170 cm (5'7")
|First Appearance:||Warriors Orochi 2|
Minamoto no Yoshitsune
源 義経 or 源 義經
June 15, 1189
Yoshitsune Minamoto (源 義経) is a general of Japan's Heian period who is famously known to have led the expedition which toppled the Ise-Heishi. Despite performing his tasks admirably for his clan, his return home was not welcomed and Yoshitsune perished at the hands of his trusted allies. In various literary works, such as The Tale of the Heike, he is often heralded as one of the tragic heroes of the Genpei War.
His counterpart in the Harukanaru Toki no Naka de series is addressed by his full name and adulthood alias, Minamoto no Kurou Yoshitsune (源九郎義経). Characters commonly address him as Kurou (九郎) within the script. He acts as the the Seiryu of Earth (地の青龍, Chi no Seiryuu) for his era's White Dragon Priestess.
- 1 Role in Games
- 2 Character Information
- 3 Quotes
- 4 Gameplay
- 5 Weapons
- 6 Historical Information
- 7 Japanese Folklore
- 8 Gallery
- 9 Trivia
Role in Games
Yoshitsune arrives into the new dimensional world during his hunt for his arch nemesis, Kiyomori. At Ru Xu Kou, he duels Lu Bu. Their encounter is interrupted by Ranmaru and Zhou Tai, whom scout the area for activity on Sun Jian's orders, and Yoshitsune escapes to Wu's care. He thanks his rescuers and promptly invites himself into their ranks in order to obtain information of Kiyomori's whereabouts. As Sun Jian hesitates to take action, Yoshitsune is itching to hop back into the battlefield at any opportunity.
When news of the mysterious Kiyomori and Lu Bu is reported to Sun Jian, Yoshitsune quickly pardons himself from Wu and rushes alone to face his enemy at Itsukushima. Sun Quan and Motochika hurry to his aid and they rout Kiyomori. Although Kiyomori escapes, Yoshitsune has a new found respect for Sun Jian's leadership and obediently serves in the ranks with his comrades.
Following Kiyomori's death at Yamazaki, the young general reveals his reason for chasing him was his desire to grant Kiyomori a proper rest. He admits his interest in Lu Bu, the one man Kiyomori couldn't tame, and wants to stay with Wu awhile longer to continue subduing Kiyomori's allies. While Wu celebrates their final victory at Chi Bi, Yoshitsune reflects on Lu Bu's dream to follow one's sole desires.
Musou OROCHI Z reveals that he had entered Orochi's world with his longtime friend, Benkei, but they were separated during the wars. His reunion with Benkei doesn't entirely please him since his comrade had unwittingly allied himself with Da Ji. Bitterly accepting his friend as his new enemy, Yoshitsune is defeated at Mikatagahara and retreats. In one of the game's dream stages, he teams up with Benkei and Kiyomori at Sekigahara. Looking past any differences they may have, Yoshitsune wants to show off the superiority of the Genji and Heike against the heroes of the Warring States Period of Japan. During the battle, he acts as one of the lead commanders and offers special praise to Yukimura. He refuses Kiyomori's offer to join forces after their victory and tries to leave with Benkei.
Hoping to find a way back to his home, Yoshitsune left Wu's care in Warriors Orochi 3. During his journey he is rescued from a grisly fate by Taigong Wang, and the young warrior seeks to repay his debt to the immortal. He follows Taigong Wang into the coalition after they force Shuten Dōji's retreat at Shouchun. Yoshitsune assists the chase for the demon and personally finds Ayane at Hasedō. Flummoxed at the sight of her cleavage during their initially hostile encounter, his embarrassed reaction is enough to convince her that he is human and not a threat to her. He later helps the coalition defeat Hydra at Luoyang.
Yoshitsune stars in one of the downloadable scenarios, "Ninjas United" where he leads his team of ninjas against the demon army.
In Ultimate, he is given a new scenario with Xiahou Dun and Musashi, where they must retrieve the Yashio'ori parts that were stolen by Sun Wukong at Komaki-Nagakute. In their quest, the trio run into Nezha and duel him in their eagerness to see the mystic's strength.
Yoshitsune originally wandered the distorted world alongside Benkei in Warriors Orochi 4, before being attacked by horrors. Thanks to Da Ji's timely rescue, Yoshitsune swears allegiance to her and her demon army. Opposing the Coalition as Odin's ally, Yoshitsune constantly defies the other humans until Da Ji is finally reunited with the real Orochi.
After both Orochi and Orochi X are defeated, Da Ji surrenders to the Coalition. Bound by honor, Yoshitsune joins Da Ji and also surrenders.
During one of the DLC scenarios, Yoshitsune is finally unable to put up fighting together with Kiyomori, and breaks off temporarily to challenge his rival to a duel. Receiving the aid of both Cao Cao and Motonari in order to gain his wish, Yoshitsune successfully defeats Kiyomori's guards. The in-fighting eventually causes Odin to reprimand the two for being unable to control themselves. Though the god is pushed back, Yoshitsune returns to his duties as a part of Da Ji's forces.
Ultimate has him resume his services with the demon army in the alternate scenario, and he continues to oppose the Coalition, leading the demon army in his battle at Hanzhong. He aids Kiyomori's battle of sorcery against Seimei Abe and Zuo Ci, but both he and Benkei are eventually captured and join the Coalition, believing their oath of service to Da Ji was now finished and happy to have been spared. He and the rest of the demon army that joins the Coalition later join together to fight Odin's army at Ōsaka Castle, where he leads the raid against the sorcerers strengthening the Asgardians' horrors.
The Genghis Khan series offers Yoshitsune as a playable general in Japan. Earlier Genghis Khan titles have him already beside his older brother, Yoritomo. The following titles in the series instead have him start at Hiraizumi. His listed spouse is Shizuka and he often does not have children.
Within the series, Yoshitsune has overall high stats and is one of the strongest warriors in Japan. His war and intelligence ratings are high or above-average. His political rating is his lowest stat, however, and is average at best. In the series's fourth title, he excels as a leader of cavalry troops but is capable of leading any troop type without too much difficulty. Yoshitsune shares the same combat abilities as Genghis Khan, perhaps as a nod to the Japanese legend about them.
He is one of many secret characters in the PlayStation 2 version of Nobunaga's Ambition: Iron Triangle. He can be unlocked as Created Officer after completely clearing the game's Challenge Modes and, like other Created Officers, he will only appear if the player allows him to be enabled. Yoshitsune features excellent stats for battle, being the only optional character who boasts maximum Leadership and an S rating with cavalry units. His flaws would be his low political attribute and his low ratings for leading units dependent on technology.
The online MMOPRG version of the series allows players to initiate a Yoshitsune themed dungeon whilst they visit Oshu. Players investigate a cavern which supposedly houses the warrior's spirit.
Inindo: Way of the Ninja
Yoshitsune is not alive in Inindo: Way of the Ninja, but the main party hears legends of his feats when they visit Hiraizumi. He is considered the first ninja in history and is heralded as a hero by the nearby townsfolk. The protagonist can then visit his tomb to loot his treasured sword and armor. A tengu wing can also be spotted beside his belongings. One of Yoshitsune's trusted companions whilst living, Hitachibo Kaison, protects his grave from trespassers.
A brave and righteous youth who is gungho for action, Yoshitsune strives to prove himself as a true warrior. Valuing nobility and fairness, he believes strongly in his family name and respects those who fit the classic image of a man of war. He is a capable fighter, emerging from his first bout with Lu Bu unscathed. Sadly, he isn't always the most prudent thinker and is oblivious of any trouble his sudden impulsiveness may cause. Yoshitsune is vaguely implied to be infatuated with beautiful women (based on his reactions to Diaochan, Okuni and Ayane), but he quickly recovers and retorts that women shouldn't be on the battlefield.
Though he may curse Kiyomori's deceptive nature, Yoshitsune admits to have respected the just and upright living form of his nemesis. He considers Kiyomori's new form an unfortunate abomination and seeks to save the man he once knew with death. While it is understated, Yoshitsune also has a passing rivalry with Masamune, as he can't believe the one-eyed general to be the ruler of Oshu. Benkei's dream stages may suggest otherwise, but he likes his monk companion when they are allies. He additionally praises Ranmaru, Sun Jian, and Sun Ce.
Yoshitsune's light saber-like sword for his Warriors appearance is likely an artistic interpretation of Imatsurugi or Ima-no-Tsurugi, a magical sword of legend. Yoshitsune was said to have received the blade during his childhood days at Kurama Temple. It was given to him in a burst of brilliant light and remained on his person throughout his life. When he faced his end, Yoshitsune used Imatsurugi to end his own life. Since it has only been described to have been a sword with a golden hilt, there are various theories regarding its length or manner of forgery. Most tend to say it was a dagger to explain how Yoshitsune kept it beside him and hidden throughout his life. In honor of its spontaneous appearance, most of his weapons are named after various synonyms for a bright light in Asian ports.
His third weapon literally describes the vibrant flash created from a lightning bolt (雷光, literally read as raikō). It may also allude to the alternative name for one of the founders for the Settsu-Genji, Minamoto no Yorimitsu. Yorimitsu is also known by the name Raikō (頼光) in various songs and folklore. Although historically he stayed true to politics, folklore dictates Raikō as a valorous warrior with talented swordsmanship and cunning. His vassals respected his courage and his name became synonymous for a strong fighter. A formidable soldier within Tales of Heike was said to have inherited Raikō's spirit. Yoshitsune was somewhat related to him since Yorimitsu's younger brother, Yorinobu, became the founder of the Kawachi-Genji (Yoshitsune's family roots).
Takemikazuchi forms the namesake for his fourth weapon. Aside from being known as a lightning or thunder god, this deity is also known as a war god, a god for long swords or archery. Takemikazuchi is fabled to be able to morph his own body into a sword of tremendous power, Futsu-no-Mitama-no-Tsurugi.
As a side note, Yoshitsune balancing himself atop of Lu Bu's Sky Piercer during his introduction cinematic is a reference to how he originally beat Benkei at Gojo Bridge. Lu Bu's comment about him dodging his attacks is another reference to Yoshitsune's swiftness from the same duel.
- Jeremy Kent Jackson - Warriors Orochi 2 (English-uncredited)
- Yūsei Oda - Warriors Orochi series (Japanese)
- Hikaru Midorikawa - Yoshitsune ~Ouka no Omoukage~ drama CD
- Tomokazu Seki - Harukanaru Toki no Naka de 3
- Natsuki Hanae - Nioh 2
Live Action Performers
- Kou Kanegae - Butai Harukanaru Toki no Naka de 3 Izayoiki
- Ruri Tsuma no Ketsui
- Mangetsu wa Yozora no Imi - duet with Kagetoki
- Omae to iu Hidamari
- Yami wo Saku Hitomi wa Gekkou
- Souten ni Sarai no Kaze yo Fuke - duet with Yasuhira
- Tsuki no Michibiku
- Aozora wo Kakkeshi Negai
- See also: Yoshitsune Minamoto/Quotes
- "If you're free, could you come with me to the town? Well, I don't care about going there. I mean, as long as I'm with you, anywhere wouldn't be inconvenient for me. Is there anywhere you'd want to go? I'm returning the favor from the other day. Today I thought we... we should do one or two things... that lovers usually do."
- "I am a warrior of the Minamoto! You cannot tempt me!"
- "I am doing nothing of the sort."
- ~~Yoshitsune and Diao Chan; Warriors Orochi 2
- "Lord Yoshitsune, I must ask you. What is the way of the warrior?"
- "The warrior's path is to fight for the pride of his name!"
- ~~Kanetsugu and Yoshitsune; Warriors Orochi 2 PSP
- "Such prowess... I, Zhao Yun, shall give it my all!"
- "In that case, I shall do my best to overcome you in turn!"
- ~~Zhao Yun and Yoshitsune; Musou OROCHI Z
- "I pay no mind to anyone like you. My only desire is to become the greatest warrior this world has ever seen."
- "One day, I will see though your technique and become even more powerful than you. When that day comes, you will yearn to face me."
- "How interesting. If you are capable of that, I would like to see you try."
