Hosokawa Fujitaka (Yusai) and the Armistice to Save Poetry

Hosokawa Family Crest

Daimyo Hosokawa Fujitaka was the only samurai who asked for an armistice in the middle of battle to save an irreplaceable commentary and his poetry collection. It contained twenty-one hand-written imperial anthologies and an exceptionally rare copy of The Tale of Genji. Hosokawa heard of his daughter-in-law Hosokawa Gracia’s tragic death after Ishida Mitsunari took her as his hostage. Immediately, Hosokawa called his retainers to prepare to attack Ishida’s forces. At Tanabe Castle, he had 500 men and Ishida arrived with 1,500. The following is an account by Historian A. L. Sadler in The Maker of Modern Japan: The Life of Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu: “Several of the enemy generals had been Fujitaka’s students, and their attacks were very half-hearted. They omitted to put their projectiles into their guns before firing because they were more in sympathy with Hosokawa than Ishida.”

Fujitaka, who was a respected poet with the pen name Yusai was the only living person at that time who was in possession of the hand-written poetry commentary and concordance to decipher the 600 year-old Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern (Kokinshu). The possibility of Yusai’s death caused unprecedented concern about the secret teachings of the commentary for the first imperial anthology of waka poetry. Even the emperor heard about the predicament at Tanabe Castle.

According to Museum Director Takeuchi Jun’ichi in the Lords of the Samurai: The Legacy of a Daimyo Family, “In the midst of defending the castle, Yusai negotiated to have a portion of the commentary sent with his poetry collection to a prince by a specially dispatched ‘armistice envoy.’” Soon after the prince handed the commentary to the emperor. It was most likely that these valuable possessions were transported in a wagon of oxen for the trip from the castle to the emperor in Kyoto with a bodyguard of samurai accompanying them. Next, the emperor asked Yusai to surrender his castle, but he refused. At the end of this incident, the emperor issued an edict for peace and the battle at Tanabe Castle ended.

The Hosokawa Family Legacy and the Eisei-Bunko Museum

As daimyo, Hosokawa Yusai and his son Tadaoki served under all three military leaders who unified Japan: Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu. Yusai was both the most respected waka (now called tanka) poet and linked verse renga poet of his day among the military elite. In addition, he was a connoisseur of Noh Theater and the Tea Ceremony. His son, Tadaoki, Gracia’s husband, became one of the leading Tea Ceremony masters to study under the renowned Sen no Rikyu. According to Deborah Clearwaters, in Lords of the Samurai, “With the gradual cessation of warfare beginning in the early 1600s, the primary responsibilities of the samurai became less military and more administrative; as a result, more time could be devoted to educational and artistic pursuits for pure pleasure.”

Tadaoki and Gracia’s son Tadatoshi followed in the footsteps of his grandfather and father and became proficient in the Tea Ceremony and performed in Noh Theater. He was also a connoisseur of paintings and invited the legendary swordsman and painter Miyamoto Musushi to retire at his home. All in all, the Hosokawa family has existed for 700 years. The 18th head of the family is former Prime Minister Hosokawa Morihiro, who is now a renowned as a ceramics specialist. The Hosokawa Family Collection at the Eisei-Bunko Museum in Tokyo, includes armor, swords, paintings, calligraphy, tea utensils, Noh robes and other art objects, but not the famed commentary that Yusai protected and bequeathed to a prince.


Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. “Foreword: Warriors and the Literary Arts,” Lords of the Samurai: The Legacy of a Daimyo Family, San Francisco: Asian Art Museum – Chong-Moon Lee Center for Art and Culture, 2009.

Sadler, A. L. The Maker of Modern Japan: The Life of Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, Tokyo, Japan: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1937, 1986.


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