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Kato Kiyomasa, a distinguished Daimyo of the Azuchi-Momoyama and Edo periods, was not only a revered warrior but also an accomplished castle architect. Born in the present-day Nakamura Ward, Nagoya City, Kiyomasa's early life took a courageous turn when, following his father's demise, he was sent to live with his uncle at a temple in Tsushima. At the age of 9, while home alone, Kiyomasa thwarted robbers by wearing a devil's mask from Noh and brandishing a small sword, compelling them to flee.

At 15, he entered the services of his cousin, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, participating in pivotal battles such as the Battle of Yamazaki (1582) against Akechi Mitsuhide and the Battle of Shizugatake (1583) against Shibata Katsuie and Oda Nobutaka. His valor earned him the distinction of being named one of the Seven Spears of Shizugatake.

As a senior commander in the Korean Campaign, Kiyomasa played a crucial role in capturing Seoul and Pusan, notably defending the Kiyomasa-designed castle in the Siege of Ulsan. His exploits included spear hunting tigers in Korea, bringing their pelts back to Hideyoshi. However, this practice was later banned due to the risks samurai faced in emulating Kiyomasa's daring feats.

Kato Kiyomasa's multifaceted legacy encompasses not only military achievements but also architectural prowess, leaving an indelible mark on the history of the Azuchi-Momoyama and Edo periods.

In a surprising turn of events during the Battle of Sekigahara, Kato Kiyomasa aligned himself with Tokugawa Ieyasu. Although absent from the actual battlefield, he engaged Tokugawa adversaries in Kyushu, particularly confronting the forces of his neighboring fief, Konishi Yukunaga. Konishi, a Christian, incurred the disdain of the Nichiren sect Buddhist, a sentiment shared by Kiyomasa. Additionally, Konishi's allegiance to Ishida Mitsunari, another samurai with whom Kiyomasa had conflicts, intensified the animosity.

Historical accounts depict Kiyomasa as an awe-inspiring and effective leader, embodying the essence of a samurai. Despite his reputation for creative castle-building expertise, he harbored a brutal side. Notably, during the Battle of Hondo, he ruthlessly ordered the abdomens of pregnant Christian women to be cut open, with the unborn babies' heads subsequently sliced off as a means of suppressing Christianity.

Kiyomasa's architectural prowess was exceptional, marked by the design of strategic castles during the Korean Campaigns. His talent earned him acclaim as the architect of the magnificent Kumamoto Castle. Subsequently, Tokugawa Ieyasu enlisted him to construct the tenshu-dai, the stone ramparts supporting the splendid keep of Nagoya Castle.

During the construction of Nagoya Castle, Kiyomasa utilized surplus building materials to establish the Myogyo-Ji Temple at the site of his birth. Presently situated on the east side of Nakamura Koen, the temple is accompanied by the Kiyomasa Hideyoshi Memorial Museum within the same park. This museum showcases items and displays relevant to these two local heroes. Notably, Nagoya city boasts more statues of Kato Kiyomasa than any other historical figure.

Upon Kiyomasa's sudden demise at the age of 50, rumors circulated suggesting that Tokugawa Ieyasu might have played a role in his death. As an architect involved in Nagoya Castle's construction, Kiyomasa held insights into its strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, being a close relative of the Toyotomi clan, he had been mediating to enhance relations between Tokugawa Ieyasu and Toyotomi Hideyori. Following one such meeting, he fell ill on his journey home by ship and passed away shortly after arriving in Kumamoto.

Kiyomasa, prioritizing military pursuits, showed little interest in refined activities like the tea ceremony or poetry. His valor in battle, no-nonsense and disciplined approach to warfare, along with unwavering adherence to his principles, earned Kato Kiyomasa widespread respect as a samurai.

 


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