The Yagyū (柳生氏 Yagyū-shi ) were a family of daimyō (feudal lords) with lands just outside Nara, who became the heads of one of Japan's greatest schools of swordsmanship, Yagyū Shinkage-ryū. The Yagyū were also swordsmanship teachers to the Tokugawa shoguns.
Yagyū Muneyoshi (1527-1606), the first famous Yagyū swordsman, fought for a number of different lords before meeting Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Tokugawa shogun. In 1563, he was defeated by the great swordsman Kamiizumi Nobutsuna and was later named his successor, founding the Yagyū Shinkage-ryū school of swordsmanship.
In 1594, Muneyoshi was invited to Tokugawa Ieyasu's mansion in Kyoto, where he provided such an incredible display of sword skills that the warlord asked that the Yagyū become sword instructors to the Tokugawa family. Muneyoshi suggested that his son Munenori be Ieyasu's teacher; Muneyoshi then retired from swordsmanship, and died in 1606, by which time Ieyasu had become shogun. It was at this time also that the Yagyū swordsmanship school split in two, Munenori and his nephew Toshiyoshi each becoming the hereditary heads of the Owari and Edo schools of Yagyū Shinkage-ryū.
The Nara area bears many memorials to the Yagyū family, and their family graveyard lies on the grounds of the Hōtoku-ji. Perhaps the most interesting one is a rock called Ittō-seki, probably split by lightning, which Muneyoshi is supposed to have cut in half with his sword.
The mon (crest) of the Yagyū family was a wide-brimmed black hat with ties.
Notable Members of the Yagyū family
- Muneyoshi (1527-1606)- founder of the swordsmanship school and first of the family to earn significant power and prestige.
- Toshiyoshi - head of the Owari branch of the swordsmanship school, which served the junior branch of the Tokugawa family, based in Nagoya.
- Munenori (1571-1646) - first swordsmanship sensei to the Tokugawa, and head of the Edo branch of the swordsmanship school.
*Each change in ranking in this list indicates a father-son relationship (a change in generation).
- Yagyū - the town of Yagyū in Nara Prefecture, the original capital of the family's fief.
- Japanese television actor and personality Hiroshi Yagyū and his son Shingo Yagyū are collateral descendants of the Yagyū.
- Turnbull, Stephen (1998). 'The Samurai Sourcebook'. London: Cassell & Co.
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