Minamoto no Yoshinaka (源義仲)

MINAMOTO no Yoshinaka was a warlord of Shinano Genji clan in the late Heian Period. His popular name was Jiro KISO. He was also known as Yoshinaka KISO. He was called "Asahi Shogun". He was from the Seiwa Genji clan and a descendant of the Kawachi Genji clan. His father was MINAMOTO no Yoshikata. MINAMOTO no Yoritomo and MINAMOTO no Yoshitsune were his cousins. His childhood name was Komaomaru.

By Prince Mochihito's order he raised an army, named [Mochihito's] bereaved son Prince Hokuriku who ran away from the capital and supported him; he reached Kyoto after defeating a vast force of the Heike clan at the Battle of Kurikara-toge. Although he was expected to restore order in the capital that had been devastated by the long years of famine and Heike clan's violence he came to be on bad terms with Monk-Emperor Go-Shirakawa because of his failure to restore order, worsening food situation caused by the vast army staying in the capital and his intervention in the succession of the Imperial Throne. At the Siege of Hojujidono Temple he incarcerated the Monk-Emperor and Emperor Go-Toba and became Seii Taishogun (currently, it is widely believed to be Seito Taishogun), but 10 days later he was defeated at Awazu in Omi Province by the troops of MINAMOTO no Yoshitsune sent by MINAMOTO no Yoritomo.

Early Life

When his grandfather MINAMOTO no Tameyoshi and his uncle MINAMOTO no Yoshitomo were each other's enemies, MINAMOTO no Yoshikata received an order from his father, Tameyoshi, to go to Kanto from his family's base in Kyoto; Yoshinaka was born in Okura Yakata mansion in Musashi Province (present-day Ranzan-machi, Hiki-gun, Saitama Prefecture) as the second son of Yoshitaka. During the conflict between his uncle Yoshitomo and his father Yoshikata in Kanto who sided with MINAMOTO no Tameyoshi, Yoshitaka was defeated by his nephew Yoshihira; with the help of Shigeyoshi HATAKEYAMA and Sanemori SAITO young Yoshinaka evacuated to Shinano Province (Nagano Prefecture) after his father's defeat, grew up under the wing of Kaneto NAKAHARA, the powerful clan in Kisodani, and went by his popular name of "Jiro KISO."

Raising an Army and Going to Kyoto

In 1180, Prince Mochihito (Prince Takakura, Prince Sanjo), a son of Emperor Go-Shirakawa who was against TAIRA no Kiyomori, issued an order nationwide, and Yoshinaka's uncle MINAMOTO no Yukiie urged to raise armies across the nation. Yoshinaka's older brother MINAMOTO no Nakaie was adopted by MINAMOTO no Yorimasa of the Settsu Genji clan and held the position of Hachijo Kurodo; he joined the army of Prince Mochihito in May and died in Uji together with Yorimasa. On September 7th of the same year, Yoshinaka also raised an army in response to the order (Battle of Ichihara). In June of the following year, 1181, he defeated Sukemoto JO who invaded from Echigo Province at the Battle at Yokotagawara; he advanced to Kozuke Province (Gunma Prefecture) at one point, but proceeded to Hokuriku-do without joining MINAMOTO no Yoritomo who raised an army in Kanto area. Prince Mochihito's son evacuated to Hokuriku, and supporting him as Prince Hokuriku [Yoshinaka] declared his continued support of Prince Mochihito's army in 1182 and took control of Hokuriku, which was an important food source for the capital.

In February 1183, MINAMOTO no Yoshihiro (Saburo Senjo SHIDA), who fought against and was defeated by Yoritomo, and MINAMOTO no Yukiie, who was ousted by Yoritomo, came to Yoshinaka for protection; because of this Yoritomo and Yoshinaka almost had a clash. Both Yoshihiro and Yukiie were Yoshinaka's uncles and associated with Princess Akiko whom Yoshinaka's older brother served. In " Tale of the Heike" and "Genpei Josuiki" Nobumitsu TAKEDA tried to marry off his daughter to Yoshinaka's heir MINAMOTO no Yoshitaka (Shimizu no Kanja), and in revenge for being rejected he made a false accusation that Yoshinaka was trying to defeat Yoritomo by siding with the Heishi clan. In March, the conflict between the two sides was temporarily settled by sending his heir Yoshitaka to Kamakura (Shimizu no Kanja) as a hostage. At Battle of Kurikara-toge at Mt. Tonami in Ecchu Province (from Oyabe City, Toyama Prefecture to Tsubata-machi, Kahoku-gun, Ishikawa Prefecture) Yoshinaka's army defeated a vast force of the Heishi clan, estimated to be a hundred thousand soldiers, led by TAIRA no Koremori; encouraged by this victory Yoshinaka's army rallied warriors en route and advanced toward Kyoto in full force. The rumor that Yoshinaka reached Mt. Hiei spread on July 22nd; the Heishi clan left the capital on the 25th with Emperor Antoku under their protection and fled to the West. Monk-Emperor Go-Shirakawa went to Mt. Hiei, hiding from the Heishi clan who tried to take him with them to the West.

