Minamoto no Yorimasa (源頼政)

MINAMOTO no Yorimasa was a busho (Japanese military commander) and a poet in the late period of the Heian era. He was the first son of MINAMOTO no Nakamasa of the Settsu-Genji (Minamoto clan). Amid the political domination by the Taira family, he was granted Jusanmi (Junior Third Rank), the highest ever granted to anybody in the Seiwa-Genji (Minamoto clan), with the highest rank before him being Shoshiinoge (Senior Fourth Rank, Lower Grade); thus, he was called Gen-zanmi. Like his father, Yorimasa also used 'Baba' as his nickname; hence he was also known as BABA no Yorimasa.

Yorimasa took sides with the winners in the Hogen and Heiji Disturbances, and after the wars, he stayed active in the national political arena as a patriarch of the Minamoto clan under the Taira administration. He won the trust of TAIRA no Kiyomori, and in his later life he was promoted to Jusanmi; this was unprecedented for samurai. Amid growing complaints about the Taira tyranny, Yorimasa planned to take up arms against the Taira family in conjunction with Prince Mochihito and conveyed the Prince's message to topple the Taira's administration to all the Minamoto clan samurai throughout the whole country. As the plan was exposed to the Taira clan, the insurgent group had to raise an army without sufficient preparations; Yorimasa was hunted by the Taira clan and killed himself in the war of Uji Byodoin Temple.
(Prince Mochihito raising the army)


Ouchi Shugo
Yorimasa was a member of the Settsu-Genji family in the line of MINAMOTO no Yorimitsu with his feuds in provinces around Kinai (the area near Kyoto); he was a Kyo-samurai who had a position in the central government and did political activities in the Imperial Court and around the Sekkan regent families. He had a fief at Watanabe, Settsu Province (today's Chuo Ward, Osaka City); Yorimasa took the role of Ouchi Shugo, which is equivalent to the guardsman of the Imperial Court, and used as retainers the samurai of the Watanabe clan of the Saga-Genji (Minamoto clan), who served as Takiguchi no musha, or samurai guards of the Imperial Residence. Yorimitsu had many acquaintances among court nobles and was a famous waka poet; his offspring were also good at making waka poems. Yorimasa has also been remembered in history as an excellent waka poet.

TAIRA no Masamori and TAIRA no Tadamori of the Ise-Heishi (Taira clan), who had a connection with Insei, or the administration of the Retired Emperor, in the days of Yorimasa's father Nakamasa, gradually increased their power; the Kawachi-Genji (Minamoto clan) (the family line of MINAMOTO no Yorinobu, brother of Yorimitsu), who had begun to increase power through their connection with the Sekkan regent families, repeated internal strife among themselves and eventually decreased their power. Nakamasa served Emperor Shirakawa and Emperor Toba and won their trust. He was an excellent waka poet, and his poems were compiled in his anthology "Ho-oku-shu", only part of which has survived today.

Although there was no sufficient historical evidence about Yorimasa in his youth, it was recorded that he went to Shimosa Province together with his father Nakamasa when Nakamasa was assigned to govern that province. He inherited his family estate from his father in the Hoen period (1135 to 1140), was granted Jugoinoge (Junior Fifth Rank, Lower Grade) and was appointed as Kurodo (Chamberlain) in 1136. Yorimasa served the retired Emperor Toba and had connections with Bifukumon-in, wife of the retired Emperor, and FUJIWARA no Ienari, a close aides to the retired Emperor.

Hogen and Heiji Disturbances
At the late period of the government by a Cloistered Emperor Toba, Emperor Goshirakawa and the Retired Emperor Sutoku conflicted with each other; when the Cloistered Emperor Toba was in a grave condition, one of the samurai he gave to Bifukumon-in to rely upon was Yorimasa. In those days, Yorimasa was more on the side of Bifukumon-in. After the demise of the Cloistered Emperor Toba, Hogen Disturbance took place in 1156, and Yorimasa took sides with the Emperor supported by Bifukumon-in and successfully remained on the winner's side. The Kawachi-Genji suffered devastating damage; MINAMOTO no Tameyoshi and his son and heir MINAMOTO no Yoshitomo broke up, and Tameyoshi and many of his children were executed. The damage done to the Settsu-Genji was the execution of MINAMOTO no Yorinori, a son of a cousin of Yorimasa.

