We all have heard of tales and legends where the hero of our story had to fight their own family. And it’s not like fencing with the rapier where one gets to win and lose. Well, in this case, we are going to talk about real historical facts. This story will talk about clans clashing clans, family murdering the family.
Who is the Minamoto Clan?
The Minamoto clan was one of the four great clans of the Heian Period. This clan is also called the Genji clan using the on’yomi system. The surname “Minamoto” was a gift by the different Emperors of Japan. In this way, those who inherit the name can wear it with pride as part of their heritage and nobility.
Those members that are under Emperor Saga’s lineage are then classified as the Seiwa Genji or Genji clan. Some say that the first to inherit the surname was Minamoto no Makoto, Emperor Saga’s seventh son. The lineage of other emperors would continue to branch out as well while keeping the name. Much like the history of Japanese swords from one era to another.
Who is Minamoto no Yoshinaka?
Yoshinaka was born at the province of Musashi during the Heian Period. But, his father, Yoshikata got killed when he was only an infant. He was killed by Minamoto no Yoshihira, a fellow clan member. His reason in doing so is because of a fight for power in the family.
After his father’s death, Yoshinaka then lost his family’s land. The same man who killed his father then planned to kill the child as well. Because of this, Yoshinaka flee to the Shinano Province. There he met the Nakahara clan.
The Nakahara clan then raised the lad together with his milk brother, Nakahara Shiro. In case you didn’t know what a milk brother is, it’s under the umbrella of milk kinship. Milk kinship is when a mother breastfeeds a child which then forges an allegiance. This practice was pretty common back then.
Shiro would grow up with Yoshinaka as brothers and became loyal friends to one another. Years passed by and Yoshinaka decided to change his name. This name ended up being “Kiso”, originating from the Kiso Mountains where he grew up. Shiro also changed his name, then becoming Imai Kanehira.
The Genpei War
Years passed and Yoshinaka or Lord Kiso received a message from Prince Mochihito. Prince Mochihito was the son of Emperor Go-Shirakawa who got declassed from his duty. The prince asked Yoshinaka to duel against the Taira clan, another clan like the Minamoto. After the Emperor Takakura resigned, Taira no Kiyomori replaced him with his grandson. His grandson, Antoku, became an emperor in less than the age of two!
Mochihito had a feeling that he was the right one to sit on the throne though. He then decided to summon Buddhist monasteries as well as the Minamoto clan. Prince Mochihito believed that this was for the good of his clan. He wanted the Minamoto to rise up against the Taira clan.
After receiving such request, Yoshinaka said yes and joined the war. This war was the Genpei (or Gempei) War. Yoshinaka gathered an army and invaded the province of Echigo. A Taira force went to the area, but Yoshinaka and his men defeated them.
Rivalry with Yoritomo
A year passed and Yoshinaka made a firm decision to regain the land he had lost after his father’s murder. During this time Minamoto no Yoritomo was under control of the said land. Yoritomo was Yoshinaka’s cousin at the same time his rival.
But this plan did not turn out well. In 1183, Yoritomo confronted his fellow cousin. He had his army enter Shinano. Yoshinaka and Yoritomo had a talk and reconciled. But through force, Yoshinaka had to give up fighting for his father’s domain. Furthermore, his son Yoshitaka had to go to Kamakura as a hostage.
Yoshinaka felt ashamed to humble himself and accept Yoritomo as leader of their clan. But, this wasn’t over as this shame turned into fuel. The former became more determined and undaunted. He decided to defeat Yoritomo, defeat the Taira clan on his own, and become the leader of the Minamoto clan.
The Asahi Shogun
The clever and hungry Yoshinaka gained the power to win the Battle of Kurikara. He and his men defeated the troops of the enemy, Taira no Koremori. After hearing this, the Taira clan retreated with their infant emperor.
Yoshinaka and his men moved on to Kyoto. Three days later, Yoshinaka reached Kyoto and met the old Emperor Go-Shirakawa. The Emperor gave Yoshinaka’s title name: Asahi Shogun. If translated, Yoshinaka earned the title, “The Morning Sun Commander”.
The Emperor then discussed with Yoshinaka to go and join forces with Minamoto no Yukiie. Their mission together is to destroy Munemori and his troops. Yoshinaka and Yukiie came up with a decision to set up a government of their own in their northern province.
Upon arriving at Kyoto, Yoshinaka’s troops destroyed the city. As a consequence, Emperor Go-Shirakawa commanded Yoshinaka to ambush the Taira clan. This would make his men get out of Kyoto.
Yoshinaka obeyed the Emperor and passed the order to his army. They left Kyoto as soon as they can to fulfill their duties. Upon reaching contact with the Taira, the two armies clashed. Many got wounded, and many died. The battle was very burdensome and bloody, but in the end, Yoshinaka’s group won that battle. He returned to Emperor Go-Shirakawa in Kyoto to regain his title as the Asahi Shogun.
More Unfortunate Events
As though the series of unfortunate events haven’t ended yet. Lord Kiso never expected to return with another surprise. The general learned that Emperor Go-Shirakawa had betrayed him. He was the very same emperor that acknowledged him and gave him his title Shogun. But, the Emperor sided with Yoshinaka’s rival, Yoritomo.
Yoshinaka felt frustrated at the fact that he was working hard for the Emperor. He was angry at the betrayal so he decided to imprison the Emperor. After seizing him, he lit the palace on fire and left. He believed that he could regain his honor and his title as the Asahi Shogun.
Of course, Yoritomo would not allow this to happen. He himself wanted that very same title Shogun. Yoritomo was hungry for glory and forgot his reconciliation with his cousin. He ordered his two brothers, Yoshitsune and Noriyori to assassinate their cousin.
Yoshinaka left Kyoto after the events. He still continued fighting and leading his army until they reached the Battle of Awazu. Knowing that his cousins are after his life he decided to commit suicide. Wanting to die with his own Katana sword, Yoshinaka left the field to find a lonely place to commit Seppuku.
He thought that by doing this, he would not endanger those whom he loved. But even until his death, luck stood away from him. Yoshitsune and Noriyori found him. The two brothers killed their cousin upon catching him. They killed him along with Yoshinaka’s milk brother and best friend, Shiro.
The rest of the clan buried Minamoto no Yoshinaka in Otsu. There was then a temple built for him and his honor which was then named Gichu-ji. Its Kanji for this word has the same spelling for his name. Shiro is also buried in Otsu, but not close to Yoshinaka’s grave.
Ever since he was an infant, Yoshinaka had faced miserable events. Despite all those, he grew up in a lovely clan that accepted him and shaped his personality. He became a brilliant Shogun, a loyal clan member, and a determined achiever. Yoshinaka loved Shiro, and they died together in the end.
It is somehow sad to think that Yoshinaka had to fight his own cousin to get what is his. But Yorimoto is also fighting to achieve what he believes is his. It’s amazing how these two cousins are like one another, yet different.
But Minamoto no Yoshinaka, as Lord Kiso will reign forever in Japanese history. He was the initial Asahi Shogun, the Morning Sun Shogun. This great general showed Yorimoto what he could have been.