毛利元就 MOURI Motonari

1497 – 1571

A Ruthless Tactician and Clever Samurai

Naosuke, a Late Bloomer

In the Sengoku Period, also known as the Warring States Period where various samurai warlords and clans fought against each other for control over Japan in the power vacuum, all seas and mountains in the Chugoku Region were in one guy’s hand – Mouri Motonari, a wise and clever samurai.  Even today, he is known as one of the most popular Sengoku warriors and strategists that ever existed, often depicted as an intelligent character in Japanese history games.

Poor Motonari

Motonari was born in “Aki no Kuni” (Hiroshima Prefecture) as the second son of the Mouri family.  His father was a mayor who ruled a small country.  The Mouri clan was always in extreme danger as they did not have a strong army.  Motonari had lost his father from alcoholism and his mother by the time he turned the age of 10.  Motonari had a vassal supervisor to take care of him for he had lost both of his parents at an early age; however, the vassal betrayed Motonari, and he kicked Motonari out from the Mouri castle.  Motonari had to survive a poor life in a small hut.  Fortunately, his stepmother had mercy on him and helped him.  Later in his life, he stated, “She raised me and taught me many things while she was still young.  I was able to live, clinging to her.”  It has been made clear that he has always cherished this woman like a real mother.

Motonari Wins His First War

After the vassal who betrayed Motonari to take over the castle died, Motonari returned to live in the castle again at 16 years old.  Motonari felt relieved and excited to live peacefully but only for a short time until his older brother died.  Like their father, his death was caused by alcohol as well.  The Mouri clan went through the losses of two lords, Motonari’s father and brother.  The next lord left of the Mouri clan was the son of Motonari’s brother, who was still a two-year-old baby.  In this unstable situation, the Mouri clan was attacked by a neighboring warlord.  At the time, everyone assumed that the Mouri clan was over, but Motonari won the war and saved the Mouri clan.  Despite Motonari having only half the number of warriors as the enemy’s and this being the first war he has fought in, he was able to lead the clan to victory with a clever strategy – luring enemies out and attacking with bows all at once.  Motonari became famous as a wise strategist after this win.

Becoming the Leader of the Mouri Clan

Many strong powers surrounded Motonari’s country.  In particular, the two major powers were held by the “Ouchi clan”, who flourished financially from a trading business, and the “Amago clan”, who held immense military power.  Other than these two, small countries like the Mouri clan had to decide which clan to be under, Ouchi or Amago.  The Mouri clan had originally been with the Ouchi clan, but were under the Amago clan when the lord of the Mouri clan died and it was finally Motonari’s turn to become the top of the Mouri clan.  The Amago clan, a huge force that everyone was afraid of, feared Motonari being the lord because they knew of Motonari’s cleverness, so they attempted every tactic to intervene with this.

Eventually, Motonari left the Amago clan to serve the Ouchi clan instead, and he became the top of the Mouri clan.  Changing the clans was a necessary decision to survive in the era.  Some people in the Ouchi clan did not accept Motonari, but he worked steadily and sent letters saying that he will do his best to his people to gain credibility.

The Battle with The Brother

Complex family structures were common in this era.  The rules and orders of getting the right to become the leader of the family(clan) were decided in detail, which usually caused family troubles, betrayals, and wars.  Family feud brewed in the Mouri clan as well when the leader position was given to Motonari.  There was a group of people that supported Motonari’s younger brother, Mototsuna.  They believed Mototsuna should have become the lord of the Mouri clan, and thus attacked Motonari.  Motonari and Mototsuna had been on good terms for a long time, but Motonari had to fight back to avenge his own younger brother.  Motonari’s victory led to Mototsuna’s death, which is what Motonari suffered greatly from in his remaining life, leaving a deep wound in his heart.

Motonari is a Ruthless Tactician 

As time passed, Motonari, the head of the Mouri clan, wanted to be independent of the Ouchi clan.  He started to gain over the neighboring powers around him to get bigger and stronger.  He not only started wars to win small countries to be on his side but also forced the marriage of convenience.  He made his daughters get married to important clans’ sons, and sent his sons as adopted children of influential warlords to invade.  He also had people submit a pledge to serve him with good faith and killed all his rebellious clans.  These strategies are the reasons why people call Motonari “a Ruthless Tactician”.  Motonari expanded his power rapidly, and he finally succeeded in beating the Amago clan.

30,000 VS 5,000

While Motonari was still serving the Ouchi clan, Mr. Ouchi got assassinated by his vassal.  Motonari saw this as a big opportunity, and he plundered Mr. Ouchi’s territory.  Moreover, he planned to attack the man who assassinated Mr. Ouchi to have no enemies left in the Chugoku Region.  Mouri had 5,000 armies while his enemy had 30,000, so Mouri had to use his wisdom to create a great strategy, and he decided to attempt an internal division to the enemy.  The enemy was completely trapped by Motonari’s plan and ended up greatly lacking army power.

One day, Mouri predicted that the enemy would attack soon, so he suddenly attacked first when the enemies were not ready yet.  Motonari won this war.  He was 61 years old when he finally became a great daimyo.

Three Arrows

Motonari desired that his three sons work together to protect the Mouri clan.  He even had written a three-meter long scroll rulebook that stated for his sons to cooperate with each other.  During his last days, Motonari gathered his sons to teach the last lesson.  He made them break an arrow first.  Then, he handed them a bundle of three arrows and challenged them to break it, but the arrows did not break no matter how hard they tried.  Finally, Motonari told his sons, “One will break easily, but three are hard to break.  You three should use the bond and work together.”  Motonari wanted his sons to work together and help each other because he suffered through the worst experience of killing his brother.  Each of his second and third sons controlled the mountains and the seas.  With the flawless joint formation of the two forces supporting the Mouri clan, they successfully invaded the great Chugoku region.  Motonari died at the age of 75.