In 1185 Minomoto no Yoritomo defeated Imperial loyalists at the Battle of Dan no Ura. A Fujiwara Clan family, Ito (伊東) were among those who fought with Minomoto and his wife’s family the Hojo.
Minomoto established a firm Shogunate after he forced the Emperor to name him the Shogun over all Japan. Minomoto had the Emperor stripped of all power except for ceremonial power and as the nominal head of Shinto.
Two clans were given lands and titles in Kyushu. The Shimazu (島津) were named the military heads of the Kyushu province. The Ito were given all of Hyuga for their loyalty to Minomoto in combat against the loyalists.
The Ito set up their first castle outside of Saito and named it Tonokori. This would become the Ito’s base of power. In the present day boundaries of Miyazaki Prefecture the Takahashi controlled Nobeoka, the Otomi controlled Takachiho, the Tomochi controlled Ebino, and the Shimazu controlled Miyakonojo. With this situation the Ito began to construct a network of 48 castles throughout their domain. The most important castles being Tonokori, Sadowara, Miyazaki, Takaoka, Aya, Obi, Hyuga, and Takachiho.
The Ito built a series of roads connecting the castles and built the castles upon mountains that provided natural protection and fortification. Buddhist temples were built within the castles and peasants would be protected in caves at the base of mountains. All men in their domain would be expected to bear arms with the samurai in the event of an invasion by another clan.
Within the Ito domain things were much more stable than in others. The Ito allowed local samurai greater freedoms than other daimyo allowed. For example, the Hosokawa of Aya were allowed to educate peasants in basic reading and writing, something unheard of during this period. To the Ito, a happy peasant class and a happy merchant class produces much more than a class that was treated harshly. Lavish festivals were held monthly and sponsored by the local lord. The Ito sponsored two festivals during the year in Sadowara, New Years and summer. People (samurai and common) from all over their domain attended these.
The agricultural success of the Ito domain began to gather the attention of the Shimazu. Their attention would have to wait though. In 1268 news of a new Mongul Emperor demanding Japanese tribute and submission reached the Ito and all clans of Japan. Kublai Khan amassed an invasion force of 600 ships to invade Japan in 1274.
The Kamakura Shogunate responded by calling an army of all districts in Japan to defense. The Ito joined forces in Kyushu with the Shimazu, Otomi, Tomochi, Takahashi, and Azuzaki. The Mongul invaders were defeated more by a typhoon than the gathered armies. After the first invasion the Kamakura Shogunate began to reinforce protection by constructing a network of defense positions along the western coast of Japan, and along all coasts of Kyushu.
By 1281, Khan had assembled another invasion force. Hakata on the coast of Fukuoka was the determined invasion point. For seven weeks the Ito and other clans held off the invasion. Again, a typhoon saved Japan. While Japan had been spared, the defense of the invasion cost the Kamakura dearly in terms of finances, food stores, and men. The clans of Japan were afraid that this would lead to breakdown of Shogunate rule.
Along with the other clans, the Ito demanded that the Kamakura ease taxation. By 1333 the Imperial family and supporters staged a successful coup against the Shogunate. The Ito joined forces with anti-Imperial forces with the Shimazu. Soon in 1336 the Imperial faction was defeated, and those loyal to the Ashikaga Shogun were granted their lands. Those not loyal had their lands stripped. The Takahashi lost their lands to the Otomi and the Ito. The Tomochi lost their lands to the Shimazu.
With new strength, controlling all of Satsuma, a big portion of Hyuga, Saga, and Kumamoto the Shimazu began to quickly build plans to dominate Kyushu. They had plenty of salt and knew that curing fish, meats, and preserving vegetables meant they could feed a large siege army.
The Shimazu in 1572 launched an invasion of Ito’s domain. Encircling their holdings and holding out in siege, in 1577 the Ito surrendered and sought protection from the Otomi in Shikoku. By the end of 1577 more than 90% of Kyushu was in Shimazu hands. The Otomi were concerned the Shimazu had plans to take Shikoku and then with an army comparable to that of the ruling Shogun, launch an invasion of Japan.
The Otomi and Ito went to Kyoto to talk to Shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The Shogun also showed concern of Shimazu power and formed an army to reclaim Kyushu. Agents of the Shogun negotiated with the Shimazu. Convinced of Shimazu assurance it was about controlling Kyushu and not Japan, the agents bartered a domain for the Ito centered in Obi. The Otomi were given half the Nobeoka domain. The Shogunate ordered a Shogunate controlled domain between the Ito and Shimazu to keep tensions from spreading.
The Shimazu then began acquiring from Portuguese traders the one thing their next round of conquest would give advantage, the arquebus rifle. With unification successfully resored through Japan by Toyotomi he set eyes of conquest on Korea. The Ito and Shimazu offered meager numbers of samurai. The invasion failed and greatly weakened the power of Toyotomi. The Shimazu used this as an opportunity to invade Okinawa and successfully establish it as a vassal domain to the Shimazu.
After the death of Toyotomi, the Shogunate was placed under the command of five Samurai clan leaders until Toyotomi’s six year old son came of age to claim the Shogunate. One of the regents was Tokugawa Ieyasu. Seizing the Shogunate ina bid for power the other four regents assembled an army and this came to a head at the battle of Sekigahara. The Ito and Otomi supported Ieyasu and the Shimazu supported the army under the command of Mitsunari Ishida. The forces of Tokugawa Ieyasu succeeded and Hyuga was restored under the control of Ito.
In 1603, Ieyasu became concerned of large domains and commanded that Obi be the domain of Ito, Sadowara be under the Shimazu, Takanabe under the Azuzaki, and Nobeoka under the Otomi. This balanced out power between fighting clans. As Ieyasu wrote in the command, “The Ito and their allies will control the farms, and the Shimazu will control the mountains.” This is one of the first changes Tokugawa would usher in to protect the Shogunate into the future.