimyo of the Sengoku period who ruled over almost the entire Amakusa archipelago.

He served Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and served as a general of the first division in the Korean campaign he launched. During the campaign, Yukinaga gained fame for his numerous victories, as well as for capturing the cities of Seoul and Pyongyang from the Japanese.

After Hideyoshi's death, Yukinaga joined the alliance of the Western Japanese clans led by Ishida Mitsunari against Tokugawa Ieyasu. The alliance was defeated at the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, and Yukinaga was executed as a prisoner.

Konishi Yukinaga Youth

Yukinaga was the son of a wealthy Sakaili medicine merchant. As a reminder of his family roots, Yukinaga later wore a large paper apothecary bag as a symbol (uma-jirushi).

His parents were among the early converts baptized in 1560, when Christianity began to take root in the Japanese upper classes. However, Yukinaga was not baptised by the Jesuits until 1583 under the name Agostinho, and probably for this reason he did not adopt all Christian influences into his life.

However, he was known as a philanthropist after his baptism, and Yukinaga donated money to several causes, including the Osaka leper asylum.

Yukinaga entered the service of Hideyoshi in 1581, and was an early participant in the capture of Ōta Castle. In 1587, during the Kyūshū campaign, Yukinaga's mission was to suppress the rebellion in Higo province. For this he was rewarded with a fiefdom that included half of the province and Udo Castle.

Konishi Yukinaga in Korean Campaign

When Hideyoshi began his Korean campaign, Yukinaga was sent to lead the first conquering forces. He served in the First Division, bringing with him an army of 7,000 men.

In addition to him, the division was commanded by Matsuura Shigenobu and the Christian daimyo Sō Yoshitoshi, Arima Harunobu and Ōmura Yoshiaki. In addition, the majority of the daimyo soldiers were Christian by religion. Before the actual fighting began, the Yukinaga had the first troop-carrying ships to command.

Since these ships were slow and could not defend against the Korean fleet, Yukinaga was to wait for reinforcements before advancing. However, Yukinaga decided to take a deliberate risk in order to surprise the Koreans by landing before they could mount a proper defence, and ordered the ships to move. Yukinaga's attempt was successful, as the Korean ships did not attack.

The Japanese landed in Busan on 23 May 1592, and Sō Yoshitoshi, who was familiar with the area, took command ashore and led the siege of the city castle.

After first unsuccessfully trying to persuade the Koreans to surrender, Sō sent his musketry-armed soldiers to attack, which quickly escalated into a bloodbath, with most of the castle's population killed, including the animals.

Japanese casualties, on the other hand, were light. At the time of the Battle of Busan, Yukinaga continued to advance along the coast, capturing the forts of Dadaejin and Dongnae.

Yukinaga was supposed to occupy the Japanese beachhead, and wait for the arrival of other troops, but Yukinaga decided to continue towards Seoul. The commander of the reinforcements, Katō Kiyomasa, was not pleased with the action of his comrade-in-arms, and quickly went after him when he landed.

Kuroda Nagamasa, who had landed on the western side of Pusan, also followed them.

On 3 June, Yukinaga confronted General Yi Ii at the Battle of Sangju. Ii led a small detachment of cavalry and a force of 900 farmers to prevent the capture of Chungju. After a brief skirmish, however, the Koreans fled, and Yi Ii reported the Japanese advance to General Sin Ip.

Sin Ip decided to meet his opponents in the hills of Tangumdae, and positioned his soldiers along the Han River so that they could not escape.

The battle was in any case another victory for the Japanese, who had been spread out over a wide area by Yukinaga to make his army look even larger. Even the army of Ipi's cavalrymen could not break the Japanese ranks, and the general died among his soldiers.

Despite the continued victories, there were many disagreements between the Japanese commanders. In particular, there was constant rivalry and bickering between the Christian Yukinaga and Katō Kiyomasa, who emphasized samurai values.

After Tangumdae's victory, an exasperated Kiyomasa even mocked Yukinaga's merchant roots, and Yukinaga's subordinates had difficulty restraining Yukinaga from raising the sword against his ally.

After the Battle of Tangumdae, the Koreans of Seoul fled the approaching Japanese, and the city was easily captured. Yukinaga reached the city first because he quickly found a suitable place to cross the Han River.

Some say that he broke the bridge behind him to slow down his rival, but it is more likely that the Koreans did it. 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 set off northwards. They encountered little resistance until they reached 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 disorganized 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 began to march.

Kiyomasa and his troops, in turn, advanced towards the north-east with the intention of reaching the two escaped Korean princes.

After reaching the Taedong River, in the immediate vicinity of Pyongyang, Yukinaga set up camp and again attempted to negotiate with the Koreans, who responded by attacking the Japanese camp at night and managed to inflict some damage. 

