Pirates and Sea Tenure in the
Sixteenth Century Seto Inland Sea:żż
A Case Study of the Murakami kaizoku
University of Michigan
[Noshima Murakami Takeyoshi]
is called the Noshima Lord and is exceedingly powerful; on
these coasts as well as other provinces' coastal regions,
all are afraid of him and so every year send him tribute.1
The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries witnessed an expansion
of the maritime networks transmitting goods and culture within
the Japanese archipelago and between Japan and East and Southeast
Asia. To reach the ports of Hy╗go and Sakai, two of
the main termini in the Japanese archipelago that fed the
capital region, ships usually passed through the Seto Inland
the narrow body of water connecting the three main islands
of Honsh˛, Shikoku and Ky˛sh˛. This sea-based commercial
growth developed as centralized authority over the archipelago
Pirates of the Seto Inland Sea such as the powerful three
branches of the Murakami familyŃNoshima, Kurushima, and Innoshimatook
advantage of the chaotic decentralization to carve out maritime
domains for themselves. Through manipulation of competing
landed patrons3 as well as independent marauding and
extortion, pirates expanded their territories on the sea from
small fishing villages to formal and informal domains that
stretched across the Seto Inland Sea. The formal domain
represented the maritime territories to which pirate lords
held formal title such as fishing villages, toll barriers,
and ports. The informal domain reflected the reach
of a pirate band's reputation and influence beyond the formal
domain. The extent of the informal domain fluctuated
depending on the possible range of ships and the level of
terror instilled by the possibility of violent reprisal.
I will explore the formal and informal nature of piratical
sea-tenure through a two-part case study of the well-documented
Murakami family. The first part examines epistemologies
of maritime violence in medieval Japan and analyzes pirates
with a sea-centered, social-ecological perspective. The second
part investigates the nature of piratical sea-tenure through
an exploration of how the Murakami pirates administered their
formal and informal domains.
Categories of Pirates in late-Medieval Japan:
The term I translate as pirate, kaizoku (),
is a representational noun used in a variety of ways by landed
elites to refer to practitioners of maritime violence. The
term refers to those who performed unsanctioned, violent activities
such as the extortion of protection-money from passing ships
at toll barriers and assaulted shipping. But the word
kaizoku also encompasses pirates who entered into patronage
agreements to operate toll barriers, escort ships, fight sea
battles, launch night raids and sneak attacks, and take captives
for sale as slaves. Warrior law codes from the Kamakura through
the Sengoku period outlawed kaizoku, while at the same
time these same law-dispensing institutions employed mariners
they called kaizoku for a variety of maritime functions.
As in the case of the Murakami family, the term kaizoku
can also refer to the local elite warrior leaders of the seafaring
bands. Increasing acceptance of patronage offers
from landed powers earned some pirate bands in western Japan
like the Murakami families the designation "protection-duty
bands" (keigosh˛, ).4
Institutions that sponsored pirates included a range of land-based
institutions including temple-complexes like T╗ji and warlords,
though by the sixteenth century, warlords made up the majority
of those offering patronage opportunities to pirates.
Sponsorship suited both landed elites and pirates alike. The
pirates hoped to gain further control of essential strategic
maritime locations and additional license to engage in aggrandizing
activities such as attacking shipping and extorting fees for
safe passage. Landed patrons such as warlords hoped
to acquire indirect control of remote maritime regions that
might otherwise have escaped their grasp.5 This mutually beneficial
relationship allowed pirates to extend their domain on the
sea further than if they remained independent maritime bands.
For instance, in the summer of 1582, the Noshima Murakami
pirates with M╗ri sponsorship 'legitimately' pillaged the
ships of the Kurushima Murakami (who had recently left M╗ri
patronage and become an 'enemy'), and expanded their holdings
to include Kurushima Murakami holdings on the island of Yashiroshima.6
The patron-pirate relationship was recorded in the land-based
language of retainership,7
but should be understood as having operated less as a hierarchy
than as a symbiosis. The patrons held higher status,
but because the patrons had no authority or expertise over
the sea, they needed the pirates to accomplish any sea-based
objectives. Pirates retained their autonomy and
the patrons' higher status allowed pirates to practice their
piratical activities legitimately, but pirates did not necessarily
become submissive to the landed power. Many pirate bands
felt free to ignore the dictates of their oaths and accept
alternate patronage offers.
Patronage was a continuum of attachment that bound pirates
and landed institutions together to varying degrees.
Some pirate bands refused all patronage offers while others
contentedly remained with a single sponsor their entire careers.
Often the pirates hired to suppress other pirates would become
the aggressors in turn, extorting and attacking seaside communities
in a continuing cycle of patronage and brigandage.8 Pirate bands like the Noshima Murakami retained
a strong sense of independence, entering into and quitting
patronage agreements, and manipulating competing landed factions
against each other. For example, between 1542
and 1582, the Noshima leapt back and forth among warlord families,
especially the K╗no in Iyo, the ąuchi and M╗ri in western
Honsh˛, the ątomo of northern Ky˛sh˛, and even considered
joining the first unifier, Oda Nobunaga. These
patronage trends conform to Fujiki Hisashi's classification
of pirates as mercenary 'irregulars' in medieval armies whose
actions were looked down upon by the elite samurai, but nonetheless
were regarded as indispensable.9
To counteract the weakness of these patronage ties, landed
sponsors sent to daughters to pirate lords to try to tighten
the bonds between patron and pirate through marriage alliances.10 On other occasions, sponsors held members of
the pirate-lord's family hostage11 to ensure 'good behavior.'
But for the most part, the initiative in accepting or refusing
sponsorship lay with the kaizoku.
The correspondence and other documentation that resulted from
this system of patronage created a corpus of materials that
has allowed the voices of pirates to survive. At the
same time, this patronage documentation was recorded in the
language of landed-institutions and often reflects solely
the interests of those land-based elites. Moreover, only those
pirates who entered into sponsorship relations remain significantly
in extant medieval records. At the remotest end of the
spectrum existed pirates who chose not to negotiate the patron-pirate
relationship. Without the link to the records of landed
institutions, these unsponsored pirates do not appear with
much detail in extant sources.