In 1157, an incident occurred in which MINAMOTO no Yoriyuki, a brother of Yorimasa, was suddenly accused, banished and committed suicide. Yorimasa adopted MINAMOTO no Muneyori, MINAMOTO no Masatsuna and MINAMOTO no Kanetsuna, who were children of Yoriyuki. He also adopted MINAMOTO no Nakaie (elder brother of MINAMOTO no Yoshinaka), son of MINAMOTO no Yoshikata who was killed in action in a battle against MINAMOTO no Yoshihira, son and heir of Yoshitomo, in the Kanto region before Hogen Disturbance; the reason for his adoption was unknown. Yorimasa was allowed to enter the Court of the Cloistered Emperor in 1158.

After Hogen Disturbance, the Cloistered Emperor Goshirakawa abdicated to his son, Emperor Nijo, and started his cloistered government. The Retired Emperor Goshirakawa, who was enthroned as a makeshift emperor until Emperor Nijo, was not powerful enough as the leader of a Retired Emperor's administration, and the power of the Sekkan-regent families was almost lost as a result of Hogen Disturbance. The political scene was also seriously disorganized because of the emerging powers of two factions--the Retired Emperor supporters and the incumbent Emperor supporters. Amid such a political dilemma, FUJIWARA no Nobuyori had ties with the Emperor supporters and they staged a coup d'etat during the visit of Kiyomori, who maintained the largest military power in Kyoto, to Kumano for prayer at Shinto shrines, killing FUJIWARA no Shinzai and seizing the reigns of government (Heiji Disturbance) in January 1160 (December 1159 in old lunar calendar). Yorimasa decided to take sides with Nobuyori on a tentative basis as he had an obligation to support Emperor Nijo out of his support of Bifukumon-in due to his service as Ouchi Shugo. But the Emperor's supporters came to conflict with Nobuyori, allowed Emperor Nijo to escape from the Imperial Residence in the Imperial Palace, and had him settled at their base at Rokuhara, Kyoto. This event indicated the loss of Yorimasa's loyalty to Nobuyori as his position was on the side with Emperor Nijo and Bifukumon-in.

On February 13, 1160 (December 27, 1159, in old lunar calendar), the decisive battle was fought between Kiyomori and Yoshitomo; Yorimasa, who found no meaning in following Nobuyori, ultimately took sides with Kiyomori who supported the Emperor.

Likewise, MINAMOTO no Mitsuyasu, who originally joined Nobuyori for his position as a retainer to Emperor Nijo, took sides with Kiyomori. Yoshitomo, who never left Nobuyori until the end, was killed in the battle, which marked the end of the Kawachi-Genji from the political scene.

Patriarch of the Minamoto clan in the Taira administration
Yorimasa stayed in the central political scene under the Taira administration and stayed a powerful patriarch of the Minamoto clan. In 1167, he was promoted to Jushiinoge (Junior Fourth Rank, Lower Grade). Together with his son and heir Nakatsuna, he served three emperors, Nijo, Rokujo and Takakura; he also supported the Cloistered Emperor Goshirakawa with his military force. In 1177, when the monks of Enryaku-ji Temple, who antagonized Saiko, a close aide to the Retired Emperor, thronged to the Imperial Palace for goso (forceful petition), he deployed his forces together with TAIRA no Shigemori to protect the Palace.

Also known as an excellent waka poet, Yorimasa was actively engaged in waka poetry and other cultural activities, 'Gen-zanmi Yorimasa-shu' is an anthology of his poems. There was an increasing number of poems made in his later life that tell his complaints about his rank. His rank was Shoshiinoge, but a court noble is called kugyo only when he is in the rank of Jusanmi or higher; thus, there was a big gap between Jusanmi and Shoshii. Over 70 years of age, Yorimasa strongly wanted to be promoted to Jusanmi to prove the honor of his family. In 1178, he finally had his wish come true when he was promoted to Jusanmi at the recommendation of Kiyomori.

