Minamoto no Noriyori (源範頼)

MINAMOTO no Noriyori was a busho (Japanese military commander) from the end of the Heian Period to the beginning of the Kamakura Period. He was the sixth son of MINAMOTO no Yoshitomo who was descended from Kawachi-Genji (Minamoto clan). He was a younger paternal half-brother of MINAMOTO no Yoritomo and an older paternal-half brother of MINAMOTO no Yoshitsune.

Because he grew up in Kaba no mikuriya (a manor of Ise-jingu Shrine at that time) in Totomi Province, he was called Kaba no kanja or Kaba dono. Later he was brought up by FUJIWARA no Norisue and got a kanji character from Norisue's name and called himself Noriyori. During the Jisho-Juei War, he led a large force to fight against MINAMOTO no Yoshinaka and the Taira clan and destroyed them in cooperation with Yoshitsune. After that, he played an important role in the Kamakura bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) as a member of the Minamoto clan, but he was suspected of rebellion and murdered.

He ruled the area of Yoshimi-machi, Hiki-gun in Musashi Province and was called Yoshimi gosho.

Kaba no kanja

In 1180, after his brother, Yoritomo, raised an army, there is no historical material showing when Noriyori joined his brother; however, it would appear that he acted in cooperation with Kai-Genji (Minamoto clan) in his birth place, Totomi Province. Therefore, he had a connection with the Takeda clan as Kai-Genji (Minamoto clan) and fought with them at many battles.

In July 1181, at the time of completion of the framework for the Hoden (treasure house) of Tsurugaoka-wakamiya Shrine, Yoritomo ordered Noriyori and Yoshitsune, his younger paternal half-brother to gather horses that were to be given to the Daikigashira (construction prefect) with other gokenin (immediate vassal of the shogunate in the Kamakura and Muromachi through Edo periods). It was said this was to show that Yoritomo's brothers were vassals and equal to other gokenin.

In February 1183, MINAMOTO no Yoshihiro (SHIDA Saburo Senjo) from Hitachi Province led over 30,000 soldiers and marched to Kamakura. The Oyama clan in Shimotsuke Province ambushed Yoshihiro's army, and the Battle of Nogiyama took place. According to a historical document (Azuma Kagami [The Mirror of the East, a chronicle of the early history of the Kamakura Bakufu]) Noriyori acted as reinforcements in the Kanto region and this is the first record of Noriyori, however because of the strength of the Oyama clan, the battle was over and Noriyori fought against the remnants. After this battle, Tomomitsu OYAMA and Noriyori moved from place to place to battle together during the Genpei War.

Substitution of Daishogun (the great general).

In January 1184, as a substitute for Yoritomo, he was assigned as Daishogun and led a large force into Kyoto, and fought at the Battle of Uji-gawa River with Yoshitsune who moved ahead to the west. Yoritomo got angry when he heard about internal fighting for the vanguard position happening at Sumimata watashi-Ferry in Owari Province. On January 20th, Noriyori led a large force heading to Seta and Yoshitsune led forces to the back gate and attacked their enemy in Uji. Although it is said that Yoshitsune devised this smart attack on his own, because Noriyori expanded his force and marched slowly, it would appear they made a plan to gather 500 strong soldiers led by Kanehira IMAI. If Noriyori had made a smart attack, too, he would have allowed Yoshinaka to escape from Kyoto to the west and lost a legitimate reason for a marching army, because there were not enough food supplies for 30,000 soldiers. After Yoshitsune succeeded with his smart attack at Kyoto, Yoshinaka and Kanehira IMAI planned to run away together to the Hokuriku District but this plan was predicted by Noriyori; they were pursued by soldiers arranged by Noriyori and Yoshinaka was defeated by the Takeda army. In "Heike Monogatari (the Tale of the Heike)", there was a scene in which Yoshitsune came to the Imperial Palace of Emperor Goshirakawa, introduced himself and said "Noriyori hasn't come yet" but in "Azuma kagami" Noriyori and Yoshitsune came to In no Gosho (Retirement Palace) together.

At the Battle of Ichinotani, which took place on February 5, 1184, MINAMOTO no Noriyori led an Ote army (an army that attacks from the front side) and marched toward his enemy (probably the main force of this army was 30,000 soldiers led by Noriyori at the battle of Uji-gawa River), at the same time, MINAMOTO no Yoshitsune led troops to the rear gate with 10,000 soldiers. Considering the difference of size in these forces, it would appear that there was a plan to pull the main force of enemy toward the Noriyori army. Against the Taira clan, who put their headquarters and set up strong defensive positions at Fukuhara, the Noriyori army conducted a frontal attack from the east side and heavy fighting took place at Ikuta no-mori Forest. During the battle, Yoshitsune marched to the west side and made a surprise attack, so they won the battle on February 7th and the Taira clan ran away by ship. Yoshitsune's popularity skyrocketed. However, it is not right to make light of the contributions made by Noriyori who led Kagetoki KAJIWARA who was famous for admonition and brave generals like Shigetada HATAKEYAMA and judge Noriyori as an ordinary general.

