Minamoto no Yoshimitsu (源義光)

MINAMOTO no Yoshimitsu was a late Heian-period military commander. He was the third son of MINAMOTO no Yoriyoshi, who was the second-generation leader of the Kawachi-Genji (of the Minamoto clan). He was the younger brother of MINAMOTO no Yoshiie and MINAMOTO no Yoshitsuna. He was called Shinra-Saburo because he celebrated his coming of age at Shinra Myojin (Onjo-ji Temple in Otsu) in Omi Province.


When his older brother MINAMOTO no Yoshiie became hard-pressed during the Gosannen no Eki (The Latter Three Years' War), Yoshimitsu, who was in the capital, renounced his court rank and headed for Oshu (Mutsu province) in order to help.

After the war, he was able to marry a daughter of the Hitachi Taira clan (specifically, the Yoshida family), thereby making their strength his own. He fought with his nephew MINAMOTO no Yoshikuni (the ancestor of both the Ashikaga and Nitta clans), who had advanced into Hitachi well after Yoshimitsu, but was punished by imperial decree for fighting this battle.

After Yoshiie died, Yoshimitsu's ambitions grew, and he started aiming to become the head of the Kawachi-Genji. In order to accomplish this, he plotted with his younger brother Kaiyo to destroy both his nephew MINAMOTO no Yoshitada, who as Yoshiie's successor had become the leader of the Minamoto clan, and his older brother MINAMOTO no Yoshitsuna. First he dispatched his retainer FUJIWARA no Suekata to serve as a retainer to MINAMOTO no Yoshiaki, who was Yoshitsuna's son, and next sent TAIRA no Narimoto (also known as Saburo KASHIMA), a relative of Yoshimitsu's wife, to serve as a retainer to Yoshitada.

Next, in the spring of 1109, Yoshimitsu ordered FUJIWARA no Suekata to steal Yoshiaki's sword and give it to Narimoto, secretly ordering him to assassinate Yoshitada. As a result of this plot, Yoshitada was killed (in what is known as "The Assassination of MINAMOTO no Yoshitada").

Since the sword left lying next to where the assassination had occurred was MINAMOTO no Yoshiaki's, Yoshiaki and his father Yoshitsuna fell under suspicion of having assassinated Yoshitada. Accordingly, Yoshitsuna's whole family was killed at Mt. Koka, which was inside Yoshimitsu's sphere of influence, by MINAMOTO no Tameyoshi, the adopted son of Yoshitada. In actuality, however, it was not Tameyoshi who orchestrated the massacre of Yoshitsuna's family (in what became known as the "False Accusation of MINAMOTO no Yoshitsuna") but Yoshimitsu, who was directing everything behind the scenes.

Moreover, FUJIWARA no Suekata, Yoshitsuna's retainer, and Saburo KASHIMA were also murdered on Yoshimitsu's orders (as was Kaiyo, a monk of Onjo-ji Temple who was also Yoshimitsu's biological younger brother) in order to ensure that the plot would never come to light. But the truth came out, and Yoshimitsu was forced to flee to Hitachi province (where his power and influence remained strong), his dream of becoming the head of the Minamoto clan in tatters.

It is widely believed that Yoshimitsu died at Mii-dera Temple. Other theories claim that he died of disease or was murdered. According to one such theory which claims he was murdered, the killer is believed to have been Tsunekuni KAWACHI, the bereaved son of MINAMOTO no Yoshitada, whose assassination had been orchestrated by Yoshimitsu.


The assassination of Yoshimitsu's nephew Yoshitada led to the fall of the Minamoto clan. One cause of the downfall of the Minamoto clan was the conspiracy in the cloister government, while another was the secret infighting going on within the Minamoto clan; in such infighting among the Minamoto clan, the major figure was Yoshimitsu.

On the other hand, since Yoshimitsu's descendants--which include the Takeda, Satake, Ogasawara, and Nanbu clans--ended up flourishing, Yoshimitsu's contributions to the family's prosperity could actually be seen as quite significant.

In stark contrast to his older brother Yoshiie, who used his position as head of the Kawachi-Genji to benefit the entire clan, Yoshimitsu's first priority was benefiting himself, and as a result he greatly expanded the amount of territory under his control, thereby magnifying his own power and influence. Therefore, even in the period during which the main lineage of the Kawachi-Genji fell into decline, and during its subsequent revitalization (with the establishment of the Kamakura shogunate by MINAMOTO no Yoritomo), Yoshimitsu's own lineage continued to have enormous influence over the clan at large, and Yoshimitsu's policies contributed to the revival of the Minamoto clan.

Yoshimitsu is also considered the founder of the Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu (a type of Jujutsu), an ancient Japanese martial art style.

Yoshimitsu was fond of music and was taught Sho (Japanese flute) by TOYOHARA no Tokimoto. One anecdote holds that when Yoshimitsu went to help his older brother Yoshiie in the Gosannen no Eki, he played the Sho (a type of flute) on the Ashigara-toge Pass in Sagami province, and taught TOYOHARA no Tokiaki, the orphaned son of Tokimoto, everything he had learned from Tokimoto as a parting gift.


His grave is in Onjoji-cho, Otsu City, Shiga Prefecture.

Yoshimitsu is enshrined with his grandfather MINAMOTO no Yorinobu, his father MINAMOTO no Yoriyoshi, and his older brothers MINAMOTO no Yoshiie and MINAMOTO no Yoshitsuna at Tsuboi-gongen, which is next to Tsuboi Hachiman-gu shrine, where the ujigami (the guardian deity) of the Kawachi-Genji is enshrined; Tsuboi-gongen is located in Tsuboi in Ishikawa county of Kawachi province (present-day Tsuboi in the city of Habikino in Osaka Pref.), which was the seat of the Kawachi-Genji's power as well as where Yoshimitsu is believed to have been born. According to the orally transmitted legends of the Satake family, Yoshimitsu's posthumous Buddhist name was "Sugen-in dono Yoshimitsu Sonryo."

[Original Japanese]