According to the "Heike Monogatari " (The Tale of the Heike), Kiyomori was totally forgetful of the rank of Yorimasa; Yorimasa, trying to put Kiyomori in mind that he kept the rank of Shoshii for so many years, composed the following waka poem:

'There is no chance for me to climb the tree. Then, I just crawl around the tree and pick up the sweet acorns. (The sweet acorn pronounced as "shii" in Japanese has the same sound of "shii" in "shoshii.")

Kiyomori was then reminded that Yorimasa was long kept in the rank of Shoshii and decided to promote him to Jusanmi.

Even in the actual historical record, his promotion to Jusanmi was so unprecedented that Kanezane KUJO recorded this as 'the most unusual occurrence' in his journal "Gyokuyo." Kiyomori trusted Yorimasa and finally honored his long-term loyalty. Yorimasa was 74 years old when he got his wish.

In December of the following year, 1179, Yorimasa entered priesthood and officially had his son and heir Nakatsuna succeed the family.

Prince Mochihito raising arms
In those days, there was an antagonistic feeling between the Taira administration and the Goshirakawa administration. In 1177, the Conspiracy of Shishigatani occurred, and the involvement of the Cloistered Emperor was suspected. In December 1179, Kiyomori, at odds with the Cloistered Emperor, brought his army from Fukuhara-kyo to Kyoto, staged a coup, suspended the cloistered administration, and incarcerated the Cloistered Emperor (Coup of the Third Year of Jisho). In March 1180, Kiyomori forced Emperor Takakura to abdicate the throne and enthroned a three-year-old son born between Emperor Takakura and Kiyomori's daughter TAIRA no Tokuko as Emperor Antoku.

It was Prince Mochihito (also known as Takakura-no-miya or Sanjo-no-miya), the third son of Cloistered Emperor Goshirakawa that did not willingly accept Kiyomori's action. He became an adopted son of Hachijoin Akiko, sister of the Cloistered Emperor, as the only hope for his possible route to the Imperial throne, but Emperor Antoku's ascension to the throne completely extinguished his hope. Yorimasa schemed a plan to raise an army to topple the Taira administration in cooperation with Prince Mochihito.

According to the "Heike Monogatari," Yorimasa decided to stand against Kiyomori because TAIRA no Munemori, third son of Kiyomori, severely insulted Yorimasa on a matter related to a horse of Nakatsuna; Yorimasa decided to raise an army against the Taira clan out of the pride of samurai and visited Prince Mochihito's residence during the night to encourage him to stand up against Kiyomori. Another theory says that Yorimasa, who served Emperor Konoe and Emperor Nijo, both in the blood line of the Retired Emperor Toba, as Ouchi Shugo, the role his family had served for generations, did not willingly accept Emperor Takakura and Emperor Antoku, who were different from the former blood line, and felt opposed to them.

In May of the same year, Yorimasa and Prince Mochihito prepared a message to all the Minamoto clan samurai as well as main temples and shrines throughout the whole country to call for a battle against the Taira clan. But already in June, their insurgence plan was exposed to the Taira clan, who then ordered Kebiishi-cho (Imperial police force) to arrest Prince Mochihito, but the fact that the dispatched force included Kanetsuna, adopted son of Yorimasa, indicates that the Taira clan did not notice Yorimasa's involvement in the insurgence yet. Prince Mochihito escaped to Onjo-ji Temple to seek shelter. On June 22, the Taira clan attacked Onjo-ji Temple, and the attack team also included Yorimasa. On the night of that day, Yorimasa burned his residence and entered Onjo-ji Temple together with his family members including Nakatsuna and Kanetsuna to join the force of Prince Mochihito. They clearly disclosed their intention to stand against the Taira clan.

Their insurgent plan envisioned that Enryaku-ji Temple and Kofuku-ji Temple would also join them in addition to Onjo-ji Temple, but the Taira clan appeased Enryaku-ji Temple into taking a neutral stance. On the night of the 26th, as the insurgent forces felt danger even at Onjo-ji Temple, Yorimasa headed for Kofuku-ji Temple in Nanto (Nara) together with Prince Mochihito, but the prince fell off from the horse out of fatigue during a retreat in the night, and they stopped at Uji Byodoin Temple to rest on their way. They were then attacked by the Taira clan's army.

