Minamoto No Yoritomo

minamoto no yoritomo

Minamoto No Yoritomo

The Kamakura Shogunate was founded by Minamoto no Yoritomo, the first shogun of the said government. He was born in Atsuta in Owari Province which is present-day Atsuta-ku, Nagoya. He practiced Buddhism and was given the Buddhist name Ogosho Atsushi Dai Zenmon.

The Yoritomo and Minamoto clan were descendants of the Imperial family on his father’s side. However, the Taira clan was under Kiyomori while the Minamoto clan was under its leader Yoshitomo. These clans formed into smaller factions. He along with his brother Yoshitsune strengthened the clan’s power over the Taira clan.

Minamoto No Yoritomo Early Childhood

Minamoto no Yoritomo was the heir of the Minamoto or Seiwa Genji clan. His wife was Urahime. She was a member of a prestigious Fujiwara clan.

When he was born, his grandfather Minamoto no Tameyoshi was the head of their clan. As a child, he was given the name Oniwakamaru. Yoritomo was of noble birth and was said to be a descendant of Emperor Seiwa through royal lineage.

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Tale of Genji

The Tale of Genji from the Genji clan was popular among those in the Heian Court back then. It is still popular today. This was the first novel ever written.

The novel gives people today a view about life during Minamoto no Yoritomo’s life in the Heian period of feudal Japan. It tells how the Genji clan had a military and aristocratic background. The tale also tells about how Yoritomo was not happy with the Imperial court’s ways.

Yoritomo wanted power but he was also jealous and suspicious. He was envious even with those who were under his circle. He went so far as exterminating some of his relatives to be able to accomplish his ambitions. After doing so, he proved himself to be a great administrator of his clan.

Minamoto No Yoritomo At Hogen Rebellion

In 1156, due to divisions in the court, there was open warfare within the capital. Certain clans sided with others, resulting in the splitting of Seiwa Genji. This civil war was known as the Hogen Rebellion. This civil war did not last long and was quickly resolved.

The war was about who would succeed to take the Japanese Imperial throne. Another issue was the power that the Fujiwara clan had since they inherited the Imperial Court title during the Heian period.

This particular war established the Samurai clans. This rebellion caused a chain of events that led to the building of governments ruled by the Samurai.

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Minamoto No Yoritomo At Heiji Rebellion

A few years after the success of the Hogen Rebellion, the generals who were once allies began pitting against each other. What follows next is what in feudal Japanese history refers to as Heiji Rebellion.

This was a short civil war between the rival subjects of Emperor Go-Shirakawa. They fought over political power. The Heiji War, as it is sometimes referred, is a direct outcome of the Hogen Rebellion.

However, the difference was that this was a conflict between members of the same clan who were struggling for power. The emperor stepped down from his former role as emperor. However, his retirement did not stop him from running his influence through the powers of his successor.

Opportunity for Uprising

The head of the Taira clan left for Kyoto with his family on a pilgrimage. This gave his enemies the chance to start an uprising. Those who belonged to the Minamoto clan and Fujiwara no Nobuyori started the Heiji Rebellion.

However, during the dispute in the province of Kyoto, Minamoto Yoshitomo was defeated. His son Minamoto no Yoritomo was captured and was sent to Izu Province as an exile.

lived under the surveillance of Taira for 20 years. During this period of exile, Yoritomo seduced the daughter of his jailer. This angered his jailer Ito Sukechika. This prompted Yoritomo’s escape.

Rebellion against the Taira Clan

Prince Mochihito, the son of Emperor Go Shirakawa, was humiliated when the Taira clan claimed the throne despite the new emperor being half-Taira. He sought the help of the Minamoto clan that spread throughout different parts of feudal Japan.

The Prince justified this uprising. This resulted in the Genpei War. Mochihito died shortly before Yoritomo could even lead his men to battle.

In fact, this helped Yoritomo gain the support from the feudal lords of the eastern provinces. Even some members of the Taira clan joined him in this crusade. However, they were disappointed with the rewards of their participation.

Minamoto No Yoritomo Destroying the Enemies

Yoritomo gave himself the title Sei-i Taishogun which roughly translates to Chief Commander of the Expeditions against Barbarians. He became the supreme commander over the feudal lords during the Kamakura Shogunate.

In 1185, he destroyed Fujiwara no Yasuhira to establish his power over Kyoto. This sealed his position as head of the Kamakura Shogunate.

When he assumed the position, he found a way to relieve the animosity between those under him. Those included the military lords, court aristocrats, and the head of the powerful temples, and shrines

Minamoto no Yoritomo was able to improve the relationship between the Shugo and jito. Simply put, the political relationship of those who governed the court of Kyoto and those that ran Yoritomo’s government in Kamakura lived in harmony under his leadership.

Despite his leadership skills, he was cruel and was responsible for the death of his cousins and brothers. He found ways to prevent his vassals and military class from clashing.

This was because he was aiming for stability while governing the Kamakura Shogunate. However, Yoritomo died in 1199.

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Legacy of Minamoto No Yoritomo

Minamoto Yoritomo was credited for being the founder of a system that allowed feudal lords to rule Japan for more than 700 years. He defied the emperor by establishing Shugo or constables and jito or district stewards.

He spread these throughout the Japanese provinces. This system weakened the power of the central government’s local administrative force.

He was given the title as Supreme Commander or Shogun over these constables and district stewards. In other words, he had his own small government that ran the show in these provinces.

Image Source: Myshkin. [CC BY-SA]