Nitta Yoshisada

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Nitta Yoshisada in an image by Kikuchi Yōsai

Nitta Yoshisada (新田 義貞?, 1301 – August 17, 1338) was the head of the Nitta clan in the early fourteenth century, and supported the Southern Court of Emperor Go-Daigo in the Nanboku-chō period, capturing Kamakura from the Hōjō clan in 1333.

Long an enemy of Ashikaga Takauji, Nitta Yoshisada is often blamed for the split between the Northern and Southern Courts, as he fought against the Ashikaga and for the emperor, Emperor Go-Daigo. This rivalry came largely from the fact that the Ashikaga were ranked above the Nitta, despite their being descended from a younger ancestor; since the ancestors of the Nitta did not fight alongside their Minamoto cousins in the Genpei War, they were never accorded power or prestige at Kamakura.

In 1331, after being ordered by the bakufu (shogunate) to join an army at the Chihaya fortress, Nitta was ordered by Prince Morinaga and Emperor Go-Daigo to strike at the Hōjō, so he left his post. Returning to his home province of Kozuke, Yoshisada rallied the aid of other descendants and vassals, including his brother Yoshisuke of the Minamoto clan, and began to march toward Kamakura through Musashi. On the approaches to the city, Nitta enjoyed some early victories, routing the Hōjō defenders and pursuing them towards the city.

Fall of Kamakura[edit]

Except for its coastline, Kamakura is surrounded by steep hills, making an army attack difficult. Nitta first tried to enter through the Gokurakuji Pass and the Kewaizaka Pass, but concentrated Hōjō forces stopped him. Judging it impossible to enter by land, Nitta decided to try by sea, bypassing the Inamuragasaki Cape on Sagami Bay, west of Kamakura. Once there, Nitta took advantage of a low tide and moved his men in through the beaches to the south, but according to the Taiheiki, he threw his sword into the surf and prayed to Ryūjin,[1] who parted the waters for him.[2]

The stele at Sode no Ura (袖の浦?), the tiny bay west of Inamuragaki, says:[3]

666 years ago on May 21, 1333[4] Nitta Yoshisada, judging an invasion on land to be difficult, decided to try to bypass this cape. This is the place where, according to tradition, he threw his golden sword into the waves, praying the sea-god[1] to withdraw them and let him pass. (Erected in 1917)

The city was taken, and the Hōjō clan's influence destroyed. Following the fall of Kamakura (and of the Hōjō regency), Yoshisada was appointed governor of Echigo and vice-governor of Harima and Kōzuke Provinces, as Emperor Go-Daigo redistributed the Hōjō lands.[5]

Moreover, he courted a daughter of a court noble, Kōtō-Naishi (匂当内侍), and married her through the emperor's mediation.[5]:65


During the following few years, Nitta Yoshisada's rivalry with Ashikaga Takauji and his brother Ashikaga Tadayoshi came to a head, with an imperial commission to destroy the two brothers in 1335. The two armies fought a number of battles, starting at the Yahagi River on 10 Dec. and ending at Mishima by the end of the year. Yoshisada's forces were eventually defeated and the brothers advanced upon Kyoto.[5]:39–42

Takauji was able to capture Kyoto for a few days in Feb. 1336, before help arrived for Yoshisada and Kusunoki from Prince Norinaga and Prince Takanaga.[5]:43–44

In April 1336, Nitta attacked Akamatsu Norimura in Harima Province. He kept the investment of Akamatsu's strongholds at Shirohata and Mitsuishi until June, when he retreated in face of advancements by Tadayoshi's army.[5]:49–50

Yoshida was defeated in the Battle of Minatogawa allowing Takauji to occupy Kyoto once again.[5]:50–52[6][7]

Nitta retreated with the emperor to Hiyeizan. Eventually, on 13 Nov. 1336, the emperor agreed with Takauji's offers to return to Kyoto. Before he did so, he entrusted Nitta with escorting Prince Takanaga and Prince Tsunenaga to Echizen Province. They made it as far as a Loyalist stronghold, where they had to endure the Siege of Kanegasaki (1337). Nitta escaped to Somayama, but his son Nitta Yoshiaki and the princes eventually killed.[5]:54–55,63–64

Nitta's death was as remarkable as his life. While Nitta was fighting in the Siege of Kuromaru against Hosokawa Akiuji, an ally of Takauji, his horse was felled by arrow fire.[8] Yoshisada, pinned under the dead horse and unable to move was an easy target for archers. As a final act, Yoshisada drew his short sword and cut off his own head. Record has it that a number of his fellow samurai committed junshi seppuku nearby, in a show of allegiance.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b In describing this event, Japanese sources say Nitta Yoshisada prayed to a sea-god or Ryūjin; English sources almost always refer to Sun Goddess Amaterasu. The Taiheiki (稲村崎成干潟事) says:

    Dismounting from his horse, Yoshisada removed his helmet and prostrating himself across the distant seas prayed to Ryūjin. "It is said that the lord of Japan from the beginning, Amaterasu Ōmikami, enshrined at Ise Jingū, hid herself within a Vairocana and appeared as Ryūjin of the vast blue seas. My lord (Emperor Go-Daigo) is her descendant, and drifts upon waves of the western sea due to rebels. I Yoshisada, in an attempt to serve as a worthy subject, will pick up my axes and face the enemy line. That desire is to aid the nation and bring welfare to the masses. Ryūjin of the Eight Protectorate Gods of the (seven) Inner Seas and the Outer Sea, witness this subject’s loyalty and withdraw the waters afar, open a path to the lines of the three armies.

    He therefore speaks to Ryūjin who, he has heard, is a manifestation of Amaterasu.

  2. ^ Mutsu (1995:247)
  3. ^ Original Japanese text available here
  4. ^ Old Japanese lunar calendar date. Gregorian date obtained directly from the original Nengō using Nengocalc: July 3, 1333 (Genkō 3, 21st day of the 5th month)
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Sansom, George (1961). A History of Japan, 1334–1615. Stanford University Press. pp. 18–21, 26–27. ISBN 0804705259. 
  6. ^ Turnbull, Stephen (1977). The Samurai, A Military History. MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc. pp. 101–102. ISBN 0026205408. 
  7. ^ Turnbull, Stephen (1998). The Samurai Sourcebook. Cassell & Co. pp. 206, 208. ISBN 1-85409-523-4. 
  8. ^ Turnbull 2003.

Additional Reading[edit]

  • Turnbull, Stephen (2003). Samurai: The World of the Warrior. Osprey Publishing.
  • Mutsu, Iso (1995/06). Kamakura. Fact and Legend. Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing. ISBN 0-8048-1968-8.  Check date values in: |date= (help)