Although Japan has a very rich traditional culture, the samurai are one aspect of it that particularly fascinates foreigners. Renowned for being excellent sword warriors, they were also highly esteemed by the people during feudal Japan. Today there are some of these samurai who have particularly marked history for having won important war campaigns and for having accumulated numerous feats of arms. All this with the sole purpose of serving their country and their family. Today we are going to talk about one of these famous samurai who is none other than the most famous samurai in the entire history of feudal Japan: Minamoto no Yoshitsune .
Who is Minamoto no Yoshitsune?
Born in 1159, Minamoto no Yoshitsune was a nobleman and military commander of the Minamoto clan (one of the four great samurai clans) from the Heian period (794-1185) to the early Kamakura period (1185-1333). ). He was the ninth son of Minamoto no Yoshitomo (1123-1160) who himself was a supporter of another samurai clan, the Taira, during the Hogen Disturbance in 1156. However, this bias cost the death of his father (the Yoshitsune's grandfather).
Yoshimoto then tried to oppose the now rival Taira clan three years later but he failed and was assassinated. Only three of his sons will be spared. Minamoto no Yoritomo, the eldest son, will survive thanks to the request of his aunt Kiyomori and will be sent to Izu under the control of the Hōjō clan to take over the leadership of the Minamoto. His half-brother Minamoto no Noriyori will be exiled and Minamoto, the future legendary samurai, will be sent to a monastery to become an apprentice while he was still a child.
Black and White Samurai (5 pieces)
Minamoto no Yoshitsune was eventually transferred to Mutsu at the age of 11 where the provincial governor, Fujiwara Hidehira, provided him with shelter and food. There is very little information about the childhood of Minamoto no Yoshitsune but what is certain is that this child who was born seeing his brothers and his father being executed would grow up with a deep hatred in his blood for the Taira clan.
The clash between Minamoto no Yoshitsune and Minamoto no Yoshinaka
In May in the year 1180, the son of the Emperor of Japan at the time Go-Shirakawa, Mochihito, incited the Taira and Minamoto clans to go to war and even published this publicly to push the Minamoto clan to to act. He thus triggered the Genpei civil war which lasted until 1185. However, he was killed a month later in June and one of the leaders of the Minamoto armies, Minamoto no Yorimasa, committed suicide by seppuku after having taken an arrow during the battle of Uji to avoid being captured by the enemies. It is also one of the first seppuku in the history of the samurai that we know to this day. Minamoto no Yoritomo will eventually raise an army in the Kanto region to fight the Taira.
This is when Minamoto no Yoshitsune will enter the scene by finding his brother Minamoto no Yoritomo. After more than twenty years of separation, they will ally together to defeat the Taira clan. While Yoshitsune and Yoritomo's cousin, Minamoto no Yoshinaka, will tip the scales in their clan by winning the Battle of Kurikara against the Taira clan on June 2, 1183. He will take the opportunity to request the place of heir of the Minamoto clan from Yoritomo . Unable to tolerate this, Yoritomo refused his request and this point of contact marked the beginning of hostilities between these two samurai.
Under the pretext of bad conduct of Yoshinaka's troops, Yoshitsune will be sent by his brother Yoritomo with his other brother Noriyori to fight and kill him. Yoshinaka, however, took care to place troops on the Uji River which separated him from his now enemy cousins Yoshitsune and Noriyori in order to block the two points of access to the region, namely the Uji Bridge and the Seta Bridge, this which consequently forced Yoshitsune's troops to split in two.
While Yoshitsune headed towards Uji Bridge with half the troops, his brother Noriyori took command of the other half of their army and headed towards Seta Bridge. The clash was brief and intense and ended in a crushing victory for the Yoshitsune and Noriyori brothers. They were thus able to cross the Uji and Seta bridges. Yoshinaka then tried to flee with the few soldiers he had left as well as the only female samurai we know to date, Tomoe Gozen. Attempt to escape which will be a failure and he will end up killing himself by seppuku.
The final battle between the Minamoto and the Taira
The victory of the Minamoto brothers over Yoshinaka earned them the support of Emperor Go-Shirakawa who gave them a mandate to continue the war against the Taira clan. Yoshitsune and his brother Noriyori then set off for the western provinces in order to take a strategic position called Settsu which would later give them access to the Seto Inland Sea.
This is therefore what they did and they continued their conquest in order to take possession of the Taira outpost located at Ichi no Tani, this place constituted a fortification of choice because it had a strong inclination to the rear which made it difficult to besiege. Yoshitsune then attacked to the west in the northern region of Ichi with 10,000 men and his brother Noriyori attacked from the east with more than 50,000 men. Their offensive took place at night and was a great success because the men of the Taira clan were mostly asleep and were not prepared for such a siege.
