Matsunaga Clan

The Origin, History, and Crest of the Family Name MATSUNAGA from SAGA

Edited on Oct. 6, 2022.

Back in 2018, I used the services of Patternz to research my mother's Japanese family line. The result was the following report. I still have much to do to find out more about my relatives history in Japan.

The family name MATSUNAGA is seen a lot in Tokai region of Honshu (including Aichi, Shizuoka, Mie and southern Gifu prefectures) and Kyushu region, especially in Nagasaki Prefecture.

According to The Great Dictionary of Japanese Surnames, many MATSUNAGA are seen as a name of the place in Japan. While there are many descriptions of origins of MATSUNAGA clans/families throughout Japan, we've picked three items which should be relatable to your family.

Below is the list.

  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)

Let's take a look at from the number 1 which is the closest to your family domicile, Saga (and Nagasaki Prefecture).

Note that we write names in Japanese order that the first name comes after the family name or clan name, also added the Japanese era in brackets after the Christian era where is possible.


In this item, it says there used to be the Matsunaga clan which was loyal to the Southern Court (in the period of the Northern and Southern Courts [1336­-1392]) in Chinzei. ‘Chinzei’ is a little tricky term which can indicate the overall Kyushu area while there used be the area called ‘Chinzei’ in which is present northern Karatsu City in Saga Prefecture. However, think of a fact the description below indicates Fukuoka Prefecture, the term here represents the whole Kyushu area particularly Fukuoka Prefecture.

In the early era of the 17th century, this clan produced a Buddhist monk named Matsunaga Magoshiro Nyudo Shosai (or Seisai), who practiced divination by given oracles, the common people worshiped him and the Tento shrine was constructed in Taromaru­Mura (Taromaru Village), Honami­Gun (Honami County), Chikuzen­no­Kuni (Chikuzen Province, present Fukuoka Prefecture). A lot of followers visited the shrine and the Tento town was built around it (present address is Tento, Iizuka City).

Note that the term Nyudo represents a monk.

However, this shrine has another origin theory which dates back to way before than 17th century but the 10th century according to the tradition. In addition to that, there's no information of the family crest or the lineage of this Matsunaga clan. Although it's the closet one to your family domicile which might have some connection to your family, we put this one aside for those reasons.


Let's go to the next one. Matsunaga Clan in Mikawa­no­Kuni (Mikawa Province, present Aichi Prefecture). The description says this Matsunaga clan has its origin goes back to the Fujiwara clan. We will see what is the Fujiwara clan later in this section.

It was a powerful clan in the area. Matsunaga Heiza'emon served Matsudaira Kiyoyasu, who was the 7th head of the Matsudaira clan and a grandfather of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Heiza'emon's son, Genzo served Ieyasu with the stipend of 150 koku (present value 101,400 US dollars) which can be seen in Kansei Choshu Shokafu (genealogies of vassals in Edo Bakufu [Edo Shogunate government]). Their family crests were Maru­ni Yoko­mokko (A Bird's Nest Pattern in a Circle) and Tsuta (Ivy).

Note that the koku is the unit of annual yield (rice), we calculate 1 koku equal $676 as present value (as of 2018). Also, not a few samurai families held more than one family crest in the Warring States period (1493­1573) and after.

So that we see the Tsuta­mon (Ivy crest) here, which is the same kamon of yours which tells us this clan should be one of the candidates of your family origin. Let’s see what is the the Fujiwara clan they claimed they were the descendant of.


The Fujiwara clan is the most famous and powerful clan in Japanese history as it produced a lot of court nobles who have remained as the major force in the court for over than 1,200 years.

The origin of the Fujiwara clan is considered to be the Nakatomi clan (one of the clans which branched out from the time of the gods), held the title of Asomi (Ason) since the Asuka period (the 7th century).

Note that the title of 'Asomi' used to be the second rank in court next to the first rank of 'Mahito' in the 7th century. 'Mahito' was only for royal family, so 'Asomi' was the most powerful rank practically.

The originator was Nakatomi no Kamatari who was given a surname of 'Fujiwara' from Emperor Tenji for the distinguished service in the Taika Reform (645). The Taika Reform was about a series of reform measures aim to achieve the centralization of political power and to enhance the influence of the Imperial court.

Fujiwara no Fuhito, Kamatari's son, actually began using the surname of 'Fujiwara' since Kamatari died a day after Emperor Tenji gave him a surname. Among Fuhito's children, Fusasaki produced the most flourished line of the Fujiwara clan called 'Fujiwara Hokke' (the Northern House of the Fujiwara Clan), established the status and solidified the power over political arena.

Many branches of this line have kept the power until the late 19th century.

Let us introduce you the lineage of the Fujiwara clan (the notable figures and the clan) below which dates back to the age of gods.

The Lineage of the Fujiwara Clan

  1. Fujiwara no Kamatari 614-669
  2. Nakatomi Clan
  3. Ame no Koyane no Mikoto The Age of Gods

1. WHO’S FUJIWARA NO KAMATARI 614-669 (Emperor Suiko 22 - Emperor Tenji 8)

Fujiwara no Kamatari, originally Nakatomi no Kamatari was a courtier and politician in the Asuka period (the late 7th century to 710) who originated the most powerful clan, the Fujiwara clan in Japanese history. Practically, when we mention him when he was alive, we call him 'Nakatomi no Kamatari' and when we mention him as the originator of the Fujiwara clan, we call him 'Fujiwara no Kamatari' as he was given a surname of 'Fujiwara' by Emperor Tenji the day before he died.

