In the Edo era, the lordship of the Kubota (Akita) domain was assumed by the Satake family who were descended from the Genji family (offspring of Emperor Seiwa); the lord of Kubota was particularly distinguished among more than 300 lords.
The Satake family was established in the Satake district of Kuji county in Hitachi province, from which the patronym was derived. The founder, Masayoshi Satake, was the grandson of Yoshimitsu Minamoto, who was one of the main actors in the Gosannen War in the late eleventh century. The family coat of arms is a five-spoked fan with a full moon, which goes back to the grant of that mark by Yoritomo Minamoto (the founder of the Kamakura Shogunate) to the fifth-generation head of the Satake family, Hideyoshi Satake, after his participation in the Oshu War in 1189.
The Satake family further prospered throughout the Nambokucho and Muromachi eras and became one of the major powers by the seventeenth century. When Yoshishige Satake (1547–1612) became the lord of Hitachi in 1562, his control extended to parts of the Kanto and Oshu regions. He was one of the major warlords in eastern Japan. His son, Yoshonibu, who succeeded to the lordship in 1570, gained the support of Hideyoshi Toyotomi and was given the territory with an annual revenue of 545,000 koku; he was also granted the title of “Hashiba-Hitachi-Jiju (servant of the Toyotomi in Hitachi province).” However, the death of Hideyoshi in 1598 and the subsequent seizure of power by Ieyasu Tokugawa resulted in the demotion of the Satake family to Akita in 1602. After that, the Satake family ruled the Kubota (Akita) domain until the nineteenth century with 12 generations of lords.
Construction and Development of the Castle Town of Kubota
After the demotion in 1602, the Satake family first occupied Tsuchizaki Castle, which had been used by the Akita-Ando family until then. In 1603, a new castle was constructed on Mt. Shimmei in Kubota, and as soon as it was completed Lord Satake started the construction of a castle town around it. The flow of the Asahi River was moved to the western side of the town to make a samurai district (inner district) on the eastern shore of the river and a bourgeois district (outer district) on the western shore. Taihei River served for defense on the southern front and the temples constructed on the outer side of the bourgeois district for defense on the western side.
The inner town was compartmentalized based on the functions of political and military units. San-no-kaku, between the castle and inner town, was surrounded by great moats and mounds and populated by high-class retainers. Yon-no-kaku (present-day Kame-no-machi) was populated by middle-class retainers, and Gaikaku (present-day Tsukji, Narayama, Tegata, and Hodono) was populated by low-class retainers and foot soldiers (ashigaru).
The construction of the castle town was an important work that took nearly 30 years to complete. It now makes up the core part of downtown Akita.
Composition of the Retainers
After he was ordered to move to Akita, Yoshinobu Satake limited his number of retainers to the strict minimum and conducted a reorganization of their ranks.
The core part of the Satake retainers was the oldest retainers, close followers of Yoshishige and Yoshinobu, as well as their relatives. They received lands as a stipend in the new domain but were excluded from domanial politics. All retainers were made directly subordinate to the lord of the domain. This reshuffle eliminated intermediate lords and thus future sources of domestic struggles. The ranks of the retainers became fixed in hierarchy, based on family for the upper class and on the annual pension for the middle and lower classes.
Yoshinobu picked his ministers regardless of their length of service. For example, Masamitsu Shibue, who made a major contribution to the establishment of the new land system in Akita, and the Umezu brothers (Noritada and Masakage Umezu), who played an important role in the early governance of the new domain, were relatively new among his retainers. The total number of retainers for Lord Yoshinobu Satake was recorded as 2,473 in 1627.