Taira no Noritsune (平教経)

TAIRA no Noritsune (1160 - May 2, 1185) was a military commander who lived during the late Heian Period. He was the second son of TAIRA no Norimori. His mother was a daughter of FUJIWARA no Sukemori. TAIRA no Michimori was his elder brother. TAIRA no Narimori was his younger brother. His childhood name was Kunimori. His rank was jugoinoge (Junior Fifth Rank, Lower Grade) and he was the zuryo (defacto chief of the provincial office) for Noto Province.

In the "Tale of the Heike," Noritsune is described as the most valiant general in the Taira family, and called "the strongest warrior in the capital", who "performed brilliant achievements in war and had never suffered a defeat in many battles" and he is also described as a rival of MINAMOTO no Yoshitsune

After the Taira family fled the capital, Noritsune was the only one who did well in the declining Taira family and fought furiously in the Battle of Mizushima, the Battle of Rokukado, and the Battle of Yashima, harassing the Kawachi Genji. In the end, in the Battle of Dan-no-ura, Noritsune fought desperately in a lost battle and tried to jump on MINAMOTO no Yoshitsune but failed to catch him when Yoshitsune escaped by jumping from one boat to another, eight boats in total, and, at last, Noritsune died by jumping into the sea holding two big men under his arms.

According to "Azuma Kagami", an official diary (or at least equivalent to it) of the Kamakura shogunate, however, Noritsune was nothing special and was slain by Yoshisada YASUDA in the Battle of Ichi-no-tani, and his head was exposed in Kyoto. In other historical materials, such as "Gyokuyo"(Diary of Kujo-Kanezane), however, there was a view that Noritsune survived the Battle of Ichi-no-tani, and there are many ambiguous points with respect to the true image of Noritsune, including whether or not he was a valiant general.

TAIRA no Noritsune's Life
Noritsune's energetic activities are described below mainly in accordance with the "Tale of the Heike," a military epic. As it is a military epic, however, not all the descriptions are necessarily based on historical facts.

Fleeing the Capital and the Battle of Mizushima
In 1179, he was appointed the Governor of Noto.
According to the October 27, 1181 article in "Gyokuyo," there was a rumor that Noritsune, the lieutenant general for suppression of Hokuriku-do (Hokuriku area), would go away together with TAIRA no Yukimori. (In reality, Noritsune did not take part in the Battle of Hokuriku.)

In the "Tale of the Heike," Noritsune first appears in the scene of May 1183 in which the Taira family hurriedly strengthened the defense after successive defeats against MINAMOTO no Yoshinaka in the battle of Kurikara and the Battle of Shinohara and he, together with his elder brother, Michimori, guarded Uji-bashi Bridge while taking command of more than 2,000 mounted warriors. Finally, in July 1183, the Taira family fled from the capital and Norimori joined his family.

In November 1183, Yoshinaka ordered an army headed by MINAMOTO no Yoshikiyo (Yada hogandai) to start attacking the headquarters of the Taira family in the Yashima region, Sanuki Province and prepare for crossing the sea in the Mizushima region, Bicchu Province. Making a sortie as the lieutenant general for interception, Noritsune said in a loud voice, "Everyone, it would be a pity if you get captured alive by those from the northern countries. Let's combine our boats!" and attacked by combining boats and placing boards onto them to provide a flat space and cross the sea together with horses; Noritsune fought furiously at the head and slew Yukihiro UNNO, Samurai chief of the enemy, and Yoshikiyo ASHIKAGA, the general of the enemy, scuttled his boat and killed himself, giving the Taira family a great victory(Battle of Mizushima).

Because of the defeat in Mizushima, suppression of the Taira family by Yoshinaka was frustrated. Before long, Yoshinaka lost confidence and popularity and confronted Cloistered Emperor Goshirakawa and, in February 1184, Yoshinaka was overthrown by MINAMOTO no Noriyori and MINAMOTO no Yoshitsune sent by MINAMOTO no Yoritomo in Kamakura.

Battle of Rokukado
While there were struggles in the Minamoto clan, the Taira family marched to the Capital of Fukuhara, Settsu Province. In various places in the West region, rebellions were waged against the Taira family. Even in the Shikoku region, which belonged to the sphere of influence of the Taira family, provincial officials of Awa Province and Sanuki Province clandestinely consorted with the Minamoto clan and attacked, with more than ten boats, the camp of Norimori, Michimori, and Noritsune, father and sons, who were in the Shimotsui region, Bizen Province. Commanding ten small boats, Noritsune sortied and defeated them crushingly, saying "It is not permissible to breach pledges. Kill them to the last man."

