Minamoto no Yoshihira (源義平)

MINAMOTO no Yoshihira is a busho (Japanese military commander) during the end of the Heian period. He was the first son of MINAMOTO no Yoshitomo. He was commonly called Akugenta or Kamakura genta. His mother was a daughter of Yoshiaki MIURA. His younger brothers included MINAMOTO no Tomonaga, MINAMOTO no Yoritomo, MINAMOTO no Noriyori and MINAMOTO no Yoshitsune.

As the first son of MINAMOTO no Yoshitomo, he protected Kamakura, and killed his uncle MINAMOTO no Yoshikata; this proved him as a brave busho and gave rise to his nickname Akugenta. At the outbreak of Heiji War, he went to Kyoto with Bando musha (warriors from the east Japan). Although he bravely fought against the Heike, he was defeated and eventually escaped. When his father was killed, he returned to Kyoto for assassination attempt on TAIRA no Kiyomori; After the failure, he was arrested and decapitated.

The biography of MINAMOTO no Yoshihira was well described in the war chronicle "Heiji Monogatari" (The tale of the Heiji); there is no other literature that tells a lot about Yoshihira. Therefore, this section refers to the literature above. Yoshihira is the main character of "Heiji Monogatari," in analogy to MINAMOTO no Tametomo in "Hogen Monogatari" (The Tale of the Hogen War). Being the older brother of Yoritomo, who later became seii taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians"), he was described as a cool young warrior. Because it is a war chronicle, not everything mentioned in it can be believed as a historical fact.

Kamakura aku genta
He was raised at Genji yakata (residence of the Minamoto clan) in Horikawa, Kyoto. At age 13, he went to Kamakura. In 1155, his father Yoshitomo and uncle MINAMOTO no Yoshikata (father of MINAMOTO no Yoshinaka) became rivals. Yoshihira suddenly attacked Yoshikata's Okura-yakata residence in Hiki-gun, Musashi Province (Ranzan-machi, Hiki-gun, Saitama Prefecture), and killed him; Yoshihira became widely known as a busho (the battle of Okura).

Since then, he was given the nickname the 'Kamakura aku genta Yoshihira.'
The word 'aku' means 'strong' and 'brave,' implying that 'Yoshihira was the brave first son of the Minamoto family in Kamakura;' the image of a strong general transcending generations.

On January 26, 1160 (December 9, 1159 in old lunar calendar), his father Yoshitomo succeeded in carrying out a coup d'etat in collaboration with FUJIWARA no Nobuyori, the favorite retainer of the Retired Emperor Goshirakawa, and occupied Kyo (Kyoto) after killing FUJIWARA no Shinzei, who had taken control of the Imperial Court at that time. He took over power by retaining the Retired Emperor Goshirakawa and Emperor Nijo. TAIRA no Kiyomori and his family were away from Kyoto, visiting Kumano for prayer at Shinto shrines, during the coup d'etat.

At the order of Yoshitomo, Yoshihira, who was in Kamakura, gathered bando musha and rushed to Kyo. Only 17 soldiers accompanied Yoshihira; most musha in the east Japan were only interested in the stability of their own territories and declined to be drafted. Yoshihira arrived in the middle of Jimoku (ceremony for appointing officials) that Nobuyori was celebrating for his own indulgence; Nobuyori said 'You arrived in perfect timing. You can have anything you want; taikoku (major provinces), shokoku (minor provinces) or official court rank' in good mood. Yoshihira replied 'That is not important. We should immediately depart for Abeno (Abeno Ward, Osaka City) to kill Kiyomori who is on his way back.
Then, I will take any major or minor province.'
Being offended, Nobuyori said 'You are violent. Abeno is too far. Our horses would be too tired. We can capture and kill Kiyomori in Kyo later;' he refused Yoshihira's suggestion. As a result, Yoshitomo and Nobuyori missed the chance to win.

The conversation in "Heiji Monogatari" is largely fictitious.
(The exact same conversation took place between MINAMOTO no Tametomo and FUJIWARA no Yorinaga in "Hogen Monogatari.")
Some say that Kiyomori was not immediately killed because, actually, Nobuyori was seeking reconciliation with the Heike.

As a result of recent studies on Heiji War, it has become a prevailing view that Kiyomori was in a neutral position from any party including the Cloistered Emperor Goshirakawa, Emperor Nijo, Shinzei and FUJIWARA no Nobuyori because Kiyomori had a matrimonial relation with Shinzei and was united through marital relations with the son of Nobuyori. Therefore, some believe that Kiyomori, who was holding a neutral position, was not targeted by Nobuyori and others.
('Rereading the Hogen and Heiji Wars' authored by Yasuo MOTOKI)

Tachibana Tree at the Right Side and Cherry Tree at the Left Side of the Main Palace of the Heian Imperial Court
When Kiyomori returned to his home ground of Rokuhara house in Kyoto, Emperor Nijo's aide approached Kiyomori and the two secretly formed an alliance.

