MINAMOTOS VERSUS THE TAIRA CLAN IN THE HEIAN PERIOD (794-1185)

RISE OF THE MILITARY CLASS IN JAPAN


Under the early courts, when military conscription had been centrally controlled, military affairs had been taken out of the hands of the provincial aristocracy. But as the system broke down after 792, local power holders again became the primary source of military strength. Shoen holders had access to manpower and, as they obtained improved military technology (such as new training methods, more powerful bows, armor, horses, and superior swords) and faced worsening local conditions in the ninth century, military service became part of shoen life. Not only the shoen but also civil and religious institutions formed private guard units to protect themselves. Gradually, the provincial upper class was transformed into a new military elite based on the ideals of the bushi (warrior) or samurai (literally, one who serves). [Source: Library of Congress *]

Bushi interests were diverse, cutting across old power structures to form new associations in the tenth century. Mutual interests, family connections, and kinship were consolidated in military groups that became part of family administration. In time, large regional military families formed around members of the court aristocracy who had become prominent provincial figures. These military families gained prestige from connections to the imperial court and court-granted military titles and access to manpower. The Fujiwara, Taira, and Minamoto were among the most prominent families supported by the new military class. *

F.W. Seal wrote in Samurai Archives: “The court had at one time moved to limit the potential power of the clans by decreeing that weapons were to be restricted to the Imperial military or otherwise regulated by the Ministry of Military Affairs (the Hyôbûsho). As conscription was abandoned in the early Heian Period, so was this decidedly half-hearted law. Just when one could really begin to refer to 'warrior houses', however, is a matter of great debate. The truth is that much of the development of the samurai is a matter of conjecture. We do see the term applied to palace guards in the 10th Century, but little can be drawn from that example beyond an affirmation of the 'one who serves' translation of the word. That the clans maintained some form of private army can be safely assumed, but to the extent that these were professional is most unclear, and likely the archetypal samurai of the 10th-13th Century was much like the later jizamurai - men of the land who counted military service as but one of their duties. Nonetheless, that a plentiful basis for the warrior tradition in Japan would be provided in the Heian Period goes without saying. [Source: F.W. Seal, Samurai Archives samurai-archives.com ]

Provincial warriors and heads of provincial warrior were major power holders during the Heian period but they were not respected as they would be later on. According to “Topics in Japanese Cultural History”: For the most part, “warriors enjoyed no prestige among the aristocrats of Heian Japan. They were regarded as uncultured boors, hardly worthy of respect. Aristocratic capital society held skill in the military arts in the lowest regard. Indeed, to suggest that another aristocrat was "skilled with a bow" or something to that effect was a common form of insult. When one or another of these bands of local warriors got out of hand, becoming outlaws or rebels, the imperial court summoned other warrior bands to attack the rebels. As incentive, the court usually offered grants of minor rank. That the court’s strategy was successful, at least for a while, suggests it retained much cultural prestige in the provinces, even if it lacked its own military might.” [Source: “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org *~*]

Good Websites on Nara- and Heian-Period Japan: Essay on Nara and Heian Periods aboutjapan.japansociety.org ; Ancient Japan Links on Archeolink archaeolink.com ; Wikipedia article on the Nara Period Wikipedia ; Wikipedia article on the Heian Period Wikipedia ; Essay on the Japanese Missions to Tang China aboutjapan.japansociety.org ; Kusado Sengen, Excavated Medieval Town mars.dti.ne.jp ; Kojiki, Nihongi and Sacred Shinto Texts sacred-texts.com ; Good Photos of Yamato, Nara and Heian Sites at Japan-Photo Archive japan-photo.de ; List of Emperors of Japan friesian.com ;

Nara Nara Prefecture site pref.nara.jp ;Nara City site narashikanko.jp Nara Art at the Tokyo National Museum www.tnm.jp/en ; Temples and Shrines in Nara Park Kofukuji site kohfukuji.com ; Yamasa yamasa.org ; UNESCO World Heritage site: UNESCO website; Kasuga Taisha Shrine (in Nara Park) Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Japan Guide japan-guide.com ; UNESCO World Heritage site: UNESCO website Todaiji Temple Wikipedia Wikipedia UNESCO World Heritage site: UNESCO website Toshodaiji Japan Guide japan-guide.com UNESCO World Heritage site: UNESCO website Shosoin Treasury Repository and Nara Museum aris.ss.uci.edu

