Hiki Conspiracy of Yoshikazu (比企能員の変)

The Conspiracy of Yoshikazu HIKI is a coup within the Kamakura bakufu that took place on October 15, 1203 in the early Kamakura period. It was an incident that Yoshikazu HIKI and his family, who exerted power as a maternal relative of the second Seii Taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians") MINAMOTO no Yoriie, were destroyed by the Hojo clan.


In "Azuma Kagami" (the Mirror of the East), a history book assumedly compiled in the last years of the Kamakura bakufu from the viewpoint of the tyrannical Tokuso (head of the Hojo clan), the progress of the incident is described as follows:

Yoshikazu HIKI was an adopted son of Hikinoama who was a wet nurse of MINAMOTO no Yoritomo and his wife was a wet nurse of Manju, the first son of Yoritomo (who was to become MINAMOTO no Yoriie), so he gained Yoritomo's trust and became one of the senior vassals.

When Yoriie became the second Seii Taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians", also called Shogun) after Yoritomo died, Yoshikazu became a member of the 13-person parliamentary system. In addition, Yoshikazu's daughter, Wakasa no Tsubone became Yoriie's concubine and gave a birth to the first son Ichiman, so he became a maternal relative of the shogun as well. Yoshikazu, who was deeply trusted by Yoriie, began to exert power.

Masako HOJO (Ama Midai [wife of shogun who became a priestess]) and her father Tokimasa HOJO felt a sense of crisis about the rise of the Hiki clan. Masako and Tokimasa were afraid that the Hiki clan would replace the Hojo clan and seize power, so they tried to exclude the Hiki clan.

In September 1203, Yoriie became seriously ill. Masako and Tokimasa, without consultation with Yoshikazu, decided to have Ichiman and Senman govern separate parts of the country by assigning Yoriie's first son Ichiman the posts of jito (provincial constable) of the 28 provinces in the Gokinai capital region, Tokai and Higashiyama regions and So-shugo (master of provincial constables) and Yoriie's younger brother Senman (who was to become MINAMOTO no Sanetomo) the post of jito of the 38 provinces in Hokuriku, Sanyo, Sanin, Nankai and Shikai, respectively. Yoshikazu became furious to know this decision.

Assassination of Yoshikazu and Fall of the Hiki Clan

On October 15, Yoshikazu planned to retaliate against the Hojo clan and appealed to Yoriie in his sickbed through Wakasa no Tsubone about the Hojo's arbitrary decision. As Yoriie had been dissatisfied about the Hojo clan which exercised power over shogun, he responded to Yoshikazu's appeal and issued an order to suppress the Hojo clan. But Masako, who was in the next room, overheard this conspiracy through a shoji (paper sliding door). Masako immediately sent a nyobo (court lady) and let Tokimasa know about Yoriie and Yoshikazu hatching a plot together, who was on his way back to the Hojo's residence in Nagoe. Tokimasa decided to make the first move and to destroy the Hiki family. Tokimasa plotted Yoshikazu's murder with Tokage AMANO and Tadatsune NITA.

Masako invited Yoshikazu to the Hojo's residence in Nagoe with the excuse that they would make a kuyo (put offerings) to Yakushi-nyorai (Healing Buddha). As Yoshikazu did not know that the conspiracy had been already known by the Hojo's, he entered the Hojo's residence in plain clothes and with a small number of attendants. Then Tokage AMANO and Tadatsune NITA jumped on Yoshikazu and killed him on the spot.

The members of the Hiki family were astonished to know that Yoshikazu was murdered. The Hiki family went to Ichiman's Kogosho palace. Ama Midai Masako deputized for the shogun on his sickbed and issued the command for putting down the Hiki clan to the vassals in Kamakura. The troops headed by Yoshitoki HOJO, the legitimate child of Tokimasa, surrounded the Kogosho palace for attack. Though the Hiki family fought to protect Ichiman and Wakasa no Tsubone, they had no chance to win as they were outnumbered by the Hojo. The Kogosho palace was set on fire and all members of the Hiki family killed themselves together with Ichiman. The Hiki family who exerted power as Yoriie's maternal relative was destroyed only in one day.

