Kato Kiyomasa

Kato Kiyomasa 加藤 清正

Kato Kiyomasa (1562-1611) was a distant cousin of Toyotomi Hideyoshi and served as one of Hideyoshi's most trusted generals in campaigns in both Japan and Korea.

Kiyomasa had the reputation as a fierce warrior, dedicated to the arts of war, with little time for the pursuit of artistic pleasure, unlike Hideyoshi, his patron. Not for him the tea ceremony and the recitation of poetry, which he is believed to have forbidden in his presence.

However, Kiyomasa was a noted designer of castles and re-built both Kumamoto Castle and played a large part in the construction of Nagoya Castle for Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616).

Kato also built a number of fortresses in Korea during the Imjin War (1592-1598) - Hideyoshi's vainglorious and failed attempts to conquer Korea and China. These include a castle in Ulsan, where he was to enjoy one of his most glorious battles against a far larger force of Korean and Chinese troops.

Kato Kiyomasa.
Kato Kiyomasa
Kato Kiyomasa.
Statue of Kato Kiyomasa at Myogyo-ji Temple, Nagoya

Early Life

Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598) and Kato Kiyomasa are both believed to have been born close to each other in what is now Nakamura-ku, in the west of Nagoya, in Aichi Prefecture, central Japan, an area that produced a number of notable warriors in the Sengoku ("Warring States") period of Japanese history.

Toyokuni Shrine, in Nakamura Park, is thought to be the area near where the two men were born. Myogyo-ji Temple, east of Nakamura Park, is claimed to be site of Kiyomasa's birth and he later had the temple reconstructed from wood left over from his work on Nagoya Castle. Kiyomasa was of lowly stock and his father, who died, when he was a child, may have been a blacksmith.

Kiyomasa entered Hideyoshi's service as a 15 year old and saw action at the Battle of Yamazaki (1582), where Hideyoshi defeated Akechi Mitsuhide, the murderer of his own lord, Oda Nobunaga and later at the Battle of Shizugatake (1583) when Hideyoshi defeated the forces of his rival Shibata Katsuie. Kiyomasa's performance in this battle saw him become known as one of the "Seven Spears of Shizugatake" - Hideyoshi's most trusted commanders.

In 1586, Kiyomasa was to receive part of Higo Province from Hideyoshi, including Kumamoto Castle, as reward for his loyal service.

Kato Kiyomasa.
Kato Kiyomasa's battle helmet, Hideyoshi and Kiyomasa Memorial Museum, Nakamura Koen, Nagoya
Kato Kiyomasa.
Statue of Kato Kiyomasa at Myogyo-ji Temple, Nagoya

War in Korea 1592-1598

In the 1590's Hideyoshi decided to attack Ming China through Korea from Kyushu in southern Japan. Maybe this strike overseas was a tactic to keep the warring daimyo (feudal lords) busy while Hideyoshi consolidated his hold over Japan or a sign that the great man was becoming more vain, deluded and over confident in his later years

Kato Kiyomasa was one of the three main generals entrusted to lead an army of 100,000 Japanese samurai into Korea. Forces that were to lay waste to large parts of the country in an orgy of destruction. The noses of slain Korean soldiers and civilians were brought back to Japan to quantify how the campaigns were progressing and a mound of these body parts can still be seen at Mimizuka (Ear Mound) in Kyoto. Indeed, Kiyomasa was much feared by his enemies who branded him a "devil."

Ultimately the campaigns in Korea were unsuccessful and Hideyoshi's armies were forced to withdraw by a joint force of Chinese ground troops and the Korean navy. It is said that Kiyomasa, along with other samurai generals, diverted themselves with tiger hunts during breaks in the fighting.

Kiyomasa The Man

Kiyomasa was a fervent Nichiren Buddhist and was also violently opposed to the spread of Christianity in Japan. He allowed his men no mercy even against Christian women and children. He had a hatred for fellow daimyo Konishi Yukinaga, a Christian, who held the neighboring fief in Kumamoto and with whom Kato served in Korea.

During the campaign in Korea, Kiyomasa also became an enemy of Ishida Mitsunari. During the show down between Tokugawa Ieyasu and Ishida Mitsunari, after Hideyoshi's death, Kiyomasa kept his forces in Kyushu and did not participate in the Battle of Sekigahara (1600). For his loyalty Kiyomasa was rewarded with Konishi's lands, as Konishi had fought at Sekigahara on the side of Ishida Mitsunari and was executed after the battle.

In later life Kiyomasa tried to mediate between Tokugawa Ieyasu and Toyotomi Hideyori, Hideyoshi's only son. However, he fell ill on the way home to Kumamoto, possibly poisoned, after an attempt to reconcile the two parties in 1611, and died.

Kiyomasa was buried at Honmyo-ji temple in Kumamoto. Personal effects of both Hideyoshi and Kiyomasa are on display at the Hideyoshi and Kiyomasa Memorial Museum in Nagoya.

Hideyoshi and Kiyomasa Memorial Museum, Nakamura Koen, Nagoya.
Kiyomasa's hand print, Hideyoshi and Kiyomasa Memorial Museum, Nakamura Koen, Nagoya

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