Nanto Yakiuchi (the Incident of the Taira clans army setting fire to the temples in Nanto) (南都焼討)

Nanto Yakiuchi is the incident that the Taira clan army led by TAIRA no Shigehira set fire to Buddhist temples in Nara (Nanto) such as Todai-ji Temple and Kofuku-ji Temple by the order of TAIRA no Kiyomori on January 15, 1181. It was one of a series of military campaign called Jisho-Juei War aimed for subjugation of Daishu (monks residing in the zendo) belonged to these forces of temples and shrines (Bhuddism) which have kept taking defiant attitude against the Taira clan government.


After Heiji Disturbance, when Yamato Province became Kiyomori's proprietary province, Kiyomori performed policing and adjudication across the country, ignoring traditional privilege possessed by Nanto temples. Nanto temples reacted sharply against this. Especially Todai-ji Temple which was constracted at the wish of the Emperor Shomu and since then had been revered by successive emperors as a symbol of polity for nation protection, and Kofuku-ji Temple built for praying Fujiwara clan's glory, rebelled against this, relying on military power of armed organization called armed monks which was originally organized for self-defense by Buddhist monk group called as Daishu, each with authorities of Imperial family and Sekkan-ke (line of regents and advisers) in the background. However, once the Cloistered Emperor Goshirakawa and Regent Motofusa MATSUDONO, who might be regarded as the symbol of the Imperial family and Sekkan-ke (line of regents and advisers) were both punished by the order of Kiyomori, the sense of danger also spread among them, who cooperated with Onjo-ji Temple and the Minamoto clan in various districts to start anti-Taira clan activities after Rising of Prince Mochihito on May 26, 1180.

In June, after Rising of Prince Mochihito subdued, the Taira clan gave punishment to Onjo-ji Temple which joined the rising such as prohibition to participate in Imperial Court/Buddhist mass, dismissal of Sogo, and forfeit of the temple estate, but Kofuku-ji Temple did not receive punishment as severe as Onjo-ji Temple, because Gen-en, the Betto at the time was close to the Taira clan, and there was a group which took peaceful stance to the Taira clan inside Kofuku-ji Temple. The strained relation between the Taira clan and Kofuku-ji Temple was subsided to a certain degree after the Taira clan's Emperor visit to Fukuhara; however, when Daishu, monks residing in Onjo-ji Temple and Kofuku-ji Temple assisted the uprising of Omi-Genji (Minamoto clan) in offense and defense in Omi Province at the end of this year, the Taira clan led by TAIRA no Shigehira attacked and set fire to Onjo-ji Temple on December 11 and finally took aim at Kofuku-ji Temple.


First of all, Kiyomori dispatched Kaneyasu SENOO to Nara with 500 soldiers. Kiyomori sent lightly-armed Kaneyasu with direction to solve it peacefully as much as possible. However, Nanto Daishu (monks residing in Nanto) decapitated more than 60 of Kaneyasu forces and placed them along the edge of Sarusawa-no-ike Pond, and Kaneyasu returned to Kyoto with his bare life, which made Kiyomori furious. "The Tale of the Heike" explained that this incident led to Nanto attack, but as described before, the Taira clan have hunted down the opposition forces around Kyoto such as Onjo-ji Temple and Omi-Genji (Minamoto clan) one after another, after transfer of the capital and Nanto attack was an inevitable action.

Actions of Daishu revealed the incident which showed the magnitude of hostility of Kofuku-ji Temple to the Taira clan, but consequently, contained opposition to Kofuku-ji Temple attack by Court nobles and gave a legitimate reason to dispatch large force to Kofuku-ji Temple. On December 25 (old calender), Kiyomori sent 40,000 soldiers led by his son Shigehira as the supreme commander and his nephew TAIRA no Michimori etc. as vice-commanders. Against this, Nanto Daishu (monks residing in the zendo) constructed moats in Hannya-ji Temple and Nara-zaka slope, which were fortified with 7,000 soldiers. On December 27 (old calender), Shigehira divided soldiers to 2 group to invade from Kizu-choarea, where Daishu continued resistance at Kizu-gawa River (Kyoto Prefecture) bank, Nara-zaka slope, Hannya-ji Temple and other places, and thus, overall situation was advantageous to the Taira clan army, but unsettled. On the 28th, the Taira clan army occupied Nara-zaka slope and Hannya-ji Temple, and transferred the headquarter into Hannya-ji Temple. According to "The Tale of the Heike", when Shigehira demanded light in camp, his vassals misunderstood it as the order of burning attack and set fire to surrounding folk dwellings. It was said that the fire was fanned by strong wind then, leading to disastrous fire. However, burning down such as the Sobo (Monks' lodging house) was in the original scheme. In addition, in "The Tale of the Heike (Engyo edition)" suggested it as planned fire-setting and fire-setting was considered as a basic tactics in the battle. However, it is considered that such an extended fire even spread to Kofuku-ji Temple and the Great Buddha Hall would have exceeded expectation of Shigehira forces.

This caused great fire involving important area of Nara, resulting in burning down of influential temples such as Kofuku-ji Temple and Todai-ji Temple and many deaths of Buddhist monks and residents by fire. Especially, Todai-ji Temple was given heavy damage; most of major buildings including the statue of Birushana Buddha were lost, and all but those apart from the center such as Hokke-do Hall, Nigatsudo Temple, Tengaimon (literally, "the gate of shifting the evil") and Shoso-in Treasure Repository burned to the ground. Also in Kofuku-ji Temple, it is said that 38 facilities such as Kon-do Hall, Kodo Hall, Hokuen-do Hall and Nanen-do Hall as well as 3 pagoda were burned. Kanezane KUJO who received the news expressed his words of grieving in his diary "Gyokuyo" as "far beyond description". Shigehira returned to Kyoto on the 29th and it is said that 49 severed heads brought back then were all thrown out to ditches and moats.

Post war period

In the next year (1181), Kiyomori immediately forfeited all the private estates and territory of Todai-ji Temple and Kofuku-ji Temple and reshuffled betto (the head secretary of a temple), Sogo (a monk of a managereal post) and other posts, and indicated a policy not to permit reconstruction of these temples. However, the pro-Taira clan government, retired Emperor Takakura died in the midst, and subsequently Kiyomori himself also died on March 3, 1181 due to misterious high fever. People rumored this as Buddha's punishment for Nanto Yakiuchi. In addition, receiving information that MINAMOTO no Yoritomo in Togoku (the eastern part of Japan, particularly Kanto region) have also shown threatening move, TAIRA no Munemori who succeeded the government after Kiyomori withdrew all punishment to temples in Nanto including Todai-ji Temple and Kofuku-ji Temple on March 1 (old calender).

In April, the Taira clan government permitted the Cloistered Emperor Goshirakawa to dispatch envoys (Inshi Kurodo, FUJIWARA no Yukitaka) to check the extent of the damage in Nanto. Yukitaka met a Buddhist monk named Chogen there, who urged the need for reconstruction of Todai-ji Temple. The Cloistered Emperor who received the report from Yukitaka returned to Kyoto, summoned Chogen to appoint him to the position of Daikanjin (priest to collect contributions), and immediately started reconstruction of Todai-ji Temple. Kofuku-ji Temple was also restored later and gained position of Yamato no kuni Shugo (provincial constable of Yamato Province).

[Original Japanese]