- ~~Lu Bu and Yoshitsune; Warriors Orochi 3
|Keys:||Normal Attack •||Charge Attack •||Musou •||Jump/Mount|
- : Shoots three spheres of thunder against the enemies.
- , : Yoshitsune swings his laser sword diagonally in the opposite direction.
- , , : Shoots a thunder ball forward.
- , , , : Slices enemies twice while launching two spinning blade-like objects with every strike.
- , , , , : Yoshitsune swings his sword in a hooking inward turn, creating a forward blast of wind.
- , , , , , : Yoshitsune moves forward and grabs an enemy. He then spiral-jumps and throws the enemy back to the ground while in midair. Unblockable grab.
- , , , , , , : Impales an enemy, lifts his sword and creates a lightning bolt which electrocutes the enemy, then throws the enemy. Unblockable grab.
- , , , , , , , : Yoshitsune jumps and swing his sword to the left, right and left again launching two spinning blade-like objects forward in his last two strikes while in midair.
- , , , , , , , , , , , : Yoshitsune skips forward four times while slashing with his laser sword and leaps upward a little and then moves in a circular motion finishing the combo with another slash downward.
- : Yoshitsune shoots a ball of thunder multiple times and swing his sword thrice while launching a spinning blade-like object towards the enemy with his second strike.
- Dashing : Spinning hopping slash.
- , : Jumps and shoots a ball of thunder against the enemies.
- , : Jumps and thrusts downward with his laser sword.
- R1: Charges forward and grabs an enemy with his gauntlet-hand, absorbing their power to strengthen his laser sword within a short period. Yoshitsune's laser sword will emit an orange glow and becomes a little longer within a few seconds once the player performs a 100 combo before the time limit ends. Counts as an unblockable grab. Yoshitsune dubs this attack as a "Genji Ōgi" (源氏奥義, Genji Secret/Secret Skill) in the Japanese script.
- R1 (Counter): Swings laser sword in a circular motion and moves forward, delivering another strike.
- Triple Attack 1: Fires three razor energy discs traveling at a rapid pace.
- Triple Attack 2: Hurls a large blue-colored wave in front of the user.
- Triple Attack 3: Sends out three medium-sized razor discs forward within a certain range.
- Warriors Orochi 3
Character type changed from Technique to Speed. Gains the ability to air dash and reprises a previous Type Action.
- , : An air dash that makes him temporarily invincible. Yoshitsune rolls forward through the air.
- R1: Remains the same, except that the 100 hit combo is no longer necessary to strengthen his weapon as the laser blade immediately grows in size upon the grab finishing.
- , R1 (Ultimate only): Tumbles around in the air, and propels forward at a low angle while using the momentum to unleash a large tunnel of wind towards the enemy as he dives to the ground, sliding into a landing (which also fires a wind disc forward). Also enhances Yoshitsune's weapon temporarily.
- : horse rears on hind legs before smashing the ground with their front hoofs. If the horse is sprinting, it will perform a long jump instead.
- , : Yoshitsune has his laser sword disappear to fire a harsh gust of wind with his gauntlet. Hits and launches foes to his right.
- , , : downwards chop that emits a lightning bolt.
- , , , : harsh rising slice to his right.
- , , , , , , , : series of swings to his right.
- : horse stampedes with a powerful aura.
Yoshitsune is quite powerful even from the onset. In game, he uses a distinguished light blade gauntlet. He moves with considerable speed and attacks with much of the same gusto (although nowhere near as fast Sun Wukong), and his moves afford him capable offense at any range. As his attacks demonstrate, his style works very well with the Lightning Element.
In terms of drawbacks, Yoshitsune is very vulnerable to rear attacks as his moveset is very forward minded. As such, he can clear the crowd directly in front of him - but he has little to offer in terms clearing anything else within his immediate vicinity. That being, he also doesn't have any attacks that let him circle an opponent, due to his moveset also causing a good amount of pushback.
However, despite the drawbacks, he is still very effective and shines in one on one combat (even though he can't circle, he can break guard relatively easily).
- See also: Yoshitsune Minamoto/Weapons
Warriors Orochi 4
Rare Weapon Acquisition
- Stage: Pursuit of the Demon
Minamoto no Yoshitsune was the ninth son of Minamoto no Yoshitomo and was famously known to have served under his older brother and leader of the Genji, Minamoto no Yoritomo. He is known in legends to be a fearless, pale-skinned handsome warrior who braved many challenges since his childhood. He was a capable strategist in any situation and had a peerless image in spite of his youth. In reality, however, historical records only note his activities during the mid to late movements of the Genpei War and his suicide; his actual history before then is not documented.
Even so, historical accounts from this short time period do support some of the traits commonly associated with Yoshitsune. He was indeed praised as the model warrior by Shukaku Hoshino, Yoritomo's monk advisor, who stated that Yoshitsune had no equal in military affairs or strategic planning. However, his glory-seeking ways were also recorded to have led to his downfall. In 1180, Yoritomo ordered Yoshitsune to be one of the horse riding escorts for carpenters during a high-classed ceremony at Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū. Yoshitsune humbly expressed that he lacked confidence for the deed but proceeded with his older brother's assurance. Whilst riding on the horse, Yoritomo reportedly feared the abdominal presence of his brother. Later, Yoshitsune's radical methods and insistence to end the Heike after the Battle of Ichi-no-tani and the Battle of Dan-no-ura in the Gyokuyō were heavily criticized by the veterans following him as distrustful and too dangerous.
What earned his negative reputation with the eastern lords wasn't the goal behind his actions but his overzealousness; Yoshitsune dared to act on his own authority and braved many perilous conditions without fully considering the repercussions of his actions. According to the Azuma Kagami, Kajiwara Kagetoki sent a written request for Yoshitsune's prompt return to Kantō after the Battle of Dan-no-ura, as he thought the young commander had grown arrogant with his trend of success. Kagetoki's letter implied that he wasn't alone with his dissatisfaction with Yoshitsune, and his words held a tone insisting he come back for his safety. In response, Yoshitsune had stated that Kagetoki's concerns were arbitrary and continued to act on his own will. In spite of his reported grudge against Yoshitsune, Kagetoki was among the few who openly mourned the tragic circumstances regarding the general's death. Kujo Kanezane complemented the general during his fall, reflecting that Yoshitsune was a brave and humane individual in spite of losing everything and was worthy of praise.
While several portraits are dedicated to him, not a single one that is known today was drawn during his lifetime. No known historical records state any descriptions of his physical appearance. His childhood name was supposedly Ushiwakamaru (牛若丸) and his legal alias was Kurō (九郎). Historically, his legal alias was decided based on the order of his birth and not due to the reason stated in the Gikeiki story.
Relations with Women
His legal wife was Sato Gozen (郷御前, also known as Kyōhime or Kita no Kata), the daughter of Kawagoe Shigeyori and Yoritomo's wet nurse (real name unknown but called Kawagoe no Ama). Her real name is not recorded as she is mainly referred to as her father's daughter or Yoshitsune's wife in historical records; Sato Gozen is a name devised by local legends surrounding her. When Yoshitsune was established as a local minister in Kyoto, Yoritomo ordered her to be Yoshitsune's wife. Yoshitsune had not personally approved of the marriage and was angered by the proposal. In spite of his protests, everything regarding the arranged marriage was already decided before he was made aware of it. During his revolt against his brother, Yoshitsune returned to Kyoto to retrieve her and his daughter and took them with him to Oshu. They followed him until they were cornered at Koromogawa no Tachi. Before he committed suicide, Yoshitsune killed Sato Gozen -who was twenty-two years old- and his four year old daughter.
Yoshitsune's famous lover was Shizuka Gozen (静御前), a shirabyōshi -also known as a high-classed prostitute. When he fled from Kyoto and tried to head toward Kyushu, Shizuka was stranded from him at Yoshino. She tried to wander back to Kyoto by herself but was lost wandering in the mountains. She was found in the mountains near Kyoto by Hōjō Tokimasa, and he brought her and her mother back with him to Kamakura. Soon, she danced before Yoritomo on a stage at Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū. During her performance, she sang a defiant song describing her longing for Yoshitsune and dissatisfaction with her captivity. Yoritomo was furious by her blatant arrogance, but his wife, Hōjō Masako, spoke on Shizuka's behalf and he spared the woman's life. The message behind her dance was well known and deeply moved her audience. At the time, Shizuka was pregnant with Yoshitsune's child. Yoritomo, weary of the future threat against him, decided he would spare the child if it were a girl; if she gave birth to a boy, he would order the child's death. Tragically, Shizuka gave birth to a boy and she tearfully tried her best to avoid being separated from him. However, Shizuka's mother took the infant away from her and the boy was sent to drown in the waters of Yuigahama. Two months later, Shizuka and her mother were sent back to Kyoto. Masako and Ōhime (Yoritomo's eldest daughter) took pity on her and gave her treasures to try to cope with the loss. Her further activities after her return to Kyoto are not known.
According to the Sonpi Bunmyaku, Warabihime (蕨姫) was Yoshitsune's other mistress. Like Sato Gozen, she is called Warabihime in folklore and her real name is not recorded. She was the daughter of Taira no Tokitada and she was given to Yoshitsune for a political alliance. Not much is known about her, and she is said to have returned to her father after her lover left Kyoto. A few legends state that she could have given birth to another daughter for Yoshitsune, but these claims have little evidence to support them.
To understand Yoshitsune's role in the war, it is first necessary to mention a summarization of the events prior to his participation.
After Emperor Go-Shirakawa abdicated the throne in favor of a new political system, he swore into priesthood and had his son, Emperor Nijo, rule. However, the former emperor still oversaw affairs and ordered for regions to be rearranged to his designs. Taira no Kiyomori, whose family was greatly rewarded with their participation in the prior Hōgen Rebellion, was in full favor of reform as his military forces had permission to constantly march around the streets of Kyoto. With his family's growing influences, he arranged a political union with his daughter for the young emperor. Opponents to Kiyomori's manipulations of the throne arose throughout the countryside; they were either infuriated by Kiyomori's disregard or sought proper compensations for their own losses caused by the Hōgen Rebellion. Siding with the former emperor, the Genji group staged a coup d'état once Kiyomori returned to Kyoto. During the short yet violent conflicts that followed, the Three Sacred Treasures -three ancient artifacts traditionally presented during an emperor's enthronement- were taken by a Genji soldier, Minamoto no Moronaga. As the Heike troops gradually overpowered the Genji's fewer numbers, Moronaga eventually surrendered and offered the Three Sacred Treasures. Yoshitsune's father, Yoshitomo, was one of the designated commanders of the rebellion, and he fought desperately with his three eldest sons to achieve a lasting victory. He eventually lost his life when the Genji forces crumbled and Yoshitomo was ordered to commit suicide in Owari Province.
Wanting to swiftly deal with future threats, Kiyomori forcibly merged the two emperors' governments and ruled the majority of the land with military might. A heavy blow was dealt to those desiring to overthrow him, their numbers slimming more than before and their surviving members had to work in highly guarded secrecy. As Kiyomori was either ordering the executions or banishing the relatives of those against them, he was given the proposition of dealing with the then thirteen year old son of Yoshitomo, Yoritomo. For reasons not quite known, Yoritomo was mysteriously spared and sent into exile in Izu Province. A particularly famous tale explains that the child allegedly bore a striking resemblance to Kiyomori's departed nephew, Taira no Iemori. Iemori died around the same age as their prisoner and Kiyomori's step-mother, who couldn't bare to witness another "Iemori"'s death, begged mercy for Yoritomo's fate. The Heike gradually expanded their influence and stifled the resistance against them.
Years later, Kiyomori's grandson was born and the Three Sacred Treasures were used to enthrone the young boy as emperor. When the Taira rose into royalty, anti-Heike resentments grew even among Heike followers. Yoritomo had grown into adulthood by this time and was married into the influential Hōjō family. Since his mother was from the noble Fujiwara family, he was designated as Yoshitomo's proper heir and the new leader of the remaining Genji. The Hōjō were formerly vassals of the Heike, but Yoritomo had gained their loyalty when he promised a high position for their clan head if they were victorious. Several Genji loyalists whom realized that he was the last Genji to lead them banded under Yoritomo's banner. With these forces, Yoritomo started his own rebellion and suppressed several other Heike vassals in the Kantō region.
