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Mōri Motonari (毛利元就, born April 16, 1497, died July 6, 1571), was an important daimyo of the western Chūgoku region (Japan) of the Sengoku period (16th century) of Japanese history.
Mōri Motonari was born as "Shōjumaru" in a small estate in Aki province in 1497. He passes for being born at Suzuo Castle, his mother's family estate.
His father, Mōri Hiromoto, retired from the clan leadership in 1500 and moved to Tajihi-Sarugake Castle with his son Shōjumaru. As the titular head of the clan, his eldest son Mōri Okimoto succeeded his father Hiromoto.
In 1506, Hiromoto died of alcohol abuse. Shōjumaru remained in Sarugake but another member of the Inoue family, Motomori, aggressively seized his lands.
In 1511, Shōjumaru officially became an adult, or genpuku, and renamed "Motonari."
Okimoto died in 1516. Kōmatsumaru, Okimoto's son, succeeded him as head of the clan and Motonari became his steward. Kōmatsumaru died eight years later, in 1523, and Motonari succeeded him.
Caught between the powerful Amago and Ōuchi clans, Motonari led the clan by carefully balancing action and diplomacy. Eventually, Motonari managed to defeat both enemy clans and controlled the entire Chūgoku region. In his later years, he crushed the Ōtomo clan of Bungo province.
He had three sons, Mōri Takamoto, Kikkawa Motoharu and Kobayakawa Takakage, whom he encouraged to work together for the benefit of the Mōri clan. On one occasion, he reportedly gave each of his sons an arrow and asked them to break it.
After each has broken his arrow, Motonari gives three arrows and asks his sons to break all three at once. When they were unable to do so (according to a legend still taught today), Motonari explained that one arrow could be broken easily but that three arrows held together could not.
Whether this actually happened or is an apocryphal legend is not known for sure.
His eldest son, Mōri Takamoto, while on his way to attack the Amago clan, dies of a sudden illness, although murder by poisoning is suspected. Saddened and angered by his death, Motonari orders that all those responsible be punished.
In all, Motonari had nine sons and two daughters; four children (including Takamoto, Motoharu, and Takakage) by his wife, three by a consort of the Nomi clan, and four by a consort of the Miyoshi clan.
The parable about Motonari, his three sons and the lesson of the three arrows is supposed to have been a source of inspiration for Akira Kurosawa when he wrote his film epic Ran.
The name of the Japan League soccer team, Sanfrecce Hiroshima, is also inspired by this story. "San" means "three" in Japanese and "frecce", arrows, in Italian.
Japan's main television broadcasting company, NHK, aired a taiga drama called Mōri Motonari.
He is depicted as a character in both the Sengoku Basara and Samurai Warriors series. He is depicted as a character in Pokémon Conquest as the warlord of the United Greenleaf, with his Pokémon partner being Servine and Serperior.