The Tosho-ji War (東勝寺合戦)

The Tosho-ji War was a battle fought in Kamakura (the present Kamakura City), Sagami Province in 1333, at the end of Kamakura period. The war was the last phase of the Genko War which was started by Emperor Godaigo as the anti-shogunate movement in 1331, and the Tosho-ji War put an end to the Kamakura bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun). Tosho-ji Temple was constructed by Yasutoki HOJO as the family temple of the Hojo clan, and he installed Gyoyu TAIKO as its first chief priest.


In August 1331, Emperor Godaigo raised an army on Mt. Kasagi (in the present Kyoto Prefecture), and Masashige KUSUNOKI collaterally raised his army in Kawachi Province, which was the start of the Genko War. The Kamakura bakufu sent the army to suppress them, and Yoshisada NITTA, who was gokenin (an immediate vassal of the shogunate) in Kozuke Province, joined the bakufu's army. In September, the army on Mt. Kasagi surrendered, and Emperor Godaigo was captured and was banished to one of the Oki islands.

In 1333, forces of Kusunoki raised the army once again in Chihaya-jo Castle, and fought hard against the large bakufu's army. Encouraged by this, Norimura AKAMATSU (Enshin) rose in rebellion in Harima Province and a similar rebellion occurred in Iyo Province. And so, the Kamakura bakufu dispatched Takaie NAGOE, a member of the Hojo clan, and Takauji ASHIKAGA, the influential gokenin in Shimotsuke Province, as the commanders of the large army to the western provinces. In the intercalary February, Emperor Godaigo escaped from Oki and established a strategic foothold on Mt. Senjo, and in April, Takauji ASHIKAGA rebelled against the Kamakura bakufu at Shinomura-Hachimangu Shrine. The forces of Ashikaga destroyed Rokuhara Tandai (an administrative and judicial agency in Rokuhara, Kyoto) and brought Kyoto under control.

In May, Yoshisada NITTA, who had already returned to Kozuke Province, raised his army in Ikushina-jinja Shrine, and his forces started to advance on Kamakura heading westward on Tosan-do Road. Increasing the number of soldiers by absorbing gozoku (local ruling families) around the area and Yoshisada's own relatives, his forces advanced for Musashi Province crossing over the Tone-gawa River. Joining up with the forces of Takauji's heir Senjuo (later, Yoshiakira ASHIKAGA), Yoshisada's forces advanced on the Kamakura-kaido Road. Yasuie HOJO and others were sent to intercept the rebel forces, but they were defeated in the battles at Iruma-gawa River (the Tama-gawa River system) and Kume-gawa River (in the present Higashimurayama City, Tokyo Prefecture) and they were also beat in the battle of Bubaigawara (fought in the present day Fuchu City, Tokyo Prefecture). The forces of Nitta drew near Kamakura.

Development of the Tosho-ji War

The Kamakura forces were routed in many places, so they blockaded seven roads (slopes) which had been cut through mountainous terrain of Kamakura. Filling his army captains with his own relatives, Yoshisada put his army base at Sekiguchi and attacked the Kamakura forces from three directions: Kobukuro-zaka, Kewai-zaka, and Gokurakuji-zaka Slopes. On Kobukuro-zaka Slope, situated on a mountain, Sadamitsu HORIGUCHI, on the side of Yoshisada forces, attacked Moritoki AKAHASHI, on the side of the Kamakura bakufu, and on Kewai-zaka Slope, situated in the center of Kamakura, the main forces led by Yoshisada NITTA and Yoshisuke WAKIYA attacked Sadayuki HOJO. On Gokurakuji-zaka Slope, situated on the Shichiri-ga-hama Seacoast, Muneuji ODATE attacked Sadanao OSARAGI. These battles came to a deadlock, and especially on Gokurakuji-zaka Slope, Yoshisada's forces had a hard fight, symbolized by the death of Muneuji ODATE (cf. the article of "The Odate clan").

So Yoshisada gave up trying to break through the seven slopes, and, instead, tried to enter Kamakura by sea via Inamura-ga-saki Cape. The war chronicle "Taiheiki" (The Record of the Great Peace) written in the Muromachi period said the forces of Nitta successfully entered Kamakura because the tide went out, in answer to Yoshisada's prayer to the sea-god. Attacked from behind, the Kamakura bakufu forces suffered a total defeat, so Sadanao OSARAGI, Nobumasa OSARAGI, Yasunobu HONMA, Sadayuki KANESAWA were killed in the war at Kamakura on some slope there.

Takatoki HOJO and his vassals committed suicide at Tosho-ji Temple. Taiheiki said all members of the Hojo clan and their vassals shut themselves up in Tosho-ji Temple and committed suicide by disembowelment (harakiri) in turn, from Takashige NAGASAKI and Dojun SETTSU, and in the end, Takatoki HOJO and Tokiaki ADACHI; also, Mototoki HOJO, Takasuke NAGASAKI, Sadaaki HOJO committed suicide on this occasion. According to Taiheiki, the number of samurai that committed suicide by disembowelment was 283 in the Hojo clan, and their vassals numbered 870, but this could be an exaggeration to highlight their tragedy.

Folklore about the Tosho-ji War

At present, in the north among the remains of Tosho-ji Temple, there exist "Harakiri Yagura" (Caves of committing suicide by disembowelment). When the Tosho-ji Temple site was excavated, Mitsu uroko (tiles inscribed with three scales in a circle, the crest of the Hojo clan), and other cultural artifacts were discovered; no cremated ashes of the war dead were ever found, and it is assumed their remains were taken to another place, possibly by Buddhist priests of the Ji sect, Nitta forces or others. The name of Harakiri Yagura is associated with the war dead at Tosho-ji Temple, and even today when Kuyo-e (memorial services) are held, a sotoba (a tall, narrow wooden tablet for the dead, usually raised behind a grave) is still erected there. However, caves that are said to be Kubi-zuka (a burial mound for a head) for Takatoki HOJO exists in various places.

After this war in Kamakura, Takauji ASHIKAGA built Hokai-ji Temple to pray for the Hojo clan that was killed here. Hokai-ji Temple exists at the former residence of Hojo Shikken (the regent of the Kamakura bakufu).

On the mountaintop (the back of the valley) where Shaka-do Hall of Jomyo-ji Temple stands (in present day Kamakura City), there were many groups of caves, called Shaka-do oku Yagura-gun. And at their center existed a giant cave that was said to be "the cave in which Fusen, the second chief priest of Hokai-ji Temple, practiced his calm contemplation." In the groups of caves, there seem to have been many dead bodies not completely cremated. The folklore of the region maintains the war dead of Tosho-ji Temple were removed and buried here. When housing lots were developed during the decade from 1965, the caves were destroyed and a part of a gorinto (a gravestone composed of five pieces piled up one upon another) was found, in which the date "July 18, 1333" was inscribed. This shows exactly that the memorial service was held on the sixth date after their death at Tosho-ji War, so the folklore turned out to be true. Major part of the group caves were destroyed for housing lots development around 1965, but some caves are said to exist even today.