Following the Battle of Fujiwara, Yoshitsune reportedly left his former home at Hiraizumi, Oshu to join under his brother at Kisegawa. Alone for the journey, Yoritomo spotted him and met with his brother in person. He graciously compared their meeting to the ties shared by their great ancestors, Minamoto no Yoshiie and Minamoto no Yoshimitsu. Touched by their reunion and by the honorable words, Yoshitsune was said to have pressed his hand to his face to hide his tears. Together with his older brother, Noriyori, Yoshitsune was named a member of the expeditionary forces and was devoted to the management of affairs in Kantō.
Solidifying the Genji
Not all of the Genji accepted Yoritomo as their leader as easily as Yoshitsune. Their cousin, Minamoto no Yoshinaka, was chief among them and had his own league of followers. Yoshinaka had previously challenged his cousin's right as clan leader before, but they were able to reconcile their differences by deciding on a political marriage between his eldest son, Yoshitaka, and Ōhime. Yoshinaka went on his own conquests against the Heike by attacking the central sections of the main island. As he invaded Kyoto, he simultaneously rescued Emperor Go-Shirakawa in 1183 and made the capital his new residence. However, as his troops stayed, Yoshinaka proved to be a poor ruler and heavily abused the common folk. Yoshinaka also insisted to place the young Hokuroku-no-Miya on the throne, which outraged the retired emperor and Yoritomo. Their opposition became official when Yoritomo proclaimed the Juei Decree, a cease and desist directed toward Yoshinaka that was largely answered with contempt.
Since Yoritomo could not leave Kamakura undefended against Taira troops, Yoshitsune and Nakahara no Chikayoshi were sent to deal with their cousin in his place. By the time Yoshitsune's army positioned themselves at Fuwa no Seki in November, Yoshinaka was still at war with the Heike armies and his main forces were directed towards them. Yoshitsune's army had a hard time entering the capital and could manage 600 or so horsemen through. Surprised by Genji troops suddenly near his doorstep, Yoshinaka had tried to compromise his predicament by confining Emperor Go-Shirakawa. Told by the retired emperor's messenger of the situation in Kyoto, Yoshitsune and Chikayoshi moved to Ise Province. After Yoshitsune sent a report about the sudden turn of events to his brother, he collaborated with the local lords in Ise and Taira no Nobukane in a joint attack against Yoshinaka. It is presumed that other factions followed Yoshitsune's army as they surrounded Yoshinaka's forces at Uji. In February 1184, Yoshinaka's forces had a few hundred to face the thousands assimilated in Uji while their leader tried to repel the rest of the subjugation forces at Awazu. Once their commander fell, Yoshitsune's army captured his rebel older brother, Yoshihiro. His prisoner was beheaded four months later.
Weeks after the internal strife ended, the Heike in the western provinces began to make their move and assembled their forces as far as Fukuhara-kyō. With permission to stop the enemies approach, Yoshitsune led forces along the Tanba Road to ambush the Heike troops in March. The Heike noticed the suspicious march and ordered Taira no Sukemori to intercept at Mount Mikusa in Harima. Mikusa was located near a transportation boarder with an adjacent steep mountain and deep valleys. As the Heike also ruled over the nearby populace, they decided to make it a defensive fort while forcing the Genji forces into close ranged combat. Yoshitsune had the area scouted before his army charged. Realizing the risks of waiting another day for the Heike to recover, he ordered his forces to commence a night attack and set fire to the Heike fort. Thwarted by the ambush, the Heike forces pulled back and Yoshitsune's army of several thousands proceeded onward; their destination was the western rear of the dominant Heike forces.
In the midst of Yoshitsune's charge, the great commander, Taira no Tomomori, awaited Noriyori's armies along the eastern route. With their backs pressed against the Fukuhara bay, the Heike awaited their enemies in the valley area in the hopes of using the terrain and navy to their defensive advantage. He anticipated the Genji armies would need to circle to the bay for a successful engagement, where the Heike were on full alert on both flanks at Ichi-no-Tani. Only two days after the battle at Mikusayama, Yoshitsune's armies were the first to arrive to the scene. According to the Azuma Kagami, Yoshitsune led seventy brave horsemen to the mountain opposing the Heike main camp. Considering the advantages of a strong offense, he led the small battalion to attack the vulnerable Heike camp below him. His strategy for the battle is famously dubbed as the Reverse Drop (逆落とし, Saka-Otoshi), often depicted as a flood of horsemen safely careening down a dangerous mountain top in painted murals. Shocked by the sudden Genji attack, the Heike were dumbfounded and their camp was a scene of utter carnage. If they weren't victims to the ambush, they were victims to the flames Yoshitsune ordered or the Genji reserve troops riding along the bay. Those surviving fled to the boats at sea, some not even dismounting their horses during their frantic escape.
While the tactic is generally accepted as a large contributor to the Genji's startling victory, there has been some recent debate if Yoshitsune actually performed the famous drop himself as the exact location of the mountain is currently debated. Hyodori-goe is the commonly accepted one, but others argue that the mountain is too close (or too far even) to be sufficient for a surprise attack. Mount Tekkai has also been argued as a liable spot. Further research has drawn doubt on whether the famed drop down the mountain actually occurred since it is primarily an event popularized by Tales of the Heike. The Azuma Kagami and Gyokuyō hint that he led at least seventy horsemen, but both are divided on the exact role the battalion performed. The former noted he had at least ordered seventy horsemen to overlook their surroundings and the latter remarked that they were Yoshitsune's guard unit. Then again, the Gyokuyō didn't have the author present at the battle personally, and he reported different numbers for the Genji and Heike armies. His account implies that the Heike's defeat was due to them being vastly outnumbered by the combined Genji armies and not due to Yoshitsune's tactics.
Regardless of the details, the victory at Ichi-no-Tani won Yoshitsune renown and fame. It was the first time he was addressed by his entire given name in historical records (prior to this event, he was addressed as Kurō). His troops withdrew to Kyoto and Yoshitsune returned to performing various military and court affairs. In the short time of inactivity that followed, he trained his troops daily and participated in the overlooking the building for a shrine.
Fall of the Heike
In July 1184, Yoritomo gave an official proclamation to Noriyori and three other bureaucrats to deal with the Heike in the west. Yoshitsune was not included in the group and was given no particular order. In spite of this, he tried to make plans to move out to Saigoku as soon as possible. His efforts were interrupted by the Mikka-Heishi Rebellion that prevented his march in the Ise and Iga Provinces. Yoritomo took heed of his younger brother's behavior when news of his movements reached Kamakura and scolded Yoshitsune to do as he was told. He wanted Yoshitsune to stay within Kyoto as a safeguard against future threats from the center and west. While Noriyori led a large army in August heading for Kyushu, Yoshitsune was ordered to subjugate the Heike soldiers at the nearby Mikka-Heishi Rebellion. His forces were able to suppress their enemies within a few days and captured the three sons of Taira no Nobukane. They were ordered to be safely sent to Kamakura for judgment, staying in Kyoto under Yoshitsune's care and close watch for a time before an escort arrived. For his sublime performance against the Heike, Emperor Go-Shirakawa anointed him the ranks of Saemon-no-shōjo (sixth highest rank for a court noble) and Kebishi (honored title for a peace keeper in the capital).
Though Yoshitsune's disobedience was stopped in its tracks, the sense of unease it struck never left Kamakura. These doubts were redoubled by Genji vassals when Yoshitsune accepted his ranks without asking permission. Vassals also had a growing fear of Yoshitsune siding with the Heike since rumors stated he shared good ties with the Taira. Nonetheless, Yoritomo held no ill will for his brother's actions. When Noriyori faced a decline in supplies and troops during his campaign in the west, Yoritomo gave his permission for Yoshitsune to be their reinforcements. Perhaps to warn his brother of the discontent spreading within Kamakura, Yoritomo asked his younger brother to refrain from further impetuous acts. The same letter also entrusted two important duties for Yoshitsune: safely secure the Three Sacred Treasures and the young Heike emperor, Emperor Antoku.
Yoshitsune assembled a new army with his ties in Settsu Province by March 1185. Again, Yoshitsune was warned to not advance immediately, but he passed over these concerns by hastening the march towards his awaiting allies near Shikoku. Arriving in Sakurō, he reunited with Kajiwara Kagetoki's army in mid-March. The Heike were positioned on the opposing shores in Sanuki Province and stayed within a palace at Yashima. As a fierce rain storm took place on the day the attack was planned, Kagetoki and his fleet stayed put to wait it out. Yoshitsune, however, manned a small fleet of five boats with 100 or 50 troops aboard them and set sail through the storm on the morning of March 22. Braving the tossing waves at 2 A.M, they miraculously arrived at Tsubaki Bay -south of the Heike encampment- four hours later. A trip that was supposed to have taken a day of normal travel was significantly condensed due to the storm's current and winds. His troops landed along the borders of Awa and Sanuki Province.
Creating an alliance with the nearby general, Kondō Chikaiie, Yoshitsune was able to gather 3,000 horsemen to take a northern march against the Heike's position. Fighting through the terrain and the small Heike resistance in their path, he had a sum of 1,000 men left while passing through the countryside. He distributed his men in groups of 100 or 50 to keep a constant vigil and to observe the Heike's position. To silence any reports of their whereabouts, his troops dealt a quick defeat to the Heike general, Takuchi no Yoshitō. With the reports he received, Yoshitsune took a gamble and guessed by chance of the Heike's exact location at Yashima. Marching through the night, his army reached Yashima within a day. At the time, Yashima was an independent island, but Yoshitsune devised that the waters dividing it from the main land were shallow enough for a horse to cross. Because his army was small, they were able to sneak close to the imperial palace at Yashima and set the building ablaze. Since the Heike were expecting to confront the Genji at sea with their impressive navy, they were not prepared for any land invasions and had to abandon the burning palace. The Heike lost their foothold in Shikoku and fled once more by sea.
Desiring to pursue the Heike's western escape immediately, Yoshitsune led 80 horsemen along the shore and arrived in Shido. Yoshitō and Kōno Michinobu (another Heike general) chose to submit to him then. Crossing once more into Awa Province, Kumano-Betto Danzō became his ally and offered to cross ships as far as the capital. He had a brief fight with Ise Yoshimori around this time and gained the general's support. A day later, Kagetoki's fleet of 140 boats arrived as well. On March 24, Yoshitsune and his men paid a visit to Sumiyoshi Taisha and shot sixteen signal arrows to pray for their successful voyage. With their combined forces, they transported to boats and set sail for Dan-no-ura. As Noriyori had scored a resounding victory against the Heike stationed at Kyushu earlier the same month, the Heike fleeing from Yoshitsune were considered the last main threat against the Genji.
Although Tales of the Heike tells many famous exploits in the final conflict, historical records are sadly lacking about the details for the battle. Yoshitsune's fleet amassed to a collective 840 boats while the Heike remained with 500. Separating their army into three squadrons, the Heike attacked under the leadership of Yamaga Hidetō. The armies clashed in the morning of March 24 and the Heike were defeated around noon the same day. Realizing that it was the end, Nii no Ama (Kiyomori's widow) took the sacred Amano-no-Mukuro Tsurugi and Azechi no Tsubone (relation still debated) embraced Emperor Antoku in her arms. Together, they both hopped into the waters and drowned. Several other maidens within the Taira family followed them. With no other Taira remaining to oppose them, the Heike were finished. Yoshitsune was able to retrieve at least the Yata-no-Kagami and the Yasakani-no-Magatama and triumphantly returned to the capital by May 25. He received high praise from the retired emperor for his stunning victories.