Mt. Hiei and Enryaku-ji Temple Websites: Enryaku-ji Temple official site hieizan.or.jp; Photos taleofgenji.org ; Marathon monks Lehigh.edu ; Tale of Genji Sites: The Tale of Genji.org (Good Site) taleofgenji.org ; Murasaki Shikibu Biography womeninworldhistory.com ; Tale of Genji Links meijigakuin.ac.jp ; Nara and Heian Art Sites at the Metropolitan Museum in New York metmuseum.org ; Heian Art at the British Museum britishmuseum.org

Good Early Japanese History Websites: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com; Essay on Early Japan aboutjapan.japansociety.org ; Japanese Archeology www.t-net.ne.jp/~keally/index.htm ; Ancient Japan Links on Archeolink archaeolink.com ;Essay on Rice and History aboutjapan.japansociety.org

Good Japanese History Websites: ; Wikipedia article on History of Japan Wikipedia ; Samurai Archives samurai-archives.com ; National Museum of Japanese History rekihaku.ac.jp ; Japanese History Documentation Project openhistory.org/jhdp ; Cambridge University Bibliography of Japanese History to 1912 ames.cam.ac.uk ; Sengoku Daimyo sengokudaimyo.co ; English Translations of Important Historical Documents hi.u-tokyo.ac.jp/iriki ; WWW-VL: History: Japan (semi good but dated source ) vlib.iue.it/history/asia/Japan ; Forums Delphi Forums, Good Discussion Group on Japanese History forums.delphiforums.com/samuraihistory ; Tousando tousando.proboards.com

Minamoto and Taira Clans


Minamoto no Tsunemoto

The most famous non-Fujiwara clans — and later many powerful families — owed their existence to a bit of foresight on the part of the Asuka-era leader, Emperor Temmu. F.W. Seal wrote in Samurai Archives: “ Concerned that in time the Imperial house would grow to an unmanageable size and cost, Temmu declared that descendants of the emperors in the sixth generation were to be deprived of the rank of prince and instead receive a family name. This began to be observed in the time of Kammu (r.782-805) and provided the genesis of the Taira and Minamoto. [Source: F.W. Seal, Samurai Archives samurai-archives.com |~|]

“The Taira (or Heike, or Heishi) were descended from Prince Katsurabara (the emperor Kammu’s son), whose eldest son Takamune first took the name Taira. Katsurabara’s second son, Takami, received permission to give the Taira name to his own son, Takamochi. Takamochi received the name in 889 on the authority of the emperor Uda and his son Kunika (d.935) settled in Hitachi province. It is primarily the line established by Takami’s descendants that we will be encountering from this point onward. |~|

“The Minamoto (or Genji) were founded in a similar way but in their case, a total of four branches were established, each of which was named after the emperor from it was descended: the Saga-Genji, Murakami-Genji, Uda-Genji, and Seiwa-Genji. Of these four, the last could be considered the most important historically. Founded by the son of Prince Sadazumi (and therefore grandson of the emperor Seiwa), Tsunemoto (894-961), this branch took the name Minamoto in 961. |~|

“Contrary to what one might think, there was little unity of purpose amongst the various branches of the Taira and Minamoto. This is relevant in that the rise of the warrior house is sometimes attributed to the formation and growth of these two clans, which while true to some extent, is misleading. The names Taira and Minamoto were practically generic by the 11th Century, and numerous members of the two families formed their own offshoot families, often taking the name of the district in which they lived (the Ashikaga of Shimotsuke are a nice example). Furthermore, the court enjoyed a greater influence in the provinces then might be expected. One of the ways in which it affected this was the appointment of trusted men who became career governors. Most commonly drawn from the Minamoto and Taira families, these men were given successive appointments in various provinces, sometimes where a questionable element was thought to exist. As well as providing strong governors where needed, this strategy also assured that no Minamoto or Taira chieftain would be in one place long enough to form dangerously strong ties with his vassals there. |~|