Entering the Capital
On July 27th, Monk-Emperor Go-Shirakawa returned to the capital guarded by Yoshitaka of Nishikibe no Kanja, a son of Yoshitsune YAMAMOTO who belonged to Yoshinaka's army. In "Tale of the Heike", he described his emotion as "The white flag of the Genji clan enters the capital today for the first time in more than two decades". Yoshinaka entered the capital on the 28th, the following day, and went to see Monk-Emperor Go-Shirakawa at his palace together with Yukiie; they were ordered to search and destroy the Heishi clan. These two were on a par and competed with each other for their ranks. The Monk-Emperor considered that Yoritomo had the highest degree of distinguished service, Yoshinaka the second and Yoshiie the third; he consistently positioned Yoshinaka secondary to Yoritomo and he suppressed Yoshinaka by sending a messenger to persuade Yoritomo to come to Kyoto. On August 6th, more than 60 members of the Heike clan were expelled from government posts, and on the 11th, Monk-Emperor Go-Shirakawa appointed Yoshinaka as Samanokami and Echigo Kokushu with a rank of Ju Goi-ge, and Yukiie as Bingo Kokushu with a rank of Ju Goi-ge. In "Tale of the Heike" it is said that Yoshinaka won the title of Asahi no Shogun then, and since Yoshinaka and Yukiie did not like the fact they shared their assigned territory with each other Yoshinaka was transferred to Iyo Kokushu, land related with Genji head family, and Yukiie was transferred to Bizen Kokushu; however, it was only Yukiie who showed his dissatisfaction at the difference between him and Yoshinaka, and there is no record of Yoshinaka's dissatisfaction ("Gyokuyo" Entry of August 11).

On August 14th, Yoshinaka intervened on the enthronement of the new emperor by claiming that this great achievement was due to Prince Hokuriku whom he backed up; he insisted the Imperial Court to enthrone the Prince as the emperor. However, an opinion of a mere warrior like Yoshinaka could not be accepted, and in order to restrain Yoshinaka a few divinatory readings were performed; as a result the Imperial Court enthroned Shinomiya (Emperor Go-Toba), a son of Emperor Takakura and a brother of Emperor Antoku. Since around that time, Monk-Emperor Go-Shirakawa and the aristocracy who valued tradition and formality began to dislike Yoshinaka, regarding him as a "barbarian" who had no knowledge and education. Unlike the Heike clan or Yoritomo who had spent his childhood in Kyoto Yoshinaka grew up in a mountain village and had no chance to encounter those things.

It is also said that Yoshinaka failed to restore order in Kyoto. Since a vast army of warriors worn out by the military expedition stayed in Kyoto where food was extremely in short supply due to years of famine, depredations by the expeditionary force were widespread in and around the capital. Although Yoshinaka assigned major warriors to various positions to guard the capital as soon as he arrived in Kyoto he could not control the entire army; this was because Yoshinaka happened to be the most powerful one among his army which was just a patchwork of warriors who rose in revolt in various places. Monk-Emperor Go-Shirakawa often ordered Yoshinaka to search and destroy the Heishi clan who had fled to the West in order to get rid of him from Kyoto. The Monk-Emperor urged Yoshinaka to mobilize his army by giving him a sword personally so that Yoshinaka could not disobey; he left his right hand-man Kanemitsu HIGUCHI in Kyoto in order to keep an eye on Monk-Emperor Go-Shirakawa and set off to Harima Province on September 20th in order to search and destroy the Heishi clan.

Attacking the Monk-Emperor
However, because the Kiso Genji army was not used to naval battles and it suffered an utter defeat by the Heishi Suigun Navy at the Battle of Mizushima in Bicchu Province (Kurashiki City, Okayama Prefecture). Yoshinaka's army fled and went back to Kyoto on intercalary October 15th. While Yoshinaka was away fighting the battle, the Imperial Court continually urged Yoritomo to come to Kyoto, but Yoritomo rejected the invitation; Yoritomo got the Imperial Court to agree to the recognition of his reign over Eastern Japan in exchange of paying annual land taxes [to the Imperial Court] from Eastern Japan (Emperor's order in October 1183); Yoshinaka protested to this when he came back to the capital. Yoshinaka, afraid of Yoritomo's menace, tried to get the Monk-Emperor's decree to search and destroy Yoritomo and also tried to go to the North with the Monk-Emperor in response to the Heishi clan's regaining strength, but all requests were rejected. Yukiie, who was on bad terms with Yoshinaka, went to Harima Province on November 8th to search and destroy the Heishi clan, but after his immediate defeat he went into hiding and did not return to the capital.

