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Minamoto Yoritomo

taira, yoshitsune, clan, hojo, brother, japan, japanese and army

MINAMOTO YORITOMO, Japanese war rior and statesman and one of the most famous figures in Japanese history: b. 1146; d. 1199. The chief clans in Japan in the middle of the 12th century were the Taira and their rivals, the Minamoto. The Mikados, like the Valois kings of France in the wars of the Huguenots and Catholics, vainly tried to balance one party against the other, In 1159 the Taira clan crushed the Minamoto clan and one of the Minamoto chieftains, Yoshitomo, was killed. Four of his sons escaped; two of them, Yoritomo and his younger brother, Yoshitsune, were destined to overthrow the Taira and to subjugate the three islands, Honshiu, Shikoku and Kiushiu. When Yoshitomo was treacher ously murdered by Kiyomori, chief of the Taira clan, Yoritomo fled. Captured and brought before Kiyomori he was ordered .o be beheaded; but, at the request of Kiyomori's stepmother, he was spared. He was banished instead to Idzu. While there, he married the daughter of Hojo Tokimasa, one of his guardians in exile. In 1180 he gathered an army made up of his father's scattered re tainers, followers of his father-in-law and some monks of Hiyeizan,— a force of 27,000 men. He occupied the north bank of the Fuji River; and across the river was the Taira army nearly double the size. A decisive battle was about to be fought when suddenly the Taira army was seized with panic and retreated westward to ward Kioto. At this moment Yoritomo was joined by his younger brother, Yoshitsune (1158-89), a graceful, well-knit youth, and, notwithstanding his early age, the best swords man in Japan. Yoshitsune became lieutenant of his brother, Yoritomo, and marched out of Kioto 19 March 1184 with 75,000 men, most of them bodies of mounted archers. On 21 March Yoshitsune, while the Taira troops were en gaged on both flanks, with a detachment of cavalry of the Minamoto army threaded his way across the mountains and riding down the steep declivity charged the enemy's centre. Both the Taira wings were crushed and the battle of Ichi-No-Tani was won. The victory of Ichi No-Tani did not end the war, however, for the Taira fleet was intact. Yoritomo preferred to attack it; and the great sea-fight of Dan-No Ura took place on 25 April near the Straits of Shimonoseki. Yoshitsune was in command and had 800 junks as against 500 junks. Yoshitsune was victorious. The island of Kiu shiu, like that of Shikoku and most of Honshiu, fell under control of the Minamoto leaders.

Yoshitsune returned to Kioto with the reputa tion of being the foremost soldier and sailor in Japan. His success excited the jealousy of Yoritomo, who tried to have him assassinated. Yoshitsune, however, escaped with 11 comrades and raised a rebellion against his brother, which was unsuccessful. Finally Yoshitsune was murdered by a great noble named Mutsu.

Yoritomo now made Kamakura his capital and instituted many reforms, both civil and military. He became Shogun in 1192 and his methods for ensuring that the executive power should remain in his own hands and in those of his successors were remarkable. With the establishment of the Shogunate a new epoch in Japanese history began; and, with only a few breaks, it remained the prevailing form of gov ernment until the 19th century when Japan came into relation with the modern world. The foundation of the Shogunate must not be re garded, however, as the work of one man; it was the result of a long evolution of the feudal system which had its beginnings in the time of the Fujiwara.

Like Napoleon Yoritomo was a short set man with a large head. His voice was power ful and ringing; when he pleased his manners were extraordinarily gentle. Brave, astute and iron-willed, he is one of the most noteworthy of all Japanese characters. Of a cold, calculating nature, he knew how to use men and women as his tools and he stopped at nothing, not even at fratricide, to achieve his ends. In religious matters he proved a tolerant ruler. Among the monuments still extant at Kamakura are the temple of Hachiman, the god of war and tutelary deity of the Minamoto clan, and the temple of Kwannon, both of which he erected. The institutions founded by Yoritomo and modified by Tokugawa Iyeyasu at the beginning of the 17th century lasted until 1868. The Minamoto were in time superseded by the Hojo clan into which Yoritomo had married. On the death of Yoritomo, his son became Shogun, but his grandfather, Hojo Tokimasa, had him murdered after he had reigned four years. His brother, the third Shogun, succumbed to a plot by Hojo Yoshitoki and the Hojo clan ultimately obtained possession of the Shogunate. A portrait of Minamoto Yoritomo and also a battle of the Minamoto and Taira appear in Saito, Hisho, 'A History of Japan,) translated by Elizabeth Lee (1912).