The Japanese regained control of the situation when Kuroda's army, which had joined Konishi, drove the Koreans away. The Koreans, having lost their boats, waded across the river, and unnoticed by the Japanese, showed them the best crossing points.

The soldiers who had remained in the town also fled, and hurriedly left their supplies for the Japanese. The Japanese also fled, leaving their supplies at the disposal of the Japanese.

The Koreans did not accept the loss of Pyongyang, and attempted to retake the city along with Ming dynasty soldiers. The Japanese suffered heavy losses, believing the attacking army to be vastly outnumbered, but once the truth was known, lured their opponents into the city and ambushed them there.

Despite this, the Japanese suffered significant losses in the battle, and the post-battle situation was not helped by continuing supply problems. Yukinaga realized that the Japanese had advanced too far, and began to consider retreating.

In early 1593, Korean and Chinese troops led by Li Rusong again attacked Pyongyang, but this time bringing a larger army with them.

During the fierce fighting, Yukinaga was presented with an opportunity to withdraw his troops from the city, and he seized it. He led his army out of the southern gates of the city, and marched them across the frozen Taedong River.

Unfortunately for Yukinaga, the nearest garrisons had also fled, taking the necessary supplies with them, so he had to search further south. Eventually they returned to Japanese-controlled Seoul.

The Chinese who followed Yukinaga were unwilling to fight the Japanese, and at the same time feared being besieged by the returning Kiyomasa from the north.

Conditions for the Japanese in Seoul were dire, with a constant shortage of food and widespread disease. The Japanese generals asked Hideyoshi not to send more troops because there would not be enough food for them.

In addition, during the Japanese inland campaign, Korean Admiral Yi Sun-sin had recaptured coastal towns, destroying supply ships attempting to enter Korea from Japan. As a result, the Japanese began to plan a retreat, and received permission from Hideyoshi to do so.

Peace negotiation

Among the Japanese, peace was negotiated by Yukinaga, who began by releasing the two princes imprisoned by Kiyomasa. Although Konishi had no direct authority to make decisions, he wanted to achieve peace as quickly as possible, and promised the Japanese would withdraw from Korea.

He even agreed to Ming's proposal that Hideyoshi be appointed vassal king over Japan, which was equivalent to being the ruler of Korea. However, the Japanese did not tell Hideyoshi himself, who still believed that the situation was under his control.

At the end of the peace talks, the Japanese retreated to Busan, but did not completely leave the peninsula.

In the period following the peace agreement, Yukinaga continued to play an integral role in managing relations between the two countries. In October 1596, Chinese envoys arrived in Japan to bring gifts to Hideyoshi, who finally realized his status as "King of Japan."

An enraged Hideyoshi destroyed the gifts he had received, and expelled the Chinese convoy. However, he did not order Yukinaga to carry out the seppuku at the request of his advisors. Instead, Yukinaga was sent back to Korea to command another Japanese invasion of the peninsula.

Konishi Yukinaga Battle of Sekigahara

Konishi Yukinaga

In 1598, the weakened Hideyoshi appointed five deputy governors, a council of five elders, to rule the country until his son Hideyori was old enough. In the same year, Hideyoshi died and the long project to conquer Korea was abandoned.

However, disagreements soon arose among the council members, who eventually split into two camps behind Tokugawa Ieyasu and Ishida Mitsunari. This also split most of the Japanese daimyo into two camps.

Yukinaga, like most Christian daimyo, chose the more Christian-friendly Mitsunari, joined by Ukita Hideie, Mōri Terumoto, Ōtani Yoshitsugu and a large number of daimyo from western Honshū, among others. On the other hand, the Tokugawa side included the Data, Mogami and Maeda clans, mainly from eastern Japan.

In 1600, the two sides met in the Battle of Sekigahara, which ended in victory for the East Japan alliance led by Tokugawa. Yukinaga was captured at the end of the defeated battle and, as a Christian, he refused to be a seppuku and was executed.

Before his death, Yukinaga sent a message to his wife, Justa, urging her to serve God faithfully. He also requested a priest for himself, but this was refused. After Yukinaga's death, his fiefdom was given to Katō Kiyomasa, who had joined Tokugawa's service. 

However, the troops in Yukinaga Castle surrendered only after months of siege, having received confirmation of their lord's death. His eldest son was executed and his adopted daughter Julia, brought from Korea, was sent into exile. 

The fate of Yukinaga's other son is not known for certain, but he was rumoured to have survived and become a Buddhist monk. Yukinaga's daughter Maria was married to Sō Yoshitoshi, but Yoshitoshi left Christianity after the Battle of Sekigahara and divorced his wife, who fled to Nagasaki.

In Japan, Yukinaga's name was forgotten for a long time because he had fought against Ieyasu, but in Europe a funeral oration was given in his honour, called Argomento della Tragedia Intitolata Agostino Tzunicamindano re Giapponese, a copy of which, written in 1607, is still preserved in Genoa.

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