“As Jeffery Mass has pointed out, the various heads of the Minamoto and Taira were military-nobles, leaders whose ties were strong in both capital and province. Later events (those leading up to and following the Gempei War) do not weaken this view - rather, they substantiate them.The Heiji Disturbance of 1156, for instance, saw Minamoto and Taira allied on either side of the contest, and very much a part of Kyoto politics in general. Taira Kiyomori and Minamoto Yoritomo were able to achieve what they did largely as a result of the familiarity of their houses and the court.” |~|

Rise of the Minamotos and the Tairas

Thomas Hoover wrote in “Zen Culture”: The Japanese aristocracy had ruled the land for hundreds of years practically without drawing a sword, using diplomatic suasion so skillful that Heian was probably the only capital city in the medieval world entirely without fortifications. This had been possible partly because of the ruling class’s willingness to let taxable lands slip from their control—into the hands of powerful provincial leaders and rich monasteries—rather than start a quarrel. For occasions when force was required, they delegated the responsibility to two powerful military clans, the Taira and the Minamoto, who roamed the land to collect taxes, quell uprisings, and not incidentally to forge allegiances with provincial chieftains. The Taira were in charge of the western and central provinces around Kyoto, while the Minamoto dominated the frontier eastern provinces, in the region one day to hold the warrior capital of Kamakura. The astounding longevity of their rule was a tribute to the aristocrats’ skill in playing off these two powerful families against each other, but by the middle of the twelfth century they found themselves at the mercy of their bellicose agents, awakening one day to discover ruffians in the streets of Kyoto as brigands and armed monks invaded the city to burn and pillage. [Source : “Zen Culture” by Thomas Hoover, Random House, 1977]

It was not until the end of the Heian period that the warriors began to challenge the authority of the central government. According to “Topics in Japanese Cultural History”:“In general, it is fair to say that the central government was inefficient and (potentially, at least) very weak. One reason it remained in power so long is that there were no external military threats to Japan from the outside. Internally, the central government relied on a balance of power strategy to maintain control of the provinces. If one warrior group threatened to cause problems (as some did from time to time), the court appointed another to neutralize it. The reward for provincial warriors groups who did the courts bidding successfully was usually the bestowal of a very minor aristocratic rank on its leaders. For a while, such payoffs were sufficient. Eventually, however, the warriors began to want more, which brought the Heian period to a close. [Source: “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org *~*]

Taira-no-Masakado


Taira no Masakado

According to “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” : “One of the earliest of the rebel warriors was Taira-no-Masakado, a fifth-generation descendant of Emperor Kanmu. Masakado took over several provinces and set up a rival court in 939. The imperial court appointed a member of the Fujiwara family as general, giving him orders to attack the rebels; however, before he was able to do anything significant, several other provincial warrior groups, including other branches of the Taira family, joined forces and defeated Masakado. The major point for our purposes is that, even as early as the 900s, rivalry among the different warrior groups, not the military power of the imperial court itself, kept potentially serious challenges to the imperial system in check. This situation, of course, was not conducive to long-term stability.” [Source: “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org *~*]

F.W. Seal wrote in Samurai Archives: “ In the year 935, a grandson of Taira Takamochi, Taira Masakado, petitioned the court for the respectable title of Kebiishi (Commissioner of Government Police). Masakado was something of a hothead, and according to the Konjaku Monogatari, was quick to resort to battle to resolve problems with his neighbors. Perhaps in view of this, the court refused Masakado the title he sought. Infuriated, he returned to his lands in the Kanto region and threw up the flag of rebellion, though perhaps not so much against the court as his local rivals. He killed his uncle Kunika and clashed with Taira Sadamori while attracting a number of neighboring landowners to his side. Emboldened by his successes and the lack of a reaction from Kyoto, Masakado went so far as to declare himself emperor, claiming a mandate to do so from the Sun Goddess herself. This proved a grave error, however, as it stiffened the opposition of his enemies and allowed the court to declare him a rebel. Loyalist forces under the command of Taira Sadamori and Fujiwara Hidesato first forced Masakado onto the defensive then defeated him at the Battle of Kojima in 940. In the course of the fighting Masakado was struck by an arrow in the head and was killed. [Source: F.W. Seal, Samurai Archives samurai-archives.com |~|]

