Date(s): c. 1543-1612?
Other Known Names: Soubei (young adult), Keijirō (young adult), Toshihiro (adult), Toshioki (adult), Toshisada (adult), Toshitaka (adult), Takuto (adult), Gokuzou-In Hyosai (senior), Ryuzaiken Fubensai (senior)
Maeda clan mon
Maeda Keiji, also known as Maeda Toshimasu, was the adopted nephew of Maeda Toshiie and a samurai of great mystery to historians today. Maeda Keiji was considered to be a kabukimono, a type of rōnin that was prominent in Japan during this area and were known to be flamboyant in their dress and mannerisms. Despite his wild and crazy ways, it has been said that Keiji was a compassionate man who enjoyed the arts and literature. His horse, Matsukaze (“the wind in the pines”), is just as mysterious as his master. With very few historical records available (especially in English), many legends and alternative histories surround Maeda Keiji.
It is unclear when he was born, but most historians place his birth year around 1543. He was born in the village of Arako, which is in the present-day Nagoya region. While most sources claim that he was the son of Taikgawa Kazumasu, however, others claim that he is the son of Kazumasu’s cousins. The least popular theory is that he was born into the Toda clan. Whatever his origins are, what is known for certain is that he was adopted by Maeda Toshihiro, elder brother to Maeda Toshiie. With the Maeda clan, Keiji served the Oda clan under Nobunaga.
In 1567, Maeda Toshihiro was forced to retire by Nobunaga, and put Maeda Toshiie in charge of the clan instead of Keiji, who was given a lower status as an adopted son. This caused many problems between Maeda Toshiie and Keiji because it was Keiji who was promised the Maeda inheritance by Maeda Toshihiro. This is a popular story, but it is up for debate if they fought as much as people claim. He commanded an army under his uncle in 1581 during the conflicts in Noto Province, and made a reputation for himself, earning a reward of 5,000 koku. He also fought in the Battles of Komaki and Nagakute to aid Sassa Narimasa’s at Suemori Castle.
Maeda Toshihiro passed away in 1587, and Keiji his son to serve Toshiie, but either around this time or around 1590, Keiji and Toshiie’s relationship turned for the worst and Keiji left the Maeda clan, leaving his wife and child behind. He ended up in Kyōto where he wrote letters and poems, and sponsored plays and dances during his time there. While in Kyōto, Maeda Keiji met Naoe Kanetsugu, and the two became fast friends. He joined the Uesugi clan in the invasion of Aizu, which failed however, the Uesugi army was able to remain intact due to Keiji serving as the rearguard. After this campaign, Keiji returned to the capital to indulge in the arts and literature.
Maeda Keiji shows up in records again with the Tōhoku Sekigahara Campaign in 1600. He served as the rearguard once again at Hasedō Castle, when Naoe Kanetsugu ordered the retreat after learning of Ishida Mitsunari’s defeat at Sekigahara. It is unclear what happened to Keiji after this campaign. One record states that he remained with the Uesugi clan after the clan’s move to Yonezawa as a retainer, while another states that he left the clan after receiving payment, living out the remainder of his life as a hermit. The latter seems to be the most likely, considering that Kanetsugu writes of his friend’s time in seclusion and even talks about a poem that Keiji was said to have written that Kanetsugu claims to be a national treasure. This is highly debated though. One record states that his eccentric behavior put him at odds with the Uesugi clan and he left to join his clan in Kaga. There he died of illness in 1605 but this differs from the date that most historians go with for his death. It is likely that he died on June 4, 1612, which is the account the locals go with and have established a shrine in 1980 to honor his remains. Naoe Kanetsugu even funded a forest temple on the anniversary of Keiji’s death, which still stands today and is the site for celebrations of Keiji’s life which happens every year in June near Yonezawa.