On the 27th, the battle began, and Yorimasa's army dropped deck plates of the Uji-bashi Bridge for opposition, but they failed to prevent the Taira forces from crossing the Uji-gawa River. Yorimasa and his forces barricaded themselves in Byodoin Temple to oppose the attacking forces in order to let Prince Mochihito flee, but the Taira forces far outnumbered Yorimasa's, with his son Nakatsuna as well as Munetsuna and Kanetsuna being killed in action or having committed suicide one after another; Yorimasa finally committed suicide with WATANABE no Tonau serving as his suicide assistance. His age at death is 77.

Although Prince Mochihito fled from Byodoin Temple, the Taira forces caught up and finally killed him. The insurgence of Yorimasa and Prince Mochihito failed, but the message of the prince had so great repercussions that MINAMOTO no Yoritomo, MINAMOTO no Yoshinaka, and other Minamoto clan families as well as major temples rose in revolt, which led to Jisho-Juei War and ultimately ended up with the destruction of the Taira clan.

MINAMOTO no Hirotsuna, the youngest son of Yorimasa, and MINAMOTO no Aritsuna and MINAMOTO no Naritsuna, children of Nakatsuna, survived the series of clashes because they were in the Izu Province, their chigyo-koku (provincial fiefdom), and joined the army of MINAMOTO no Yoritomo who stood up against the Taira clan in Izu.

Chronology of government posts and ranks
Dates follow the lunar calendar. On April 17, 1136, he was assigned to Kurodo. On June 13, he was granted the court rank of Jugoinoge.

In March 1153, he was allowed to enter the palace of Bifukumon-in.

On October 22, 1155, he was appointed as Hyogo no kami (Head of Hyogo).

On October 2, 1158, he was allowed Nai-shoden (to be admitted to the inner Court).

On January 28, 1159, he was promoted to Jugoinojo (Junior Fifth Rank, Upper Grade). He retained his position as Hyogo no kami. On December 10, 1159, he was assigned to Izu no kami (Governor of Izu Province), when the name of era was changed to Heiji. (No date is known when he resigned from the service of Izu no kami.

On October 21, 1166, he was promoted to Shogoinoge (Senior Fifth Rank, Lower Grade). He was resigned from the service of Hyogo no kami.

On January 30, 1167, he was promoted to Jushiinoge.

On November 20, 1168, he was promoted to Jushiijo (Junior Fourth Rank, Upper Grade).

On January 14, 1170, he was appointed as Ukyo Gon no daibu (Provisional Master of the Western Capital Offices).

On December 9, 1171, he was promoted to Shoshiinoge. He retained his position as Ukyo Gon no daibu.

On January 19, 1173, he was appointed as Bingo gon no kami (provisional governor of Bingo Province).

On February 5, 1175, he was resigned from Ukyo Gon no daibu and Bingo gon no kami.

On December 24, 1178, he was promoted to Jusanmi.

On November 28, 1179, he became a priest.

On May 26, 1180, he passed away. His posthumous Buddhist name was Renge-ji Kenpo Sawayama Yorikuni.


One of the tales recorded in the classic epic, "Heike Monogatari" is about his extermination of a monster called nue.

This legend said that something unknown haunted Emperor Konoe every night and sickened him.

It was believed that in the past MINAMOTO no Yoshiie, leader of the Minamoto clan, came to the Imperial Palace to pray for healing of the Emperor's illness.
And he shouted, 'Mutsu no kami (the governor of Mutsu Province), MINAMOTO no Yoshiie.'
Then he plucked the string of the bow three times, and that cured the disease, and the condition of the Emperor rapidly improved.

The entourage of Emperor Konoe decided to have samurai stand guard for the Emperor again, and MINAMOTO no Yorimasa, also a member of the Minamoto clan and known for his valor, was chosen. One night, Yorimasa was patrolling the garden of the Palace and saw black cloud spring up from the Ushi-tora direction (northeast) and a monster called 'nue' emerged from the cloud, which had the head of a monkey, the abdomen of a raccoon dog, the limbs of a tiger, and the tail of a snake. Yorimasa shot the nue with an arrow, and his retainer, I no Hayata, who ran to join him, killed the monster with his sword. Then Yorimasa cut the body of nue into pieces, put each piece on a bamboo leaf ship and flew them away into the sea, according to the legend.


