The spears of Katō Kiyomasa

I have introduced Katō Yoshiaki – one of the so-called “Seven Spears of Shizugatake” – in this story. Another of those shichi-hon yari was Katō Kiyomasa (加藤清正, 1562-1611), who in turn was introduced in chapter 14.*1 Tradition says that Kiyomasa wielded in the Battle of Shizugatake a Shimosaka-school (下坂) jūmonji-yari (十文字槍), a cross-shaped yari which looks very similar to a partisan. Kihara Tateomi (木原楯臣, 1805-1868), a samurai of Higo´s Kumamoto fief (熊本藩) and an expert on court etiquette, depicts in his work Tōken Zusetsu (刀剣図説) a drawing of this jūmonji-yari (see picture below). According to Kihara, the piece was later in the possession of the Nakagawa family (中川), the lords of Oka Castle (岡城) in Bungo province. The signature of the piece in question reads: “Shimosaka-jū ?? – Katō Toranosuke” (下坂住◯◯・ 加藤虎介).


jūmonji-yari of Katō Kiyomasas from the former possessions of the Nakagawa family, nagasa of the central blade 26.0 cm

Toranosuke (虎之助) – Kihara quotes the signature without the particle no (之) – was the first name Kiyomasa used until he received the honorary title Kazue no Kami (主計頭) in Tenshō 13 (天正, 1585). This means that the jūmonji-yari must have been forged before that year. Unfortunately, the signature is illegible after “Shimosaka-jū,” but there is another ōmi-yari (大身槍) preserved in Kumamoto´s Honmyō-ji (本妙寺) whose provenance says that it was also worn by Kiyomasa during the Battle of Shizugataka. This yari has a blade length of 53.0 cm and bears the signature “Shimosaka-jū Kanemitsu” (下坂住兼光). So it is possible that the jūmonji-yari too goes back to the hand of this smith. But there remains a certain problem, namely that the eldest Shimosaka smith with the name Kanemitsu who is found in the records worked around Kan´ei (寛永, 1624-1644), i.e. considerably later than Shizugatake. In short, the signature on both yari have to be treated with caution.


Portrait of Katō Kiyomasa.


The statue in front of the Honmyō-ji with his katakama-yari.

Let us now turn to Kiyomasa’s career as a warrior. In the Edo-period chronicle on his life Kiyomasa Ki (清正記) it is mentioned that he fought his first battle at the age of 20 (according to the Japanese way of counting years). This was an attack on Tottori Castle (鳥取城) in the ninth year of Tenshō (天正, 1581). The chronicle says that he did a good job with his hankyū (半弓, a smaller bow) and his katana. Interestingly, the Kiyomasa Ki mentions that Kiyomasa wore a jūmonji-yari in his very next battle, which was against Bitchū´s Kanmuriyama Castle (冠山城), in the spring of Tenshō ten (1582). During the attacks on Ise´s Kameyama Castle (亀山城) the following year (1583), Hideyoshi promoted him to his vanguard as a kind of baptism of fire. Kiyomasa was confronted with a line of teppō which he approached sideways, mounted and wielding a 3 m yari to push down the barrels from a distance. Doing so, he quickly brought the tip of his spear back to a striking position and pierced the enemy commander Ōmi Shinshichi (近江新七) through his shoulder.

Some years after the Battle of Shizugatake, to be more precise in the 17th year of Tenshō (1589), Katō Kiyomasa was ordered to Kyūshū where some uprisings had started after Hideyoshi had stabilized the situation somewhat earlier. In a skirmish he faced the Higo general Kimura Danjō Masachika (木山弾正正親, ?-1589). The Kiyomasa Ki says that Kiyomasa bore a jūmonji-yari, Danjō a bow. Because the weapons were obviously unequal, Kiyomasa suggested to duel with swords and slowly lowered his spear. But when Danjō laid aside his bow, Kiyomasa quickly grasped his yari again with both hands and killed him. The chronicle says that a tip of his spear broke during this incident, which actually transformed the piece into a so-called katakama-yari (片鎌槍).

According to the Buhenbanashi Kikigaki (武辺咄聞書), Kiyomasa later offered the damaged spear to the shrine which was erected on the Bukkizaka (仏木坂), the hill on which the “duel” took place. It is said that the jūmonji-yari was a work of Shizu Saburō Kaneuji (志津三郎兼氏) and that the scabbard was covered with bear fur over the area of the main blade and with black wool (rasha, 羅紗) at the tips.

But there exists another version of this tradition where Danjō wrestled Kiyomasa down onto his shoulders and started to cut off his head. When his men reached the peak of the Bukizaka they could not grasp the situation because of the dust the two fighters had whirled up. One of them shouted “Milord, are you the one on top or the one on the ground?” Kiyomasa made use of Danjō´stutter and answered first: “I am the one on the ground!” And so it came – according to that version of the tradition – that Danjō on the top was killed by his own men.