The two brothers then returned to Kyoto victorious to celebrate this battle with their clan. However, Noriyori will leave shortly after in the direction of Kyushu in order to eliminate the last followers of the Taira clan. His brother Yoshitsune will be forced to stay with his older brother Yoritomo in Kyoto. Disagreements will then begin to take place between Yoshitsune and Yoritomo because after their victory over the Taira clan, Yoshitsune and Noriyori received honorary titles that Yoritomo will challenge with Yoshitsune. Conversely, he made no objection to the titles granted to Noriyori.
These disagreements, however, did not prevent Yoshitsune from returning to war in March 1185 when he was charged with attacking Yashima. He therefore gathered many ships but a dispute broke out between Kajiwara Kagetoki (a close friend of Yoritomo) and Yoritomo due to the storm at sea which threatened to sink Yoshitsune's entire fleet. Yoshitsune finally set sail with his ships directly from Yashima. Once again it will be a victory for the Minamoto clan who crushed the Taira clan with their numerous warships. Yoshitsune won this battle thanks to the capture of Munemori (the heir son of Taira no Kiyomori) which allowed him to gain a strategic advantage during the confrontation. The Taira clan was thus definitively defeated and it was partly this battle that made the samurai Minamoto no Yoshitsune so famous. The entire Taira royal family will eventually be sent into the water to be executed and this gesture will be followed by many loyal warriors who had thus far survived the battle. Yoshitsune's older brother, Yoritomo became shogun following their clan's victory over the Taira.
The deterioration of relations between Yoshitsune and Yorimoto
The treacherous nature of people at that time to gain power made Yoritomo wary, especially since his cousin Yoshinaka had already coveted his position as heir to the Minamoto clan in the past. Little by little his relations deteriorated with his brother Yoshitsune. To make matters worse, Kagetoki, a close friend of Yoritomo, who was by nature a rival to Yoshitsune, took care to only report bad news concerning him to shogun Yoritomo.
Yoshitsume was then refused access to Kamakura while his older brother Noriyori remained outside of all these quarrels and family problems. Yoshitsune tried to defend himself as best he could from these slanders and false accusations spread about him, highlighting his loyalty to his clan and his brother due to his involvement in the numerous battles fought against the Taira clan. But the shogun did nothing, unfortunately deceived in his vision of things under the influence of Kagetoki's vicious advice. Time did not help matters, Yoshitsume's reputation deteriorated further with his older brother Yoritomo who even considered him at the end as a traitor of the Minamoto clan, suspecting him of wanting to overthrow him to gain the title of shogun.
The fratricidal war between the Minamotos
Yoritomo then decided to kill his brother Yoshitsune and ordered his younger brother Noriyori to go and confront him for him. Noriyori refused this order having fought hand in hand several times with his brother Yoshitsune and was consequently exiled from the capital. Tosa no bo Masatoshi would take his place in charge of Yoritomo's armies but would later be captured and killed by Yoshitsune's men.
Samurai Army (5 pieces)
Yoshitsune learned of the hunt that had just been launched in his pursuit and therefore obtained imperial authorization from Go-Shirakawa to officially go to war against his brother. He allied himself with his uncle Minamoto Yukiie who had already fought alongside him in order to begin assembling an army, however they were forced to take refuge in Kyushu because men loyal to Shogun Yoritomo were tracking them. Yoritomo's men eventually found them at Settsu, and Yoshitsune's army dwindled significantly after a battle between them. Yoshitsune was then forced to hide in the hills of southern Kyoto where he settled in Mutsu with his former tutor Fujiwara Hidehira, in order to find shelter and food.
Unfortunately Hidehira died shortly after and the will he left at his death to make Yoshitsune governor of the province was ignored by his son Fujiwara Yasuhira. This story caused a stir in the surrounding area and Yoshitsune, who then found himself without an army or power, was found by the armies of his brother Yoritomo on June 13, 1189 while he was staying in the former house of Hidehira (located in Fujiwara) with his old friend Benkei. Yoshitsune then killed his wife who was at his side and then committed suicide by seppuku so as not to be captured and killed by his brother's men.
His severed head was then transported in front of the crowds to Kamakura in front of the very sad eyes of the inhabitants, many of whom had a great deal of affection and esteem for Yoshitsune. Yoshitsune who, despite what his brother might believe, remained faithful to his Minamoto clan and demonstrated on more than one occasion courage and military genius to overcome the clan that had murdered his father and his brothers whom he will never have the chance to know.