Minamoto No Yoshitsune
Minamoto No Yoshitsune belonged to an elite lineage of the most popular warriors of his era. He held the distinction of being a military leader of the Minamoto clan, covering the late Heian Period until the early Kamakura era.
As a leader, he was able to perform a series of battles that resulted in the downfall of the Ise-Heishi branch where the Taira clan belonged.
Together with his brother Yoritomo, they strengthened the clan’s power over the Taira clan. He was one of the greatest samurai warriors of his time but he died due to the betrayal of the son of a trusted ally.
Minamoto No Yoshitsune Early Years
Minamoto No Yoshitsune was the son of Minamoto no Yoshitomo and Tokiwa Gozen. It was his older half-brother who founded the Kamakura Shogunate.
It was during the Heiji Rebellion when his father and two oldest brothers were killed. He was only able to live since he fled the capital with his mother.
Minamoto no Yoritomo, his other half-brother, was captured and exiled into the Izu Province. As a young boy, he started to learn not just to fight with swords.
He was a skilled swordsman but at the same time, Yoshitsune was also proficient in the arts. He was into music and studies, plus he also easily swayed the hearts of young ladies.
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This is better known as a memorial service tower dedicated to the fallen hero. This specific tower was built for the peaceful soul of Yoshitsune. This was also where he studied when he was still a child.
- Ikitsugi No Mizu
The third hall was referred to as Water for Rest. This place was where Ushikawa drank water while he was on his way to training.
In this place, a stone that is close to Yoshitsune’s height stands. The stones were placed on top of each other when he left the temple for the last time.
- Path of Ki-no Nemiti
Cedar roots appeared on the mountain path that forms an artistic arabesque design. He used the natural design to train his legs and other parts of his body
- Yoshitsune-do or better known as Yoshitsune’s Hall
This is where his spirit was enshrined. There lies a statue that is known as Syanaou.
He started his training with an important person named Benkei. This monk became famous for his great strength. They met when Benkei was wandering and searching for 1,000 swords.
This encounter took place at a shrine when Benkei heard a boy playing the flute. That time, Yoshitsune was carrying a golden sword at his waist. Coincidentally, it was the exact sword that Benkei sought for. A friendly duel took place after this.
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His childhood name was Ushiwakamaru. He was placed under the care of the monks at the age of 10. He did not want to become a monk which was the reason why he left with an old acquaintance of his father who was a gold merchant.
Later on, he moved to Hiraizumi. This is located in Mutsu Province. Here, Yoshitsune was placed under the security of Fujiwara no Hideira. This man was a powerful figurehead that belonged to the Northern Fujiwara clan.
He was perceived to be a sharp-witted military leader. As more romantic stories were told about his early childhood and the latter years of his life, people began to know more about the man behind the legend.
How His Career Started
Being a skilled swordsman, Minamoto No Yoshitsune was able to beat a legendary monk named Benkei in a duel. As a result, Benkei was assigned as Yoshitsune’s retainer.
Eventually, the monk died during the Siege of Koromogawa. During this time, Yoshitsune’s brother Yoritomo became the head of the Minamoto clan.
Yoritomo raised an army to fight the Taira clan under the patronage of Prince Mochihito. It must be remembered that the Taira or Heike clan was known to have grabbed the power of the emperor.
During the Genpei War, he joined Yoritomo along with Minamoto no Noriyori. Prior to this war, these brothers have never met.
Rise in Ranks
Minamoto No Yoshitsune joined his brother to defeat the Taira clan under the orders of Yoritomo. He was able to attack and kill a cousin who was a rival for the power of the Minamoto clan during the Battle of Awazu.
At this stage, Yoshitsune acquired the rank of general. He was able to defeat the Taira at the Battle of Ichi-no-Tani in present-day Kobe. Once again, he defeated the Taira clan in another battle at Shikoku.
He was able to destroy the Taira clan at the Battle of Dan-no-ura. It took him at least a month to be able to conquer the Taira clan.
Betrayal among Friends
Yoshitsune wandered around Japan for several years and disguised himself as a monk. He made a decision to move to Hiraizumi in the province of Mutsu, thinking that he was safe there.
At first, Yoshitsune remained undisturbed for the time being. However, Yoritomo forced Fujiwara no Yasuhira to attack Yoshitsune. Initially, Yasuhira promised his father to protect Yoshitsune but was forced to betray him instead.
This was the time when Yoshitsune was forced to commit seppuku. His was decapitated and his head was preserved in sake or local Japanese rice wine.
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Historical Facts and Fiction
The facts about Yoshitsune’s death are almost unknown. According to one of the historical accounts, he did not really commit seppuku.
However, it was said that he escaped from the Siege of Koromogawa. According to this story, he fled to Hokkaido. He also used another name Okikurumi (or sometimes known as Oinakamui).
In another account, did mention that Yoshitsune made his way beyond Hokkaido to sail towards the mainland continent of Asia. He was rumored to resurface under the guise of Genghis Khan.
In the anime series Kurozuka, Minamoto No Yoshitsune was a general of Japan’s Heian period. He is famous for his expedition that causes the downfall of Ise-Heishi.
Staying as much as possible to the real Yoshitsune, his character is assigned with tasks that are admired even by his clan. His anime character also died under the hands of his trusted allies. He is often hailed as one of the tragic heroes of the Genpei War.
Tribute to Minamoto no Yoshitsune
The shrine of Minamoto no Yoshitsune can be found in the Shirahata Jinja. This shrine is located in Fujisawa City. In the town of Biratori in Hokkaido, a shrine was erected in his honor.
Minamoto No Yoshitsune is embodied in the literature and culture of Japan. He is the protagonist in the third part of the Japanese literary classic entitled Heike Monogatari.
This is a Japanese term that means “Sympathy for a Tragic Hero”. A lot of literary accounts are perceived to be based on legends rather than facts from history.
End of His Life
After the Genpei war ended, Yoshitsune became the Governor of Iyo by edict of the emperor Go-Shirakawa. He was given other awards and titles. This made his brother Yoritomo jealous for being given these titles.
Yoshitsune decided to make his uncle Minamoto no Yukiie an ally against Yoritomo. His ambition consumed him and coupled with a suspicious nature, he committed a grave mistake. It was a lack of poor judgment on his part. This decision earned him the wrath of his brother.
Because of the severe opposition from this brother he fled to Kyoto with his faithful mistress Shizuka Gozen. During this period of time. His mistress was with the child.
Other resources dispute the fate of his mistress and that of his unborn child but, it was not mentioned the reason for questioning this tale. He decided to let Shizuka escape while he was taken in captivity by forces that are loyal to Yoritomo.
Another story of death states that Benkei managed to hold off his assailants. Thus, it gave Yoshitsune the time to kill his wife and commit suicide. His head was hanging while people who witnessed the incident could not help but feel sympathy towards the fallen warrior.
Years after this, Yoritomo was thrown from his horse. The horse was said to be startled seeing the ghost of the betrayed Yoshitsune. Even supporters of Yoritomo did acknowledge that Yoshitsune was a legend in his own right.
Cloak of Mystery
Although Minamoto No Yoshitsune had a very tragic death, it was an honorable one. This is why his memory left a mark on those who lived in that era, as well as those who read his story.
His name strikes a chord of admiration and praise. Even if he rebelled against Yoritomo this will not change the fact that he was a hero.
What really took place during the year of 1185 will always be shrouded with mystery. It cannot be denied that Yoshitsune’s achievements in the Genpei War had entirely changed the course of Japanese history. As a result, it earned him a place among the greatest of the Samurai.
Image Source: 中尊寺所蔵 [Public domain]