Heike no Ochudo (fugitives from the Genpei War) (平家の落人)

The term Heike no Ochudo means fugitives who retreated to remote regions after their defeat in the Jisho-Juei War (the Genpei War). This term principally refers to the family and retainers, as well as followers of Ise-Heishi (Taira clan). Although the term Heike no Ochimusha (surviving samurai) is sometimes used, Heike no Ochudo is commonly used since not only samurai but also court nobles, women and children were among the fugitives. The oral tradition saying that Heike no Ochudo retreated to specific regions is commonly called the Heike no Ochudo legend. Though 132 villages throughout the nation insist that their residents are the descendants of Ochudo, almost all of their arguments are considered to be incredible.

Brief explanation on Heike no Ochudo

The legend of Heike no Ochudo has been passed down in many places in Japan. In the first place, Heike no Ochudo were fugitives of the Taira family side who were repeatedly defeated in the Battle of Ichi no tani, the Battle of Yashima and the Battle of Dan no ura during the Genpei War in which Seiwa-Genji (Minamoto clan) and the Taira family fought a decisive battle. As the remnants of the Taira family who escaped from pursuers hid themselves in many places as Ochudo, various oral traditions were born and have been passed down. So far as samurai are concerned, these fugitives are sometimes called Heike no Ochimusha. However, Heike no Ochudo is more commonly used since people other than samurai also escaped and hid themselves. Places where Heike no Ochudo hid themselves are called Heike-dani (villages of Heike fugitives), Heikezuka (burial mound of Heike fugitives), Heike no kakurezato (villages where Heike fugitives hid themselves) or Heike no Ochudo no sato (villages where Heike fugitives settled down).

A common misunderstanding regarding the Heike no Ochudo legend is the confusion of the descendants of Heike no Ochudo with those of the Taira family. Although there exist quite a lot of oral traditions saying that members of the Taira family escaped to the place concerned, the notion of Heike no Ochudo stands for "people who sided with the Taira family and thereafter escaped to a certain place." Therefore, it shouldn't be forgotten that samurai who sided with the Taira family were included, other than the members of Taira family, in Heike no Ochudo.

Further, since the nature of the Genpei War was the feud between Ise-Heishi and Bando-Heishi, which sided with the Genji clan, Heike no Ochudo cannot be identified with the Taira clan.

There exist some oral traditions that were fabricated, dressed-up, or have been passed down mistakenly. However, given the fact that a war usually creates many fugitives, it is natural to consider that many people of the Taira family became fugitives since the Taira family was defeated and collapsed though it held sway over the western part of Japan and held a large army.

Further, as a result of marriage of the descendants of Heike no Ochudo, indirect descendants increased accordingly and such indirect descendants were sometimes called Heike no Ochudo as well. Though the above practice is not necessarily wrong, it sometimes gave rise to cases where oral traditions of Heike no Ochudo were mistakenly understood since they have been passed down orally. Furthermore, it sometimes led to the fabrication of oral traditions, caused cases where some oral traditions were judged to be fabricated because of exaggeration or extended interpretation arising from petty mistakes and/or made oral traditions themselves ambiguous.

At any rate, there is no doubt that there were a considerable number of Heike no Ochudo. This fact is proved by Mikka Heishi no ran (Three days rebellion of the Taira clan), which was initiated by the remnants of the Taira family, and the rebellion initiated by Suketomo JO, who sided with the Taira family. Therefore, there are many Heike no Ochudo legends that are credible.

In view of the situation where Ochudo managed to survive by hiding themselves, however, it can be easily imagined that their history was supposed to be kept secret. In this sense, setting aside the question of the degree of credibility or the existence of facts, there are few legends that can be verified objectively from the historical viewpoint. Also, attention should be paid to the fact that in the Edo Period, people who were engaged in the profession called keizushiri made their living by visiting villages and drawing for local residents genealogical tables showing that they came from a distinguished historical family.

Setting aside the question of correctness or historical verification, it is true that there exist surnames associated with Heike no Ochudo legends throughout Japan, and such oral traditions filled with mystery and darkness stir people's imagination for history.

Heike no kakurezato

Most kakurezato where Heike no Ochudo settled are located deep in the mountains, on solitary islands or on remote islands. The Taira family constructed villages in inaccessible areas such as sparsely populated areas, mountain areas or ravines.