Well, the later version of the Kiyomasa chronicle called Zokusen Kiyomasa Ki (続撰清正記) says that Danjō challenged Kiyomasa with an ōmi-yari but that it was easy for the latter to keep Danjō in check with the lateral blade of his katakama-yari. The document mentions that the blade bent during the fight but Kiyomasa was later able to bring it back to its original position on an azalea trunk before he killed the oncoming enemies. Another publication, the Kawasumi Taikō Ki (川角太閤記) – which is an early Edo-period collection of anecdotes about Hideyoshi – writes that Kiyomasa’s yari was old and that it became loose at the kuchigane (口金), the metal collar at the upper end of the shaft. And, with the force of the enemy blows, the entire blade section eventually broke off from the tang.

Legendary of course is also Katō Kiyomasa’s tiger hunt with a katakama-yari during the Korean campaigns. Before I introduce the latter piece I present on the following pages some interpretations by various artists of this famous subject.


The tiger hunt, after Tsukioka Toyotoshi (月岡芳年, 1839-1892)


The tiger hunt, after the 2nd gen. Utagawa Kunitsuna (歌川国綱, 1829-1874)


The tiger hunt, after Utagawa Yoshiiku (歌川芳幾, 1833-1904)

A theory says that the katakama-yari Kiyomasa used in Korea was originally a jūmonji-yari of which a tiger bit off one of the lateral blades. But the piece preserved today in the Tōkyō National Museum (see picture below) clearly proves, because of its forging structure and hardening, that it had always been a katakama-yari. With the marriage of Kiyomasa´s fifth daughter Yasohime (八十姫, 1601-1666)*2 to Tokugawa Yorinobu (徳川頼宣, 1602-1671) the blade went as a dowry into the Kii branch of the Tokugawa. Together with the yari the larger of the two tiger skulls brought back by Kiyomasa from Korea (see picture below) also went into the possession of the Kii-Tokugawa. The smaller one was presented to the Abe family (阿部).


Kiyomasa´s katakama-yari (Tōkyō Natioal Museum).


The two extant tiger skulls.

Another part of this dowry was a blade by master smith Horikawa Kunihiro (堀川国広, see picture below) which was worn by Kiyomasa himself. It bears therefore the nickname Katō-Kunihiro (加藤国広) and was sold at the beginning of the Shōwa era, i.e. the late 1920´s, by the Kii-Tokugawa. The buyer back then was baron Mitsui Takakimi (三井高公, 1895-1992). Today the blade is designated jūyō-bunkazai and is owned by Tōkyō´s Mitsui Memorial Museum (三井記念美術館).


jūyō-bunkazai, katana, mei “Kunihiro” (国広), nagasa 69.4 cm, sori 1.8 cm

In the third month of the 16th year of Keichō (慶長, 1611), Tokugawa Ieyasu and Toyotomi Hideyori met in Nijō Castle (二条城), in Kyōto, to negotiate an agreement between both families. Katō Kiyomasa was invited to this gathering as one of the major advisers. When the negotiations again failed to conclude, Kiyomasa, tired and seeing his end near, approached Hideyori: “I have known you since you were in your mother´s womb. Now it is time to say goodbye, it is sad that this is the first time I show you my appreciation with this present!” He opened his bag and gave Hideyori a tantō in tears. Kiyomasa had probably realized that the conflict between Ieyasu and Hideyori would end in bloodshed, which was actually true when Ōsaka Castle was besieged three years later. On his journey home to Higo Kiyomasa became ill and died in Kumamoto on the 24th day of the sixth month of the same year.

The tantō he presented to Hideyori is still extant today (see picture below). It is a work of Osafune Sukesada and bears the signature: “Bishū Osafune Sukesada saku – Eishō jūsannen nigatsu-hi” (備州長船 祐定作・永正十三年二月日, “a day in the second month of Eishō 13 [1516]”). The blade is mounted with an unobtrusive and very tasteful koshirae. The lower half of the saya is interpreted as bamboo wickerwork (ajiro, 網代). The hilt is unwrapped, has a rough lacquer finish and shows menuki in the form of horsetail. Today this style of mounting is called Katō-kō-goshirae (加藤公拵) or Kiyomasa-goshirae (清正拵). The piece is owned by Higo´s Honmyō-ji in which Kiyomasa is buried and is preserved in the Kumamoto Prefectural Museum of Art (熊本県立美術館).


tantō, mei “Bishū Osafune Sukesada saku – Eishō jūsannen nigatsu-hi,” nagasa 21.6 cm


*1 Yoshiaki and Kiyomasa belonged to two different branches of the Katō and were not blood related.

*2 Her later name was Yōrin´in (瑤林院).

One thought on “The spears of Katō Kiyomasa

  1. Pingback: Seven Ashina Spears: Historical Influences – Video Games And Things I Write About Them

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