Yoritomo and Yoshitsune
While Yoshitsune was occupied with the war in the west, Yoritomo focused on building his stature in politics in the east. He invited the influential Ōe no Hiromoto into his realm and gradually built Kamakura as the executive ruling branch of politics with Hiromoto's connections. Prisoners from the Heike who exhibited capable intelligence and comprehended political affairs were offered placements within his new form of government, presenting them a chance to continue living with their talents as reputable rulers of power. He placed several loyal officials in different provinces to spread the influence of Kamakura's rule, the beginnings of what would soon be the Kamakura Shogunate. Wanting to prevent another Yoshinaka incident, he decreed to prohibit any general from accepting titles without permission from Kamakura; those who did were not a part of his followers and a viable threat. The proclamation allowed him to swiftly deal with civil factions or remnants of rebel Heike without question from his followers. At last, it would seem the land would soon be united under one branch of power.
However, Yoritomo could no longer turn a blind eye to the discontent surrounding Yoshitsune. Kagetoki's report of the young general from Dan-no-ura had reached him a week before Yoshitsune's return to Kyoto. His message was clear: Yoshitsune was selfish in his campaigns and only sought glory for himself. He went against the advice of his elders and boldly did as he saw fit. A greater insult to Kamakura was Yoshitsune's rush to defeat the Heike. In doing so, the general made alliances with former Heike vassals. A victory that could have been made under familiar powers with more patience was one performed by absolute strangers to the Genji in a hurry. Yoshitsune's actions complicated Yoritomo's plans for the Heike, the victory feeling tainted to those within Kamakura. Additionally, his younger brother failed to capture the young emperor and did not completely secure all Three Sacred Treasures. More news came from the capital, stating that Yoshitsune had accepted a mistress from the Taira family and allegedly spoke with the prisoners he captured from Dan-no-ura, Taira no Munemori and Taira no Kiyomune, on a daily basis. One of the greatest reasons for the distrust in the east was Yoshitsune accepting the rank of Imperial Protector from Emperor Go-Shirakawa upon his return to the capital. Vassals within Kamakura saw it as Yoshitsune colluding with the retired emperor to some day oppose Yoritomo and stressed its defiance to the laws that were being established. Yoritomo himself has said to have been upset by either one of these complaints in the Azuma Kagami.
They were keenly aware of Yoshitsune's faults, yet the Genji in Kamakura could not ignore the results the general presented. The west had been largely cleared of resistance and the Heike were all but erased from the land. Yoshitsune had performed his duties brashly, but they were also done exceptionally and heroically. Generals who partook in the western campaigns were not immediately made aware of the new laws unless they returned to Kamakura, so Yoshitsune was not alone in his ignorance. On the surface, Yoshitsune done no wrong and was just accepting his life befitting a warrior. Therefore, Yoritomo deliberated for a time before passing on his judgment.
In June 1185, Yoritomo ordered Yoshitsune to bring Munemori and Kiyomune to Kamakura. Leaving Kyoto on June 6, Yoshitsune and his men escorted their prisoners. However, Yoshitsune was ordered to stop at Koshigoe (barely skimming the entrance of Kamakura) and barred entry by Yoritomo's vassals. Munemori and Kiyomune were taken away by another entourage to be paraded around Kamakura. Yoshitsune was shocked by the orders and chose to wait fruitlessly for two weeks at the nearby Manbuku-ji. On June 23, Yoshitsune had composed a letter while waiting and asked that it be delivered to Hiromoto, famously dubbed the "Letter of Koshigoe" (腰越状, Koshigoe-jo). He did not write the document himself (the strokes and phrases suggest it was written by another person as he dictated), but the contents are said to describe his personal feelings of the event. A rough translation of the contents is as follows:
- * June 1185 based on the Julian calendar.
It is debated whether or not Yoritomo was able to read the letter, but his feelings did not change. Yoshitsune waited at the temple until he was given an order on July 7. He was to deliver Munemori, Kiyomune, and Taira no Shigehira to the Nanto region. Yoshitsune begrudgingly uttered his grievances at the affair, stating that the men in Kantō had no need of him. Yoritomo heard the slander and confiscated all of the territories once belonging to his younger brother. Yoshitsune went to Ōmi Province for Munemori and Kiyomune's executions and entrusted Shigehira to Tōdai-ji. Using his remaining influences, Yoshitsune was able to be named a gravely demoted Iyo-no-Kami a month or so later. Returning to Kyoto in October, Kagetoki and his son, Kagesue, went to Yoshitsune's mansion in Horigawa. They were inspecting his condition and were going to ask him to join the pursuit against another troublemaker, Minamoto no Yukiie. Yoshitsune was plagued by illness and malnutrition by this time, his body emancipated due to the stress arguably caused by the incident at Koshigoe.
Fall and End
Though he was indeed in poor health, Yoshitsune malingered his symptoms to distance himself from the Genji. Yoritomo, who had declared Yoshitsune a rogue by this time, finally decided to deploy forces to end his younger brother. Tosanobō Shōshun led little more than sixty or eighty men for the job, creeping his troops into the capital by early November. On the night of November 10th, Shōshun and his men attacked Yoshitsune's mansion during the night. Yoshitsune personally ordered his troops to defend and were able to defeat their adversaries. Learning from the captured Shōshun that Yoritomo had ordered the attack, all bets for peace between the two brothers were dropped. The following day, Yoshitsune asked Emperor Go-Shirakawa for the right to raise arms against his brother. Calling upon all of the emperor's willing vassals nearby the capital, he gained his permission to lead a "royal crusade" to subdue Yoritomo. The respect the retired emperor once held for Yoshitsune was fading, and he doubted any success from the campaign. Therefore, Yoshitsune wasn't able to recruit many troops for his cause. He was spared a break from attacks since Yoritomo and his loyal vassals were paying their respects to Yoshitomo at the time.
Hoping to relocate and fortify his troops against his brother, Yoshitsune began plans to depart the capital and headed west towards Kyushu on November 22. Gyokuyō reports that Yoshitsune met immediate resistance the next day by one of Yoritomo's vassals in Settsu Province, Ōda Yoritomo. To throw off their opponent, Yoshitsune and his men spread a false rumor that they were headed north to Hokuriku and boarded on boats. Azuma Kagami records that his army was in danger of being attack by Saitō Tomozane hailing from Echizen. However, one of Yoshitsune's followers was able to foil the threat by pleading sympathy from Shō Takaie. Takaie remembered his ties to Yoshitsune and, on the bonds of friendship, he turned against Tomozane and ended his commander's life. In the early morning of November 26, Yoshitsune's men left the capital and arrived at Kawaji. The following day, they were attacked by Ōda's forces but they were able to prevail. Their obstacle removed, Yoshitsune's army continued their plans to set sail for Kyushu. However, their fleet met with disastrous sailing conditions, stormy weather and heavy rainfall separating Yoshitsune and his vassals. The boats were ruined and the trip to Kyushu became impossible.
Meanwhile, Yoritomo sought to confiscate any status from his brother by issuing the Funji Decree. The edict assigned Hōjō Tokimasa a title as the land's protector and established him the authority to override the former emperor's rulings to keep order. Tokimasa acted on the decree and led at least 1,000 troops to the capital, blocking Yoshitsune's route. Yoshitsune had brought Sato Gozen, his child, and Shizuka Gozen with him, but he had to leave Shizuka behind to escape immediate capture. Taking refuge with sympathetic Kamakura nobles and neutral temple establishments, Yoshitsune was able to lurk the area around the capital. Soon after Yukiie's death in June 1186, a manhunt for his followers was issued and various people were being slaughtered throughout the country. Realizing that his younger brother had stayed with his vassals, Yoritomo ordered a large army to end his younger brother by December the same year. Yoshitsune was unable to stay near Kyoto with the chaos surrounding him and fled to Oshu. Dates within the Gyokuyō records that Yoshitsune had used the pseudonyms Yoshiyuki (義行) and Yoshiaki (義顕) to hide his identity during this time, but the validity of the claim is still debated. He dressed as a woman during the journey to avoid detection and to stay beside his wife and child.
Oshu had a wealth of resources and territory and was led at the time by Fujiwara no Hidehira, who was in the midst of conducting political talks with Yoritomo. Yoritomo desired to have Hidehira join Kamakura willingly, but Hidehira disapproved of Yoritomo's stringent mannerisms and was defiant. When Yoshtitsune arrived in Hiraizumi early in 1187, Yoritomo was eventually made aware of his younger brother's whereabouts. He informed Hidehira on October 7 that aggressive actions would be taken since Hidehira had sheltered a traitor in secret. Hidehira responded in kind, stating that any ties Yoritomo thought they had were insignificant from the start. As the war erupted between Oshu and Kamakura, Yoshitsune took part in the offensive as a grateful vassal under Hidehira. Sadly, two months after the conflict started, Hidehira fell ill and died.
Fujiwara no Yasuhira succeeded his father and continued to rely on Yoshitsune's services. The Gyokuyō claims that he, his older brother, Kunihara, and Yoshitsune swore an inseparable sibling pact on an undetermined month in 1188. Yasuhira stated that their new ties would revitalize their bonds together and Yoshitsune would be counted as a part of their family. His decision was met with opposition from his younger brothers, whom feared the repercussions of defying Yoritomo and the court's insistence to deliver judgment on Yoshitsune. Yoshitsune, on the other hand, was unaware of the months of constant haggling Yasuhira experienced since he was busy fighting Kamakura forces in March the same year. On June 15, 1189, Yasuhira's tolerance broke under the pressure and he defied his father's wishes to protect Yoshitsune. He ordered 500 soldiers under Fujiwara no Motonari's command to storm Koromogawa Mansion. Though defensive positions were taken, Yoshitsune's forces were outmaneuvered. When Hiraizumi soldiers surrounded the pavilion, Yoshitsune killed his wife and child and committed suicide. His head was stored in a black liquor box and delivered to Kamakura forty-three days later.
Perhaps due to the powerful reaction from his death and the mysteries surrounding his life, Yoshitsune has exploded in fiction as one of the tragic heroes of ancient Japan. For the last parts of his life, he is associated with the coined nickname, Hōgan Tortoise (判官贔屓, Hōgan bikki; also known as Hōfugan bikki). Hōgan is a title that combines the characters of the two ranks he received from Emperor Go-Shirakawa, Saemon-no-shōjo and Kebishi. The tortoise, or bikki, aspect refers to the ancient tradition of sculpting these animals as stone pedestals in Eastern Asia. It is a metaphor for the crushing turn of events leading to Yoshitsune's death.
Legends and myths go on to add traits about his cunning and looks. His features were fair and beautiful, his body limber for his quick footwork and graceful movements. The Gikeiki adds that he almost looked like a woman -his beauty compared to maidens of legendary elegance such as Yang Guifei and Sayohime- and was armed with deceptively formidable strength. He is usually described to have a lithe, clean-cut figure yet one with a short stature, perhaps to draw a contrast to his famous giant companion, Musashibō Benkei. Popularly described as a charismatic, young genius with a dash of unfortunate naiveté, he is known in modern fiction to also be gentle and kind. Older tales emphasize his magnificent warrior spirit and occasional blunt nature, describing that he stated what was necessary in spite of a person's feelings.
Most of what is known about his birth and origins was written nearly two hundred years after his death in a novel called Gikeiki (義経記). The title of the fourteenth-century text is literally translated as The Chronicles of Yoshitsune and attempts to give an explanation to the unknown aspects of Yoshitsune's life not mentioned in Tales of the Heike. Unlike Tales of the Heike -which mixes historical facts and fiction, the Gikeiki borrows most of its inspiration from word of mouth, fables, and local fabrications regarding Yoshitsune -in other words, entirely fictional sources. Nonetheless, since it has Yoshitsune as the focus, it is a popular interpretation for him that survives in oral legends, theater, literature, television dramas, and other forms of story telling.
The following section follows Yoshitsune's life written from the Gikeiki and the internationally read Tales of the Heike.