The resulting unevenness of extant sources coupled with the
ambiguity of terms used for maritime violence has caused historians
until recently to focus on kaizoku as either purely
seafaring criminals or as ship-owning warrior vassals.12 Recent scholarship by Amino
Yoshihiko, Sakurai Eiji, and others has begun to re-contextualize
pirates from two major perspectives. The first viewpoint
utilizes comparisons with mountain bandits (sanzoku)
and outlaws (akut╗) to understand pirates as a larger
social phenomenon of banditry in medieval Japan. The
second perspective and the one important for this paper re-envisions
piracy as part of a continuum of occupations of people who
made a living from the sea.13
This point of view suggests a social-ecological perspective
that examines occupations, control of resources, and ties
to networks of distribution and exchange to take into account
how seafarers and the maritime environment affected each other.14 A social-ecological framework
allows the historian to understand the distinctively sea-based
social, economic, and environmental context that pirates lived
and worked in.
From the view of the sea, people of the sea in medieval Japan
possessed a mastery of the knowledge and skills of seafaring
that fundamentally separated them from the landed populations
and enabled a highly mobile lifestyle. Without sufficient
maritime power of their own, landed powers competed to offer
the local warrior leaders of maritime communities patronage
opportunities in shipping, warfare, and pirate suppression.
Well aware of their advantage in the maritime realm, pirate
lords demanded legitimate title for sites and activities consistent
with their maritime domain.15 The lack of maritime expertise and concomitant
dependence on the seafaring population by landed institutions
only increased the illegitimacy of pirates and the maritime
population in the eyes of landed elites. Landed elites
regarded the littoral inhabitants as a breed apart, calling
them sea-people ().
With their status of local elite warriors, pirate lords ruled
over communities of these sea-people in their formal domain.
Pirate crews drew from the ranks of such fisherfolk, sailors,
shippers, harbormasters, and salt-makers. So in a sense
pirates fished, managed harbors, maritime commerce, and dealt
in countless other maritime occupations in addition to the
violent activities fitting into the rubric of kaizoku
and protection duty. The administration of maritime
labor created sea-based networks of sea-people that increased
the reach of pirates' reputations, their informal domain.
For example, the Noshima had no formal holdings in the port
of Akamagaseki, the western gates to the Inland Sea, but through
their patronage relationship with the M╗ri, the Noshima gained
administrative control over the Sak╗ family of harbormasters
in Akamagaseki.17 With their contacts in Akamagaseki, the
Noshima learned of what ships entered the Inland Sea and expanded
their influence through a network of sea-people.
Kaizoku inhabited a distinctly maritime realm. To
take advantage of their mastery of the maritime environment,
kaizoku of the Inland Sea based themselves in castles
on small mountainous islands and peninsulas that overlooked
the most traveled channels. Fortified control of these
islands and the possession of sufficient ships and mariners
gave the kaizoku the ability to strangle shipping lanes
with a network of fortifications and private toll barriers
located at various choke-points of the Inland Sea. The
pirates often selected islets near larger islands to secure
markets and provisions, and yet retain a position on the sea.18
For example, the island-bases of the Kurushima and Noshima
are both under a kilometer in circumference and lie among
larger islands and near the Shikoku mainland in the midst
of the swift currents that run between Honsh˛ and Shikoku
Despite the small size of most of these kaizoku bases,
the fortified, mountainous islands contained permanent settlements
and were fully capable of maintaining even the largest of
the late sixteenth-century turreted dreadnoughts, the atakebune,
often 30 meters in length with both sails and oars.20
Pirate lords controlled an array of sites of overlapping maritime
praxis within the formal domain such as fishing villages,
ports, and toll barriers. Japanese pirate bands
tended to be community-based, taking their name from their
lord and his putative site of origin. As local warriors,
pirate lords led a hierarchically structured band incorporating
family members, retainers, and conscripts and volunteers from
seaside villages under their control.21 Pirate leaders administered the formal
domain directly or by confirming retainers' rights to administer
these territories on their behalf.22 Not only territory,
but also toll-assessing rights within the formal domain were
fully heritable and kept within the lines of pirate lords.
Piratical influence radiated outward from this formal domain
to create the informal domain. The reputations of kaizoku
permeated via networks of patronage, commerce, and maritime
laborers and reflected the perceived effectiveness of a particular
band's toll barriers, protection-duty, and punitive might.
This paper investigates the administration of maritime domains
from three angles, the administration of littoral habitations,
the management of maritime labor, and the operation of toll
barriers and protection-duty.
To give an example, at the height of their power (c. 1583),
the formal domain of the Noshima Murakami kaizoku stretched
east to west (see map) from the Shiwaku islands, to parts
of Iwagishima and Ikinashima,23
to their home islands of Noshima and Mushishima, as well as
the Kutsuna and Futagami islands,24 part of Yashiroshima,25 Kaminoseki,26 Minogashima.27 As will be seen, from this formal domain, the
Noshima affected policies from the important port-city of
Sakai to the gates of the Inland Sea in the straits of Shimonoseki.28
Pirate Administration of littoral settlements
To aid in the administration of the formal domain, pirate
lords often issued law codes. Hokkenotsu Han'en issued
the following set of bylaws for the population of the tiny
island of Hiburi29 (see map) located off
the southwest coast of Iyo in 1576.
When performing duties for
on sea and land, they are to be performed according to our
Ó Ships entering or leaving
the harbor who wish to engage in commerce must receive permission
from the Harbor Council.
Ó Objects that are spotted drifting
or washing ashore are to be reported to the Harbor Council.
