Story of Japan - R. Van Bergen

Minamoto Defeats Taira

Taira was established in Kyoto, and thought himself pretty safe,—not wholly so, though, for two young sons of Minamoto had escaped, and so had one of his wives. He suspected, naturally, that the two children would be with her, and to get them in his power he had the widow's mother arrested, and made it known far and near that she would be put to death unless her daughter came back and surrendered herself. Now you must know that in Japan the highest and first duty of children is toward their parents. There are a great many instances of children who have sold themselves into slavery to save their parents from want. Indeed, the same thing happens often enough in these days, and the law allows it. The Japanese applaud these examples of filial piety. We, too, are taught the commandment, "Honor thy father and thy mother"; but we consider that other duties are as important, as, for instance, the duty of a father or a mother toward a child, or of a husband toward his wife. These are as nothing in Japan compared to the child's duty toward a parent.

When the poor young widow heard of the arrest of her mother, she did not hesitate. One of the boys, Yoritomo, the head of the Minamoto, had been separated from her in the flight, and for all she knew he might have been captured or killed. In that event her son, Yoshitsune (yoh-shee-tsoo-nay)  would become heir to the Minamoto, and with him that famous family would die out. She could not expect mercy from a man who had shown so much cruelty; still she did not hesitate, but retraced her steps, and surrendered herself and her son to the Taira.

[Illustration] from The Story of Japan by R. Van Bergen


In the meanwhile Yoritomo had wandered among the fugitives and pursuers. He was brought before a captain of the victors, and the latter soon discovered who his young prisoner was. The capture was important, and the captain returned to Kyoto with his prisoner. Taira was about to give orders to put him to death, when his mother interfered, and asked him to spare the child's life. Her request was granted, and Yoritomo was given to his captor, who took him to his home in the southern part of Japan.

When Minamoto's widow was led before the victor, he was struck both with her beauty and her filial conduct, and when, with tears in her eyes, she begged for the life of her child, he did not find it in his heart to refuse her. So he ordered the little boy to be taken to a convent, where, when he was old enough, his head was to be shaved and he was to be made a priest.

Yoritomo grew up in the family of his captor, and became skillful in the exercises of the privileged class. He thought frequently of the misfortunes of his clan, and was forever planning schemes of revenge. His foster father had two daughters, and the more beautiful of the two he had promised to the son of a friend. Yoritomo and this girl fell in love with each other, and they decided to elope. As the girl was her father's favorite, she had no doubt that she would be forgiven. She was not mistaken; for not only were the young couple kindly received when they returned, but the bride induced her father, Hojo (hoh-joh), to assist Yoritomo in his schemes.

What had become in the meanwhile of Yoritomo's half-brother, Yoshitsune, who had been placed in the convent? As he grew up, the priests gave him the nickname of "Young Ox," on account of his great strength. They had a hard time with him, for he did not mind them in the least. Although they could not keep him in check, and he was continually playing tricks upon them, they did not dare bring a complaint before the regent. But when, at last, he made his escape in the company of a peddler, they were so glad to be rid of him that they did not try very hard to get him back.

Young Ox made his way to the northern part of the island of Hondo, where he was taken into the service of the governor, one of the few Fujiwara men who had been kept in office. He grew up to be as brave as he was strong, and he, too, remembered, the unhappy fate of his clan, and tried to communicate with all those who had been fortunate enough to escape the slaughter.

Yoritomo himself was impatient to avenge his wrongs. After he had collected a small band, he made for the Hakone Mountains, not far from the place where Prince Bravest had lost his wife. But his plans had become known, and he was attacked and defeated by a strong force of the Taira. He sought safety in flight, hotly pursued by his enemies. When night fell, he found shelter in a hollow tree. He had been there but a short time, when a band of the pursuers approached, and scattered to search the wood. One of them came near his tree, but seeing a wood pigeon fly from her nest, concluded that no one could be there because the bird had not been disturbed.

When morning came, no enemy was to be seen, and Yoritomo continued his flight. After walking all day, he saw, just as it was getting dark, a little house. On entering, he found it tenanted by a priest, who scanned him closely, and gave him to understand that he suspected who he was. Upon this, Yoritomo took the priest into his confidence, and it was well that he did so, for his host insisted upon his hiding in an obscure closet. During the night they were awakened by threatening voices, and when the priest opened the door, several Taira warriors inquired whether any strangers were in the house. The priest invited them to search for themselves, but after taking a cursory glance over the poor apartments, they continued their march.

The next morning, after thanking his preserver, Yoritomo made his way to, a small peninsula, where he continued his plotting, and soon succeeded in collecting another band. Again he made for the Hakone Mountains, and once more he was defeated. But now the fame; of his exploits had spread over the land, and when he withdrew again to the peninsula, large numbers of his own clan, who had kept in hiding, flocked to his standard, as well as many of the Fujiwara.

Among the first to come was Young Ox, who led a strong force of able-bodied warriors whom he had collected in the north. The brothers were glad to see each other, although they did not show their feelings openly, since it is against the custom of the country to evince emotion. A cousin also brought a number of men, and Yoritomo now thought that he was strong enough to take the field. He divided his army into three parts. The van was placed in command of his cousin; and was stationed in the mountains between Kamakura (kah-mah'-koo-rah)  and Kyoto; the center under Young Ox held "Kamakura, while Yoritomo himself commanded the rear, and continued to enlist fresh arrivals.

Before proceeding, I must tell you something about Kamakura. It is only a short distance from Yokohama and can be reached by railroad. It is a lovely valley inclosed by mountains, but opening upon the sea. It contains several large Buddhist temples, and an immense bronze statue of Buddha which the Japanese call Dai Butsu (di-boots), or Great Buddha.

All this time Taira was gathering his clan to crush his opponent. He reproached himself bitterly for having spared the two boys, and finally fell sick. He grew worse and worse, and when he was convinced that he was dying, he called his son and said, "Do not waste any time on funeral ceremonies, or offer any sacrifices to me; but cut off the head of Yoritomo and put it on my tomb."

As soon as Yoritomo's cousin heard of the death of the regent, he set out for the capital, without waiting for instructions. The Taira troops were superior in number, but they had not yet recovered from the confusion incident upon the death of their leader; and when they were attacked under the walls of the city by the van of Yoritomo's army, the regent's troops wavered. Perceiving this, the assailants redoubled their efforts. It was as if every single warrior fancied himself the avenger of the wrongs suffered by his clan for so many years, and at last the regent's forces were routed. The capital was taken, and Taira fled, taking with him the young emperor and his mother. Yoritomo's cousin, however, found a seven-year-old brother of the emperor in the palace. He proclaimed this child emperor and appointed himself as regent, intending to secure the chieftainship of the Minamoto clan.