In March, Noriyori was placed on probation because of an uproarious fight while traveling to Kyoto, he continuously apologized for this and was forgiven at long last.

In June, he was appointed to the position of Mikawa no kami (the governor of Mikawa Province). This position was not nominal and he ruled the province as the superintendent until he fell from power in August 1193. Today there is a temple which was built under the name of Noriyori and this shows his strong political capacity. However, Yoritomo didn't give rewards to Yoshitsune who had many military exploits and continually hoped to get an appointment. Noriyori was satisfied because he got an appointment earlier than Yoshitsune. Therefore Yoshitsune was awarded the positions of Sa-emon-shoi (jr. lieutenant of the left division of outer palace guards) and kebiishi (officials with judicial and police powers), then Yoritomo got very angry about this and eliminated Yoshitsune from the army to hunt down and kill the Taira clan.

The Kyushu Conquest

In August Noriyori was ordered to march to the Kyushu region. One day before departure for the front, he was invited by Yoritomo for a feast and given a horse. A horse was very precious in this period and the horse was Yoritomo's favorite, this episode proves how important the expedition was. The aim of the expedition was to suppress Saigoku-gokenin who supported the Taira clan and who were opposed to Yoritomo and to isolate the Taira clan in the Setouchi region. The members were the main force of Yoritomo's army including Yoshitoki HOJO, Yoshikane ASHIKAGA, Tsunetane CHIBA, Yoshizumi MIURA, Tomomitsu OYAMA, Tadatsune NITA, Yoshikazu HIKI, Yoshimori WADA, Shoshin TOSANOBO, and Tokage AMANO.

During the battle at Fujito in Bizen Province, he won a narrow victory against TAIRA no Yukimori thanks to the contribution of Moritsuna SASAKI and arrived in Nagato Province, however he couldn't continue because the Taira clan controlled the Seto Inland Sea and the Noriyori army didn't have enough army provisions. Referring to this, Noriyori is given low evaluations for his ability in battle, however, this problem occurred because he had to leave for the front without solving problems regarding army provisions following Yoritomo's order. The reason for Yoritomo's order was to avoid food supply and security problems arising from the long stay of 30,000 soldiers in Kyoto. Noriyori wrote letters about the shortage of army provisions and horses and disharmony between bushos to Kamakura many times from Nagato in Suo Province in November and December. With the most careful attention, Yoritomo wrote back to Noriyori promising he would send food and ships to him and told him not to be hated by local samurais, to bring Emperor Antoku, TAIRA no Tokiko and the Three Sacred Treasures of the Imperial Family safely and to value samurais from the Kanto region. He especially referred to Emperor Antoku's safety many times.

On January 26, 1185, with support from Koreyoshi OGATA, a Gozoku (local ruling family) in Bugo Province, Noriyori was able to get army provisions and ships, convince Yoshimori WADA and other busho who wanted to go back to Kamakura even without permission and finally was able to go to Bungo from Suo Province. He won against Tanenao HARADA, a retainer of the Taira clan at the battle of Ashiyaura in February and isolated the Taira clan who built their last foothold at Hiko-jima Island in Nagato Province. This meant the virtual annihilation of the Taira clan's military power and they lost support and a place to escape to. Because of the Noriyori army, TAIRA no Tomomori, the head of the Taira clan couldn't join the battle of Yashima and stayed in Nagato Province.

In February, Yoshitsune was ordered to join the battle of Yashima and won. In Noriyori's letter to Yoritomo to appeal his plight, he explained about a rumor that Tanzo of the Kumano suigun Navy who was taken by Yoshitsune, in charge of the Shikoku region, would come to the Kyushu region, and complained of losing his prestige.

On March 24th, he destroyed the Taira clan at the battle of Danno-ura.

After the war

After the battle of Danno-ura, Noriyori was ordered to stay in Kyushu to search for the Amano Murakumo no Tsurugi Sword and to deal with the remaining power of the Taira clan and territory. In May he was ordered by Yoritomo that he shouldn't punish his subordinates on his own even if they have problems, and that he should wait for Yoritomo's judgement. At the time in Kamakura, Yoritomo became irritated about Yoshitsune who was acting arbitrarily and ignoring orders, in comparison Noriyori was always following Yoritomo's orders and consulting with Tsunetane CHIBA and Yoshimori WADA who was acting as bugyo (magistrate), while Noriyori was staying in Kyushu, the relationship between Yoritomo and Yoshitsune became worse.

