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History Yamana Clan


In the Muromachi Period (1336-1467), the Yamana clan (山名氏 Yamana-shi) was one of the most powerful samurai families of Japan. The Yamana held the position of shugo (military governors of the shōgun) over eleven provinces. At the peak of their power in the early Muromachi Period, they were called Rokubun-no-ichi-dono (六分一殿, the Lords of One-Sixth), as they ruled over 11 out of 66 provinces in Japan.

The Yamana traced their lineage back to the Seiwa Genji and Minamoto no Yoshishige (源義重, 1135-1202), the primogenitor of the Nitta branch of the Minamoto clan. They hailed from Kōzuke Province (上野国 Kōzuke-no kuni) in modern-day Gunma Prefecture and took their name from a local village. Later, they were vassals (御家人 gokenin) of Minamoto no Yoritomo (源 頼朝, 1147-1199), the founder and first shōgun of the Kamakura bakufu. They transferred to Inaba Province, present-day Tottori Prefecture, in the 12th century.

Yamana Tokiuji (山名時氏, b. 1372) fought alongside Ashikaga Takauji in the Battle of Takenoshita and the Kyushu campaign (1336) and helped establish the Ashikaga shogunate. It was under the Ashikaga that the Yamana extended their influence most. When Yamana Moroyoshi (山名師義, d. 1376), Tokiuji's eldest son, was refused Wakasa Province by the new shōgun Yoshiakira, Tokiuji and Morpyoshi rebelled against the Ashikaga. Both of them later renewed their allegiance to the Ashikaga and shaved their heads to become monks.

In the 1390s, members of the Yamana clan again turned against the shogunate. Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, jealous of the Yamana's influence, had just waited for an opportunity to curb their power. When the Yamana attacked Kyōto, Yoshimitsu defeated them with the help of Isshiki Akinori and Hatakeyama Motokuni. Their estates were divided, and they were only allowed to keep the provinces of Tajima and Hōki.


Yamana Sōzen, as depicted by Utagawa Kunisada (1852)

The most prominent member of the clan is without doubt Yamana Sōzen (山名宗全, 1404-1473), known as Yamada Mochitoyo (山名持豊) before attaining priesthood. He inherited the family domains of Tajima, Inaba and Hōki in 1435 and, in 1441, was rewarded for his services to the shōgun with the province of Harima. He was also known as the "red monk", for his complexion as well as his "rages and tantrums" (Steven Turnbull). Under Sōzen, the Yamana, together with the Hatakeyama and the Hosokawa, played an essential role in the shogunate.

Ironically, Hosokawa Katsumoto (細川勝元, 1430-1473), a kanrei (shogunal deputy) and Sōzen's son-in-law, was also his fiercest enemy. When the two disagreed over the appointment of the shōgun's successor, their conflict escalated into warfare. The Ōnin War (1467-1477) lasted for ten years and resulted not only in the destruction of Kyōto and the downfall of the Ashikaga shogunate, but also the rise of local warlords and another century of civil war during the Sengoku Period.

During the civil war, the Yamana lost most of their land holdings along with their former power and influence. Yamana Toyokuni (山名豐國, 1548-1626) was governor of Inaba and resided at Tottori Castle. He resisted Toyotomi Hideyoshi obstinately but had to submit to his authority in 1580. Hideyoshi granted him two districts of Inaba as domain, but Toyokuni gave them to his retainers. Legend has it that Tokugawa Ieyasu once told Toyokuni that he was no longer eminent: "Your forefathers ruled one-sixth of Japan, and you lost everything". To which Toyokuni replied firmly: "It is just as you say, but I want to be Lord of one-hundredth at least."


Yamana Toyokuni

The Yamana remained at Muraoka in Inaba during the Tokugawa Period (1603-1867) and after the Meiji Restoration received the title of Baron (男爵 danshaku) under the Kazoku (華族) system.


  • Papinot, E., Historical and Geographical Dictionary of Japan, Tuttle 1972
  • Turnbull, Steven, The Samurai - A Military History, Routledge 1996
  • 小川信『山名宗全と細川勝元』 人物往来社、1966年。
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Hiroto Uehara
Hiroto is an ordinary Japanese office worker, but his true mission is searching for castles on the weekend.


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