Ushiwaka was his father's eighth -also argued as ninth- son born during the Heiji Rebellion. He was barely a year old when his father lost his life in battle, fighting until his final moments against the Osada family. After the Heiji Rebellion ended, Kiyomori ordered the manhunt for Yoshitomo's sons. Ushiwaka's mother was named Tokiwa Gozen, a lover of Yoshitomo who fled through the snowy mountains of Yamato with him in her arms. She was accompanied by Ushiwaka's two older brothers, Imawaka (seven years old) and Otowaka (five years old). Braving fierce weather, she and her three children fled until they were eventually captured. They were brought before Kiyomori, who sought to kill the fugitives but was ultimately thwarted. Tales of the Heike remarks that he was simultaneously charmed by Tokiwa's beauty and only agreed to her children's survival so he could have her without guilt. The Gikeiki states Kiyomori's mercy was spurned because he remembered losing his mother as a child and did not want to be responsible for the same pain to three other lives. Imawaka and Otowaka were sent away to be priests in two distant temples; Ushiwaka was deemed too young to live without his mother so he stayed with her at Rokuhara. His mother became a concubine to appease Kiyomori, later giving birth to a girl. Ushiwaka would be oblivious of her existence until much later in his life.
Living in Kyoto with his mother, Kiyomori decided to divide them when the child was seven years old. The boy was ordered to be sent to Kurama-dera and shared his brothers' fates of religious seclusion. He was taken in by Kuramano-Bettō Tōkuwaubō, who tried to teach the boy to study and pray rigorously. Pained by the separation, Ushiwaka was miserable during his studies as a monk and longed to return to the "living world" once more. Tōkuwaubō, an acquaintance of Yoshitomo, took pity on Ushiwaka's grief. As a small compensation, he told the boy to dress as a girl to avoid the Heike's detection in the streets yet strictly forbid the child from abandoning the temple. For two months, Ushiwaka would leave Kurama to perform errands for his master; during the night, he would return for his religious training. Tokiwa heard rumors of her son slacking in his studies and chided Tōkuwaubō to practice diligence for their sakes. Wanting to appease the wife of his old friend, Tōkuwaubō then kept Ushiwaka tightly confined in the temple. But he could not abandon the sympathy he held for the child, so he offered Ushiwaka another proposition: the boy could leave Kurama once every year if he kept up with his studies. Yet the promise of restricted freedom shattered Ushiwaka's heart and he froze his emotions to cope with the dreaded seclusion.
One night, one of Yoshitomo's former followers, Kamata no Masachika, visited the temple. Masachika was traveling in secret and sought to find nobles to join his planned revolt against the Heike. Tōkuwaubō greeted him based on their old ties, but Masachika was surprised to learn about Ushiwaka studying at the temple. He confronted the lad and revealed Ushiwaka's origins to the boy, much to Tōkuwaubō's dismay. Learning that he was born with warriors' blood and that he was once housed by his father's enemy, Ushiwaka began to disdain the Heike and his cloistered life. It wasn't a book that the eleven-year old youth wanted in his hands, but a blade so that he may fulfill his father's legacy to strike the Heike down.
As soon as it was lights out at Kurama-dera, Ushiwaka escaped into the night to train. Praying on one such occasion with a reverent wish to be a warrior, he heard the sound of a bell ringing in the wind. Chasing the source, he found the home of a tengu. There, the mysterious tengu would train the boy's spirit and agility, seemingly granting Ushiwaka the ability to fly from tree to tree as he sparred with other specters of the night under the moonlight. For his efforts, he was eventually granted a golden-hilt short sword in a burst of light. It was given to the lad to protect him from dangers and was named Imatsurugi. Tōkuwaubō was aware of Ushiwaka's growing independence and tried to keep the boy from wandering too far away from the shrine. He or other monks from the temple would have to drag the stubborn lad back for scoldings, only to have the boy run off once more later that night. During one of Ushiwaka's escapes, he was made aware of Ushiwaka's supernatural experiences in the nearby forest. To honor the boy's age (either eleven or fifteen years at this point), Tōkuwaubō decided to rename the lad Shanaō (遮那王). He wished the new name would hook Shanaō to priesthood, but his hopes were in vain. Shanaō's efforts had seemed to intensify, and he no longer paid attention to his daily studies. His lone friend from the capital, Shōmon, periodically visited him to inform him of current events.
When Shanaō was sixteen years old, a merchant named Kitsuji Sueharu (also known as Kaneuri Kichiji or Kichiji Nobukane) visited Kurama based on rumors of the talented youth. He had no idea what the child in question looked like, but he happened to spot Shanaō while walking the mountain path. He was surprised by the outstanding figure -almost doubted his eyes at the splendor- but Kitsuji knew he found the famous child of Yoshitomo. When he returned to Oshu, he told Fujiwara no Hidehira of his experience. Hidehira, who was ecstatic to hear that the rumors of Yoshitomo's offspring were true, ordered for the boy to be fetched to Oshu at once. He wished to have the child nearby should the battle against the Heike one day rise again. After being informed about the history behind the rumors, Hidehira was willing to accept the boy as though he were own son, wishing to protect Yoshitomo's lost legacy.
Sensing that change in Shanaō's life was inevitably near, the tengu mentor and the ghostly friends Shanaō studied under vanished within a green mist. Poor Shanaō searched everywhere for his dear mentor, but he could not find him anywhere on the mountain. Crying tears of sorrow, Shanaō carved a bamboo flute and played a melancholy tune as a parting gift to his master. Shōmon heard the wailing melody from the mountains and eventually saw Shanaō descending to him. Resolving that he had to move on, Shanaō told Shōmon that he wished to visit the capital. Riding on an obsidian horse, he was armed with a helmet and spear on their way. They were interrupted by Hidehira's small escort party, led by Kitsuji. Since they asked for him to join them, Shanaō and his friend went with them to rest at an inn. Shanaō became acquainted with his departed father's short sword, which quickly became one of his treasured possessions.
Disguising their party as a trading group, the young man soon came across a shrine near his father's resting place. Days away from Oshu, Kitsuji and his comrades knew Shanaō would no longer be considered Yoshitomo's biological son once he reached Hidehira; he would be Hidehira's son by law. Shanaō was asked by Kitsuji to undergo his right of manhood ceremony before his father's remains, in order to be a recognized man and to say his final farewells to his father. Taking time to deliberate on his name, Shanaō performed the ceremony himself in front of his father's name template. As he was the eighth son of Yoshitomo, he took inspiration for his new name from his father's legal alias, Senzei-hachirō (鎮西八郎). Wishing to live with his father's name, he assigned himself the "ninth" gentleman (九郎) from his father's "eight" (八郎). To honor his grandfather, father, and eldest brother, Shanaō decided to give himself the "Yoshi" character (義) as though it were "passed on" (経) to him. An alternative reasoning for the "tsune" (經) was that he named himself after his family ancestor, Minamoto no Tsunemoto. His word play created his name for the rest of his life: Minamoto no Kurō Yoshitsune. The group acknowledged the new man and the event concluded with his new haircut. He was affectionately referred to by his childhood names by those closest to him.
Shortly after his ceremony, Yoshitsune had a brief reunion with his older brother, Imawaka, who was named Aono Zenji by this time. He recounted his past history when separated from his younger brother, reflecting that he had long abandoned his zeal as a warrior when he tasted utter isolation. Admiring Yoshitsune's integrity, Aono Zenji gave his brother his approval and blessings. He advised Yoshitsune to head to a manor in Shimotsuke Province for a safe sojourn.
Before Yoshitsune's arrival into Oshu, Hidehira's eldest son had a spectacular dream of a golden dove dancing. Hidehira was overjoyed by the fortunate sign and welcomed his new son with open arms. He gladly sheltered Yoshitsune and acted upon his earlier promises of adopting him. When Yoshitsune expressed his plans to someday return to the capital, Hidehira asked for him to wait for a time. Hidehira wanted to have his new son enjoy the bounties of Oshu and take the time to befriend his new brothers. The elder was actually aware of possible bad tidings within the capital and wanted to keep Yoshitsune away from the dangers.
During his stay in Oshu, Yoshitsune became acquainted with a legendary onmyōji named Kiichi Hōgen (鬼一法眼, also known as Oniichi Hōfugen). Hōgen was known as a wise, talented scholar who was famed to have never uttered a single mistake in his lifetime. He was also argued to have been an expert swordsman armed with formidable magic. After Yoshitsune impressed the elder with skillful wordplay and persistence, Hōgen made Yoshitsune his pupil for learning invaluable traits from the Six Secret Teachings (also argued to have improved his swordsmanship). Within the Six Secret Teachings, Yoshitsune particularly took the Tiger Scroll to heart and studied daily with Hōgen to refine his familiarity with it. Yoshitsune visited and stayed at the elder's home so often that Hōgen began to think of Yoshitsune as his surrogate son. Hōgen was also living with his daughter who was younger than his pupil; Yoshitsune likened her to be the younger sister he never had. The three of them lived in prosperity while Yoshitsune studied.
Hōgen thought his pupil was excelling in his studies due to his tutorship, but he was wrong. His daughter knew the text better than either men of the household and secretly taught Yoshitsune. Once Yoshitsune perfected his studies and memorized the text, he began to openly act amorously toward Hōgen's daughter. Aware of something afoot, Hōgen discovered the truth of his disciple's quick progress and began to harbor a grudge against Yoshitsune for "using" his daughter. He was also weary of his daughter having knowledge of a skill she would never use, thinking that it would someday invite her into a world of war. His pride additionally hurt, Hōgen plotted to kill Yoshitsune as he left his household. He asked his older sister's relatives to act on his call, threatening to ambush Yoshitsune as the youth returned to Hidehira's residence. Before the plan could take place, however, Hōgen quickly regretted his actions and was ashamed of his cowardice. To make amends, Hōgen beheaded the three attackers conspiring with him and admitted the plot to his disciple in private. Asking Yoshitsune to never return, the youth left without a word and Hōgen's daughter was heartbroken by the sudden separation. Hōgen was powerless to comfort her, famously pleading her to forget Yoshitsune and everything that happened. The ending of Yoshitsune's stay with Hōgen sometimes varies on the adaption. Hōgen carried out the ambush in a few and was killed by Yoshitsune in self-defense; the father may commit suicide after revealing the plot to Yoshitsune and the youth brought his head to his daughter as his witness; or his daughter passed away due to grief and Hōgen lived with his sins alone. In every popular scenario, however, Hōgen's daughter never saw Yoshitsune again.
Hiraizumi was Yoshitsune's sanctuary for at least three years. He spent the time leisurely in his small mansion and made several friends with his charismatic character. However, news of Yoritomo's activities had reached his ears and the Heike were on the rise again. Hidehira was at first reticent to let Yoshitsune go, but he agreed once he realized the youth's determination to reunite with his older brother. Letting the youth leave, he proudly assured Yoshitsune that he was as fine as his own sons and would always have a home at Oshu. As a parting gift, he gave Yoshitsune a fine horse and a small escort party (numbers vary but usually under three hundred), ordering a few of his finest officers to join Yoshitsune's leave. Some of the notable men who left Hiraizumi with Yoshitsune are listed below.
- Satō brothers - Both sons of Satō Motoharu, their names were Satō Tsugunobu (佐藤継信, eldest) and Satō Tadanobu (佐藤忠信, younger). Tsugunobu was praised as the idol warrior with no equal in his abilities; Tadanobu was described as reserved and level-headed. On Hidehira's orders, they left their home together with Yoshitsune. Before their departure, they privately swore to one another to live past the wars and someday return to Hiraizumi.
- Kamata brothers - Kamata Morimasa (鎌田盛政, eldest) and Kamata Mitsumasa (鎌田光政, younger) were sons of Masachika, who previously indulged the truth of Yoshitsune's origins back at Kurama. At their father's behest, they joined under Yoshitsune's banner around this time. Though not mentioned in the Tales of the Heike, they are reputed as two of Yoshitsune's four kings in Genpei Seisuiki .
- Ise Saburō (伊勢三郎, also known as Ise Yoshimori -伊勢義盛- in historical records) - A man of relatively unknown origin, he has been argued to have originated from Ise Province in the Gikeiki or Kōzuke Province in Tales of the Heike. Mainly known as a mountain bandit in various media, he encountered Yoshitsune as the youth was first heading toward Oshu. He thought to rob the youth but was repelled in his every attempt. Learning that Yoshitsune was a part of the Genji clan, Saburō was enthralled and swore to give his everything for the young leader. Saburō wished to be like his father -a valiant warrior who served the Genji in the past- and became Yoshitsune's most devoted retainer. Caring little for profit and fame, only striving to live as a true warrior, he accompanied Yoshitsune hence forth and never left his master's side.