His tomb is located at Byodoin Temple, Uji City, Kyoto Prefecture.

There is a legend that one of Yorimasa's retainers I no Hayata brought the head of Yorimasa after his suicide to Yamagata-gun, Mino Province, where Yorimasa's uncle MINAMOTO no Kuninao had his fief, and buried it at Renge-ji Temple, Seki City, Gifu Prefecture. Yorimasa-jinja Shrine is also where his burial mound is located (the venue of another legend on the mound where his head was buried); it is traditionally believed that Yorimasa's vassal of the Shimokobe clan enshrined their master. There is also another burial mound called Yorimasa Zuka at Nishitsutsujigaoka-cho, Kameoka City.

Shinto shrines dedicated to Yorimasa as a Shinto deity include Toyoki-jinja Shrine, Toyohashi City, Aichi Prefecture, where MINAMOTO no Yorimasa is enshrined as the ancestor of the Okochi clan.


It is widely known that while Yorimasa's uncle family inherited Tada-no-sho, the base of the Settsu-Genji, he had as his base an area near Watanabe, Settsu Province (the area near today's Osaka City, Osaka Prefecture). The Watanabe Party, who was a united samurai group in that area, served Yorimasa as his major retainer group. It is also known that the Shimokobe clan, who developed Shimokobe-no-sho in the Hachijo-in Manor, in the Province of Shimosa, also served Yorimasa as his retainer.

Regarding his relationship with Shimokobe clan, which is defined as a group of samurai in the eastern part of Japan, it is believed that the master-retainer relationship was established in the background of the establishment of Shimokobe-no-sho after Yorimasa went to the Shimosa Province together with his father Nakamasa who was appointed as Shimosa no kami (Governor of Shimosa Province).


One of Yorimasa's daughters, Nijoin no Sanuki, is known as a waka poet.

Descendants of his youngest son MINAMOTO no Hirotsuna include Dokan OTA and the Ota family. Descendants of the Ota clan include Sukeie OTA, a nephew of Dokan, who served the Ogigayatsu-Uesugi clan, and his son Sukeyori OTA. Sukeyori's children include Sukeaki OTA and Sukemasa OTA. Sukemasa's son and hair is Ujisuke OTA, and his second son is Masakage KAJIWARA. Descendants of the Ota clan include Sukemoto OTA, who became a Roju (the highest ranking government official) of the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun), and Seizaemon OTA, a chief retainer of the Mito clan.

The eldest son's descendants (son and heir of MINAMOTO no Nakatsuna, son and heir of Yorimasa) include the Shimotsuma clan. The Shimotsuma clan served Hongan-ji Temple as main retainers and played a core role in Ikko sect's revolt in the Sengoku period (period of warring states) (Japan); later in the Edo Period, Shigetoshi IKEDA, one of the descendants of the Shimotsuna clan, was awarded a ten-thousand goku (enfeoffment) as a daimyo or feudal lord.

Akitsuna, son of Yorimasa's adopted son MINAMOTO no Kanetsuna, came to use the clan name Okochi; Nobutsuna MATSUDAIRA was an outstanding offspring of the clan; he had the nickname Chie-Izu (wisdom of Izu) for his brilliancy, during the Edo period.

One of Yorimasa's grandchildren is Naritsuna OIKAWA (also known as. Izu-kanja Naritsuna or Saemon-no-jo Moritsuna, who is a younger brother of MINAMOTO no Munetsuna and MINAMOTO no Aritsuna); it is known that Naritsuna owned Oikawa-no-sho Manor in Kizaki-gun, Tajima Province, and started to use the name Oikawa clan.

War lord brothers Kazutoki INOKO and Hyosuke INOKO in the Sengoku period (Japan) claimed they were descendants of Yorimasa.

The Baba clan, which produced Nobuharu BABA, one of the four wise retainers of Takeda, under the feudal lord Shingen TAKEDA of Kai Province, today's Yamanashi Prefecture, is also said to have come from Yorimasa.

[Original Japanese]