Uesugi clan

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Japanese Crest Uesugi Sasa.svg
The emblem (mon) of the Uesugi clan
Home province
Parent houseJapanese crest Sagari Fuji.svg Fujiwara clan (藤原氏)
FounderUesugi Shigefusa
Current headUesugi Kuninori
Founding yearLate 13th century
Dissolutionstill extant
Ruled until1868 (Abolition of the han system)
Cadet branchesŌgigayatsu Uesugi
Inukake Uesugi
Yamanouchi Uesugi

The Uesugi clan (上杉氏, Uesugi-shi, historically also Uyesugi) is a Japanese samurai clan which was at its most powerful during the Muromachi and Sengoku periods (14th to 17th centuries).[1] At its height, the clan had three main branches, the Ōgigayatsu, Inukake and Yamanouchi. It is perhaps best known for the warlord Uesugi Kenshin (1530–1578).

During the Edo period, the Uesugi were a tozama or outsider clan, in contrast with the fudai or insider daimyō clans which had been hereditary vassals or allies of the Tokugawa clan.[1]


The clan claims descent from the Fujiwara clan, specifically Fujiwara no Yoshikado,[2] who was a daijō-daijin during the 9th century.

Kanjūji Shigefusa was a 13th generation descendant of the clan's great progenitor. Near the end of the 13th century, he received Uesugi domain in Tango Province, and he adopted the name of "Uesugi" after arriving and establishing himself. The three main branches of the Uesugi are the Inukake, the Yamanouchi and the Ōgigayatsu.[2]

Muromachi period[edit]

The mother of the Shōgun Ashikaga Takauji (1305–1358) was a daughter of Uesugi Yorishige and a granddaughter of Shigefusa. The three Uesugi branch families are descendants of Uesugi Yorishige.

Throughout the Muromachi period, members of the clan were appointed shugo (provincial governors), and would also dominate the post of Kantō Kanrei (shogun's deputy in Kantō).

They gained such power in the Kantō region that, when in 1449 Kanrei Ashikaga Shigeuji killed his deputy Uesugi Noritada to significantly diminish if not eliminate the family's power, the Uesugi rose up and drove Shigeuji out of the area, asking the shogunate in Kyoto for another Kanrei. This development left the Uesugi extremely powerful within the Kantō region, more so than ever before, and the clan quickly expanded and grew, splitting into three branches, named after their home localities. The Ōgigayatsu became based at Kawagoe Castle, in Musashi Province, while the Yamanouchi was in Hirai, in Kōzuke Province. The third branch, the Inukake, held a castle in the region as well.

The three would begin fighting for domination of the clan and the region almost as soon as the split occurred, and intense fighting continued for roughly twenty-five years, until the end of the Ōnin War came about in 1477, bringing with it the end of the shogunate. Though the Ōgigayatsu and Yamanouchi branches both survived this conflict, the Inukake did not.

Sengoku period[edit]

Traditionally the Ōgigayatsu relied on the Ōta clan, while the Yamanouchi relied on the Nagao of Echigo Province as the pillars of their strength. Ōta Dōkan, a vassal of the Ōgigayatsu Uesugi, who were less numerous than their Yamanouchi cousins, lent them a great boost of power by building Edo Castle for them in the 1450s. On the other hand, Nagao Tamekage, Deputy Constable of Kamakura in the first decades of the 16th century, allied himself with Hōjō Sōun, who would later become one of the Uesugi's strongest rivals.

The expansion of the Hōjō into the lower Kantō forced the two branches of the Uesugi to become allies. In 1537, Kawagoe fell to Hōjō Ujitsuna. Then in 1545, both of the branches of the Uesugi shared defeat and attempted to regain their power. However, the Ōgigayatsu branch family came to an end with the death of Uesugi Tomosada, during a failed attempt to retake Kawagoe castle that year. Uesugi Norimasa, the holder of Hirai castle, which had fallen in 1551 to the Hōjō, took up arms with his retainer, Nagao Kagetora in Echigo. Kagetora then adopted the surname of "Uesugi" after campaigning against the Hōjō in Sagami Province; he would later take the name Uesugi Kenshin, and become one of Sengoku's most famous generals, battling the Hōjō and Takeda Shingen for control of the Kantō.

