|Seal of the Ito|
In 1190, the Kamakura shogunate gave control of Hyuga to Suketsune Kudo. Among his retainers were the Ito who had remained loyal to Kudo and Yoritomo Minamoto during the Kamakura campaigns. The Hosokawa were also loyal retainers of Minamoto and Kudo.
In 1330, the Ashikaga began a rebellion to wrest control from the corruption and brutality of the Kamakura shogunate. By 1333 the Ashikaga had succeeded and the Hosokawa were granted land in Aya and the Ito land in Tonokori. Both clans built mountain castles to show their power, influence, and prominence.
In 1334, the Hosokawa had finished Aya Castle and changed their family name to Aya. In 1337, the Ito completed Tonokori Castle. Both castles were of the mountain style. The castles used natural protection of cliffs and gorges for protection. Large moats were dug and the soil was used to build further barriers and ramparts.
During this time the Ito began to consolidate their power with other clans in Hyuga. In 1346 Obi Castle was built as a southern protection of Hyuga. Through marriage and alliances the Ito became the dominant family in Hyuga. By 1450 the Shimazu began their quest for Hyuga and all of Kyushu. In 1458, Obi Castle fell to the Shimazu, and the Ito and allies were able to stop further expansion by the Shimazu. In 1484, the Ito forces were able to reclaim Obi Castle.
After this the Ito began to build a further number of castles for the protection of Hyuga Province eventually totaling 48. They also formed alliances with other Kyushu lords like the Otomo in Bungo (today’s Oita Prefecture) and in Higo (modern Kumamoto). These lords were also afraid of Shimazu power expansion and intentions.
The Ito’s center of command and power was Tonokori Castle (modern Saito). It was decided if Aya fell that a flare would be sent and Tonokori would be abandoned and the Ito would flee and collect their vassals and retainers in an escape to Otomo lands in Bungo and Higo.
In 1570, the Shimazu began a second conquest of Hyuga. In 1572, the Ito were routed in the Battle of Kizakibaru (in modern Ebino) and Obi fell to the Shimazu a few weeks later. The Shimazu kept on the offensive and slowly Miyakonojo, Takajo, and Takaokajo fell to Shimazu control. The Ito were defeated in the Battle of Takabaru in 1577 (modern Kobayashi) and retreated in separate divisions to Aya, Tonokori, Sadowara, and Kadogawa. In December 1577, Aya fell to the Shimazu and Tonokori saw the flare. Quickly all along the line of the remaining castles flares were shot and Yoshisuke Ito gathered his family and retainers and left Tonokori. Along the way at such castles as Miyazaki, Sadowara, and Kadogawa, the Ito fled together to Bungo. Along the way they burned bridges and settlements to slow the advance of the Shimazu. They made Bungo by mid January 1578.
Half of the clan fled to then to Higo. Yoshisuke’s son, Mansho, would later become a Catholic seminarian in Nagasaki with the Jesuit order and be the lead diplomat on an embassy mission to the Vatican in 1586.
Yoshisuke, gathered samurai and retainers and left Bungo in February 1578 for Kyoto to petition the shogunate for help. They crossed the bay from Bungo to Sadamisaki in Shikoku. From there they traveled to Osaka Bay and landed in Osaka to finish the journey to Kyoto. By early May they had reached Kyoto and with other lords they warned of Shimazu expansion and informed Shogun Hideyoshi Toyotomi of the Shimazu danger.
Toyotomi quickly initiated a force to conquer Hyuga back from the Shimazu and by 1587 Hyuga had been returned to the Ito. To pacify the Shimazu the Ito granted them land in the Sadowara District. As a sign of gratitude the Ito granted the Akizuki the Saito domain, and the Naito (Otomo retainers) the Nobeoka domain. Toyotomi gave the Ito lordship over Hyuga with all domains ordered to give annual tax tribute to the Ito who had set their base of power up in Obi again.
The Ito backed Ieyasu Tokugawa in the Battle of Sekigahara and for this the Ito were allowed more tribute from the other samurai. The Shimazu who had turned against Tokugawa were penalized financially but not by lands being stripped because Tokugawa feared stripping them of land who start a revolt. The Shimazu were powerful, even though there were splits among their family. For example, the Shimazu in the Miyakonojo District were on friendly terms with the Ito where as the Shimazu in the Sadowara District saw the Ito as enemies.
Throughout the Tokugawa shogunate, the Ito expanded in wealth and influence with other families in the Tokugawa Court. This assured that they received protection from the shogunate. In 1625, to maintain the peace in Hyuga the shogunate set up five districts under direct Tokugawa control in Hyuga. These were: Miyazaki, Usuki, Koyu, Naka, and Morokata. The Ito made up the vast samurai numbers who manned the districts as a military force loyal solely to the Tokugawa.
After the Meiji Reforms began, the Ito proved loyal to the Tokyo government and served among the first high ranking members of the government and military. By 1920, the Ito had moved to Tokyo and their holdings in the established Miyazaki Prefecture were sold to the prefecture.