They succeeded in freeing the Emperor and the Retired Emperor from dairi (Imperial Palace) in the evening of the 25th; the Emperor and Retired Emperor were welcomed to their own camp. Emperor Nijo issued an imperial letter to hunt down Nobuyori and Yoshitomo on the 26th. The Emperor's command made Kiyomori the Imperial army, and Nobuyori and Yoshitomo the rebel army.

The Taira's army departed Rokuhara around 8 o'clock in the morning of the 27th; the snow remained from the previous day. Yoshitomo blamed Nobuyori's oversight to be deprived of the Retired Emperor and Emperor; he decided to wait and attack the enemy at dairi. He deployed his soldiers at various gates. Yoshihira, his younger brothers Tomonaga and Yoritomo were also deployed to protect their territory. Yoshihira, aged 19, was wearing armor of eight kinds, armed with a sword named 'Ishikiri,' and rode on a roan horse to await the enemy.

Nobuyori was deployed at Taiken-mon Gate, where TAIRA no Shigemori, the eldest son and heir of Kiyomori, invaded. Nobuyori was intimidated and ran away; the enemy broke through the gate. Yoshitomo ordered his troops forward, saying 'He is such a coward. The enemy already broke through Taiken-mon Gate.
Repel the enemy.'
Yoshihira shouted with 'Certainly,' and immediately rushed with 17 bando musha including Masakiyo KAMATA, Sanemoto GOTO, Hideyoshi SASAKI, Yoshizumi MIURA, Toshimichi SUDO, Sanemori SAITO, Inomata Party, Naozane KUMAGAI, Nobukage HATANO, Sueshige HIRAYAMA, Ietada KANEKO, Tomoto ADACHI, Hirotsune KAZUSA, Tokikazu SEKI and Kageshige KATAGIRI. Yoshihira and the 17 bando musha jumped into the center of Shigemori's 500 soldiers, and scattered them away after a fierce battle. Chasing the enemy commander, Shigemori, Yoshihira ran seven to eight times between a tachibana tree at the right side and cherry tree at the left side of the main palace of the Heian Imperial Court. Shigemori pulled back with his chaotic troops, added 500 new soldiers, and returned to the inside of the gate.

With a new wave of attack, Yoshihira bravely fought back, and challenged Shigemori, saying 'We are both heirs and good enough to fight each other. Let's fight.'
Shigemori pulled back his army as he thought it would be best not to fight squarely. Yoshihira went after them. The 500 soldiers of Taira's army were scattered away by 17 soldiers of the Minamoto clan.

Shigemori and his two retainers ran away. Yoshihira and Masakiyo KAMATA spotted them and gave chase. Masakiyo shoots an arrow at Shigemori's horse; Shigemori falls off. Masakiyo grappled with Shigemori. Kageyasu YOSAZAEMON guarded his master, and grappled with Masakiyo. Yoshihira had to choose whether he should go after Shigemori or save Masakiyo. He first saved his valuable retainer Masakiyo, and then beheaded Kageyasu. Shigemori, who was prepared to die, attempted a one-on-one battle with Yoshihira. Ieyasu Zaemon SHINDO stopped him, and grappled with Yoshihira. Ieyasu was killed; however, Shigemori got out of the pinch.

Attacking Rokuhara
Yoshitomo and TAIRA no Yorimori (younger brother of Kiyomori) had a fierce battle at the Ikuho-mon Gate; Yorimori could not break through the gate and pulled back his troops. Minamoto's army went out the dairi to chase the Taira's army. This was actually a ruse. Other troops of TAIRA no Norimori (a younger brother of Kiyomori) approached the dairi, and was drawn inside through the gate opened by a mole; the dairi was occupied by Taira's army.

With his escape route blocked, Yoshitomo decided to mount a full-scale attack on Kiyomori's home ground Rokuhara. Minamoto's army was heading to Rokuhara. 300 soldiers of MINAMOTO no Yorimasa (a different lineage of Settsu-Genji from Yoshitomo) were being deployed near the Rokujo-gawara river bed; they were not fighting with anyone. Noticing the deployed troops, Yoshihira assumed 'they were going to take sides with the Heike if we lose. They are obnoxious. Let's scatter them away,' and started to attack Yorimasa's forces belonging to the same Minamoto clan. Yorimasa's forces suffered the unexpected attack, and were scattered away. In fact, Yorimasa was just sitting on the fence; it never occurred to him that he would take sides with the Heike; however, as a result, Yoshihira drove Yorimasa to the Heike side. The author of "Heiji Monogatari," who was in favor of Yoshihira, reflected his act as a whim of youth by citing a historical event in which Xiang YU of Chu unnecessarily attacked Wang Ling, who had been neutral, and made him take sides with Gaozu (Liu Bang) of Former Han.