The existence of kakurezato was accidentally noticed by outside people when the residents dropped tableware or other household utensils in the river while washing or in the mountains. However, only a handful of people noticed the existence of kakurezato or could go there. Even in such cases, however, outside people couldn't find kakurezato again, or saw lacquer ware come floating down from upstream and as a result, they sometimes came to think of kakurezato as something like a specter.

Under such circumstances, Heike no kakurezato were often conceived of as mysterious entities called "kakurezato."

Surnames associated with Heike no Ochudo

Surnames that are believed to be associated with Heike no Ochudo

Oral traditions of Heike no Ochudo at various places in Japan

Regions in Japan where well-known oral traditions of Heike no Ochudo have been passed down

Tohoku region

The foot of Mt. Chokai, Yawata-machi, Sakata City, Yamagata Prefecture

It has been passed down that the Hidemori IKEDA brothers, who sided with the Taira family, escaped to this place, and the local clan calling itself the descendants of Hidemori existed as the vassals of the Mogami clan etc. in the Sengoku Period (Japan).

Jogi Area, Aoba Ward (Sendai City), Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture

It has been passed down that TAIRA no Sadayoshi escaped to this place.

Hinoemata-mura, Minamiaizu County, Fukushima Prefecture

It has been passed down that members of the Taira and Fujiwara clans who sided with the Taira family settled here using the surnames "Hoshi" and "Hirano," respectively.

Kanto region

Kobuyashiki, Daigo-machi, Kuji County, Ibaraki Prefecture

It has been passed down that the remnants of Kagechika OBA, who sided with the Taira family, escaped to this place. It is also said that the remnants were not samurai but the daughters of a military commander who attended the Taira family side, and their descendants constructed ten houses at Kobuyashiki. The surnames of two daughters and their descendants who settled here were Kirihara and Kaminaga. It is said that the Kirihara clan descended from the Oba clan, which descended from the Kamakura clan, one of Bando Hachi Heishi (the Eight Taira clans of the East), and the Kaminaga clan descended from the Fujiwara clan. These two clans existed as the vassals of the Satake clan.

Katashina-mura, Tone County, Gunma Prefecture
In the Kanto region, this is the northernmost village where an oral tradition of Ochudo has been passed down. After being defeated at various places, the Taira family escaped to Katashina-mura, which is located near Oze and surrounded by steep mountains, and Heike no Ochudo settled there and prospered.

Kawamata, Kuriyama-mura, Shioya County, Tochigi Prefecture (present Nikko City)

It is believed that TAIRA no Fujifusa (also called FUJIWARA no Fujifusa) escaped to this place, and historical spots like Taisho-zuka (burial mounds of the general) and Heike-sugi (cedar trees related to the Taira clan) are still found here and there.

Yunishikawa, Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture (Yunishikawa Onsen)

It is believed that TAIRA no Tadazane escaped to this place. There are unique customs, such as not hoisting Koinobori (carp streamers) on the day of Tango no Sekku (Children's Day). A Heike no Ochudo legend in Yunishikawa is on display at Heike Ochudo Folk Museum and events such as the Heike Taisai Festival are also held here. Yunishikawa Onsen is actively making use of the Ochudo legend for tourism.

It is believed that legitimate relatives of the Taira family escaped to this place and used the surname "Ban" to conceal the fact that they were the relatives of the Taira clan.

Even at present, the descendants of the Taira family with the surname Ban reside in this village.

The left-hand side of the Chinese character "伴" represents a person, and this Chinese character becomes "伻" (Hei) if the right-hand side is slightly modified. In other words, "伻" means persons of Taira and/or the relatives of the Taira family.

Unique customs that are existent in the village are not hoisting koinobori, not making bonfires (so as not to produce smoke), not keeping dogs and not to raising chickens. These customs originated out of the need to conceal from outsiders that people were living in the mountain.

Chubu and Hokuriku region

Akiyamago, Sakae-mura, Shimominochi County, Nagano Prefecture/Tsunan-machi, Nakauonuma County, Niigata Prefecture

It has been passed down that TAIRA no Katsuhide escaped to this place.

Aikawa, Sado City, Niigata Prefecture (former Aikawa-cho, Sado County)

It has been passed down that Nobutsura HASEBE, Chohyoe no jo, escaped to this place.