Tensh╗ 4  11th month, felicitous day
[From] Hokkenotsu Han'en
[To:] The Hiburi Islanders31
This short code demonstrates the degree to which pirates as
sea-peoples participated in a continuum of maritime activities
from protection-duty to commerce. When performing duties
for patrons, the bylaws of the pirate-lord and the pirate
band, not the patron dictated the performance of piratical
activities. The code regulated the commercial
intercourse of the island. Only by receiving permission
from the island's ruling council (probably by paying a fee)
could ships from outside using the harbor also engage in commercial
activities on the island. As potentially very valuable
items like whales and driftwood might wash ashore, the pirate
lord had first salvage rights. Consequently, the inhabitants
had to report any sighting of seaborne detritus.32
With its economic and strategic value as a harbor-bearing
island on the shipping routes, small settlements like Hiburi
eventually had no choice but to accept the overlordship and
bylaws of one or more competing pirate lords wielding their
authority as local warrior elites. The history
of Futagami Island in the Kutsuna island-chain epitomizes
the administrative situation that might develop as multiple
pirate-bands claimed lordship over the island (see map).33 Like other maritime
communities in Japan, the Futagami Island population lived
in settlements defined by maritime functionBay and HarborŃas
well as several production districts.34 Led by the Futagami kaizoku,
the inhabitants of the island fell under the suzerainties
of the Noshima, Kurushima, and other pirate families from
the early 1500's until the Noshima Murakami conquered Futagami
The Futagami kaizoku and island inhabitants served
as pirates, sailors, and corv■e labor in various pirate bands,
chiefly the Kurushima and Noshima.
Before the 1582 Noshima conquest, the Futagami inhabitants
served various pirate overlords and paid assorted seasonal
and corv■e proxy taxes. These pre-1582 pirate lords such as
the Kurushima Murakami as well as the Noshima extracted allotments
of agricultural and marine products such as summer wheat,
sea cucumbers, firewood, seaweed, oysters, and clams. Kurushima,
Noshima, and other pirate bands all dispatched agents to administer
their interests on the island and included privileges for
these agents as part of their taxation apportionment arrangements.
For example, the Kurushima Murakami agents received rights
to sea cucumbers harvested by the Harbor and Bay villagers.36
Trade in the products of the maritime environment such as
sea cucumbers, shellfish, fish, seaweed, as well as forestry
products like firewood and naval stores tied Futagami Island's
inhabitants and their extractive pirate overlords to the Inland
Sea's seaborne commercial networks. One of the most important
of these networks linked Futagami and other Inland Sea locales
to the religious center and flourishing markets located on
the island of Itsukushima. 37 (see map) The producers of Futagami
regularly sent rice, rice cakes, unglazed pottery, and many
kinds of alcohol to the shrine.38 The Futagami family assisted
the Kurushima Murakami pirates in providing protection-duty
for ships bound for seasonal festivals and markets on Itsukushima.39
Futagami's fish and shellfish either were consumed locally
or were salted for longer-distance trade. For
example, the Kurushima agents valued their sea cucumbers as
commodities as well as comestibles. In the spring of
1580, on behalf of the M╗ri, Noshima Murakami Takeyoshi entrusted
his Futagami retainers with the procurement of enough seafood
to victual his band. In return, the Futagami lord Taneyasu
sent nineteen rockfish to Murakami Takeyoshi as a gift.40 Warrior elites valued maritime produce
highly as gifts. Fish like bonito and sea bream brought
good fortune in battle to the recipient, so these fish were
often sent as presents to soldiers at the front.41 Warlords seeking
to gain advantage through the gift-economy of the warrior
class sought to bring pirates and seaside villages under their
Futagami Island was also blessed with large amounts of timber
resources. Yearly, it sent firewood to the Kurushima
Murakami and others as tax in kind.43
Many places throughout the Inland Sea specialized in salt
production in the medieval period, making firewood a very
highly valued resource. The Futagami also sent wood
to be used in shipbuilding. In 1579, Tokui Michiyuki,
a pirate-lord allied with the Noshima Murakami pirates, ordered
100 tree trunks for use in ship construction.44
Pirates such as the Kurushima and Noshima Murakami participated
in medieval maritime commerce through administration of the
sea-peoples in their formal domain.
In 1582, the Noshima Murakami arrogated total control of the
Kutsuna archipelago including Futagami Island after defeating
the Kurushima Murakami and driving them from the region.
Noshima Murakami Motoyoshi then issued this set of laws for
Laws for the Kutsuna Seven Islands
Ó The islands' inhabitants are
not to perform protection-duty.
Ó Coming and going by producers
in the service of retainers with holdings here is forbidden.
Ó When producers are crossing
the sea in any direction, it will be ruinous if they take
ship with retainers, so that is forbidden.
Ó When making crossings by ship
to perform services, conscripts and retainers of the various
islands are to go as far ąshima and Tsushima in both directions.
Ó There are to be no violations
of the aforementioned.
Tensh╗ 10 (1582) 4/25 Murakami Motoyoshi
To:] Kutsuna Temple and Shrine producers; Nuwa,
Tsuwachi, Futagami, Mutsuki45
Fully aware these islands contained a population of kaizoku
formerly under the dominion of multiple pirate overlords such
as the Kurushima Murakami, Noshima Murakami Motoyoshi restricted
the act of performing protection-duty to the Noshima Murakami
and their direct retainers. Because some Futagami fought
naval battles alongside the Kurushima against Noshima pirates
in 1582,46 Motoyoshi outlawed unsanctioned, independent action by kaizoku
in these islands to mitigate any possible return to the
Kurushima Murakami or other pirate band. Nor could the
Futagami or other Noshima retainers recruit producers (fisherfolk
and agriculturalists) into bands to attack ships or perform
Similar to other laws issued throughout Japan in the late
sixteenth century to keep farmers and other villagers from
joining warbands, Noshima Motoyoshi hoped to prevent fisherfolk
and other ship-owning sea-workers from turning pirate or joining
other pirate bands. He hoped to restrict them solely
to activities related to maritime production, and so preserve
the peace imposed by the Noshima conquest. Similarly,
the Noshima dictated the shipping route for Futagami transport
and shipping vessels to avoid sites of potential danger (see
map). The Tsushima-Iyo ąshima route to and from Noshima forced
a northerly detour away from the enemy base of Kurushima to
avoid possible conflicts and chances to perform unlicensed
piracy. Through edicts such as these, pirates sought
to stop the same processes that allowed their expansive growth.