“At around the same time the Minamoto clan gained some prestige by suppressing a formidable fleet of pirates commanded by Fujiwara Sumimoto that preyed on shipping in the Inland Sea between 936 and 941. Both Masakado and Sumimoto had presented the court with very real challenges, and both had failed due to the willingness of other chieftains to respect the wishes of the court and offer battle on the emperor’s behalf. Those who rendered such services could hope for land grants and other rewards, and over the years certain families came to grow particularly powerful. Once such family was the Minamoto, whose capture of Fujiwara Sumimoto had earned them acclaim soon to be overshadowed by the endeavors of one of their most famous sons: Minamoto Yoshiie. |~|

Decline of Fujiwaras

Decline in food production, growth of the population, and competition for resources among the great families all led to the gradual decline of Fujiwara power and gave rise to military disturbances in the mid-tenth and eleventh centuries. Members of the Fujiwara, Taira, and Minamoto families--all of whom had descended from the imperial family--attacked one another, claimed control over vast tracts of conquered land, set up rival regimes, and generally broke the peace of the Land of the Rising Sun. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The Fujiwara controlled the throne until the reign of Emperor Go-Sanjo (1068-73), the first emperor not born of a Fujiwara mother since the ninth century. Go-Sanjo, determined to restore imperial control through strong personal rule, implemented reforms to curb Fujiwara influence. He also established an office to compile and validate estate records with the aim of reasserting central control. Many shoen were not properly certified, and large landholders, like the Fujiwara, felt threatened with the loss of their lands. Go-Sanjo also established the Incho, or Office of the Cloistered Emperor, which was held by a succession of emperors who abdicated to devote themselves to behind-the-scenes governance, or insei (cloistered government). *

“The Incho filled the void left by the decline of Fujiwara power. Rather than being banished, the Fujiwara were mostly retained in their old positions of civil dictator and minister of the center while being bypassed in decision making.

Emperor Shirakawa, Outflanks the Fujiwaras with the Cloistered Emperor


Emperor Shirakawa

According to “Topics in Japanese Cultural History”: “In 1068, the first emperor in several generations without a Fujiwara grandfather took the throne. Having no Fujiwara regent gave this emperor more leeway than his predecessors, and tried to reduce the power of the Fujiwara family by various means. For example, he subjected some of the Fujiwara shoen holdings to close scrutiny regarding their legality and documentation. These efforts, however, could not undo generations of Fujiwara control, for Fujiwara family members still held most of the important government offices. Though this emperor was unable directly to unseat the Fujiwara family from its position of dominance, he devised with this son, the crown prince, a plan that ultimately would succeed. [Source: “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org *~*]

“This son became Emperor Shirakawa. Shirakawa followed the same path as emperors before him, retiring while young and in the prime of his life. When emperors retired, they normally shaved their heads, took Buddhist holy orders, and went to live in Buddhist temples. Shirakawa did likewise. Instead of spending his days in quiet retirement, however, Shirakawa moved quickly to set up his own, alternative court, which he presided over in the capacity of Cloistered Emperor (in) from 1087 until his death in 1129. Since the time of Nara period, emperors sometimes retired, usually to a Buddhist temple, and then attempted to exercise power behind the scenes. Shirakawa’s move formalized the process, establishing an actual court of officials and advisors around the retired emperor in his temple. *~*

“The Fujiwara, of course, were not happy with this development, but Shirakawa had a number of advantages. First, the Fujiwara were busy fighting among themselves at the time. Second, because the Buddhist temples around the capital were safe from military attack, Shirakawa had a base of operations that was physically secure. Third, strong resentment against the Fujiwara had built up within the rest of the aristocracy, so Shirakawa found many aristocrats eager and willing to support his new court. Fourth, Shirakawa had the advantage of surprise on his side. Fifth, Shirakawa was in his prime and no longer had ritual duties to take up his time and energy. Therefore, he could focus all his attention on political matters. Finally, Shirakawa had great prestige by virtue of being the reigning emperor’s father. *~*