Taira-mura, Higashitonami County, Toyama Prefecture (Toyama Prefecture), Toga-mura, Kamitaira-mura (Toyama Prefecture) (present Nanto City), Gokayama

It has been passed down that either the descendants of people who were defeated in the battle of Kurikara Pass or those of TAIRA no Koremori, who was defeated by MINAMOTO no Yoshinaka, settled here. Mugiya (a folk song that was sung by the warriors of the Taira Family) was created based on the above story.

Machino-machi, Wajima City, Ishikawa Prefecture

TAIRA no Tokitada was banished to this place and his descendants founded the KAMITOKIKUNI clan and the SHIMOTOKIKUNI clan.

Kansai region

Yamochi-cho, Ise City, Mie Prefecture
There is still a place called "Heike no sato."

Gochi, Isobe-cho, Shima City, Mie Prefecture
A flag which is believed to be "Heike no akahata" (red flags of the Taira clan) has been preserved at Fukuju-ji Temple located in this district.

Hachikagama, Minamishima, Minamiise-cho, Watarai County, Mie Prefecture
Places whose names include the Chinese character "竃" (kamado - kitchen stove, oven) in Minamiise-cho (former Minamijima-cho) are believed to have been the community of the remnants of the Taira family where they settled and made a living producing salt. For details, refer to the legend of Minamijima-cho.

Kuchiirokawa, Nachikatsuura-cho, Higashimuro County, Wakayama Prefecture

It has been passed down that Taira no Koremori fled from Yashima and lived here in secret.

Komoridani, Ryujin-mura, Tanabe City, Wakayama Prefecture

Chugoku region

Wakasa-cho, Yazu County, Tottori Prefecture

It has been passed down that Taira no Tsunemori escaped to this place along with his roto and committed suicide with his sword.

Nishiki-cho, Kuga County, Yamaguchi Prefecture (Yamaguchi Prefecture) (present Iwakuni City)

Heike-shichihaka, which are believed to be the graves of seven busho of the Taira family, are here.

Hikoshima, Shimonoseki City, Yamaguchi Prefecture

It has been passed down that a fleeing samurai who was believed to be the remnant of the Taira family visited Hikoshima, Yamaguchi Prefecture. This samurai is believed to have committed suicide here after giving up his dream to revive the Taira family.

Shobara City, Hiroshima Prefecture

A folk song called "Atsumori-san" (intangible folk-cultural property designated by the city) has been passed down. According to that song, Taira no Atsumori, who is generally considered to have been killed by Naozane KUMAGAI, survived in reality and escaped to Shobara.

Shikoku region

Higashiiyaasa, Miyoshi City, Tokushima Prefecture (former Asa, Higashiiyayama-son, Miyoshi County)

It has been passed down that after being defeated in the battle of Yashima, 30 remnants led by Taira no Noritsune escaped to Awa Province via the Sanuki Mountains and lived in the area of present Higashimiyoshi-cho, Tokushima Prefecture, and Ikawa-cho (Tokushima Prefecture, present Miyoshi City), but later they settled at Iya for fear of pursuers. In Asa Village lives the Asa clan, which is said to be descended from the Taira family, and there are a Heike mansion and an akahata (battle flag) that are said to have been used by the Taira family and are several hundred years old.

Kiriyama, Yamadai, Kinsei-cho, Shikokuchuo City, Ehime Prefecture (former Kawanoe City)

Heikedani, Honai-cho, Yawatahama City, Ehime Province (former Honai-cho, Nishiuwa County)

It has been passed down that the remnants who were defeated in the Battle of Dan no ura arrived at Ikatagoshi on the Sadamisaki Peninsula and lived in secret in the valley of the upper reaches of Miyauchi-gawa River. It is said that although eight people lived by farming there, they were detected by pursuers of the Minamoto clan and six of them committed suicide while the remaining two founded Ryoke village (Honai-cho). Heike-jinja Shrine is enshrined at Heike-dani (villages of Heike fugitives).

Kyushu and Okinawa region

Kamikojaku, Yahatanishi Ward, Kitakyushu City, Fukuoka Prefecture

It has been passed down that a woman of the Taira family side with a baby in arms committed suicide together with her baby when she was almost found by the samurai of the Minamoto clan because of the baby's cry.

Oma, Kokuraminami Ward, Kitakyushu City, Fukuoka Prefecture

It has been passed down that a court lady who accompanied the Emperor Antoku became a prostitute and eventually died of illness.

Kamiagata County/Shimoagata County, Nagasaki Prefecture (present Tsushima City)

It has been passed down that the Emperor Antoku escaped to this place and lived here.