Pirates and Maritime Labor
Pirate-lords levied corv■e proxy taxes on the Futagami inhabitants
when actual corv■e labor was not required. Pirates often
administered shipping and transportation organizations in
their formal and informal domains and recruited from sea-peoples
inhabiting islands in their formal domain to swell the size
of their crews with fishermen turned conscript-sailors.47
The most detailed evidence of Murakami pirate involvement
with shipping organizations comes from the Shiwaku Island
chain eastward from Futagami across the Inland Sea.
The Noshima valued Shiwaku primarily as a source of seafaring
labor, though the Shiwaku inhabitants also engaged in fishing
and salt-production.48 Luis Frois wrote in 1588, "Shiwaku is a
port famous throughout Japan and is a base for many ships,"49
requiring a large population of both mariners and harbor workers,
a perfect labor pool from which the Noshima Murakami pirates
could draw. The Noshima Murakami expanded into the Shiwaku
island chain in the early 1530's50
and incorporated the resident mariners into their pirate band.
While the Noshima recruited mariners from Shiwaku for a battle
on behalf of the M╗ri in 1567,51
the first extant evidence of Noshima Murakami administration
of Shiwaku's harbor-workers and shippers dates from 1570.
At that time, the Noshima Murakami had accepted the patronage
of a bitter rival of the M╗ri, ątomo S╗rin. As
the following letter from S╗rin states, the Noshima Murakami
provided maritime transportation services and protection-duty
between Shiwaku and Sakai:
─ [R]egarding the transport
of people to Sakai. I am very pleased at Your Mobilization
to perform protection-duty on the way there. I am also
overjoyed to have received exemption from the tolls at Shiwaku
Eiroku 13  2/13
[To:] Murakami Kamonnokami [Takeyoshi]52
As administrators of the port of Shiwaku, the Noshima charged
anchorage tolls at the port of Shiwaku, for which the legitimizing
patron (at this time ątomo S╗rin) received an exemption.
They arranged for the transport of people and goods as well
as protection-duty to ensure that the ships reached their
destinations safely, in this case the important port of Sakai.
Their responsibilities also included ensuring that the various
members of the shipping guilds did not quarrel over duties
as in this letter also from 1570:
There should be no
dispute regarding the shipping service for the trip to the
capital by Honda Jibunosh╗ Shizuhide─.
Eiroku 13 , 6/15
[To:] The Shiwaku Island Shippers53
Takeyoshi here orders the coastal shipping organizations
under his control in the Shiwaku Islands not to quarrel over
the rights to transport the ątomo retainer Honda Shizuhide
to the capital region. With their control over
the Shiwaku islands and other littoral locales, the Noshima
controlled the collection of harbor fees, the transport of
people and goods,54 and protection-duty for those
ships, a veritable monopoly of the shipping industry.
This expertise in the management of ports and ships allowed
pirates to extend their influence beyond their formal domains
to harbor-workers in other ports. In 1574, after assuming
the wardenship of Kaminoseki castle, 55
Noshima Murakami Takemitsu administered the activities of
the Sak╗, harbormasters in the port of Akamagaseki (modern-day
Shimonoseki), on behalf of Noshima's patron of the moment,
Regarding the investigation
and passage [of ships] at this toll barrier, you have inherited
this duty from Sak╗ Saemonnoj╗. As per your request,
the issue was discussed in council and it has been approved─.
Tensh╗ 2  11/3
From: Murakami Takemitsu (in Kaminoseki)
[To:] Sak╗ T╗tar╗56
The M╗ri delegated the administration of the Sak╗ to the
Noshima Murakami pirates to ensure that the Akamagaseki port
and toll barrier ran properly. In this document, the
Noshima add their validation to confirm the succession of
Sak╗ rights to operate the toll barrier of Akamagaseki.
This confirmation indicates that the Noshima oversaw the Sak╗'s
collection of harborage fees and inspection of ships that
passed through the port. Though the Noshima Murakami had no
direct control over the port of Akamagaseki, their administration
of harbormasters extended their informal domain and piratical
influence through a network of sea-people. As Akamagaseki
was the gateway to the Inland Sea from East Asian waters,
any ship engaged in overseas trade passing through the Inland
Sea entered the influence of the Noshima Murakami pirates
because of Murakami relations with the Sak╗.
Toll Barriers and Protection-duty
Toll barriers and the performance of protection-duty
represent the simplest form of piratical sea-tenure and came
to define the extent of kaizoku formal and informal
domains. The late sixteenth-century Japanese-Portuguese dictionary
specifically links pirates with the operation of toll barriers.57 Often under the pretext
of collecting money or goods for a local religious site, a
small seaside community like Noshima or Kurushima would supplement
income garnered from fishing or salt production by intercepting
passing ships and charge fees for safe-passage or the use
of their harbor.58
For example, in 1550, a traveling monk recorded that a pirate
known as "Toll Barrier Captain" charged safe-passage fees
called "ritual donations."59
Pirates found toll barriers especially effective means of
collecting income without destroying the source becauseas
in other pirate communities around the worldkaizoku
lived in a symbiotic relationship with mercantile shipping
and landed powers.60
Usually, only if the ships refused to pay did pirates attack
Pirates most often operated toll barriers to extort protection
money from passing ships for a guarantee of safety and personal
escort. In his history of the medieval toll barrier,
Aida Nir╗ described an overlapping typology of toll barriers
that served as sources of funding for religious institutions,
personal economic gain, and bases for police and military
action in the medieval period.61
Pirates took advantage of the medieval understanding of the
multipurpose nature of the toll barrier to force passersby
to pay for safe passage.