“By establishing an alternative court, Shirakawa was able to outflank the Fujiwara. Fujiwara nobles still served as guardians and regents for reigning emperors, but the Cloistered Emperor and his court superseded the reigning emperor and his court. Emperors could now look forward to assuming much greater power after retirement than while on the throne. Because there was nothing wrong with the cloistered emperor acquiring interests in shoen, retired emperors were now free to build up the sagging economic base of the imperial house in the same way the Fujiwara had enriched themselves. Although the reigning emperor and the cloistered emperor did not always get along and sometimes competed with each other for power, the cloistered emperor was nearly always able to prevail. After roughly 1100, it was the cloistered emperors who were the most powerful figures in the capital. From then until 1221 was the age of rule by cloistered emperors.” *~*

Minamotos Displace the Fujiwaras


Minamoto general

Effective control of Japan gradually passed out of the hands of the court and the Fujiwara regency and became the prize for which the Minamotos and the Tairas engaged in one of the most celebrated and hard-fought struggles in Japan’s turbulent middle ages.

Over the 10th and 11th centuries, many of the Fujiwara were replaced, mostly by members of the rising Minamoto family. While the Fujiwara fell into disputes among themselves and formed northern and southern factions, the insei system allowed the paternal line of the imperial family to gain influence over the throne. The period from 1086 to 1156 was the age of supremacy of the Incho and of the rise of the military class throughout the country. Military might rather than civil authority dominated the government. [Source: Library of Congress]

The most prominent of the several Minamoto families, the Seiwa Genji, descended from Minamoto no Tsunemoto (897–961), a grandson of the 56th Emperor Seiwa. Tsunemoto went to the provinces and became the founder of a major warrior dynasty. Minamoto no Mitsunaka (912–997) formed an alliance with their Fujiwara masters. Thereafter the Fujiwara frequently called upon the Minamoto to restore order in the capital, Kyoto. Mitsunaka’s eldest son, Minamoto no Yorimitsu (948–1021), became the protégé of Fujiwara no Michinaga; another son, Minamoto no Yorinobu (968–1048) suppressed the rebellion of Taira no Tadatsune in 1032. Yorinobu’s son, Minamoto no Yoriyoshi (998–1075), and grandson, Minamoto no Yoshiie (1039–1106), pacified most of northeastern Japan between 1051 and 1087. [Source: Wikipedia]

Decline in the Late Heian Period


According to “Topics in Japanese Cultural History”: “By roughly the middle of the Heian period, the world of the aristocrats in the capital had become remarkably insular and removed from life in the rest of Japan. It was almost a fairy tale world--a delicate blossom destined to fade and scatter in the face of the winds of inevitable change, to say it in Heian Buddhist terms. Turning our attention back to the realm of politics and institutions, the cloistered emperor’s court had managed to return the preponderance of political power in the capital to the imperial family; though, as always, it still had to rely on the cooperation of leading aristocratic families. The power of the capital over outlying areas, however, had been gradually fading. Filling the power gap were local strongmen with bands of warriors under their command. Many of these local strongmen had distant hereditary connections with the aristocrats in the capital, often with the imperial family. [Source: “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org *~*]

“The reason for these connections is that the imperial family continually grew too large, its members having ample time, energy and opportunities to produce many children, each of whom in turn tend to produce many children, and so forth. The numbers of imperial second cousins and other distant relatives grew too large for the government to provide for their support. Periodically, therefore, there would be a weaning out of persons a certain number of generations removed from the current emperor. *~*

“Those affected lost all or most of their government support and usually had to leave the capital to seek their fortunes in the provinces. An imperial relative, a cousin, for example, would have been unimportant in the capital because such people were so numerous. Out in the provinces, however, even the most distant imperial relatives enjoyed prestige. This prestige combined with connections back in the capital enabled many of these provincial aristocrats to acquire managerial interests in shoen. Economic power went hand-in-hand with military power, resulting in the formation throughout Japan of bands of provincial warriors led by local aristocrats. As the generations passed, these local strongmen completely abandoned the refined manners and culture of the capital. *~*

Late Heian Struggle Between Taira and Minamoto


Minamoto Yoritomo

According to “Topics in Japanese Cultural History”: “By the late Heian period, two large military clans had emerged, each with branches in many provinces. One was the Minamoto family, the other the Taira family. Both were distant descendants of former emperors. This situation was potentially dangerous for the imperial court because, if one of these two clans were to defeat the other, there would be nothing but tradition to stop the victor from taking over all government authority. This was exactly what happened, though tradition turned out to be a powerful force in restraining the demands of the warriors. As a result, the imperial court retained a substantial measure of importance and authority throughout the Kamakura period. [Source: “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org *~*]