- Musashibō Benkei - One night in Kyoto, Benkei encountered Yoshitsune while patrolling for swords to collect. Yoshitsune, disguised as a woman to avoid detection, was playing a flute to sooth his nerves in the moonlight. Benkei tracked the source of the flute's melody and challenged Yoshitsune once he realized the youth held a magnificent sword strapped to his waist. With his agility and grace, the youth leapt through the air as though he were a sparrow and defeated the wild monk in combat. Overwhelmed by the youth's fabulous swordplay, Benkei swore to become Yoshitsune's vassal. Tales of the Heike argues that they encountered one another at Gojo Bridge while Yoshitsune was still known as Ushiwaka. The Gikeiki states that they met on the sixteenth night of August at Kiyomizu-kannon and Yoshitsune had already experienced his right of manhood ceremony. More often than not, the former iteration is used while describing their encounter and tales commonly state Benkei stayed with Yoshitsune at Hiraizumi.
- Hitachibō Kaison (常陸坊海尊) - Formerly a disciple from Onjō-ji, he once served Yoshitsune's brother. However, after a minor disagreement with his master, he fled to Yoshitsune in Hiraizumi. A clumsy monk who was prone to make several mistakes, he was known as the lovable coward among Yoshitsune's followers. Kaison took a liking to Yoshitsune's courage and quickly adhered to his master. He was also argued to have been Benkei's partner in crime as they shared similar upbringings.
- Suruga Jirō (駿河次郎) - Origins unknown, he was a skillful hunter who once served Yoritomo. He has also been argued to have been a minister or soldier of minor status. Under his master's orders, he left Kamakura to join Yoshitsune's party as an escort. Jirō could have left Yoshitsune any time after performing his duty, but he grew attached to his new master and followed Yoshitsune into his latter campaigns. Historically, he actually served Yoritomo and didn't join Yoshitsune.
Marching his troops through Musashi Province, he reunited with his brother at Kisegawa. Yoritomo tearfully remembered being separated from Yoshitsune when the lad was only two years old and both brothers wept during their meeting.
For many fictional interpretations regarding Yoshitsune, the Gikeiki version of Yoshitsune's life is usually replaced with his Tales of the Heike counterpart. Both versions roughly follow his achievements listed in historical records, but the Gikeiki commonly summarizes with fanciful exposition. Tales of the Heike offers vibrant details and stresses any heroic feats he may have performed in the war. Again, as with all gunki-monogatari, the narrative spins many historical facts to have key figures shine as though they were in a romantic epic rather than strive for complete accuracy.
In reality, there often isn't enough solid evidence to fully support or debunk the Tales of the Heike claims for Yoshitsune -his appearances in historical records are quite slim- so many people accept what he did in the story as his real exploits. There is also a rising criticism that Tales of Heike is closer to the truth than Azuma Kagami or Gyokuyō. Skeptic historians reason these records are too flawed because they are written by Kamakura's standpoint and rely too much on second-hand information for the battles Yoshitsune participated in. Other historical records, such as Rokudai Shōjiki and Hyakurenshō, also seem to favor the story at times, though they are brief in their descriptions or present more contradictions to the debate. On the other hand, the valid rebuttal states Tales of the Heike is marred with just as many historical faults due to its overall emphasis on heroism, manners, and religious values.
Readers are free to choose whatever they wish to believe.
Within the Genji Ranks
Yoshitsune joined his brother's army around the same time Yoshinaka had been recognized as an unwelcome name in Kamakura. Yoshinaka attacked the Heike at the capital after Kiyomori's death, kidnapped the retired emperor, and set the capital ablaze when odds weren't in his favor. While the Heike fled west, he became the number one enemy to the retired emperor. Yoritomo and his younger brother joined forces to end their disruptive relative, Yoshitsune leading his troops after Yoshinaka suffered defeat to the Heike forces at Mizushima. Yoshinaka's downfall was described to have been a win or lose situation, the odds stacked heavily against him.
Leading 25,000 troops while Yoritomo commanded 35,000, Yoshitsune marched with forces toward the capital. Surprised by the large army rising against him, Yoshinaka canceled his remaining plans against the Heike and fortified his meager army of 400 at the river of Uji. His forces destroyed Seta Bridge and rearranged defensively on a narrow strip of land surrounded by the river (sometimes addressed as Tachibanashima). The rushing water seemed to rise and lower on whim, making it difficult to penetrate the position. Just as night was greeting dawn and a thick fog rolled over the river, Yoshitsune remembered Ashikaga Tadatsuna of the Fujiwara family had somehow crossed the same river about a decade or so prior. He figured that the waters were shallow enough for a horse to cross based on the tale. Deeming that even a man of ordinary character could replicate the same results, Yoshitsune ordered a group of his army's talented horsemen to cross the rivers on March 4, 1184. They succeeded, marking the battle as Yoshitsune's first victory. Yoshinaka and his remaining forces fled in vain towards the north, suffering defeat against Yoritomo's army shorty after. Yoshitsune continued to suppress minor resistance groups against his older brother around the capital, eventually retiring on Yoritomo's orders to Kyoto.
Nine days later, Emperor Go-Shirakawa granted royal permission for Yoritomo to retrieve the stolen Three Sacred Treasures and obliterate the Heike. Yoshitsune led his troops westward and arrived at Onohara. Awaiting his forces at the mouth of Mikusayama were Taira no Sukemori and his sturdy army of 3,000 horsemen. Yoshitsune, marching with 10,000, contemplated whether or not to continue their current path with the fearsome obstacle, asking Dohi Sanehira (also known as Doi Sanehira) for advice. Dohi suggested waiting for their chances at night rather than rush the prepared army at day. Acting on Dohi's observations, Yoshitsune ordered the nearby village and mountainside to be burned. With the Heike's attention toward the flames, his army charged the Heike main camp. Completely caught off guard by the raid, the Heike retreated. An easy victory for the Heike was foiled in only a single night. Yoshitsune split his army in two groups, one to pursue Sukemori while the other group hurried toward Ichi-no-Tani.
Yoshitsune led less than 7,000 while speeding westward. Realizing threats still existed along the mountain terrain, he split his personal squadron once more to deal with the nearby Heike forces. Yoshitsune, in the meantime, remained with a mere 70 horsemen. As Yoshitsune's forces rested to plot their next move, Benkei found a local family within the area. Within the family was a sturdy young hunter named Kojirō (also known as Kotarō). The young hunter proved to be a very resourceful guide in the mountain terrain and escorted Yoshitsune to Hyodori-goe, the mountain top overlooking the Heike main camp. When asked if a human on horseback could cross, the hunter said his father knew it was impossible. However, he did retort that deers would often hop up and down the same mountain path in winter. Taking the story at face value, Yoshitsune replied, "If a deer can do it, so can a horse."
To test the reliability of the mountain path, Yoshitsune ordered two horses to be sent down. One stuttered and crippled as it fell, the other descended unharmed with a bold sprint. Turning to his men, he told them to take heart and learn from the fallen horse. He advised his men to not spare a single moment for doubt and keep their eyes set on the target below. His cavalry were understandably skeptical and feared for their safety, but one among them scoffed at the drop. Remarking he had rode down steeper hills in his homeland, Sawara Yoshitsura charged his mount down without flickering his resolve for an instant. Yoshitsune and the rest of his army followed suite, the entire unit miraculously landing below in one piece. With the small squadron, they were able to cause utter chaos within the Heike camp, whom unexpected the attack from the steep mountainside. Suffering a disastrous defeat in the east to Kagetoki's forces, the Heike at Ichi-no-Tani were cut off and had no choice but to flee by sea. It was a panicked retreat; the Heike lost several soldiers due to their own clumsiness, some swimming in vain for the boats only to drown due to their armor's weight. Famous among the Heike casualties from this day was Taira no Atsumori -nameless in the original Tales of the Heike but identified in Genpei Seisuiki, a sixteen year old youth who refused to show his back to his enemy and died in a duel.
Chasing the Heike as far as their horses could reach, Yoshitsune and his men were the trump card for weakening the Heike's hold on land. Ichi-no-Tani was a grand victory and Yoshitsune was heralded as a hero by all who witnessed his tactics firsthand. As for Kojirō, Yoshitsune took a liking to the youth and named him his new retainer. He even granted the hunter a portion of his name, naming him Washio Yoshihisa (鷲尾義久). Within the Gikeiki, Yoshitsune was described as "a resolute, fearless warrior who never committed an error, soaring through battle as if he were a falcon". The former source noted that he was unstoppable at Ichi-no-Tani and not even the thousands of elite Heike soldiers stood a chance against him. In war at least, Yoshitsune was nearly invincible as he cut open a path for his brother.
Yoritomo awarded his younger brother by assigning him a position as a local magistrate within Kyoto. However, he was worried that he may have expressed favoritism to Yoshitsune and avoided showering his brother with further praise.
Heike's Last Stand
Behind the scenes, a political sparring of wits was broiling between Emperor Go-Shirakawa and Yoritomo. Ever since the latter had saved the retired emperor, a distinct line of who was truly the "master" between them was blurred. Yoritomo technically served the emperor and was following his orders by law. However, he remained stringent towards the elder and his polite words were a guise for his own ambitions. Emperor Go-Shirakawa was well aware of the feeling of being a puppet for power, remembering his days of fearful "imprisonment" under Kiyomori and Yoshinaka. Therefore, he despised the Genji chief and labeled him a threat to his royal line. His distrust was not without reason; Yoritomo wanted to create a new future ruled with a system of capable politicians rather than one with frivolous choices under a single person. If it meant overthrowing the emperors' influence over the land, then so be it. Ideally, he would have liked to obtain the Three Sacred Treasures to weaken the retired emperor's authority. Only the closest members for either party were aware of the struggle, each acting courteous to one another when it was necessary.
When the retired emperor approved of the Minamoto wiping out the Taira, he desired to kill two birds with one stone. Believing the two powers were strong enough to pose a threat to him, he wanted to see the families destroy one another in warfare. Whichever one that remained may then be manipulated under his web of connections with careful planning. Yoritomo was aware of the emperor's scheme yet allowed his armies to move out, for it also served his purposes to end the Heike. He hoped his younger brother, wise youth that he was, would realize his reasons for wanting to keep him in Kyoto: to keep an eye on the retired emperor and to prevent the cloistered one from further trickery. Yoritomo could not risk making his designs known via messenger as it might jeopardize them; he relied on faith in their family ties that his brother would understand his silence.
However, Yoshitsune was sadly confused by Yoritomo's strict orders to stay in Kyoto and felt lonesome by what he perceived as neglect. His courageous acts were glorified within the capital yet he hadn't received a word of gratitude from his own family. Never one to miss an opportunity when in front of him, Emperor Go-Shirakawa appealed to the disheartened youth and offered to give him the Hōgan title. Yoshitsune, honored beyond his wildest dreams by the spontaneous rank, accepted without consoling his brother. Yoritomo caught wind of his younger brother's actions and felt ire for Yoshitsune's utter ignorance. His younger brother volunteered himself to be a pawn of the retired emperor and there wasn't anything he could do to change it. Accepting his brother's position as reality, Yoritomo thought he could possibly finish off the Heike without relying on Yoshitsune. In October 1184, Yoritomo tried to do just that by ordering an expedition. However, the Heike had quickly recovered from their defeat at Ichi-no-Tani and heartened themselves for survival. After months of the Kamakura forces struggling, Yoritomo reluctantly knew he would need his younger brother's talents and ordered Yoshitsune to the battlefront in March 1185. Happy to oblige, Yoshitsune marched with his troops toward Yashima on the double.