This protection duty fell into two categories: either pirate
lords would dispatch ships to guide and guard paying vessels
for a predetermined distance or pirates would board and travel
along with the paying vessel. In 1420, the Korean emissary
Song Hui Gyong recorded that two pirate bands had split the
Kamagari region of the Inland Sea between them. To traverse
safely from one side to the other, travelers had to pay for
a member of one gang to take them safely through the territory
of the other.62
Song's description demonstrates how toll barriers and the
performance of protection duty from the barriers defined both
the formal and the informal domain. Barriers might be
placed at a strategic site near the boundaries of a pirate
band's maritime territory. Sakurai argues that as kaizoku
operated toll barriers to charge safe-passage fees, the barriers
marked the transition from the world of the land to the dominions
of the people of the sea.63 Travelers reporting
their experiences at toll barriers and having to pay for protection
duty spread word of the pirates and increasing the reputation
of the band. As time passed, toll-barriers became hereditary
parts of the formal domain. A will of the Innoshima
Murakami family from 1483 contains a record for harbor tax
rights among a list of family holdings.64
Receipt of the right to levy tolls legitimately might induce
pirates to accept the patronage of one warlord over another
and expand both the formal and informal domains. In
1543, as part of his plan to gain control over the lucrative
trade with Ming China through dominion of the Inland Sea shipping
lanes, the warlord ąuchi Yoshitaka authorized the Noshima
Murakami to operate toll-barriers at strategic points such
as the religious-commercial center of Itsukushima. The
Noshima Murakami intercepted, inspected and assessed a safe-passage
toll upon the China-trade ships passing through the Inland
Sea determined by the amount of goods the ships carried.
The acquisition of privileges to conduct this legitimized
piracy swayed the Noshima Murakami to leave their patrons,
the K╗no family, in favor of the ąuchi, despite the fact that
the K╗no and ąuchi were embroiled in violent conflict at the
The influence of these toll-barriers extended far beyond actual
reach of the Noshima Murakami. The merchants of the
port-city of Sakai brought suit before the ąuchi lords complaining
that the Noshima toll-barrier impinged on their rights to
levy duties on China trade ships. Taking advantage of
their warrior status, the Noshima launched a counter-suit.
In the resulting compromise, the Sakai merchants recognized
Murakami rights to assess tolls on ships other than those
from southern Ky˛sh˛ which were the traditional preserve of
Noshima's acquisition of rights to assess tolls on the China
trade exemplifies how through manipulation of patronage networks,
the operation of toll barriers and the performance of protection
duty, Inland Sea pirates maneuvered themselves into not only
domestic shipping routes, but overseas trade networks as well.
Song Hui Gyong wrote in 1420 that after a search of their
hold, the Kamagari pirates let them go in favor of waiting
for more potentially lucrative ships from the Ry˛ky˛'s due
in the Inland Sea soon.66
Sources for Japan's tally trade with Ming China record several
instances in which the Muromachi Bakufu had its military governors
arrange for Inland Sea pirates to provide protection for the
tally ships en route in the Inland Sea and as far as Tsushima.67
Pirates also accrued great profit by operating toll-barriers
for warring patrons wishing to blockade parts of the Inland
Sea from enemy shipping as M╗ri Terumoto authorized in 1579.68
In 1581, a ship carrying the Jesuits Luis Frois and Alessandro
Valignano fell afoul of the Noshima Murakami who had used
the pretext of the blockade to stop the Jesuits at their Shiwaku
toll barrier. The Jesuits managed to escape from Shiwaku
and headed for the capital. But in the end, the Noshima
Murakami pirate ships surrounded the Jesuits just outside
the port of Sakai and forced them to pay 150 cruzados in coins
to ransom goods and two initiates the Noshima had captured
in the ensuing chaos.69
The Noshima Murakami pirates extended their formal and informal
domains to the extent that it became unnecessary for them
to send actual ships or pirates to accompany those vessels
paying for protection-duty at toll barriers. Beginning
in the 1560's and continuing through the mid-1580's, the Noshima
Murakami arrogated unto themselves what had previously been
a privilege reserved for the Imperial Court and warrior governmentsthe
issuance of passes of safe-conduct through the Seto Inland
Sea rendering the recipient immune from any further toll barriers.
In place of their members actually performing protection-duty
or escorting ships, the Noshima Murakami sold pennants with
their family seal emblazoned in the center (figure 1).70
Recipients would fly the flags at their mastheads to make
it clear to any ship that the bearer sailed under the paid
protection of the Noshima Murakami kaizoku and was
immune from any further toll barrier or other piratical interference
in the Noshima domain.
It is impossible to determine the prevalence of the passes,
but from the eight extant examples, recipients of these flags
hailed from all ends of the Inland Sea. Occupations
of those known to have received the flags run the full gamut
of maritime activities. The Noshima bestowed passes
upon other maritime lords such as the Mats˛ra of Hizen beyond
the Inland Sea in northwest Ky˛sh˛,71 harbor officials from the gates of the Inland
Sea at Akamagaseki as well as ports in Ky˛sh˛, the important
religious and commercial center of Itsukushima, shipping organizations
from Kii province, and travelers seeking safe passage such
as Jesuits. All of these parties recognized that without
the favor of the Noshima pirates, safe passage across the
Inland Sea was impossible. Unlike intercepting ships at toll
barriers and extracting payment with threat of force, the
Noshima often granted flags at the request of the party seeking
In 1586, even after Toyotomi Hideyoshi had pacified much of
Japan, Luis Frois recorded that a Noshima flag-pass was required
in order to pass unmolested through the Inland Sea.
