JAPANESE SAMURAI / KURODA Kanbee

OCTOBER 2021 (VOL. 168)

黒田官兵衛 KURODA Kanbee

1546 – 1604

Genius Strategies Gained the Trust from Three Greatest Leaders of Japan

Kanbee the Strategist

A strategist is the brain of the troop who carefully considers strategies and directs battles for victory.  Kuroda Kanbee is recognized as the best strategist among many other strategists, for he was working under the three most famous warlords in Japanese history, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu, who aimed to unite the whole country.  In particular, Toyotomi Hideyoshi spent time with Kanbee the most, and he was the warlord who first succeeded to unite Japan.  Another reason why Kanbee is famous and popular is that he had a personal magnetism.  Unlike many other men at the time, Kanbee did not have concubines while he only loved his wife.  He also liked enjoying Japanese cultural activities, such as poetry and tea parties, while also having faith as a Christian.

Kanbee as a Kid

Kanbee was born in 1546.  When he was 13 years old, he lost his mother, and became obsessed with studying and martial arts to escape his sadness.  He grew into a smart, wise, and strong man.  At the age of only 15, Kanbee started to serve the warlord, Kodera Masamoto.  The following year, Kanbee participated in the war for the first time with his father, and defeated the local samurai group.  Then, he married his master, Kodera’s niece, named Teru.  He became the owner of Himeji Castle.

Noticed Oda Nobunaga’s Talent Earlier Than Anybody

Kanbee’s hometown, Himeji was sandwiched between two major Japanese powers, Oda Nobunaga and Mouri.  As Nobunaga had won the big war, Kanbee thought highly of Nobunaga’s talent and potential.  Kanbee recommended his lord, Kodera to take Nobunaga’s side.  At this time, Kanbee met Nobunaga for the first time, and the two hit it off right away thanks to the introduction of Hideyoshi Toyotomi, who was serving Nobunaga.  And then one day, Kanbee beat Mouri’s 5,000 soldiers with only 500 soldiers.  He put up a large number of flags that had Nobunaga’s symbols printed on them to get Mouri to think that the Nobunaga soldiers were larger than actually were.  Kanbee attacked back when Mouri flinched for Nobunaga’s flags.  This event was a very famous story that made the world aware of the strength of Kanbee’s smart strategy.

Became Crippled in a Prison

In 1578, a daimyo named Murashige rebelled against Nobunaga.  Kanbee’s lord, Kodera, also followed Murashige, so Kanbee went and stopped them right while Murashige and Koreda were planning to kill Kanbee.  Although he was not assassinated, he became imprisoned for a year.  Furthermore, because Kanbee suddenly disappeared, Nobunaga misunderstood that as Kanbee betraying him, so they didn’t help Kanbee out of prison.  When Kanbee was rescued from prison, he lost his hair, and his legs became crippled that he couldn’t walk normally.  Kanbee’s lord, Kodera had been destroyed by the time Kanbee was back.  Kanbee lost everything, and he changed his name and officially became a vassal of Nobunaga.

Unification of Japan

As a part of the Nobunaga Clan, Kanbee participated in numerous wars with Hideyoshi.  Hideyoshi respected Kanbee so much because his strategies led the team to victory all the time.  In 1582, Nobunaga was killed by Akechi Mitsuhide at Honnoji Temple.  Kanbee told Hideyoshi, who was in deep grief and despair from losing the Lord, “This is a great opportunity for you (Hideyoshi) to take over Nobunaga’s position.”  With Kanbee, Hideyoshi kept bringing about the wars and steadily expanded his domain.  About eight years before Hideyoshi died, he finally unified the entire country, Japan, which Nobunaga couldn’t achieve.

If Kanbee Had Too Much Power…

Hideyoshi had great trust in Kanbee from when they were working together under Nobunaga until they achieved the unification of Japan, but at the same time, he was afraid of Kanbee.  Hideyoshi once told his subordinates, who were discussing who would hold the reign of Japan after Hideyoshi died, that Kanbee would hold it even while Hideyoshi was alive.  He saw Kanbee as the most powerful weapon, which meant that Kanbee could be a most dangerous person to Hideyoshi if they became an enemy.  Kanbee was given land in Kyushu (south area of Japan) all the time so he was always kept away from Osaka, the political center of the country.  That was because it would have been dangerous for the Toyotomi clan if Kanbee had had too much power.

Kanbee’s One Last Job of His Life

In 1600, two years after Hideyoshi’s death, the Battle of Sekigahara, one of the biggest battles in Japanese history, took place to decide the next top power of Japan.  In this war, Kanbee participated in battles in the Kyushu area.  He even used his own property and contributed to Tokugawa Ieyasu’s victory.  Ieyasu wanted to give Kanbee land as a reward, but Kanbee refused them and chose to retire instead.  In 1604, Kanbee died in Kyoto when he was 59 years old.

Kanbee Had an Ambition of Taking Over Japan

As a strategist, Kanbee had served to lords obediently, led many wars to the victories, and witnessed the unification of the world.  However, Kanbee couldn’t execute his plan of taking over Japan.  In the Battle of Sekigahara, Kanbee conquered most towns in Kyushu, and he was going to proceed further toward the center of Japan.  However, the battle was settled in just a day, so Kanbee’s ambition never came true.  In a letter, Kanbee wrote to a friend that “If the battle continued for another month, I would have attacked the next area and fight brilliantly, but then the war ended too early, so I couldn’t do anything.”