Matsunaga Clan (from Saga)

History of the Matsunaga Clan from the Saga region in Japan

This is an edited version. The original was published at

Since I was very young, my Japanese mother always instilled in me the importance the samurai were to my ancestors. Yet, as growing up, I was never sure that my mother came from a samurai family or not. Many Japanese Americans and Japanese Amerasians (those considered children of war, mixed Japanese whose fathers were American servicemen and mothers Japanese nationals) also claimed that their ancestors were samurai too.

Hence, I have been interested in researching the history of my Japanese mother's family heritage. Growing up, she told me stories about the Matsunaga family in Japan. The Matsunagas themselvers are a samurai clan from historical Japan. They came into prominence under the daimyo, Matsunaga Hisahide, during the Sengoku Period. Unfortunately, after the murder of Shogun by Hisahide, he would eventually be forced to commit sepuku, or honorable suicide, after Oda Nobunaga and his allies surrounded Hisahide's castle.

After his death, some of his family members fled down to Kyushu to serve various daimyos later during the Tokugawa Period. Eventually, like all other samurai clans, their status was abolished with the elimination of the Han system during the Meiji Restoration in 1868. My Japanese great-grandmother was the last Matsunaga who still followed samurai customs according to my mother.

Still I had  no evidence that my mother's ancestors were samurai. I only knew that the Matsunaga family crest, called kamon, was the tsuta-mon based on my own research (see image below).

It is an ivy leaf very popular as a family crest and one choice for the Matsunaga clan. I also need to find the actual family kamon as well. Typical samurai families will have more then one kamon. The family kamon will help me find out who my ancestors actually descended from. Until then, I used a service called Patternz to start my research of the Matsunagas.

Patternz Japanese Family Crest Services

Back in 2018, I had limited information on the roots of the Matsunagas. Luckily, I found this website by chance, Patternz, and I paid for their service to research my mother's family. Within a couple weeks, the researcher, Hiroko Matsuyama, gave the report that included a good history of the kamons all across Japan. What is unique was that during the Tokugawa Shogunate, only the samurais were allowed to have names. The rest of the people needed to use family crests to identify themselves. This is why you tend to see kamons everywhere in Japanese society today.

Before using the Japanese Family Crest Services offered by Patternz. I needed to give the researcher a copy of the family register for the Matsunaga family known as the koseki. I already had a copy since I will need it to obtain a Child of Japanese National visa in the future. I also provided some history and a picture of the kamon that I thought was for the Matsunaga (if you do not have kamon, the researcher will try to find it for you).

Based on the koseki, I know that the Matsunaga family were located in the Karatsu at the time of the Meiji Restoration. I also know that my great-grandmother owned several businesses and was considered wealthy in my mother's hometown, Sasebo. In Kyushu, many samurai were actually poor so the only samurai who could potentially own businesses after the Meiji Restoration were most likely retainers for a daimyo. This most likely included my ancestors. In short, my mother's claim that "we" were descended from a samurai clan was validated. Below is a bit of history from the researcher's report.

History of the Matsunaga Family (Saga)

Based on the results from the researcher, my mother's Matsunaga line most likely originated from the following three clans:

  1. Matsunaga Clan in Chinzei (present Fukuoka Prefecture)
  2. Matsunaga Clan in Mikawa-no-Kuni (Mikawa Province, present Eastern Aichi Prefecture)
  3. Matsunaga Clan originated in Yamato-no-Kuni (Yamato Province, present Nara Prefecture)

The first Matsunaga Clan (in Chinzei) was the closest to Saga, Japan. This clan includes a famous Buddhist monk known as Matsunaga Magoshiro Nyudo Shosai at the Tento Shrine. Unfortunately there are no lineage information for this particular Matsunaga clan so the odds that I am related to them are slim.

The second potential Matsunaga Clan originated in the Mikawa Province (Aichi Prefecture today). Their origins go back to the famous Fujiwara clan, the most famous of the samurai clans. Matsunaga Heiza'emon served Matsudaira Kiyoyasu who was the 7th head of the Matsudaira clan and grandfather of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate. One of the family crests was the tsuta-mon which is potentially the same kamon from my mother's side and why the researcher chose this clan as a potential origin of my mother's family's line.

The third potential Matsunaga Clan originated in the Yamato Province (present day Nara Prefecture). This clan produced the most famous Matsunaga, Matsunaga Hisahide. This clan also has roots with the Fujiwara Clan and is the same Matsunaga Clan in Mikawa Province above. Matsunaga Hisahide was a daimyo that used the same tsuto-mon crest. Because of this, there is a high probability that my mother's family, including me, is a direct descendant of Matsunaga Hisahide.

Unfortunately, I will not be able to establish a positive link without doing actual ground work in Japan. Below is the final thought from the researcher:

The Final Thought

So we have seen three relatable items of the Matsunaga clan to Matsunaga family in Saga Prefecture. It would be very interesting if any new information comes up regarding the Chinzei Matsudaira clan which is the closest to your family in distance wise. What we can assume at least for now is your family can be relatable either the Matsunaga clan from Mikawa Province (present Aichi Prefecture) which served the Matsudaira clan, then the Tokugawa (shogun) clan or the other Matsunaga clan originated in Yamato Province (present Nara Prefecture) which produced Matsunaga Hisahide in terms of the kamon (Tsutamon).

Moreover, if any of the names we presented as the descendants of Matsunaga Hisahide recognizable to your family members or relatives as one of the family members, it would be very likely your family has its origin goes back to Matsunaga Hisahide. Below is the list of the MATSUNAGA family members who claimed to be the descendants of Matsunaga Hisahide.

  • Matsunaga Hikobe’e Ichimaru or Kazumaru (???????)
  • Matsunaga Munetomo (????)
  • Matsunaga Shouemon (??????)
  • Matsunaga Sadaichi (???? [18921965])
  • Matsunaga Ichiro (???? [19192005])
  • Matsunaga Mari (???? [1954])

My Final Thought

Unfortunately we do not have information on any of these people listed above. Matsunaga Mari is interesting, though, since she was born in Sasebo, Japan, my mother's hometown, before settling in Nagasaki, Japan. She was one of the creators of i-mode in Japan and could be a potential third cousin.  

Matsunaga Toh (松永東), was another interesting person. He served as the Chairman of the 45th House of Representative and the 79th Minister of Education, had Matsunaga family roots in Karatsu, Saga, when my grandparents, and possibly great grandparents, were still there. The Matsunagas from this area were not very wealthy but were well known for being model farmers. For me, that was important information because I also heard that one of my great grandparents married to a poor farmer family. At that time, only the samurai could have land for farming. Whether he was related to my mother's family or not, I will have to do some more research. He still have a living adopted son, Matsunaga Hikaru, that I hope to meet someday to get more information on the Matsunagas.

Currently, I do not have any information on my great aunts or great uncles in Japan let alone any of my second or third cousins. This page will be updated as I finally get more information.

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