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Rare painting depicting naval warfare with Murakami pirates on display

Mikihiro Oue, a curator at the Murakami Suigun Hakubutsukan, offers explanations of the "Naniwasen Gunzu" painting at the museum on April 23, 2019. (Mainichi/Nobuto Matsukura)

IMABARI, Ehime -- A rare painting depicting a major 16th century naval conflict in western Japan involving "Murakami Suigun" pirates is on display at a museum here, providing a glimpse into activities by the powerful medieval pirates that ruled the Seto Inland Sea.

The painting, called "Naniwasen Gunzu," portrays the first battle of Kizugawaguchi in 1576, in which the naval force of the Mori clan backed by the Murakami pirates beat the naval force of warlord Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582). The work is displayed at the municipal Murakami Suigun Hakubutsukan (Murakami Suigun Museum) in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture, in western Japan.

The theme of the painting, the largest battle involving Murakami pirates, came to light after the museum examined the artwork that was entrusted by an owner in Itami, Hyogo Prefecture, also in western Japan.

"There are only five to 10 paintings depicting wars involving the Murakami pirates, and this piece is an invaluable material," said a museum official, explaining why the facility decided to put the work on display.

The painting, which measures 74 centimeters by 108 centimeters, is believed to have been rendered during the Edo period (1603-1868) based on a military epic possibly completed in the early Edo period. The painting depicts a confrontation between the approximately 60-ship fleet of the Oda force defending the mouth of Kizu River in Osaka Bay and the roughly 60-ship fleet of the Mori force, including Murakami pirates.

The painting of "Naniwasen Gunzu," depicting the first battle of Kizugawaguchi in 1576, is seen in this photo provided via Murakami Suigun Hakubutsukan.

On the painting are written the names of warlords who joined the battle, including Murakami Kagehiro, who owned the Kasaoka Castle, on the Mori side. Murakami Kagehiro is from the Noshima Murakami family, one of the three branch families of the Murakami pirates. However, the work also includes descriptions that contradict with historical facts, such as the name of naval commander Kuki Yoshitaka of the Oda force, who actually did not join the battle.

The first battle of Kizugawaguchi broke out when the Ishiyama Honganji temple under attack from the Oda force sought assistance in the form of military rations and weapons from the powerful Mori clan to the west. In a fierce clash at the mouth of the Kizu River, the Mori force, whose troops outnumbered those of its adversary, is said to have dealt a blow to the Oda fleet by unleashing fire arrows.

The 1576 battle provided a setting for the 2013 million-selling novel "Murakami Kaizoku no Musume (A daughter of Murakami pirates)," authored by Ryo Wada.

Inaugurated in 2004, the Murakami Suigun Museum is the nation's first museum themed on Japan's old naval forces. The exhibition of the Naniwasen Gunzu painting will run until June 23.

For more inquiries, please call the museum at 0897-74-1065 (in Japanese).

(Japanese original by Nobuto Matsukura, Imabari Local Bureau)

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