Minamoto no Yoshinaka

Minamoto no Yoshinaka

Minamoto no Yoshinaka (源義仲, Minamoto no Yoshinaka, 1154-1184) was a samurai and general of the late Heian era in Japan. He was a member of the Minamoto clan, and cousin of the clan chief Minamoto no Yoritomo against whom he rebelled. He preferred to be called "Kiso Yoshinaka", after the mountains where he grew up.

Minamoto no Yoshinaka Biography

Youth

Born in the province of Musashi, Minamoto no Yoshikata, Yoshinaka's father was killed and his domain seized by Minamoto no Yoshihira during an internal war of the clan, when he was still a child.

Yoshihira had thought of killing Yoshinaka too, but Yoshinaka managed to escape to the Nakahara clan of Kiso, in the province of Shinano (the present Nagano prefecture) where he was then raised. As an adult, Yoshinaka changed his name from Minamoto to Kiso.

Minamoto no Yoshinaka Fight against the Taira

In 1180, Yoshinaka received the call from prince Mochihito asking the members of Minamoto clan to rise against the power of Taira. Yoshinaka entered the Gempei war by gathering an army in Shinano and quickly conquered the province.

Then, in 1181, he considered taking over his father's estate in Musashi province which was then under the control of his cousin Minamoto no Yoritomo.

Both reconciled and agreed not to fight each other, but Yoshinaka had to agree to recognize Yoritomo as the head of the Minamoto clan, give up his aspirations to take over his father's estate and send his son Minamoto no Yoshitaka as a hostage to Kamakura.

Covered in shame, Yoshinaka is now determined to defeat Yoritomo, defeat the Taira himself, and take over the Minamoto clan.

On June 2, 1183, Yoshinaka defeats Taira no Koremori's army at the Battle of Kurikara and marches on Kyōto. The Taira fled the capital, taking with them the infant emperor Antoku.

In August, Yoshinaka's army enters the capital and the cloistered emperor Go-Shirakawa decorates him with the title of Asahi shogun. However, his army sacks Kyōto and the emperor orders him to pursue the Taira in an effort to drive the army from the capital.

Minamoto no Yoshinaka Internal struggles

The following year, returning to Kyōto after a battle, Yoshinaka angrily notes that the withdrawn emperor has aligned himself with his cousin Yoritomo. He then exercises his military power over the city, looting it, imprisoning the emperor Go-Shirakawa, and forcing him to give him the title of shogun. Taira sympathizers, court nobles, and warrior monks then rose up against Yoshinaka during the siege of the Hōjūjiden, forcing him to flee the city. Yoritomo, irritated and forced to react, sends his half-brothers Minamoto no Yoshitsune and Minamoto no Noriyori to kill him. Yoshitsune's troops engaged Yoshinaka as he fled the city across the Uji Bridge in what is known as the Second Battle of Uji on February 19, 1184.

He managed to escape and was joined in Seta by his comrade in arms Kanehira Imai. On the way, he was also joined by his wife (or mistress, according to the sources) Tomoe Gozen and they faced the enemy at Awazu, in the province of Omi (today Shiga prefecture) on February 21. They fought valiantly against the vastly superior forces of Noriyori and Yoshitsune but were eventually defeated. According to the legend, Tomoe managed to escape from the battle, taking with her her lover's head.

Minamoto no Yoshinaka Posterity

Yoshinaka is buried in Ōtsu, Omi province, and a temple, Gichū-ji, was later built in his honor during the Muromachi period.

The famous poet of the Edo period, Bashō Matsuo, in accordance with his last wishes, is buried near Minamoto no Yoshinaka in the Gichū-ji.

Minamoto no Yoshinaka is one of the main characters in the great epic story written in the Kamakura period, The Tale of the Heike.