“In the struggle between these two families, fortunes rose and fell for each during the twelfth century. At first, the Taira family gained the upper hand, and, by the middle of the twelfth century, their leaders had taken up residence in Kyoto. They demanded high court rank and offices and got it. The Taira ruled as virtual dictators, much like the Fujiwara had done at the height of their power. Like the Fujiwara, the Taira did not eliminate the emperor or any key institution. Instead they ruled from different places within the system, their military power always an ominous force in the background. Things looked bleak for the traditional aristocrats. They regarded the Taira as barbaric warriors and were horrified at the extent of Taira power, yet they were helpless to check it. *~*

The Minamoto clan had not, however, been totally defeated. Led by politically astute Minamoto Yoritomo (1149-1199) and his brother Yoshitsune (1159-89), a brilliant general who met a tragic end, the Minamoto began to make a comeback. Meanwhile, at the Heian court, life went on among the aristocrats, but change was definitely in the air. One specific problem was that revenues from shoen were becoming less reliable as imperial power weakened. Shoen managers in the field began using a variety of excuses (bad weather/crop failure, for example) as a thin cover for not delivering full quantities, or even any, of the produce normally owed to the shiki holders in the capital.

Taira Clan Gains an Upper Hand in the Late Heian Period


Minamoto Yoshitomo

F.W. Seal wrote in Samurai Archives: “ Perhaps as a result of Taira Masakado’s belligerence or simply through the whims of fortune, the Taira family had not achieved the same fame as had the Minamoto. This began to change during the career of Taira Tadamori (1096-1153). His father, Taira Masamori, had been a particularly successful 'career-governor', acting as headman to no fewer then nine provinces over the course of his life. Tadamori would not match that record, but did become close to retired emperor Shirakawa, and as a result received the title of kebiishi and the governorship of Bizen, Harima, and Ise. He earned the gratitude of the court by suppressing Inland Sea pirates, and gradually the Taira’s power base shifted to the western provinces. Tadamori received a favored concubine from his Imperial patron, and nine months later she gave birth to a child who would come to be known as Taira Kiyomori (1115-1181). He became a commander of palace guards in the capital and in 1146 the governor of Aki province, in the meantime earning a reputation for decisiveness. In one celebrated (and possibly apocryphal) event in 1146, one of his men insulted the head priest of Kyoto’s Gion Shrine, prompting a large group of warrior monks to march on the city and demand Kiyomori’s chastisement. Kiyomori rode out and to the shock of all present, shot an arrow into their mikoshi, a decided act of sacrilege that did have the effect of scattering the monks. [Source: F.W. Seal, Samurai Archives samurai-archives.com |~|]

“Tadanori died in 1153 and was succeded by Kiyomori, who was to advance his family’s fortunes considerably by backing the right horse during the Hôgen Disturbance (Hôgen no ran) of 1156. Trouble had been brewing in the court since 1141. In that year, the retired emperor Toba forced his eldest son, the Emperor Sutoku (r.1123-1441), to abdicate in favor of a two-year old (borne by a favorite consort) to be known as Konoe. Konoe died in 1155, but Toba, rather then sponsoring Sotoku’s son as successor, insisted that a half-brother be placed on the throne. Much to Sutoku’s chagrin, Go-Shirakawa took the throne in November of 1155. Lines began to be drawn between Sutoku and Go-Shirakawa, a situation enflamed by a bitter feud that divided the Fujiwara family. Toba died in August of 1156 and events began to move quickly, though Sutoku was gripped by a hesitation that would prove fatal for his cause. |~|

“The Taira and Minamoto were both to be divided in the conflict. Kiyomori threw in with Go-Shirakawa, while his uncle Tadamasa took up Sutoku’s cause. Minamoto Yoshitomo joined with Kiyomori even as his own uncle Tameyoshi and brother Tametomo joined Sutoku. The warrior monks of Mt. Hiei gave their nominal support to Sutoku, but could not be counted on. Yoshitomo suggested a sudden and decisive night raid on Sutoku’s compound, the Shirakawa-den, a strategy that his brother Tametomo had actually urged Sutoku to authorize against Go-Shirakawa. Unlike his half-brother, Go-Shirakawa gave permission for the attack to proceed and in a violent action that left the Shirakawa-den in flames, Sutoku’s side was crushed. Master archer Tametomo distinguished himself with great acts of bravery, and was afterwards spared, though at the cost, we are told, of the tendons in his firing arm. Sutoku was sent into exile to Sanuki Province, where he later died at the age of 64. Kiyomori and Yoshitomo were not so lenient towards their own uncles, whom they had executed. |~|

