Minamoto Clan (源氏)

The Minamoto clan (Genji) is a family whose honorary surname was Minamoto. In Japan, Minamoto was one of the surnames that an imperial family took when it was demoted to an ministry. Its Kabane, hereditary title, is Ason. The most famous branch family of the Minamoto clan was the Seiwa-Genji who established Kamakura bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) and became Seii Taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians"), whereas the noblest was the Murakami-Genji. There are many other branch families.

Nowadays, there are not so many people, approximately 4000 according to an estimation, who carry Minamoto as their surname, because the families of the Minamoto clan (whose hereditary title is Minamoto) have their own family names. However, the Seiwa-Genji of MINAMOTO no Yoshitada's line (the descendants of MINAMOTO no Yoshitaka (Sahyoegonza), MINAMOTO no Yoshikiyo (Sakyogonnodaibu) and Kawachi-Genji, the descendants of MINAMOTO no Yoshikatsu) carry Genji as thier surname and the documents published in the Edo period say that both their surname and hereditary title were Minamoto.

For famous persons of the Minamoto clan, see the list of the Minamoto clan persons.


The Minamoto clan, which refers to a clan who carries Minamoto as surname, was given by the Emperor Saga to his children to honor their having originated from the Imperial Family.

Since the increase in the number of the Emperor Saga's princes and princesses might have caused the Imperial court's fiscal tightness, it was a better way for the Emperor's bloodlines to allow these princes and princesses to become his subject earlier in order to ensure the prosperity of his descendants. There were cases in which even princes did not want to become emperor, in which the imperial families who had no chance to be a prince or princess asked him themselves to allow them to become his subject or in which the Imperial court asked them unilaterally to be his subject, thus the environment surrounding the clans separated from the Imperial household were always linked with the financial situation of the Imperial court.

Some of the other emperors after the Emperor Saga also demoted their family members to being their subjects by giving them the surname of Minamoto and those Minamoto clan who were descended from the Emperor Saga called themselves Saga-Genji and afterwards, the Minamoto clan took their parental emperors' names as their clan's surnames (such as Ninmyo-Genji, Montoku-Genji, Seiwa-Genji and Uda-Genji). Although one of the aims of the Imperial court's demotion of their family members to their subjects by giving them the surname of Minamoto was to allow them to be the subsidiary of the Imperial Family as upper class nobles, in fact only a few of them kept their status for more than three generations, while many others took regional posts as middle classes and later became samurai, or earned a sparse living as middle and lower classes in the center. Other surnames given to imperial families include Ariwara, Taira etc.

Its most representative Kamon (family crest) 'Sasarindo' (bamboo grass and gentians) is older than 'Mitsuuroko' (three scales in a circle) of the Hojo clan, which contains triangles, and is said to be the oldest in Japan.

Military Genji and Noble Genji

The Seiwa-Genji is one of the so-called 21 branch families of the Minamoto clan and it is often considered to be the mainstream of the Minamoto clan due to its historical fame as military Genji.

This family is descended from the princes of the Emperor Seiwa. Seiwa-Genji, who enjoyed its fame as military Genji, originated in Kinai, or current Kansai region, spread to various regions, and then split up into Settu-Genji, Yamato-Genji and Kawachi-Genji after MINAMOTO no Mitsunaka, and MINAMOTO no Yoshiie (Taro Yoshiie HACHIMAN) of the Kawachi-Genji, who were based in Kawachi Province, was the mainstream of them, whose descendants flourished as samurai represented by MINAMOTO no Yoritomo, who established the Kamakura bakufu, and other clans such as Ishikawa-Genji, Kai-Genji, Hitachi-Genji, Shimotsuke-Genji (Ashikaga clan) and Kozuke-Genji (Nitta clan) were descended from Kawachi-Genji as well.
Tada-Genji, Mino-Genji and others were descended from Settu Province-based Settsu-Genji and they were a branch of Seiwa-Genji and the so-called 'military Genji.'