Confinement of Yoriie and Sanetomo's Assumption of Shogun

Ironically Yoriie recovered from illness a few days later and became furious to know the fall of his father-in-law's clan as well as the death of Ichiman and Wakasa no Tsubone. Yoriie delivered the migyosho (documents of shogunate order) to Yoshimori WADA and Tadatsune NITA to suppress the Hojo clan. However, Yoshimori WADA betrayed Yoriie by sending this migyosho to the Hojo and Tadatsune NITA was killed. Within the same day (October 20), Yoriie was stripped of the shogunship and confined in Shuzen-ji Temple by Ama midai Masako's order and Sanetomo assumed the shogunship.

On August 21, 1204, Yoriie died at Shuzen-ji Temple.

Background of Incident

The above is the progress of the incident described in the history book "Azuma Kagami", assumedly compiled in the last years of the Kamakura bakufu from the viewpoint of the tyrannical Tokuso, but the further background of the incident was considered as follows.

Mysterious Facts

The literature other than "Azuma Kagami" tells different facts to a certain extent.

According to "Meigetsuki" (Chronicle of the Bright Moon) by FUJIWARA no Sadaie, the envoy from Kamakura who arrived at the Imperial court on October 20 reported that Yoriie died on October 14 and requested to approve Sanetomo's assumption of shogun. If this description is true, it is highly possible that the envoy from the bakufu made a false report prepared in advance because Yoriie was alive at this point. The day when the envoy reportedly arrived in Kyoto, October 20, was exactly the day that Yoriie entered the priesthood.

The description in "Gukansho" (Jotting of a Fool) written by Jien was obviously based on the assumption that Yoriie was murdered. "Azuma Kagami" did not mention about the cause of death of Yoriie, but it can be deemed that Yoriie was assassinated.

If the above description is true it could be considered that the incident itself was a conspiracy meticulously prepared in advance.

Was the incident a conspiracy concocted by the Hojo clan?

Based on the above, there could be one view that the very conspiracy hatched by Yoshikazu and Yoriie was falsified by the Hojo clan after the whole incident was over. After this incident, a series of political strife between the Hojo and the senior vassals occurred, so this incident is deemed as the beginning of them. One thing that should not be ignored at the same time is that, behind this incident, there could be a conflict between the shogun trying to strengthen a tyrannical control and his trusted vassals and the senior vassals in the togoku (the eastern part of Japan, particularly Kanto region) existed. The Hojo clan would inherit the title of shikken (regent) of the Kamakura bakufu at a later time, but at the time of this incident, they did not have that much power. Even if this incident was their conspiracy, it would be impossible to be carried out without the support of the leading gokenin (vassals).

If so, although the action by the Hojo clan is seemingly notable, the incident can be considered to have developed with the agreement of the senior vassals in the togoku.

Role of Masako HOJO
The influence that Masako exercised as a widow of Yoritomo cannot be ignored.

According to "Azuma Kagami", Masako ordered the suppression of the Hiki clan and the confinement of Yoriie as well as she was actively involved in making Ichiman and Senman govern separate parts of the country as shugo after Yoriie's death, with which the incident started. Even during the reign of Sanetomo, Masako played a decisive role in various occasions, and if this was all true, the unique presence of Masako as an arbitrator should be acknowledged, along with the forces of vassals in the togoku including the Hojo clan.

Regarding Masako's position at this time, the following two points should be noted. That is, Masako, as a widow of Yoritomo, played a central role in the bakufu's religious system such as memorial service for Yoritomo. In addition, Masako had a complete control over Hiromoto Oe and other governmental officials who had returned from Kyoto and were responsible for practical works. They are considered to have constituted the middle power between the shogun and the senior vassals within the bakufu. As Masako completely controlled them, she could act as an arbitrator.

Based on the above, regarding the authority of the shogun in the Kamakura bakufu after Yoritomo died, it could be said that, though Yoriie succeeded the title of shogun, the status and power that Yoritomo had had before his death were actually divided among Masako and Yoriie. In other words, one aspect of this incident shows Masako's involvement in relinquishment of shogunship from Yoriie to Sanetomo and the role of Masako is surely a good material in the study of the power structure of the Kamakura bakufu, as it eventually developed into the post of shikken.

[Original Japanese]