The Jesuits sailed to Noshima and dispatched a Japanese member
of their group to ask for Noshima Murakami Takeyoshi's good
will and a pass of safe passage. Takeyoshi inquired
as to why they needed a pass if they had already obtained
the goodwill of the hegemon Hideyoshi. The messenger
repeated on the Jesuit's behalf that only Takeyoshi could
protect them on the sea (perhaps the Jesuits also wished to
avoid an embarrassment as befell them in 1581). Takeyoshi
acquiesced and bestowed upon them a silk pennant bearing his
family's crest. If they encountered a suspicious ship,
the Jesuits could pass safely by simply showing the flag.73 On the waterways of the
Inland Sea, Takeyoshi's authority transcended that of the
hegemon Hideyoshi; only the Noshima pirates could guarantee
the safety of any ship.
These flags represent the apex of the Noshima Murakami's informal
piratical domain, the reach of their reputation and influence.
Taking advantage of the sheer punitive force at their disposal,
their wide-ranging formal domain, and the networks of sea-people
created through the administration of maritime labor and commerce,
the Noshima Murakami made the promises of the flags a reality.
Potential travelers sought out the Noshima Murakami to ensure
safe passage, inherently recognizing Noshima pirate suzerainty
over the Inland Sea. The issuance of these safe-passage
flags also gave the Noshima Murakami legitimacy to their own
toll-barriers by equating them with legitimizing institutions
powerful in past ages such as the Imperial court and warrior
Sea routes converging on the Japanese archipelago brought
Japanese, Jesuit, and Korean travelers who wrote accounts
relating similar experiences: being forced by pirates to stop
and pay a toll to accept their protection to ensure a safe
journey across the Inland Sea. Regardless of whether
or not pirates operated with or without the sanction of elite
landed institutions, to travel the sea-road from the capital
to Ky˛sh˛ and back again required dealing with pirates. Completion
of unification by Hideyoshi required the eradication of such
independent sea-based power. Only by physically removing
kaizoku from their castle-bases on the sea-lanes and
moving them to holdings in inland regions did Hideyoshi finally
end the power of pirates.74
Piratical sea-tenure defined maritime space with nodes of
fortified islands, toll barriers, ports, and seaside villages
that connected webs of sea-lanes and networks of markets and
sea-peoples. Recognized as local elite warriors, kaizoku
leaders incorporated less powerful pirate organizations and
fishing villages into their realm and pirate bands and administered
them by dispatching agents, issuing law codes, levying taxes,
and managing commercial interactions. Pirate overlords
administered shipping organizations, harbormasters, and other
maritime labor, coming to control much of the shipping of
the Inland Sea. The operation of toll barriers and performance
of protection-duty defined the extent of the pirates' formal
and informal domains. Among the Murakami houses, the
Noshima branch grew to become the most adept at negotiating
the continuums of patronage and brigandage until they acquired
a reputation for being the most powerful pirate band of the
Inland Sea. Through their formal and informal domains and
participation in patronage networks, pirates were an integral
part of the maritime systems linking the sixteenth-century
East Asian world.
Murakami Takeyoshi flag-pass ("Murakami Takeyoshi
kashoki") privately owned in the holdings of the
Yamaguchi Prefectural Archive (Yamaguchi-ken Monjokan)
and used with their permission.
The Seto Inland Sea in the Medieval Period (Adapted
from Hy╗go Kitanoseki irifune osamech╗, 260-261).
"Luis Frois shokan," 16-17th c. Iezusukai Nihon h╗kokush˛,
3rd period, vol. 7, ed. trans. Matsuda Kiichi, (Tokyo: D╗b╗sha
Shuppan, 1994), 140-141.
The term Seto Inland Sea or any other name for any ocean does
not appear in extant documents of premodern Japan. However,
for clarity's sake, I hope the reader will permit this anachronistic
usage. I am also interested in the implications this
namelessness has for the study of maritime space in premodern
Examples of pirates accepting the sponsorship of landed powers
are common around the world in the premodern and early modern
periods. Examples range from the responses of Korea's
Choson Dynasty and China's Ming Dynasty to thewak╗,
Qing China to the pirates of Cheng I and Cheng I Sao, to Queen
Elizabeth and her privateers, to the Caribbean of Captain
Morgan, to the corsairs of the Mediterranean.
Thinking of warriors as participating within a continuum of
service and not a binary of loyalty-disloyalty comes from
Tom Conlan, "Largesse and the Limits of Loyalty in the Fourteenth
Century," in Jeffrey Mass ed. The Origins of Japan's
Medieval World, (Stanford: Stanford U. Press, 1997), 39-64.
For a good overview of the different categories of usage for
kaizoku, see Sakurai Eiji, "Sanzoku, kaizoku to
seki no kigen," In Amino Yoshihiko ed. "Shokunin"
to "Gein╗", (Tokyo: Yoshikawa Kobunkan, 1994),
Udagawa Takehisa, Setouchi suigun, (Ky╗ikusha, 1980),
"M╗ri Terumoto shoj╗," Ehime kenshi shiry╗hen, kodai ch˛sei,
ed. Ehime Kenshi Hensan Iinkai, (Matsuyama: Ehime Pref.,
1983), #2365. (Hereafter, EK#_, "title").
In the late sixteenth century, the branches of the Murakami
family exchanged signed oaths with the M╗ri. . See EK
#2102 "Murakami Takeyoshi kish╗mon;" EK #2103 "M╗ri
Motonari, Kobayakawa Takakage, M╗ri Terumoto rensho kish╗mon."
By 1582, the M╗ri so desired to retain the services of the
Noshima pirates that the M╗ri repeatedly swore holy oaths
to respect Noshima concerns to the extent possible.
The interaction of the branches of the Murakami family and
the salt-producing island sh╗en of Yugeshima exemplify
this cycle. Agents of the proprietor T╗ji would negotiate
with one band to subdue another band, but before long, the
first pirate band would require suppression as well.
See for example, "Yugeshima no sho monjo-an," Nihon engy╗
taikei, shiry╗-hen, kodai-ch˛sei 1, ed.