The Monk-Emperor no longer had the intention to accept Yoshinaka, and in order to counter Yoshinaka he gathered monk warriors and Ishinage homeless wanderers by getting cooperation from Mt. Hiei and Onjo-ji Temple and had them build trenches and barriers to arm Hoju-ji Temple. Some people including the Omi Genji clan and the Settsu Genji clan belonging to Yoshinaka's camp started to take sides with the Monk-Emperor, and his camp surpassed Yoshinaka's camp in number. Kanezane KUJO consistently criticized the Monk-Emperor's conduct to provoke Yoshinaka as below; "There is no way that Yoshinaka will immediately jeopardize the nation. It is just a foolish policy that the Monk-Emperor arms the castle, rallies warriors, and upsets the public.
Isn't this a plan of a petty person?"
"All he does is to oppose Yoshinaka. It is quite ungraceful. It is not a kingly doing." The Monk-Emperor issued Yoshinaka an order to search and destroy the Heishi clan on November 7th and ordered him to leave Kyoto; Yoshinaka, watching out for Yoritomo's movement, could not accept this. "I have no intention to stand against the Monk-Emperor", Yoshinaka conducted himself properly.

However, again, on November 17th, the Monk-Emperor demanded Yoshinaka to leave Kyoto and warned him that a "search-and-destroy decree" [for Yoshinaka] would be issued if he did not accept. On the 18th, Emperor Go-Toba visited Hojujidono Temple; the nobles were also gathered and the decree for searching and destroying Yoshinaka was about to be issued. On the 19th, Yoshinaka, finally boiling over, attacked and set fire on Hojujidono Temple and killed more than a hundred people including the Tendaizasu Myoun and Monk-Prince Enkei, a son of Monk-Emperor Go-Shirakawa, who were actively involved in the Monk-Emperor's induction; while naked court ladies were running away he incarcerated the Monk-Emperor and Emperor Go-Toba in the Sessho's house in Gojo Higashi no Toin and raised a cry of triumph for capturing power.
It is said that Yoshinaka tossed the head of Myoun, the monk of the highest rank in Tendai Shu, into the river, saying "Who cares about such a man?" ("Gukansho")
Though the description that Yoshinaka forcibly married FUJIWARA no Ishi, a daughter of FUJIWARA no Motofusa (former Kampaku), in "Tale of the Heike" is not found in historical materials, it might have happened because Yoshinaka had close contacts with Motofusa on November 21st and 22nd. On November 28th, he dismissed 44 nobles who took sides with the Monk-Emperor. On December 1st, he became Mimaya betto for the Monk-Emperor, and on December 22nd, he had Moroie MATSUDONO, a son of Motofusa and only 12 years old, appointed as Naidaijin Sessho. On December 15th, he forced the Monk-Emperor to issue a decree for searching and destroying Yoritomo in Kamakura.

Last Moment
On January 6th, 1184, Yoshinaka had a great deal of fear upon hearing a rumor that the troops of Kamakura crossed Sunomata-cho and entered Mino Province. On January 10th, he appointed himself as Seii Taishogun (according to "Azuma Kagami" and "Hyakurensho" historical records compiled later. In "Gyokuyo" and "Sankai Koryo Nukigakiyo" [an excerpt from "Sankaiki"], journals from the same period, it is mentioned that he was appointed as Seii Taishogun on January 15th, which is more widely accepted now). He kept making a peace overture with the Heishi clan in Harima Province and tried to bring the Monk-Emperor with him to the North and Omi, but he gave up on this idea. Soon Kamakura Genji army led by MINAMOTO no Noriyori and MINAMOTO no Yoshitsune arrived. Yoshinaka fortified his defense in Kyoto and readied himself to fight at the outbreak of the war against Kamakura GENJI army; however, because of a string of reckless violence since the incarceration of the Monk-Emperor, the KISO Genji army ran away one by one from the face of the enemy, and Yoshinaka was defeated in the battles at Uji-gawa River and Seta. Yoshinaka himself also died in the battle at Awazu in Omi Province (Otsu City, Shiga Prefecture) on January 20th (Battle of Uji-gawa River). "It was 60 days after Yoshinaka came into power" ("Gyokuyo") at the age of 31.

