- "Powerful men still need what we provide."
- ―Chaya Shirojiro Kiyonobu.[src]
Chaya Shirōjirō Kiyonobu (茶屋四郎次郎 清延; 1545 – 1596) was a Japanese silk merchant and information dealer, part of the famous Chaya Shirōjirō family of Kyoto and active during the Sengoku period. Formerly the squire of Tokugawa Ieyasu, Kiyonobu was tasked by him to keep an eye on the Christian missionaries, and report any suspicion of Templar activities in Kyoto.
Kiyonobu was likely the first in the Chaya Shirōjirō line. Having served as Tokugawa Ieyasu's squire, he became one of the Tokugawa clan's primary suppliers, and eventually became Tokugawa's spy. He was tasked with keeping tabs on Christian missionaries in Kyoto and reporting any Templar activity.
Kiyonobu was introduced to one of Tokugawa's vassals, an Assassin called Hattori Hanzō, and would assign him missions on Tokugawa's behalf, but also for his own interests. In 1571, Kiyonobu instructed Hattori to assassinate the warlord Mōri Motonari, in order to weaken opposition against Oda Nobunaga. With Oda's victory, Tokugawa would be able to gain power and Japan would be unified under the latter. Hattori was successful, and Oda continued to conquer much of Japan.
In 1582, Akechi Mitsuhide marched towards the Honnō-ji temple, intending to kill Oda. With Hattori occupied with protecting Tokugawa, his fellow Assassin Yamauchi Taka was sent to Kiyonobu. The merchant told him to reach Oda before Akechi did, and retrieve Oda's Sword of Eden. The Sword would then be given to Liu Yan, who would take it to China, where it would be kept in safe hands. Kiyonobu also informed Yamauchi that Oda's fate was not relevant, noting that his time was at an end regardless.
After Yamauchi had assassinated Oda and retrieved his Sword, the warlord was succeeded by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who forced Kiyonobu to pledge loyalty to him. Despite this, Kiyonobu continued to secretly route supplies to Tokugawa, although Toyotomi's ashigaru guards began scrutinizing these dealings. Afraid of being caught, Kiyonobu tasked Hattori with eliminating an ashigaru captain, while admitting that it only served his own interests. Reluctantly, Hattori completed the task, and Kiyonobu assured him that Tokugawa would soon take power, making their business much safer.
At some point in the 1590s, Hattori approached Kiyonobu, seeking information about the Templar Mochizuki Chiyome. After being paid, Kiyonobu told the Assassin of Mochizuki's spies, and warned him that she would know of his plans to assassinate her. Before Hattori left, Kiyonobu bid him farewell, lamenting that the Assassin would not live much longer. Kiyonobu would be proven right, with Hattori being murdered in 1596.