Another example of military Genji compared to Seiwa-Genji is 'Toru-ryu Saga-Genji' who originated from MINAMOTO no Toru of the Saga-Genji, and those who represented the clan as the warriors of Saga-Genji include Settu Province-based Watanabe clan and its branch Matsuura clan, and also those among Uda-Genji who were based in Omi Province were called Omi-Genji (Sasaki-Genji) and grew up to be the powerful samurai group known as the Sasaki clan.

An example of a Minamoto clan who gained power as central noble is Murakami-Genji, who was descended from the princes of Emperor Murakami. The reason why some Minamoto clan flourished as nobles while others became samurai and Shinto priests is because their positions were largely dependent on the political situation, who demoted them and their maternal classes and influences. Especially, the demotion of the sons of the emperors was called 'Issei no Genji' (Minamoto clan of the first generation) and they were given preferential treatment in regard to their position. The demotion of the grandsons of the emperors was called 'Nisei no Genji' (Minamoto clan of the second generation) and they had disadvantages against Issei no Genji.

Since the late Heian period, when it became customary for the princes and princesses who were unrelated to the succession to become priests, the Minamoto clan who were direct descendant of the Imperial Family almost became extinct, although a new family (Hirohata family) came out in the Edo period. It is said that the descendants of 21 emperors were given the surnames of Minamoto since the Emperor Saga (including the families which became extinct in the generations of the people who were given the surname themselves and in their children's generations).


Descendants of the fifty-second Emperor Saga. The Emperor Saga demoted a number of his princes and princesses by giving them the surname of Minamoto. Among them, MINAMOTO no Makoto (noble), MINAMOTO no Tokiwa and MINAMOTO no Toru became Sadaijin, Minister of the Left and formed a big power of the Imperial court at the beginning of the Heian period. The lineage of MINAMOTO no Toru became a local family of warriors.. Its descendants include the Watanabe clan, the Hasuike clan etc.


Descendants of the fifty-fourth Emperor Ninmyo. MINAMOTO no Masaru and MINAMOTO no Hikaru (court nobles), children of the Emperor Ninmyo, became Udaijin, Minister of the Right. In addition, among the descendants of MINAMOTO no Hikaru was MINAMOTO no Atsushi, who was the father of the wife of MINAMOTO no Mitsunaka of Seiwa-Genji and also foster father of MINAMOTO no Tsuna (WATANABE no Tsuna) of Saga-Genji.


Descendants of the fifty-fifth Emperor Montoku. Descendants of MINAMOTO no Yoshiaki who was Sadaijin included the Sakado clan who became Hokumen no bushi (north front worrier).


Descendants of the fifty-sixth Emperor Seiwa. Their most prosperous lineage was the prince MINAMOTO no Tsunemoto, the child of MINAMOTO no Sadazumi who was the sixth prince. Seiwa-Genji was considered to be the top of the military families because it produced successive shogun during the Kamakura period, an extremely large number of military families, such as Ashikaga and Tokugawa who produced samurai, and claimed to be descendants of Seiwa-Genji.


Descendants of the fifty-seventh Emperor Yozei. There is an explanation that MINAMOTO no Tsunemoto, origin of Seiwa-Genji, was a grandchild of the Emperor Yozei, which accepted by some researchers, although it is not widely approved by academy.

(See Imperial Prince Sadazumi.)


Descendants of the fifty-eighth Emperor Koko. MINAMOTO no Yasunao, a great-grandchild of the first princess Koretada, was a patriarch of sculptors of Buddha statues, from which each school of Buddha statue sculpture originated.


Descendants of the fifty-ninth Emperor Uda. Both of the brothers MINAMOTO no Masanobu and MINAMOTO no Shigehartu, the children of the eighth Prince Atsuzane, became Sadaijin. The descendants of MINAMOTO no Masanobu were prosperous among others, producing five Tosho-ke (the hereditary lineage of Court nobles occupying relatively high ranks) lineages as court nobles and Sasaki clan as a military family.