“The Hôgen Disturbace left Kiyomori in a strong position, and the following year he was made the head of the Daifuzu on Kyushu, a post once considered a dead-end but now a chance for Kiyomori to consolidate his hold on the western provinces. He actually remains a popular figure in western Japan, remembered for his economic initiatives and his patronage of the Itskushima Shrine on Miyajima. Thanks to his friendship with Go-Shirakawa’s chief councilor Fujiwara Michinori (Shinzei), Kiyomori’s influence at court and prestige continued to grow - much to Minamoto Yoshitomo’s dismay. Yoshitomo had not been as fortunate in the wake of the Hogen Disturbance, and he became jealous of his erstwhile ally. He made an alliance with a certain Fujiwara Nobuyuki, a rival of Michinori, and together they plotted to depose their respective opponents. By this point, Go-Shirakawa had retired in favor of his son Nijô, and as the latter was also fond of Kiyomori, the conspirators were careful to wait for just the right opportunity to move. |~|

Yoshitomo’s chance came in January of 1160. Kiyomori had recently departed the capital to make a pilgrimage to Kumano and in his absence Yoshitomo seized both Go-Shirakawa and Nijô. Fujiwara Michinori suffered the burning of his mansion and was forced to commit suicide in an attempt to reach Kiyomori. In the afterglow of their success, Yoshitomo and Nobuyuki granted themselves titles and rewards-only to reap the consequences of their actions. Kiyomori rushed back to capital and with the able assistance of his son Shigemori made his way to his mansion at Rokuhara. Even as the two plotted some counter-attack, both Nijô and Shirakawa were rescued and brought under Taira protection, leaving Kiyomori a free hand in his planning. The Minamoto headquarters were assaulted, and after a stiff battle Yoshitomo was forced to flee the capital and headed eastward. He made it as far as Owari province before being murdered in his bath by Taira supporters even as three of his sons fell into Kiyomori’s hands. These were Yoritomo, Noriyori, and Yoshitsune, all of whom Kiyomori spared and sent to the eastern provinces. This act of benevolence would later be bitterly regretted by the Taira. To the other members of the conspiracy, little compassion was shown. Yoshitomo’s rashness had seen the Minamoto clan stripped of many of its most prestigious chieftains and the Taira left virtually unchallengeable. |~|

“With a now doubly grateful Go-Shirakawa and Nijô restored to their places in Kyoto, Kiyomori’s influence continued to grow. That same year he received a court title (the Senior Third Rank) and in 1167 was granted the title of dajodaijin, or Grand Minister of State-the highest rank bestowed on a subject by the Emperor. Popular history has traditionally painted Kiyomori as a cruel military dictator, who relegated his imperial patrons to the role of mere puppets. In fact, at least initially, Kiyomori and Go-Shirakawa may have acted more as partners then puppet-puppeteer, and Kiyomori’s military strength does not justify the picture of a warrior usurping the throne. Like so much of Japanese history, the relationship of the court and clan (be that warrior or otherwise) defies easy explanation or quantification. |~|


Taira no Kiyomori Seeing Skulls in the Snowy Garden


“Needless to say, Kiyomori was not without an enormous ambition, and as the years passed, his relationship with Go-Shirakawa proceeded to turn sour. The Taira clan began to resemble the Fujiwara in its rampant nepotism, and it is perhaps only now that we can begin to describe either 'Taira' or 'Minamoto' as inclusive units. Stung and shamed by the events of the Heiji Disturbance, the Minamoto went dormant for the next twenty years. In that time, the three sons that Kiyomori had spared came of age. The stage for the epic Gempei War had been set.” |~|

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Samurai Archives samurai-archives.com; Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org *~*; Asia for Educators Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu ; Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan; Library of Congress; Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO); New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; Daily Yomiuri; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated September 2016

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