When Yoshinaka died in the battle his heir MINAMOTO no Yoshitaka (Shimizu no Kanja) was in Kamakura as the husband of Yoritomo's daughter Ohime; he tried to escape but was killed, which put an end to the Yoshinaka family.

Yoshinaka's younger sister, Miyagikuhime, was in Kyoto as an adopted daughter of Masako HOJO; on May 1st, 1185, she was summoned to Kamakura by Yoritomo concerning the issue of misappropriation of a territory that used her name. It is said that Masako especially sympathized with her. Miyagiku explained that she was not involved in the misappropriation; Yoritomo, pitying her, gave her a territory in Mino Province and ordered some of Yoshinaka's favorite Gokenin in Shinano Province to treat Miyagiku with respect ("Azuma Kagami").

During Sengoku Period, the Kiso clan called themselves as the descendants of Yoshinaka.

History of posts and ranks
*Date=Lunar calendar

In 1183
On August 11th, ranked Ju Goi-ge and appointed as Samanokami. Appointed also as Echigo no Kami.

On August 16th, appointed also as Iyo no Kami. Transferred from Echigo no Kami.

In October, resigned from Samanokami.

On October 13th, promoted to Ju Goi-jo. Remained as Iyo no Kami.

In 1184
On January 2nd, promoted to Ju Shii-ge. Allowed to go to Tenjo. Remained as Iyo no Kami.

On January 10th, appointed as Seii Taishogun (according to "Azuma Kagami" and "Hyakurensho". Appointed as Seii Taishogun on January 15th, according to "Gyokuyo" and "Sankai Koryo Nukigakiyo").

His Grave

Yoshinaka's grave is in Asahizan Gichu-ji Temple (Baba, Otsu City, Gifu Prefecture), set up in Muromachi Period near where he died. Gichu-ji Temple is also famous for the grave of Basho MATSUO, a haiku poet in Edo Period. Basho was deeply moved by Yoshinaka's life and he expressed his desire before his death to be buried next to Yoshinaka. Yoshinaka's head mound is in Hokan-ji Temple in Higashiyama Ward in Kyoto City.

Also, in Tokuon-ji Temple in Hiyoshi-mura in Nagano Prefecture, Yoshinaka's mausoleum is built as well as five graves of his family members that stand next to it.


Yoshinaka's birthplace is said to be present-day Ranzan-machi, Hiki-gun, Saitama Prefecture. Today in his birthplace, Kamagata-hachimangu Shrine is built, and the spring water allegedly used for Yoshinaka's first bath is found.

Yoshinaka Shitenno
Four warlords who made a good showing under Yoshinaka, Kanehira IMAI, Kanemitsu HIGUCHI, Yukichika NENOI and Chikatada TATE are called Yoshinaka Shitenno.

"Though good-looking and handsome in appearance, he is a robust country boy and amusingly shameless and stubborn"
"Though a fair-skinned, good-looking man, his blunt demeanor and stubborn wording are helpless" ("Genpei Josuiki")
In Gokoku Hachiman-jinja Shrine in Oyabe City in Toyama Prefecture, there is Yoshinaka's statue holding the reins on a horse.

In the courtyard in "Yoshinaka Yakata" a historical museum in Hiyoshi-mura in Kiso-gun in Nagano Prefecture (present-day Kiso-machi), there stands his statue next to Tomoegozen.

Song and Place-name
In "Shinano no Kuni" (the song of Nagano Prefecture), Yoshinaka is introduced as one of the people from the prefecture. The place-name of Hiyoshi-mura in Kiso-gun where Yoshinaka grew up was named after "Asahi Shogun Yoshinaka" in 1874 (Hiyoshi-mura became Kiso-machi in November 1st, 2005 and the name has disappeared).

Festival and Event
The "Historical Procession" in Genji Festival held every April in Kawanishi City in Hyogo Prefecture, where the Seiwa Genji clan originated, has Yoshinaka in armor on a horse as well as MINAMOTO no Mitsunaka, the ancestor, and successive warlords of the Seiwa Genji clan.

Kagura Dance
Koshio Kagura dance. Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property designated by Iwate Prefecture. Deshi Kagura of Hayachine Takeryu Yamabushi Kagura dance. A Lion Mask inscribed with the year 1598 has been handed down, which shows that it had started around that time. Its details can be found in "Iwate Prefectural Museum 2004 Traditional Performing Arts Concert/Iwate Prefecture Cultural Property Association the 57th Iwate Local Performing Arts Festival".

[Original Japanese]