Taira no Atsumori (平敦盛)

TAIRA no Atsumori was a Japanese military commander lived during the late Heian Period. He was born as the youngest son of TAIRA no Tsunemori, a younger brother of TAIRA no Kiyomori. Atsumori had a rank of Jugoi (Junior Fifth Rank). As he did not hold any post, he was called Mukan no Taifu (No-post master).


Atsumori was a flute master and handed down a flute called "Saeda" (a twig) or "Aoba" (a type of bamboo) from his grandfather, TAIRA no Tadamori, who received the flute from Emperor Toba.

Atsumori joined the Battle of Ichinotani as the Ise-Heishi clan at the age of 17. When the Taira clan was pushed into an inferior position by an ambush by the Minamoto clan, Atsumori who was riding a horse tried to escape to a ship. Then, Naozane KUMAGAI, who was looking for an enemy general, stopped Atsumori and said, 'only a coward shows his back to his enemy. You should come back'. As soon as Atsumori retraced his steps, Naozane wrestled Atsumori down the horse and thrust his hand into the air to kill the man. However, Naozane hesitated when looking at the face of a beautiful young man who seemed almost the same age of his son, Naoie KUMAGAI. Naozane asked Atsumori's name to save his life, but Atsumori only replied, 'I am a perfect enemy to kill for you to achieve a feat. You should kill me before knowing my name and ask someone later. Kill me immediately', and Naozane, in tears, beheaded Atsumori. It is said that this incident made Naozane inclined toward the priesthood even more. In the 'Enkyo bon' and 'Kamakura bon' (both of which are different versions of Heike Monogatari [The tale of the Heike]), there is a scene where Naozane was sending the flute of Atsumori to his father, TAIRA no Tsunemori, who lived in Yashima Island, and letters from Naozane to Tsunemori and vice versa were also exchanged.

Historic sites of Atsumori can be found in Kemuri-jima, Awaji-shima Island.

This famous scene from "Heike Monogatari" became a subject in plays and songs titled "Atsumori" of Noh (traditional masked dance-drama), Kowaka-mai (story-telling with a simple dance) and Yokyoku (Noh song), and also in the Kabuki play titled " Ichi no Tani Futabagunki" (Chronicle of the Battle of Ichinotani). The following poem having been favored by Nobunaga ODA is from "Atsumori" of Kowaka-mai.
"To think that a man has but fifty years to live under Heaven… Surely this world is nothing but a vain dream. Living but one life, is there anything that will not decay?"


In Shobara City, Hiroshima Prefecture, a minyo (a traditional folk song) titled 'Atsumori-san' has been sung since ancient times (the song was designated as an intangible folk cultural property of the city). According to the song, the lawful wife of Atsumori, Tamaori-hime (also called as 'Himego-san' in Shobara), traveled various places to find Atsumori relying on rumors that Atsumori was still alive, and finally settled down in Shobara. In Shunda Town, Shobara City, there still remains what has been believed to be a tomb of Tamaori-hime.

It is not known exactly how this legend was created, but it has been regarded as one of the legends of Heike no Ochiudo (fleeing Heike warrior) passed down for generations in various parts of Japan. However, considering that Naozane KUMAGAI, who has been supposed to have killed Atsumori, was given a territory in Aki Province and lived in the province by the Sengoku Period, Naozane may have some relationships with the legend.

Naozane held a Buddhist memorial service to commemorate the sixth anniversary of Atsumori's death in Mt. Koya-san in 1190, under the proposal of Honen. In the Kabuki play of 'Ichinotani Futaba Gunki Kumagaya Jinya no ba', Atsumori is portrayed as an illegitimate child of the retired Emperor Goshirakawa, and Naozane, who knew it, beheaded his own son, Kojiro, instead.

[Original Japanese]