Upon the young commander's arrival from Settsu, he met up with Kajiwara Kagetoki's forces awaiting on the bay. Kagetoki reasoned that his boats were the best and freely allowed Yoshitsune to use them as he saw fit. However, Yoshitsune thought they needed adjustments and wanted to rectify them. Somehow the duo agreed on a scheduled date for the attack, but a fierce rainstorm at sea swept along the shoreline. Kagetoki reasonably argued to wait the rains out, but Yoshitsune denounced the concerns and sought an immediate departure. He stated the elder was needlessly quaking in his boots and wasn't a true warrior if he wasn't willing to brave the waves. His scathing words led to Kagetoki's grudge for the young commander and, though the elder agreed to continue cooperating with Yoshitsune, his displeasure did not abate in the slightest. He spent four hours arguing the matter of their departure, but Kagetoki stuck to his initial choice to wait. On March 21, 1185, Yoshitsune armed five boats with 150 soldiers and set sail through the fierce storm on 6 A.M. A hellish four hours later, the fleet arrived in Katsuura, Awa Province; their trip through the storm condensed a normal three day journey into a single morning.
After a brief reprieve, Yoshitsune and his men pressed north toward the Heike's position at Yashima. They defeated the Heike general standing watch and camouflaged themselves within the lush forest areas to remain hidden. Heading further inward, they were soon in sight of the island. Yoshitsune carefully read the tide, realizing that it was shallow enough for a horse to wade through. Determined to attack before they were discovered, Yoshitsune ordered his men to set fire on the nearby private residences to create the illusion that he was leading a large army. In the confusion, Yoshitsune led his men toward the Heike along Yashima. Surprised yet again by the young commander's tactics, the befuddled Heike abandoned their position and fled by boats to sea. The Gikeiki adds they knew it was "the one from Ichi-no-Tani" and feared for their lives.
Once the Heike realized how tiny the invading force was, however, their retreat began to slacken. Yoshitsune decided to prey upon their disbelief and quickly discarded his armor to deal with the enemy boats lagging behind. Leaping into the shallow waters, he was able to stop ten ships from leaving the bay. Indulging his attentions completely to his lone raid, he was unaware of Taira no Noritsune's bow aimed straight for his vitals. Tsugunobu, who spotted the arrow aimed at his lord, used his own body to shield Yoshitsune from the shot. As his loyal retainer fell from the wound, Yoshitsune was completely shocked and hurried to his side. He paid no heed to the young Heike soldier rushing to strike him down, known only as Kikuōmaru. The lad in question was intercepted and killed by a furious Tadanobu. Upon Kikuōmaru's death, Yoshitsune ordered his men to pull back to land. They tried their best to tend to Tsugunobu, but he died shortly after the withdraw. The Gikeiki offers an alternate scenario of Yoshitsune on horseback for his raid and he personally carried Tsugunobu onto his saddle as they fled back to shore. However, the arrow was lodged deep within his vassal's throat and there was no plausible way of merciful treatment. Thanking his wheezing vassal, Yoshitsune tearfully beheaded him to spare him from further suffering. He was supposedly buried near the same spot of his death with high honors.
Meanwhile, the Heike had rotated their boats to face the bay once more. Both parties were locked in a stalemate until the evening. The Heike decided to taunt the resting Genji, sending a beautiful woman out on a small boat. She was holding a tall pole with a fan mockingly placed on top of it. It was a silent declaration that the Heike fleet were invulnerable to arrows and a bold dare for the Genji to try to shoot the fan down. To answer the provocation, Yoshitsune asked for a skilled archer in his ranks. At first, he thought Hatakeyama Shigetada to be a worthy candidate. Shigetada was renowned as a seasoned and first-class warrior, but even he doubted that he could make the shot. The bobbing boat, shifting winds, and the intimidating distance between the target were not factors he was willing to compete against. He instead recommended Nasu no Tametaka, who in turn stated that his younger brother, Nasu no Munetaka, was the better archer of the duo. Although Yoshitsune doubted the archer, he made a miraculous shot and the fan flew into the air.
While even the Heike were amazed to see the fan fly, their awe soon morphed into embarrassment and rage when Munetaka received a hero's praise. After a brief second confrontation, during which Yoshitsune famously compared the weakness of his dropped bow to his inexperience as a commander, the Heike fled once more by sea. 1,000 Heike soldiers stayed behind along the shoreline in a temple at Shido. Yoshitsune and his meager numbers were pursuing the Heike at sea and confronted their foes on land. The demoralized defenders suffered a swift loss to Yoshitsune and joined their brethren at sea, heading towards Hikoshima. Realizing that there were still Heike along the shore, the commander ordered their submission. However, Saburō reasoned to avoid further bloodshed since he was confident they could use the weary Kondō Noriyoshi to their advantage. Dressing himself and sixteen other horsemen in white robes of pacifism, Saburō personally approached the Heike general and negotiated peace between them, ending with the Heike general laying down his arms. He and his 3,000 troops were added to Yoshitsune's forces. Kagetoki's navy arrived a day later and the Kumano navy, known for previously siding with the Heike, took a gamble by joining the Genji commander. Tales of the Heike describes their decision being made earlier in the year when Benkei visited Danzō to plead for their assistance. A cock fight had decided their move when a fowl with seven white feathers (Genji) had triumphed over one with seven scarlet feathers (Heike).
Pursuing the Heike to Dan-no-ura with 3,000 boats, Kagetoki volunteered to lead the troops as veteran commander. Yoshitsune, more than confident in his own abilities, told the elder to step aside and mind his own business. Of course, this didn't sit well with Kagetoki, who began to write his report of young Yoshitsune back to Yoritomo. On the other side of the front, the Heike were led by the capable Taira no Tomomori and separated their fleet of 1,000 into three squadrons. The tides were being used to the Heike's advantage, as they pushed against the Genji's navy and allowed the Heike to keep their distance. Their foes pummeled away at the Genji troops with a rain of arrows until Yoshitsune devised a plan to target the rudders of the Heike boats, killing the skippers if they were in range. Though the move foiled Tomomori's plot, it was also a taboo gesture in navy warfare and Kagetoki was aghast by Yoshitsune's inexperience as a proper general. Reasonable or not, the Heike's strategy was ruined and hand-to-hand combat commenced with the nearest ships. Once the tides of the sea shifted to Yoshitsune's favor, the Heike were surrounded by the Genji's numbers and on the verge of collapse.
After the ladies within the Heike family thrown themselves into the sea, the remaining Taira chose to seal their own fates. Noritsune, who was foiled at Yashima, armed himself with his short and long swords to slice a bloody path towards the boat Yoshitsune was on. Avoiding his foe's strikes, Yoshitsune performed a magnificent leap over eight boats (approximately 6 meters or 19.6 feet) and landed to safety. The jump would later be dubbed Hassō Tobi (八艘飛び, literally "Eight Boat Leap"). Cursing his ill fate, Noritsune bellowed a challenge to the Kamakura forces, tucked two Genji generals under his arms, and leapt into the water for their deaths.
By dusk the same day, the soldiers and arrows were spent and the Genji army gathered whoever remained alive in the Heike fleet as prisoners. Some of their prisoners were fished out of the waters when they tried to drown themselves. The Genji were able to retrieve two of the Three Sacred Treasures (the mirror and gem) and rescued a handful of the Taira maidens. Yoshitsune's half-sister was among those captured, but neither Tales of the Heike or Gikeiki reports instances of him noticing or caring. Modern interpretations of his character, however, may add him expressing guilt or remorse for being torn apart from his younger sibling due to war. Ignoring Kagetoki's advice yet again to return to Kamakura, Yoshitsune and his loyal men rested in Kyoto to first report to the retired emperor. Yoritomo's forces went back home to tell Yoritomo of their commander's deeds. During their return trip at sea, his army saw the specters of the vengeful fallen Taira, a foreboding sign for Yoshitsune's future.
The battle marked a grand victory at last for the Genji; or so it would seem to Yoshitsune, who was content to spend the days afterward celebrating with his closest followers in the capital. Lord Kamakura and his vassals saw the results of Dan-no-ura under a different view. True, they did appreciate the destruction of the Heike since it benefited the expansion of the Genji. Yet Yoritomo was aware of his reputation slipping amongst the Genji followers toward the "real hero" of their family: Yoshitsune. With his younger brother still under the retired emperor's trust, Yoritomo's plans for the land's future would be threatened if Yoshitsune favored the words of royalty over his own. He knew if the danger was left unchecked for too long, it may inevitably led to an ugly mutiny for who should be the leader for their family among their retainers. The Gikeiki famously describes their concerns as, "Just as there cannot be two suns shining in the heavens, it is impossible to have two commanders existing at once in the land."
Kagetoki's personal assessment of Yoshitsune -a far cry from flattering the youth- helped seal Yoritomo's decision for his younger brother. Yoshitsune was called from the capital to bring his prisoners, Munemori and his son, to Kamakura. When his troop arrived, Hiromoto and his vassals halted the young commander at Koshigoe and took the Taira captives with them. Dumbfounded by the refusal to enter, Yoshitsune asked if Hiromoto was certain his brother had denied him and was answered with an indifferent reply to go no further into Kamakura than Koshigoe. Waiting at Manbuku-ji, Yoshitsune and his small entourage waited for weeks with no other word from Kamakura. A grieving Yoshitsune was told by Hiromoto's messenger that he could write his complaints in a letter to his master so he acted on the offer. The contents of the letter differ slightly to favor details established in the stories, but Yoshitsune's heartfelt plea and claims for loyalty remain intact. Tales of the Heike remarks the letter was given to Hiromoto under an anonymous sender and was likely not composed by Yoshitsune at all (an assessment partially supported by Azuma Kagami). The Gikeiki describes Yoshitsune's loyal retainers being outraged by the disrespect aimed at their master. Respecting their master's dormancy, a portion of them stayed within the area while Tadanobu and others returned to guard Kyoto in their lord's absence.
When the letter arrived to Hiromoto's household, his ladies in waiting happened upon it on chance and read it. As he returned to see them weeping, Hiromoto curiously paid heed to the letter and found himself shedding tears as well. He was so moved that he politely informed Yoritomo of the letter and asked him to read it. Yoritomo, who refused to accept anything from his younger brother, ordered for the letter to be discarded immediately; in his eyes, a leader could not spare a moment of sympathy to one he distrusts. A figure who was aware of Yoritomo's insistence to end his younger brother was the sly Tosanobō Shōshun, who promised a short and sweet end for Yoshitsune. In favor of the emphatic assassination, Yoritomo gave Shōshun a white dapple gray horse -named Shinme- and the hundred men the slippery figure had wanted. He wrote out an official decree for Shōshun to "join" his younger brother, which was tucked within Shōshun's robes for safe keeping. Hiromoto was then ordered to tell Yoshitsune to return to the capital. Discarding his personal feelings for the lad, he acted on Yoritomo's wishes.
As Yoshitsune's party made their leave, Shōshun's army had already dispersed and tracked their movements toward the capital. Benkei recognized Shōshun as an acquaintance from his wild days and brought him to his master. Even with the official scroll, however, the monk kept a weary eye on Shōshun as they returned together. Amassing a group of soldiers in private, it was no surprise to him when Shōshun sprung his nightly ambush near Rokujo-gawara in the capital. Thanks to Benkei's perceptiveness, Yoshitsune was unharmed by the raid and his retainers were well defended. Learning from Shōshun and Benkei that Yoritomo had ordered his death, Yoshitsune had Shōshun executed. Reluctant to turn his arms against his brother yet wanting to survive, Yoshitsune finally decided to take action by heading towards his known supporters in the west. He set sail with Saburō, Benkei, Kaison, and 500 men to brave the waves on November 3. Kaison, who used his former pirate experience to man the boats for his lord, spotted a furious storm blocking their path. Benkei identified the storm's source to be souls of the departed Heike, refusing to allow Yoshitsune back to the west and pushing him towards Yoritomo. Although Yoshitsune had ordered his men to endure, the grudge of the spirits was too powerful and his entourage was forced to land back on shore.