In September, he wrote to Yoritomo to tell of his return and to report that his arrival would be delayed because of stormy seas. These many reports from Noriyori were appraised as evidence of his loyalty to Yoritomo, but Yoshitsune, on the other hand, was considered to be the opposite of Noriyori. In October, Noriyori returned to Kamakura and attended rakkei kuyo (a dedication ceremony) at Shochoju-in Temple for his father Yoshitomo together with the families of the Minamotono clan.

In November of the same year, Yoshitsune ran away from Kyoto to Oshu (Northern Honshu, the region encompassing Mutsu and Dewa provinces), and then was attacked by FUJIWARA no Yasuhira's army and committed suicide on April 30, 1189.

In July 1189, Noriyori followed Yoritomo and departed for the battle of Oshu to destroy the Oshu-Fujiwara clan. Noriyori joined a lot of battles during the Genpei War but the battle of Oshu was the last battle for him.

In 1190 Yoritomo went to Kyoto and Noriyori followed him and served as a zenku (outrider) at the ceremony at which Yoritomo was awarded Dainagon (Major Counselor).

On May 28, 1193, the Soga brothers plotted revenge and Noriyori received a report that Yoritomo was killed, then Noriyori said to Masako Hojo who mourned the death "Don't worry, I 'll take over leading position after Yoritomo". This caused Yoritomo's suspicion of Noriyori's rebellion against him.
(However, this remark was only written in "Horyakukanki" [A History Book of the 14th century in Japan] and his kishomon [sworn oath] was submitted two months after the incident of the Soga brothers, so this story could be a lie or even a dark plot by Masako.)

On August 2, Noriyori sent a kishomon to Yoritomo to swear his allegiance. Yoritomo didn't forgive Noriyori and insisted on the fact that naming himself as MINAMOTO no Noriyori using the Minamoto Family name in the letter was unmerited, and Noriyori was dismayed after he heard this. On the 10th, Taro TOMA, a retainer of Noriyori hid under the floor of Yoritomo's sleeping room. Yoritomo noticed this and let Tomomitsu YUKI arrest Toma and examined him closely, so Toma said "Sanshu (Noriyori) is in deep lamentation because he didn't get an answer after he submitted a kishomon so I came here to survey the current situation." He concluded that "this was not a dark plot". Then Yoritomo questioned Noriyori and Noriyori expressed his preparedness. Yoritomo confirmed his suspicion and exiled Noriyori to Izu Province on the 17th (written in "Azuma Kagami").

On August 17, he was confined in Shuzen-ji Temple in Izu Province. There was no description about Noriyori in "Azuma Kagami" but according to "horyakukanki" and "hojo kudai-ki" (a history book of Kamakura bakufu) he was murdered.

On August 18, because Noriyori's kenin (retainers) acted suspiciously in their residence, Tomomitsu YUKI and Tadatsune NITA suppressed them, then on the 20th a paternal half-brother of SOGA no Sukenari, Kyo no Kojiro was murdered as Noriyori's enza (to be guilty for the relative's crime) ("Azuma Kagami").


There is a different theory about Noriyori's death, according to this Noriyori didn't die at Syuzen-ji Temple and instead ran away to Echizen Province and lived there until the end of his life or Noriyori lived and hid in Anraku-ji Temple (Yoshimi-machi) in Yoshimi, Yokomi-gun, Musashi Province (present-day Yoshimi-machi, Hiki-gun, Saitama Prefecture). Today nearby spots of Yoshimi Kannon are named Yoshimi-machi oaza gosho and it is said the name was associated with Noriyori. According to "Sonpi Bunmyaku (a text compiled in the fourteenth century that records the lineages of the aristocracy)" and "Yoshimi Keizu (literally, the genealogy of the Yoshimi clan)", Noriyori's posterity lived on as the Yoshimi clan. Today there are families which claim they are a descendant of Noriyori.

In addition, according to another legend in Ishito-juku, Adachi-gun, the Province of Musashi (present-day Ishito-juku Kitamoto City, Saitama Prefecture), Noriyori wasn't killed and ran away to Ishito. The sakura tree called Kaba sakura was designated as a natural treasure and one of the five major sakura trees in Japan.

Personal Profile

About Noriyori's personality, he was often described as a gentle person in many novels, but according to "Azuma Kagami" Noriyori scuffled with gokenin, liked battles and was not such a gentle person. Noriyori was described as an ordinary, incapable general in "Genpei Seisui ki (Rise and Fall of the Minamoto and the Taira clans)" but there is doubt on the objectivity of "Genpei Seisui ki" because it was written in the 14th century and contains a lot of fiction. About the period when Noriyori was forced to stop because of army provisions shortage, "The Tale of the Heike" describes it as if Noriyori stayed there to play with yujo (prostitutes) and neglected his duties, in addition to this according to "The Tale of the Heike" only Yoshitsune came to gosho of Cloistered Emperor Goshirakawa, so this seems to overrate Yoshitsune's Bukun (deeds of arms) by making light of Noriyori's activities.

[Original Japanese]