Japan and its history through the cigarette case scenes The last stand of the Kusunoki at Shijonawate
The 1348 Battle of Shijonawate (四條畷の戰い) was a battle of the Nanboku-cho period (1336~1392) and took place in Yoshino, Nara. It was fought between the armies of the Northern and Southern Court of Japan.

At that time, Kusunoki Masatsura (楠木正時 or 楠正行, 1326 ~ 1348), along with his father Masashige and brothers Masanori and Masatoki, was a supporter of the Southern Imperial Court. Masatsura was one of the primary military leaders who revived the Southern Court in the 1340s. The Court had had little to no resources for three years; the strategy was too focused on defending their base at Yoshino, and not on gaining allies, land, or income. The Kusunoki family, and Masatsura in particular, fought to gain power and support for the Emperor. In 1347, Masatsura led an attack on bakufu (shogunate) sympathizers in Kii Province and ended up attracting supporters from Kii, as well as Izumi and Settsu Provinces. When the Shogun's Northern Court sent Hosokawa Akiuji to stop him, Masatsura met Hosokawa and defeated him at Sakainoura. Because of his loyalty Emperor Go-Daigo rewarded him with the most beautiful woman in the palace, called Ben-Naishi, as his wife.

On the other side it was a Japanese samurai, Ko no Moronao (高師直), the first to hold the position of Shitsuji (Shogun's Deputy). He was appointed by Ashikaga Takauji, the first shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate. As Deputy, he served not only an administrative governmental function, but also as general of the Shogun's armies. Ko no Moronao, together with his brother Ko no Moroyasu and cousin Ko no Morofuyu, fought for the Ashikaga against the loyalist forces of the Southern Court and killed its generals Kitabatake Akiie and Kusunoki Masayuki.

Kusunoki Masatsura (left) and Ko no Moronao (right), the military leaders of the Southern and Northern Courts during the Nanboku-cho period.

On February 4, 1348, the war began between Kusunoki Masatsura of the Southern Court (with about 3,000 men) and Ko no Moronao of the Northern Court (with about 70,000 men). The Southern army was attacked at Yoshino, the temporary palace of the Imperial residence. Feeling too weak to defend the residence, Masatsura marched out with his whole force to meet his assailants. The Emperor advisor, Kitabatake Chikafusa, meanwhile, led his force towards Izumi, diverting some of the attackers away from the palace.

Kusunoki Masatsura engaged the enemy commander Ko no Moroyasu in single combat, and, it is said, was about to take Ko's head when he was struck by an arrow; Kusunoki then committed seppuku.

The battle ended in a Northern Court victory, but the Southern Court fled Yoshino, leaving little for their enemies to capture. Masatsura, along with his younger brother and second in charge, Masatoki, died during the war.

Top: A late Meiji period postcard showing the "The last stand of the Kusunoki at Shijonawate" (楠正行四條畷の最期). Bottom: a cigarette case from the O. Komai workshop (from Chris Penry's collection).

Battle of Shijonawate is a very popular theme used in numerous artworks. It can be found on such woodblock prints as The Last Stand of the Kusunoki at Shijonawate, The Last Stand of the Kusunoki Clan at Shijo Nawate and Kusunoki Masatsura and Severed Heads at the Battle of Shijonawate by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798~1861), Kusunoski Masatsura by Yoshu Chikanobu (1838~1912), Kusunoki Masatsura Dying at the Battle of Shijonawate by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839~1892), Kusunoki Masatsura at the Battle of Shijo Nawate by Ogata Gekko (1859~1920), and others.