Nihon Engy╗ Taikei Hensh˛ Iinkai, (Tokyo: Bunkasha,
1982), #291; #295"T╗ji zassh╗ m╗shij╗ no an;" #230 "Gon
no Risshi K╗ga Yugeshima no sh╗ Kujirah╗ shomushiki ukebumi,"
Fujiki Hisashi, Z╗hy╗tachi no senj╗, (Asahi Shimbunsha,
EK #2037 "M╗ri Motonai shoj╗." For further
interpretation of this document and political marriages between
the M╗ri and families in Iyo, see Nishio Kazumi, "Sengoku
makki ni okeru M╗ri-shi no kon'in kankei to Iyo," Nihonshi
kenky˛, 445 (1999:9), 1-29.
EK #2119 "Kobayakawa Takakage shoj╗."
12 Most famously Udagawa Takehisa
in his Setouchi suigun (Tokyo: Ky╗ikusha, 1980).
See Sakurai, 1994; Much of my understanding of pirates as
sea-peoples comes from Amino's work. His classic account
is in "Kaimin no shomibun to sono y╗s╗," In Nihon
ch˛sei no hin╗gy╗min to Tenn╗, (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten,
1984), 240-281. For a more recent treatment, Kaimin
to Nihon shakai, (Tokyo: Shinjinbutsu ąraisha, 1998).
For summaries in English, see Rereading Japanese History,
trans. Alan Christy (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan Press, forthcoming).
14 Many of these ideas are inspired
by Peregrine Horden and Nicholas Purcell, The Corrupting
Sea: A Study of Mediterranean History, (Oxford; Malden,
MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2000).
In 1562, the Noshima lord Takeyoshi argued that an inland
territory bore insufficient appeal to compensate the Noshima
pirates for their activities. See EK, #1900 "M╗ri Motonari
This difference is epitomized in the reaction of the peripatetic
poet S╗gi to sea-peoples as he crossed to Ky˛sh˛ in 1480 and
expressed amazement that the sea-peoples calmly and deftly
operated their tiny fishing craft despite pitching waves that
had land-travelers clutching each other in fear. See
S╗gi, "Tsukushi no michi no ki," Ch˛sei nikki kik╗sh˛,
Shin Nihon koten bungaku taikei 51, (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten,
1990), 411. Further depictions of sea-people as weapons-bearing
fisherfolk can be found in medieval tales (like Konjaku
monogatari-sh˛). Travel narratives from Ki no Tsurayuki's
tenth century Tosa nikki (NKBT vol. 20) to records
of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu's pilgrimage to Itskushima ("Rokuon'in
saigoku gek╗ki," to Shimazu Iehisa's journey to the capital
in the late sixteenth-century ("Ch˛sho Iehisa-k╗ onj╗ky╗ nikki."The
last two are in, Shint╗ taikei bungaku hen vol. 5 sankeiki)
depict themes like the helpless reliance of landed
elites on the captains and sailors who carry them as well
as the alien rhythms and jargons of seafarers.
See documents cited in Kishida Hiroshi, Daimy╗ ry╗koku
no keizai k╗z╗, (Iwanami Shoten, 2001), 198.
Yamauchi Yuzuru, Kaizoku to umijiro, (Tokyo: Heibonsha,
Yamauchi, 1997, 24-26.
20 For example, see "Tokui
Michiyuki shoj╗," Ehime kenshi shiry╗hen kodai ch˛sei,
Ehime Kenshi Hensan Iinkai, ed. (Matsuyama: Ehime Pref.,
1983), #2241. (Hereafter EK #_, "title.") For more on
the atakebune ,
see Ishii Kenji, Wasen II, Mono to ningen no bunkashi 76-II,
(Tokyo: H╗sei Daigaku Shuppankyoku, 1995).
For an example of how pirates incorporated seafarers into
their pirate bands, see EK#1713 "Shirai Fusatane Teoi ch˛mon
narabi ni ąuchi Yoshitaka sh╗han." The word kako
(sailor) is a profession-specific term used in conjunction
with the word bokuj˛ (conscript) describing sailors
without surnames indicating that pirates drew sailors of different
status groups into their bands.
See for example, EK #1906 Murakami Michiyasu andoj╗ from 1563
for the Nomi family of Nomishima.
Yamaguchi kenshi, shiry╗-hen ch˛sei 2
(Yamaguchi Pref:, 2001), 116, "Toshinari-ke monjo," #2-3.
EK #2302 "Murakami Motoyoshi okitegaki."
EK #2365 "M╗ri Terumoto shoj╗."
EK #2053 "Kodama Narikata shoj╗."
EK #2176 "Kobayakawa Takakage shoj╗."
See a letter from 1574 in which Noshima Murakami Takemitsu
issues instructions to the Sak╗ family of harbor-masters in
Akamagaseki (today's Shimonoseki). Quoted in Kishida Hiroshi,
Daimy╗ ry╗koku no keizai k╗z╗. (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten,
The island is also famous as a legendary base of the 10th
c. pirate leader Fujiwara no Sumitomo.
EK #2194, "Hokkenotsu Han'en okitegaki"
Traditionally in the medieval period, items that washed ashore
became the property of the local lord, especially valuable
objects like whale carcasses (cf Morimoto Masahiro, "GoH╗j╗-Shi
no suisanbutsu j╗n╗sei no tenkai," Nihonshi kenky˛
359, no. 7 (1992): 33).
A large number of these documents are published in Amino Yoshihiko,
"Iyo no kuni Futagamishima wo megutteŃFutagami-shi to Futagami
monjo," Nihon ch˛sei shiry╗gaku no kadai, (Tokyo: K╗bund╗,
1996), 250-282 (documents will be cited hereafter as Amino-Futagami,
EK, #1577. The first extant holding-confirmation order
from the Kurushima for Futagami dates from 1506. See EK, #1596.
Also see Amino-Futagami, #46.
Amino-Futagami, #40, 41, 48.
EK #1732 "Murakami Michiyasu shoj╗."
EK #2245 "Futagami Yasutane shoj╗."