Kamatari showed the interest in Chinese history books and recited Rikuto (one of the representative Chinese books on strategy) when he was a kid. He studied the teaching of Confucius under Minabuchi Shoan who studied in Sui and Tang dynasties (present China) as a Japanese envoy. Kamatari had Soga no Iruka as one of his mates at Shoan's private school.

Kamatari secretly set his mind to bring down the Soga clan, began looking for prince he could support to assume the throne.

In 645, along with Prince Naka no Oe (later became Emperor Tenji) and Ishikawa Maro, he assassinated Soga no Iruka who had reigns of government at the Asuka Itabuki no Miya (the Imperial Palace of Emperor Kogyoku in the 7th century) and made Iruka's father, Soga no Emishi to commit suicide. Kamatari was appointed a political adviser to the crown prince and gained control of military affairs due to this achievement. Also, it's considered that he was in charge of foreign affairs as he attended diplomatic mission from Tang China and Silla (ancient Korean kingdom).

Kamatari died the day after he was appointed Minister of the Center and received 'Taishikikan', the highest rank one could get at the time and he was the only one who got it, also received a surname of 'Fujiwara' by Emperor Tenji.

After his death, Kamatari was enshrined in the Tanzan Jinja in To'o­no­mine, Sakurai City, Nara Prefecture, also he became a main enshrined­deity in Shinobugaoka Jinja in Shijo­nawate City, Osaka Prefecture.


In ancient times, Nakatomi clan was one of the central powerful clans in charge of Shinto rituals and festivals in the court along with Inbe clan. They were based in near Yamashina which is present day of Nakatomi­ Cho (Nakatomi Village), Yamashina­Ku (Yamashina Ward), Kyoto City. The originator is considered to be Ame no Koyane no Mikoto.


Ame no Koyane no Mikoto is one of the deities who appears in Japanese mythology. He is also called as Kasuga Gongen in jinja shrines. Ame no Koyane no Mikoto is the son of Kogoto Musubi and he married to Ame no Mitsutamateru no Mikoto.

He played an important role in the hiding of Amaterasu (the female Sun deity) in a heavenly rock cave. The world was in the utter darkness since Amaterasu hid in the cave and people were in trouble. Other deities got together, made a plan to let her out of the cave so they can bring back the light again. Ame no Koyane chanted Shinto prayer and placed the mirror in front of the cave when Amaterasu slightly opened the cave door.

Also, he accompanied when Ninigi no Mikoto, one of the descendants of Amaterasu, went down on to earth. In Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters compiled in 712 which is considered to be the oldest extant chronicle in Japan), there's a description that he is the originator of Nakatomi clan.


Now, let's move on to the last one, the Matsunaga clan originated in Yamato­no­Kuni (Yamato Province, present Nara Prefecture). This is the clan which produced Hisahide as known as Matsunaga Danjo Hisahide.

Note that Danjo is the title of the government which office worked as board of censorship and had the right to impeach. Hisashide’s actual title was Danjo Shohitsu which was positioned under the vice­minister of Danjo with the Senior Fifth Rank, Lower Grade.

In this item, the description says the clan is a large clan of the Sengoku period (Warring States period from 1493­-1573) and has its roots in the Fujiwara clan so it’s the same with the Matsunaga clan in Mikawa Province. The place of origin is unknown. Originally, they are thought to be merchants and served the Miyoshi clan, then became samurais as the main retainer of Miyoshi Nagayoshi.

Since Hisahide carried the Tsuta­mon as his family crest, there’s a high probability this Matsunaga clan can be ancestors of yours.

In addition to that, think of a fact that your great­ grandmother still followed the samurai customs, which should be translated as your ancestor should have served as a retainer in the Saga Domain (also called Hizen Domain or Nabeshima Domain). But is there any clue that members of the Matsunaga clan who had the same origin with Hisahide in this region?


Although we don’t have the resource to back up this claim, there are some notable figures such as Matsunaga Sadaichi ( [1892­-1965]) who was a vice ­admiral in Imperial Japanese Navy, his son, Ichiro ( [1919­-2005]) who was a naval lieutenant born in Saga Prefecture, and Ichiro’s daughter Mari ( [1954­ ]) born in Nagasaki Prefecture being famous for designing ‘i­mode’ (a mobile internet service in Japan) who claimed that they are the descendants of Matsunaga Hisahide.

According to an account, Matsunaga Hisamichi, who was the heir of Hisahide, had a son named Hikobe’e Ichimaru or Kazumaru who moved down to Hakata, Chikuzen­no­Kuni (Chikuzen Province, present Western Fukuoka Prefecture), opened a pawnshop and became a wealthy merchant. Hikobe'e’s descendant was supposed to become retainers of the Saga Domain. There are names of this Matsunaga clan; Matsunaga Munetomo as a retainer of the Saga Domain and Matsunaga Shouemon as a retainer of Kashima Domain which was a branched domain of the Saga Domain.

Let us share our thoughts about your family origin at the bottom of this report in the section of the final thought after we check the origin and history of the tsuta­mon (ivy crest).

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 - 1892-1965
  • Matsunaga Ichiro - 1919-2005
  • Matsunaga Mari - 1954 - present