Descendants of the sixtieth Emperor Daigo. His tenth prince MINAMOTO no Takaakira became Sadaijin, but fell from power in the Anwa incident. The descendants of MINAMOTO no Takaakira include the Okamoto clan and the Ejiri clan. One of the descendants of the first prince Yoshiakira includes MINAMOTO no Hiromasa who was an expert in kangen (gagaku piece without dance).


Descendants of the sixty-second Emperor Murakami. The descendants of the Udaijin MINAMOTO no Morofusa, who was a child of the seventh Prince Tomohira and became a contractual adopted child of FUJIWARA no Yorimichi, were prosperous. The descendants produced many members of the Tosho-ke and the members of Morofusa monopolized the Genji choja (head of the Minamoto clan) before Asikaga came in power in the Muromachi period.


Descendants of the sixty-third Emperor Reizei. They belonged to one of the Niju-ichi ryu (the twenty-one lineages of the Minamoto clan) who was given the surname of Minamoto but their own names were not passed on.


Descendants of the sixty-fifth Emperor Kazan. They constituted the Shirakawa Hakuo family of the Tosho-ke and controlled the Shintoism by holding the Department of Worship from generation to generation.


Descendants of the first Prince Atsuakira of the sixty-seventh Emperor Sanjo. On and after MINAMOTO no Michisue, their direct line held the Okimi no Tsukasa (Royal Family Office) from generation to generation to finally come back five degrees from the Imperial family.


Descendants of the third Prince Sukehito of the 71st Emperor Gosanjo. MINAMOTO no Arihito, a child of the Imperial Prince Sukehito, became Sadaijin. It is said that Nobutsuna TASHIRO, one of MINAMOTO no Yoritomo's retainers who appeared in the Heike Monogatari, was a grandchild of MINAMOTO no Arihito (see "Genpei Seisuiki").


The second Prince Mochihito (Takakura) of the seventy-seventh Emperor Goshirakawa. The Prince Mochihito, who was not entitled to hold the name of Imperial prince, named himself the Imperial Prince Saisho in 1180 and raised an army with MINAMOTO no Yorimasa under the slogan of eliminating the Emperor Antoku and the Taira clan government but was killed in a battle (army raised by Prince Mochihito). During this battle, he was given the surname of Minamoto by the Retired Emperor Goshirakawa, was renamed the Prince Mochihito and was doomed into exile.


Descendants of the fifth Prince Tadanari and the sixth Prince Yoshimune of the eighty-fourth Emperor Juntoku. MINAMOTO no Yoshinari, a grandchild of the Imperial Prince Yoshimune, called himself Yotsutuji and was promoted up to Sadaijin thanks to Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA's backup.


The Imperial Prince Koreyasu, a grandchild of the eighty-eighth Emperor Gosaga. After the Imperial Prince Munetaka, the second son of the Emperor Gosaga, retired from the list of the sixth Kamakura Shogun, Imperial Prince Koreyasu, the eldest son of the Imperial Prince Munetaka, became the seventh Shogun and was given the surname of Minamoto, to call himself MINAMOTO no Koreyasu. After that, the Kamakura bakufu expelled Koreyaku to Kyoto, then the Imerial court, at the request of the bakufu, gave him the title of Imperial Prince as groudwork for receiving the Imperial Prince Hisaakira as shogun and Koreyasu returned to the Imperial Family. In other words, the Gosaga-Genji ended during the lifetime of Koreyasu.


Descendants of the Imperial Prince Hisaakira who was a son of the eighty-eighth Emperor Gofukakusa and who became the eighth Seii Taishogun of the Kamakura bakufu. It is said that Imperial Prince Morikuni (ninth Shogun) and Imperial Prince Hisanaga, both being children of the Imperial Prince Hisaakira, were given the surname of Minamoto. In addition, MINAMOTO no Muneaki, who was an adopted child of the Imperial Prince Hisanaga (in fact, a child of Michihira NIJO), was promoted to Dainagon (chief councilor of state).


Descendants of the hundred and sixth Emperor Ogimachi. They formed at first a family of warriors and then became the Tosho-ke and established the Hirohata family (the Seiga family).

[Original Japanese]