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Japanese Pirates and Sea Tenure in the
Sixteenth Century Seto Inland Sea:żż
A Case Study of the Murakami kaizoku

Peter D. Shapinsky
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
                                                                                                                                         —Luis Frois

            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 Sea,2 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 gradually disintegrated.

            Pirates of the Seto Inland Sea such as the powerful three branches of the Murakami familyŃNoshima, Kurushima, and Innoshima—took 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.

The Social 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 (). 16  

            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 (see map).19  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 patrons30 on sea and land, they are to be performed according to our bylaws.
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 [1576] 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 function—Bay 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 in 1582.35  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 sway.42

            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 those islands:

            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 autonomous protection-duty.

            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 harbor─.
Eiroku 13 [1570] 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 [1570], 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, M╗ri Terumoto. 

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 [1574] 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 because—as in other pirate communities around the world—kaizoku lived in a symbiotic relationship with mercantile shipping and landed powers.60  Usually, only if the ships refused to pay did pirates attack them.

            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 time. 

            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 Sakai merchants.65  

            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 governments—the 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 safe passage.72   

            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 government. 

            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).



1 "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.

2 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 Japan.

3 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.

4 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), 113-148

5 Udagawa Takehisa, Setouchi suigun, (Ky╗ikusha, 1980), 58.

6 "M╗ri Terumoto shoj╗," Ehime kenshi shiry╗hen, kodai ch˛sei, ed. Ehime Kenshi Hensan Iinkai, (Matsuyama: Ehime Pref., 1983), #2365. (Hereafter, EK#_, "title").

7 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.

8 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,"

9 Fujiki Hisashi, Z╗hy╗tachi no senj╗, (Asahi Shimbunsha, 1995). 

10 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.

11 EK #2119 "Kobayakawa Takakage shoj╗."

12 Most famously Udagawa Takehisa in his Setouchi suigun (Tokyo: Ky╗ikusha, 1980).

13 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).

15 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 shoj╗."

16 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.

17 See documents cited in Kishida Hiroshi, Daimy╗ ry╗koku no keizai k╗z╗, (Iwanami Shoten, 2001), 198.

18 Yamauchi Yuzuru, Kaizoku to umijiro, (Tokyo: Heibonsha, 1997), 31.

19 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).  

21 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.

22 See for example, EK #1906 Murakami Michiyasu andoj╗ from 1563 for the Nomi family of Nomishima.

23 Yamaguchi kenshi,  shiry╗-hen ch˛sei 2  (Yamaguchi Pref:, 2001), 116, "Toshinari-ke monjo," #2-3.

24 EK #2302 "Murakami Motoyoshi okitegaki."

25 EK #2365 "M╗ri Terumoto shoj╗."

26 EK #2053 "Kodama Narikata shoj╗."

27 EK #2176 "Kobayakawa Takakage shoj╗."

28 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, 2001), 198. 

29 The island is also famous as a legendary base of the 10th c. pirate leader Fujiwara no Sumitomo.


31 EK #2194, "Hokkenotsu Han'en okitegaki"

32 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).

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, #). 

34 Bay—ura , harborŃtomari .  Production district—my╗ .  It is important to note that although these sites bear the suffix harbor or bay, the name refers to the land defined by the maritime function and not the oceanic space itself.

35 EK, #1577.  The first extant holding-confirmation order from the Kurushima for Futagami dates from 1506. See EK, #1596. Also see Amino-Futagami, #46.

36 Amino-Futagami, #40, 41, 48.

37 Amino-Futagami, #48.

38 Amino-Futagami, #44.

39 EK #1732 "Murakami Michiyasu shoj╗."

40 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.

42 Amino Yoshihiko, Kaimin to Nihon shakai, (Tokyo: Shinjinbutsu ąraisha, 1998), 38.

43 Amino-Futagami, #41.

44 EK, #2239 "Tokui Michiyuki shoj╗."

45 EK #2302 "Murakami Motoyoshi Okitegaki."

46 EK, #2440 "Futagami-shi monjo an."

47 EK #1713  "Shirai Fusatane teoi ch˛mon narabi ni ąuchi Yoshitaka ch╗han."

48 Yamauchi, 1997, 151.

49 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.

51 EK, #1996. Letter from M╗ri Motonari to Noshima Murakami Motoyoshi

52 EK #2087 "ątomo S╗rin shoj╗."

53 EK #2086 "Murakami Takeyoshi shoj╗."

54 The term kaisen () refers to the transport of goods while binsen () refers to passengers.

55 EK  #2053 "Kodama Narikata shoj╗."

56 Quoted in Kishida Hiroshi, Daimy╗ ry╗koku no keizai k╗z╗, (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 2001), 198.

57 Sakurai, 122-123.

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.

59 Reisen ().  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., 2000), 471 

60 Horden and Purcell, 157.

61 Aida Nir╗, Ch˛sei no sekisho, (Yoshikawa K╗bunkan, 1976 reprint (originally published 1943), 1-14.

62 Song, Hui-Gyong, Nosongdang Ilbon Haegnok (R╗sh╗d╗ Nihon K╗roku), ed. Murai Sh╗suke, (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1987), #162. Hereafter, RNK, _.

63 Sakurai, 118-119.

64 EK #1519, "Murakami Yoshimitsu Yuzurij╗."

65 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.

66 RNK, #162.

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.

68 Hagi-han batsuetsuroku, Nagata Masazumi ed. (Yamaguchi: Yamaguchi-ken monjokan, 1967), vol. 3:135, 840, #15, 842, #30. 

69 "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.

70 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╗ [1581], 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.

71 This example comes not from Takahashi  but from Kishida, 2001, 348, the rest can be found in Takahashi (1999).

72 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.

73 "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), 141.

74  Yamauchi Yuzuru, Ch˛sei Setonaikai chiikishi no kenky˛, (Tokyo: H╗sei Daigaku Shuppankyoku, 1998), 190-191.


Copyright Statement

Copyright: ę 2003 by the American Historical Association. Compiled by Debbie Ann Doyle and Brandon Schneider. Format by Chris Hale.

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