At the end of the Sengoku period, Kenshin's adopted son Uesugi Kagekatsu, then head of the clan, was a supporter of Ishida Mitsunari during the battle of Sekigahara. As a result of being on the losing side of the conflict, the Uesugi were afterward much reduced in power.

Edo period[edit]

Uesugi Kagekatsu was given the tozama domain of Yonezawa (300,000 koku) in Dewa Province, in Honshū's Tōhoku (Northeast) Region.[1]

Much research has been done on the economics of Yonezawa in the Edo period, particularly by Mark Ravina among others, and it is taken as fairly representative of a tozama (outsider) domain. Yonezawa was far from the capital, with far less direct political control from the shogunate, and also less trade and urbanization. Yonezawa was largely an agricultural domain, making it again a good representation of agricultural and social developments among the peasantry in this period.

Despite agricultural advances and generally high growth in the 17th century, Yonezawa, like most parts of the country, experienced a considerable drop in growth after 1700; it may in fact have entered stagnation or decline. The official koku revenue of the Uesugi daimyō was cut in half in 1664, but the clan continued to expend as before, maintaining the same lordly standard of living. Yonezawa, again representative of many other domains, entered debt and was especially hard-struck by famines in the 1750s. The situation became so bad that in 1767, daimyō Uesugi Shigesada considered giving the territory back to the shogunate. Instead, he allowed his adopted son Uesugi Harunori to take over as daimyō; through agricultural and moral reforms, and series of other strict policies, Harunori turned the domain around. In 1830, less than ten years after Harunori's death, the shogunate officially praised Yonezawa as an exemplar of good governance.

The Meiji Restoration in 1868 brought the abolition of the han system, that is, the end of the domains, the feudal lords, and the samurai class.

Meiji period and modern era[edit]

The head of the clan during the Meiji period was Uesugi Mochinori. The present head, Uesugi Kuninori (born 1942), is a professor at the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, Ministry of Education.

Crests and banners[edit]

Uesugi clan's crest: Two flying sparrows in bamboo.

Nagao clan's crest: nine suns with three tomoe.

Kenshin's standard: the first character in Bishamonten (毘, bi).

Kenshin's standard: the flag of divine appointment.

Kenshin's standard: open fan horse insignia.

Kenshin's standard: the suspended and chaotically written dragon character (龍).

Notable members and retainers[edit]




Castles and retainers

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Appert, Georges. (1888). Ancien Japon, p. 79.
  2. ^ a b Papinot, Jacques Edmond Joseph. (1906). Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie du Japon; Papinot, (2003). "Uesugi", Nobiliare du Japon, p. 67 [PDF 71 of 80)]; retrieved 2013-5-11.


  • Appert, Georges and H. Kinoshita. (1888). Ancien Japon. Tokyo: Imprimerie Kokubunsha.
  • Nussbaum, Louis-Frédéric. (2002). Japan Encyclopedia. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-00770-3
  • Meyer, Eva-Maria. (1999). Japan's Kaiserhof in de Edo-Zeit: Unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Jahre 1846 bis 1867. Münster: Tagenbuch. ISBN 3-8258-3939-7
  • Papinot, Edmund. (1906) Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie du japon. Tokyo: Librarie Sansaisha.
  • Ravinia, Mark. (1995). "State-Building and Political Economy in Early-Modern Japan", Journal of Asian Studies. 54.4.
  • Sansom, George Bailey. (1961). A History of Japan: 1334–1615. Stanford: Stanford University Press. ISBN 978-0-8047-0525-7
  • __________. (1963). A History of Japan: 1615–1867. Stanford: Stanford University Press. ISBN 978-0-8047-0527-1

External links[edit]

Media related to Uesugi clan at Wikimedia Commons