Learning of Shōshun's failure, Yoritomo ordered Hōjō Tokimasa and 1,000 troops to force their way into the capital during the youth's return. Yoshitsune and his numbers were overwhelmed, and it was dangerous to be anywhere near the area with the Kamakura forces on full alert. However, he wanted to return in spite of the hazards to rescue Kita no Kata, his daughter, and Shizuka. Wrestling the ladies away from the capital as Yoshitsune's position fell, they were being pursued by a group of Kamakura soldiers. Defending the maidens from harm, Tadanobu sacrificed his own safety so that they may escape to Yoshitsune. Tadanobu valiantly fought until his last arrow and was lost in the chaotic battle. Cut off from the retired emperor and his other connections within the capital, Yoshitsune and his loyal retainers fled within the nearby mountain range. The narrow valleys and freezing weather made living uncomfortable and barren compared to their previous life of comfort, yet Yoshitsune was too taken by his sorrow to care about the surroundings. One of his valuable followers was missing, his reputation was in shambles, and -more importantly- his older brother no longer trusted him. At one point in their winter recluse, a sadden Yoshitsune wanted to return to the capital to reason with Yoritomo once more. Confiding this desire to Benkei, his retainer stringently advised against it and equated the idea to mere suicide. The young commander was willing to take his chances -or at least sate Yoritomo's fervent wish for his death- until Benkei assured that he would always believe in his lord's righteousness over Kamakura. The monk suggested heading toward a secluded pathway within Mount Yoshino to escape and Yoshitsune was loath to agree.
Weeping each day of their hike, Shizuka was well aware of her lord's sorrow and sought to assist him. When Kamakura forces suspected Yoshitsune of dressing as a woman to avoid easy capture, she ran as a distraction to lead them away from the real Yoshitsune. Elsewhere, Tadanobu had survived the destruction of the capital and raced with all of his might to meet with his lord once more. As he ran toward Yoshino, he had a brief reunion with Yoshitsune. To spare more time for his lord's departure, the vassal requested fifty men to stall Tokimasa's troops within Kyoto. Both Shizuka and Tadanobu were captured by Yoritomo's army and were sent to Kamakura; Shizuka danced and sang in defiance before losing her child and Tadanobu declared utter loyalty to his master moments before ending his life of twenty-eight years. While they were captured, Yoshitsune tearfully met with the head priest of Miidera. On the head priest's advice, Yoshitsune and his men hid their armor and weapons to disguise themselves as monks. Benkei and Kaison helped instruct their master to properly look and act the part, though it broke their hearts to see their lord in such a state. Within a week or so, a hundred warrior monks nearby Yoshino banded to escort Yoshitsune.
Tadanobu's attack in Kyoto had proved there was no practical means of returning to the center or the west. Remembering the sacrifices made by the Satō brothers and his fond memories of their homeland, Oshu, Yoshitsune planned to seek sanctuary within Hiraizumi. During their journey, they hardly rested and were on the move whenever possible. When they entered a temple within Kumano, Yoshitsune told his life story to the head priest. Although the priest could not openly join them, he did offer to give them a peaceful crossing of the nearby treacherous rivers. The long road east went relatively without incident, but it was an arduous trip for those involved. Mount Kamewari was a welcome sight for the group as it was their final destination before crossing into Hiraizumi.
Every precaution was made for Kita no Kata to experience as little discomfort as possible; the Kumano priest offered his blessings for the maiden and Yoshitsune was usually seen beside her. Ohotsu Jirō, their escort through Kumano, was careful to not alarm her and gave her a few trinkets to lighten her mood. When passing through Mount Arachi, Yoshitsune's feet were bloodied from their walking and seemed to trickle a stream of blood as he walked. Although Kita no Kata was worried for her husband, she feared the crimson mountain top as it seemed to be bleeding profusely. Benkei retold tales of the mountain's appearance being blamed on the people hiking it, their very feelings being ingrained into the very mountain itself. They could visit shrines to purify themselves -mentioning a shrine dedicated to a dragon god and a capital within a nearby province- but the stars weren't aligned properly for Kita no Kata and it would cause a severe detour to their journey. Laughing with pleasure instead, Yoshitsune thought nothing more of the blood at his feet and kept walking.
Hiraizumi and Koromogawa
Trudging through heavy rainfall, Yoshitsune's party rested at Ritsugen-ji and Saburō raced to Hidehira to announce their presence. Upon receiving the news, Hidehira ordered 150 horsemen to accompany him. Requesting that the youth have their rendezvous in the evening to avoid detection from unwanted parties, the two leaders met under the moonlight. Once he saw Yoshitsune's face with his own eyes, Hidehira's fears of the youth's rumored death had finally faded. Happy to see Yoshitsune with a beautiful wife and child, he beckoned the tired fugitives to return at once to his manor for a sanguine celebration. Keeping true to his word, the elder merrily laughed away the anxiety he felt during the years of Yoshitsune's absence.
On the other hand, Yoshitsune felt his return to Oshu was bittersweet. He could not forget Tsugunobu and Tadanobu's loyalty and felt utterly responsible for causing their deaths. As he recounted their final moments to a curious Hidehira, the elder wept tears of empathy for the two retainers and Yoshitsune's loss. However, he was proud of the two braves for they had served their master well. Wanting to brighten Yoshitsune's outlook, he compared the young commander's exploits to Yoshitomo's image, whom he knew personally from years before. Hidehira stated that the Satō siblings felt they were defending a worthy cause and Yoshitsune should respect their feelings to honor their memory. Praised that he was assuredly in his father's ilk, Yoshitsune felt his spirits lifted and he began to enjoy his stay.
What Hidehira didn't reveal to Yoshitsune was that Yoritomo had issued a manhunt for Yoshitsune in Oshu. Hidehira kept the manner a secret and intended to protect the youth. However, he sadly fell ill and died on December 10, 1188 (certain tales alleged that he was killed instead). Yoshitsune, who felt Hidehira was his father figure, expressed his sympathies to Hidehira's sons and respectfully grieved in private. Yasuhira was entrusted with the wishes of his father and kept Yoshitsune out of danger. Although he meant no ill intentions, Yasuhira's younger brothers were outraged that the "outsider" Yoshitsune felt he was one of Hidehira's sons. Two months after Hidehira's death, a war between Yoritomo and Yasuhira engaged and Yoshitsune took to the defenses. Yasuhira annoyingly dealt with the accusing whispers against Yoshitsune in his halls until a letter arrived to him from Yoritomo a month later. It requested him to kill the fugitive to avoid further bloodshed between the two parties.
Yoshitsune rested quietly within his mansion in Koromogawa, a month after Yasuhira read Yoritomo's order. His thirty or so loyal retainers were casually dancing until they spotted a troop of five hundred readily armed soldiers marching towards their position. At once, Benkei famously armed himself with a large pole arm (Iwatooushi) and coordinated the men to prepare their defenses. Their numbers were few and the squadrons barely consisted numbers in the double digits. The following day, Yoshitsune's loyal retainers fought bravely until their last, serving as the final resting place for Saburō, Yoshihisa, and others. Kaison was set up with eleven men but he fled on the morning of the attack. He would forever be ridiculed in folklore as the lone survivor, the lone traitor.
When Benkei saw the Hiraizumi troops drawing near to Yoshitsune's position, he went to report of his intentions to die for his lord. Yoshitsune was quietly reading in his room and calmly listened to his vassal's words. He was aware of Benkei's wish for him to flee yet he refused to turn his back to the spirits of his loyal followers. Therefore, he would also stay behind. Shedding tears at his lord's resolve, Benkei heard the enemy approaching and stood once more to the battlefield. His last words was a wish for them to reunite again in their next life, once more and always as master and retainer. After the tearful parting, Yoshitsune entrusted Jūrōgon no Kamikanefusa -a man of sixty-three years and personal guard of Kita no Kata- to leave Koromogawa at once with his wife and daughter. Benkei perished on his feet and Yoshitsune personally set fire to the mansion himself. With the same sword he had received from his childhood days at Kurama, Yoshitsune ended his own life. Jūrōgon acted on the orders of his master soon after to kill Kita no Kata and her daughter, promising the young girl that she was just going to meet her father again in the afterlife. As they fell to his blade, Jūrōgon felt it was selfish for him to continue living and disappeared into the mansion's flames.
Other Legendary Tales
There are several other myths and stories related with Yoshitsune not otherwise mentioned above. Some of which include:
- Escape North - In this legend, Yoshitsune avoided his death at Koromogawa and fled towards Hokkaidō. Several Aynu legends state that Yoshitsune shared several Aynu traits and remark that such a person fled the scene of Yoshitsune's death. As he made the journey, he became a god (okikirmui) and Benkei (samikuru) was his protector. This has also been loosely tied with him becoming an immortal, in which he continues to find or pass on his traits in various teachings or monuments in northern Japan. For example, a certain class of ninjutsu in Hokkaidō alleges to have taken Yoshitsune as its namesake since the Edo Period. The style apparently employs certain techniques that he once used.
- Yoshitsune is Genghis Khan? - This claim is actually a mistaken falsehood caused by German and American researchers in the 1800s and early 1900s. Both parties went to investigate the Aynu people for folklore and heard the aforementioned stories about Yoshitsune. The German team allegedly mistook the word "kami" or "kamui" (commonly translated as "god") with the phonetically similar "Khan"; Americans didn't want to accept the Yoshitsune "becoming a god" aspect and supported the flight north story. Their conclusion from the Aynu stories was that Yoshitsune continued to travel north and fled to Mongolia, becoming Genghis Khan himself. Further research of both figures debunked the prospect and it faded from the public eye. During the 1950s, Akimitsu Takagi published a book titled Mystery of Genghis Khan and brought it back to light to the Japanese public. Although it has been a proven fabrication time and time again, it is a popular legend for Yoshitsune's purposed escape.
- Brothers' Blades - According to Tales of the Heike, Yoshitsune's ancestors were known to have wielded two of Minamoto no Mitsunaka's famous swords. One was used by Minamoto no Tameyoshi to slice the arm of a demon at Ichijo Bridge and the other was wielded by Minamoto no Yorimitsu to vanquish a human spider. The swords were renamed to honor these feats, being named Onikiri and Kumokiri respectively. Onikiri remained within Kamakura and was within Yoritomo's keeping. When the Genji suffered a string of defeats, the sword began to lose its power since it lost favor with Hachiman Daibosatsu. To restore the sword, Yoritomo quickly granted it with its original name, Higekiri (named as such when it chopped off a beard of a criminal). Kumokiri was taken away from Tameyoshi years before as he was not deemed worthy enough to own the blade. When Yoshitsune was staying at Kurama, the sword was given to him by Kumano Bettō and renamed Usumidori (after a mountain spring in Kumano). Usumidori would be used throughout Yoshitsune's campaigns against the Heike while Higekiri remained with Yoritomo at Kamakura. Both swords were reunited after Yoshitsune's death. Neither swords are mentioned in historical records, so they have been accepted as purely fictional.
- Benkei's Beating - This particular tale takes place during Yoshitsune's retreat to Hiraizumi and is popularized by the Noh play Kanjinchō. A nobleman named Togashi Saemon was stationed at Ataka Pass and was on the lookout for their whereabouts. When Yoshitsune's party arrived, Benkei acted as the group's leader to avoid rising suspicion. It seemed Togashi would allow them to pass until he casted doubts on the commonly dressed Yoshitsune, whose skin and composure suggested he was one of high rank. Benkei then pushed Yoshitsune on his knees and harshly beat Yoshitsune with a fan. Togashi saw through the ruse yet respected Benkei's devotion to Yoshitsune and allowed them to proceed. When Benkei apologized, Yoshitsune instead thanked his vassal. The monk broke down into tears, allegedly for the first time in his life. Certain editions of the Gikeiki will claim the incident happened at Niyoi Docks instead; Ataka Pass was where they offered blessings for their journey.
- Yoshitsune Stone - Takaoka, Toyama Prefecture features a unique rock formation nearby Amaharashi Bay. Yoshitsune and Benkei are said to have rested nearby during their journey to Hiraizumi in 1188. They took shelter in the area from a heavy rainstorm.
- Tokeiya, one of the cosplayers in the Tokyo Game Show 2012 Cosplay Contest, won the Producer's Choice award for her cosplay as Warriors Orochi 2 Yoshitsune.
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