Yoshihira led bando musha to attack Rokuhara. Kiyomori departed for the front in black armor on a black horse. Shouting 'This is Kamakura aku genta Yoshihira,' Yoshihira struck the enemy; the Heike resisted to protect their master; it turned into a royal battle. In contrast to the Minamoto clan, which had been fighting since early morning, the Heike had a pool of new soldiers to add to the battle field; the battered Minamoto clan was finally put to fight.

Defeated soldiers fleeing the enemy
Yoshitomo escaped from Kyo to rebuild his army in Togoku (the eastern part of Japan, particularly Kanto region); however, he became a victim of heist of lost samurai. MINAMOTO no Yoshitaka, the grand uncle of Yoshitomo, was killed, and Tomonaga suffered a severe injury in his thigh. Bando musha were scattered as they could not escape as a large group; eight soldiers (Yoshitomo, his children Yoshihira, Tomonaga and Yoritomo, and his family members MINAMOTO no Shigenari and Yoshinobu HIRAGA, as well as his servants Masakiyo KAMATA and Konomaru) left for Kanto. The youngest Yoritomo was left out during the escape journey in the snow.

The party finally reached Aobaka Post Town, Mino Province, where Yoshitomo's concubine resided. To rebuild his army, Yoshitomo ordered Yoshihira to go to Tosan-do Road and Tomonaga to Shinano Province and Kai Province to gather soldiers. Leaving their inn, Tomonaga nervously asked 'which way is Kai and Shinano Provinces?' Yoshihira fled away like the wind as soon as he responded 'go that way!' pointing at a cloud far away.

Injured Tomonaga could not go any further and had to return to Aobaka; he wanted to be killed rather than be captured. With tears in his eyes, Yoshitomo stabbed his son to death.

Yoshitomo sojourned into the residence of Tadamune OSADA in Owari Province; Tadamune was the father-in-law of Masakiyo KAMATA; on February 18, 1160, Yoshitomo was murdered with Masakiyo by the betrayer Tadamune.

Yoshihira, who arrived at Hida Province, gathered many soldiers; however, they all scattered as soon as they heard the rumor about Yoshitomo's unnatural death. Yoshihira was prepared to kill himself. However, he was determined to have a one-on-one battle with either Kiyomori or Shigemori, and headed to Kyoto.

He ran into Kagesumi SHINAI, who used to be his retainer, when he was looking around in Rokuhara. The angry Yoshihira grilled him; Kagesumi apologetically explained that he was 'waiting for a chance until the Minamoto clan takes over power;' Kagesumi ended up cooperating with Yoshihira. Yoshihira, pretending to be Kagesumi's low-ranking servant, sought for a chance of assassination for a few days.

People became doubtful about the origin of Yoshihira because he did not appear to be a low-ranking servant. The owner of the inn peeped inside and found that Yoshihira, pretending to be the servant, was eating the master's meal, and Kagesumi was eating the servant's meal. Acting on the tip, TATSUKAI no Tsuneto and his 300 soldiers surrounded the lodge in the evening of March 4. Yoshihira drew a sword as soon as he jumped out, struck down four or five enemy, and ran away.

Death of Yoshihira
Yoshihira then hid in Omi Province. He was discovered at Ishiyama-dera Temple, where he had been hiding out, and was taken alive by a retainer of NANIWA no Tsunefusa on March 11.

He was taken in to Rokuhara for interrogation by Kiyomori. Yoshihira said 'My luck ran out to be kept alive. You will never know what will happen if you keep me alive. I am such a formidable enemy. You should kill me now;' he then pursed his lips and remained silent.

He was taken to the Rokujo-gawara riverbed. It was NANIWA no Tsunefusa, who served as Tachitori (to assist decapitation). You, the Heike, are merciless to kill me at the riverbed in broad daylight. I was going to kill you all in an ambush in Abeno. But, I could not because I had to obey Nobuyori, the man of blunders. That is the only regret I have;' Yoshihira hurled insults. Turning to Tsunefusa, he said 'Are you good enough to kill me? It is your honor. Make sure you do it right.
I will bite you if you fail.'

Being asked 'how a man who had his head cut off could possibly bite someone?' he answered 'I am not going to bite you right after.'
I will become thunder to kick you to death. Kill me now.' Yoshihira was then decapitated. He died at age 20.

Eight years after his death, NANIWA no Tsunefusa was believed to have been killed by lightening at the Nonobiki Waterfall in Settsu Province, where he accompanied Kiyomori and was hit by a sudden thunder storm.

[Original Japanese]