Uku-machi, Kitamatsuura County, Nagasaki Prefecture (present Sasebo City)

It is said that Taira no Iemori landed here, became the landlord of this area and called himself the Uku clan (the predecessor of the lord of Fukue domain Goto clan).

Izumi-mura, Yatsushiro County, Kumamoto Prefecture (present Yatsushiro City)

It is said that Taira no Kiyitsune escaped to Gokanosho of this village. "Kureko Kodai Odori, " which is believed to be the oral tradition of Heike no Ochudo, has been passed down here and it is now designated as a nationally selected intangible folk-cultural property.

Itsuki-mura, Kuma County, Kumamoto Prefecture

Some people assert that the people belonged to the same clan as the one that escaped to Gokanosho and settled here.

Shiiba-mura, Higashiusuki County, Miyazaki Prefecture

NASU no Munehisa (known as "Daihachi" or "Daihachiro" and believed to be a younger brother of Nasu no Yoichi), a resident of Shimotsuke Province and a member of the Nasu clan, joined the Kamakura bakufu army organized for hunting down the remnants of the Taira family and suppressed the remnants who took position at Mukoyama situated on the border of Higo Province. Thereafter, he went to Mt. Shiiba in Hyuga Province in order to hunt down the remnants who took position there, but he eventually stopped hunting when he saw that they had no intention to fight and were striving at farm work. At Shiiba-mura, Munehisa became acquainted with Tsurutomi-hime, who was believed to be the youngest grandchild of Taira no Kiyomori, fell in love with her and was blessed with two children while he was staying there for three years. When Nasu no Munehisa returned to his homeland, the remnants of the Taira family changed their surname from Taira to Nasu out of gratitude for Munehisa, who saved their lives by stopping his hunt. The song which was created based on the above anecdote is "Hietsukibushi," the most famous folk song in Miyazaki Prefecture.

Mishima-mura, Kagoshima County, Kagoshima Prefecture

It is said that there are more than thirty historical spots, including the ones relating to Taira no Tsunemasa and TAIRA no Narimori.

Oshima County, Kagoshima Prefecture (Kagoshima Prefecture) (Amami Islands)

It is said that after being defeated in the Battle of Dan no ura, Taira no Sukemori, a member of the Taira family, concealed himself on Kikai-jima Island for three years and thereafter came to Amami-Oshima Island along with his younger brother Taira no Arimori and his cousin Taira no Yukimori. The memorial festival to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the arrival of the Taira family was held in 2005.

Shitooke, Kikai-cho (Kikai-jima island); here are the ruins of Shichi-jo castle, which is believed to be the first castle constructed by the Taira family after their arrival in Amami-Oshima Island.

Somachi, Kikai-cho; the ruins of the castle that was constructed for defense against the Minamoto clan's attack are here and they are now called Heike-mori Forest.

Nazeuragami, Amami City (Amami-Oshima Island); TAIRA no Arimori-jinja Shrine, which enshrines Arimori, is located here and is believed to be the ruins of Uragami castle constructed by Arimori.

Shodon, Setouchi Town (Kakeroma-to Island); Ochon-jinja Shrine, which enshrines Sukemori, is located here.

Toguchi, Tatsugo Town (Amami-Oshima Island); the ruins of Toguchi-jo Castle constructed by Yukimori are located here. Although TAIRA no Yukimori-jinja Shrine, which enshrines Yukimori, is also located in the town, it is far from the ruins of the castle.

Imaizaki, Ryugo-cho (Amami-Oshima Island); Imai Gongen, at which Gondadaibu IMAI was posted by Yukimori in preparation for possible attack by the Minamoto clan, is located here.

Gamo-zaki, Kasari-cho, Amami City (Amami-Oshima Island); Gamozaemon was posted here by Arimori in preparation for the possible attack by the Minamoto clan.

Unten-ko Harbor, Nakijin-mura, Okinawa Prefecture

The description found in "Omoshirososhi" saying "the troops of Yamato landed at Unten-ko in the rain" is sometimes considered to refer to Taira no Koremori and his party, based on the record saying "Taira no Koremori went toward the southern sea commanding 30 ships."

Karimata, Miyako-jima Island, Okinawa Prefecture

Some articles which are believed to be the belongings of Ochimusha, such as old swords, have been inherited. Also, it is believed that the place name Taira originated from the surname of the Taira family.