41 Morimoto Masahiro, "GoH╗j╗-shi
no suisanbutsu j╗n╗sei no tenkai," Nihonshi kenky˛
359, no. 7 (1992): 33-35.
Amino Yoshihiko, Kaimin to Nihon shakai, (Tokyo: Shinjinbutsu
ąraisha, 1998), 38.
EK, #2239 "Tokui Michiyuki shoj╗."
EK #2302 "Murakami Motoyoshi Okitegaki."
EK, #2440 "Futagami-shi monjo an."
EK #1713 "Shirai Fusatane teoi ch˛mon narabi ni ąuchi
Luis Frois, "Luis Frois shokan, 1588, 2/20," 16-17th c.
Iezusukai Nihon h╗kokush˛, 3rd period, vol. 7, ed. trans.
Matsuda Kiichi, (Tokyo: D╗b╗sha Shuppan, 1994), 172.
50 EK #1663. Hosokawa Takakuni and ąuchi Yoshitaka
were fighting on behalf of their shogunal candidates.
In EK #1665, ątomo Yoshiaki writes that as part of this anti-ąuchi
coalition, K╗no Michinao and Murakami Kunnaitaifu [Takashige,
thought to be Takeyoshi's father] were responsible for maritime
concerns. In exchange for that service, Takakuni granted
them their holding on Shiwaku.
EK, #1996. Letter from M╗ri Motonari to Noshima Murakami Motoyoshi
EK #2087 "ątomo S╗rin shoj╗."
EK #2086 "Murakami Takeyoshi shoj╗."
The term kaisen ()
refers to the transport of goods while binsen ()
refers to passengers.
EK #2053 "Kodama Narikata shoj╗."
Quoted in Kishida Hiroshi, Daimy╗ ry╗koku no keizai k╗z╗,
(Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 2001), 198.
58 Sakurai, 116-119. Sakurai
suggests that as the principal method of extracting wealth
for pirates was by charging tolls to passing ships, perhaps
pirates emerged from sea-peoples whose duties included collecting
maritime produce for religious institutions. Over time
this practice transformed into charging tolls for safe passage.
The monk Bairin Shury˛ recorded this incident in
his travelogue of a trip to and from the province of Su╗ in
1550. See "Bairin Shury˛ Su╗ gek╗ nikki," in Yamaguchi
kenshi, ch˛sei shiry╗-hen vol. 1 (Yamaguchi Pref.,
Horden and Purcell, 157.
Aida Nir╗, Ch˛sei no sekisho, (Yoshikawa K╗bunkan,
1976 reprint (originally published 1943), 1-14.
Song, Hui-Gyong, Nosongdang Ilbon Haegnok (R╗sh╗d╗ Nihon
K╗roku), ed. Murai Sh╗suke, (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1987),
#162. Hereafter, RNK, _.
EK #1519, "Murakami Yoshimitsu Yuzurij╗."
EK #1730 "ąuchi-shi bugy╗nin rensho h╗sho." In 1540,
ąuchi dispatched pirates to attack northern Iyo to try and
capture the sea-lanes by force. The K╗no called on the
Murakami pirates to help defend Iyo. Although pirates
under K╗no patronage beat off the attacks, the acquisition
of Noshima's services was a significant gain for the ąuchi.
For an example of the conflict, see EK, #1713.
67 See for example, Manzai jug╗
nikki (Tokyo: Zokugunshoruij˛, hoi 1, 1958), vol.
2, 547 (1434, (Eiky╗ 6), 1/20). Also "Boshi ny˛minki,"
In Sakugen ny˛minki no kenky˛, vol.1 ed. Teiry╗ Makita,
(Kyoto: Matsuzaki Insatsu Kabushiki Gaisha, 1955), 351-364.
Hagi-han batsuetsuroku, Nagata Masazumi ed. (Yamaguchi:
Yamaguchi-ken monjokan, 1967), vol. 3:135, 840, #15, 842,
"Luis Frois shokan," 16-17th c. Iezusukai Nihon h╗kokush˛,
3rd period, vol. 5, ed. trans. Matsuda Kiichi, (Tokyo: D╗b╗sha
Shuppan, 1992), 286-287.
A complete description of most of the extant records of these
pennants can be found in a pair of articles by Takahashi Osamu,
"Shinshutsu no 'Murakami Takeyoshi kashoki," Wakayama kenritsu
hakubutsukan kenky˛ kiy╗ 4 (3/1999) 41-52; 5 (3/2000),
32-41. The flag in Figure 1 is woven from hemp (52.6 cm tall
x 42.3 cm wide) and has the Murakami house mark in the center
in black ink. The recipient (in this case Sh˛shi of Itsukushima)
is written on the right and the date of issue on the left
(9th year of Tensh╗ , 4/28) followed by the signature
of the issuer (Noshima Murakami Takeyoshi). For the Itsukushima
flag in particular, see Kanaya Masato, Kaizokutachi no
ch˛sei, (Tokyo: Yoshikawa K╗bunkan, 1998), 65.
This example comes not from Takahashi but from Kishida,
2001, 348, the rest can be found in Takahashi (1999).
See a document quoted in Kishida, 2001, 198 in which the Noshima
Murakami approved a request by the Sak╗ family, harbor-masters
for Akamagaseki, for a flag-pass. Cf. The request from
the Jesuits included below.
"Luis Frois no Indo Kankuch╗ Alessandro Valignano-ate shokan,"
16-17th c. Iezusukai Nihon h╗kokush˛, 3rd period, vol.
7, ed. trans. Matsuda Kiichi, (Tokyo: D╗b╗sha Shuppan, 1994),
Yamauchi Yuzuru, Ch˛sei Setonaikai chiikishi no kenky˛,
(Tokyo: H╗sei Daigaku Shuppankyoku, 1998), 190-191.
Copyright: ę 2003 by the American Historical
Association. Compiled by Debbie Ann Doyle and Brandon Schneider. Format
by Chris Hale.