People from the Shikoku region escaped to Awaji-shima Island and tried to confront the Taira family by occupying a castle under the command of MINAMOTO no Yoshitsugu and MINAMOTO no Yoshihisa, who were sons of MINAMOTO no Tameyoshi, but Noritsune attacked and defeated them, slaying Yoshitsugu, capturing Yoshihisa alive, and beheading over 130 persons who had betrayed the Taira family.

There was a rumor that Michinobu KONO changed sides to the MINAMOTO clan and the TAIRA family tried to slay him by Michimori and Noritsune, who were brothers, but Michinobu merged forces with Jiro NUMATA of AKI Province and entrenched in the NUMATA castle. Noritsune departed from Yashima and attacked the Numata castle repeatedly, defeating Jiro Numata, who surrendered. Michinobu was driven on and escaped to Iyo Province with just the clothes he wore.

As Tadakage AMA, an inhabitant of Awaji Province, rebelled and started for the Capital of Kyoto with two large ships loaded full of provisions and battle-gear, Noritsune followed them with ten small boats and defeated Tadakage, who escaped safely to Izumi Province.

Tadayasu SONOBE, an inhabitant of Kii Province, joined forces with Tadakage AMA, but Noritsune also defeated them, slaying over 200 warriors, and Tadayasu and Tadakage fled to the Capital of Kyoto.

Michinobu KONO joined USUKI no Koretaka and Koreyoshi OGATA (they were brothers and both inhabitants of Bungo Province), and moved to Bizen Province and entrenched in Imaki-jo Castle. Noritsune besieged the castle with over 2,000 mounted warriors and, after receiving reinforcements from Fukuhara consisting of several thousand mounted warriors, took the castle by assault, after which USUKI, OGATA, and KONO fled.

This series of battles is called the Battle of Rokukado, and Noritsune fought on successive fronts to support the declining Taira family.

Battle of Ichi-no-tani and Death in Battle?
On March 24, 1184, after annihilating Yoshinaka, Noriyori and Yoshitsune started to conquer Fukuhara. The TAIRA family set up a defensive encampment in and around Fukuhara, and Noritsune, together with his brother, Michimori, guarded the hilly section of the city. When Michimori called his wife to his place with an intention to mourn over unwilling farewell, Noritsune admonished him, "This place is the most dangerous battlefield, such that I am dispatched here. If you think in this way, you cannot be of service here."

In the end, in the Battle of Ichi-no-tani, fought on February 27, the TAIRA family suffered a fatal crushing defeat, losing a lot of family members. Noritsune's brother, Michimori, died in battle here. In "Azuma Kagami," it is reported that Noritsune also was slain in this battle by Yoshisada YASUDA's troop and his head was exposed in the Capital of Kyoto together with heads of other slain family members on April 2.

However, in "Gyokuyo," there is an article stating that there was a rumor for Noritsune among family members whose heads were exposed that he was still alive and, in "Godaizatsujiki", it is reported that Noritsune committed suicide in the Battle of Dan-no-ura. However, the name Noritsune is not included in the list of war dead and prisoners for the report on results of the Battle of Dan-no-ura in "Azuma Kagami." Therefore, it is not clear whether or not Noritsune survived the Battle of Ichi-no-tani, since there are different views on this point.

Battles of Yashima and Dan-no-ura
In March 1185, Yoshitsune made a surprise attack on the headquarters of the Taira family in Yashima, Sanuki Province. The TAIRA family gave up Yashima and fled by boat, but after they noticed that Yoshitsune had only a small military force, a fierce battle with bows and arrows ensued. Noritsune said, "There is a specific way for sea battle." and fought with light clothes, not wearing yoroi-hitatare; he shot down his enemies by splendid skill and did not miss. Yoshitsune's retainers bore the brunt of an attack to protect their master, but Noritsune said, "Get out, small fry!" and shot a great deal, shooting down ten mounted warriors. On this occasion, Tsugunobu SATO, who followed Yoshitsune from the Hiraizumi region, Mutsu Province, initially bore the brunt of attack and was shot through.

Kikuo-maru, a page to Noritsune, ran up to Tsugunobu SATO to cut off his head, but Tadanobu SATO, Tsugunobu's younger brother, shot him down. Kikuo-maru was a young man, 18 years old, who had served Noritsune's elder brother, Michimori, and Noritsune stopped fighting to mourn the death of Kikuo-maru.

The TAIRA family gave up Yashima and fled to Hiko-shima Island, Nagato Province, guarded by TAIRA no Tomomori. Yoshitsune organized the navy and closed in on Hiko-shima Island. As the Kyushu region in their rear had already been suppressed by Noriyori, the Taira family had no line of retreat.

On May 3, the Battle of Dan-no-ura, the last battle between the Genji and Heike clans, was fought. In the initial stage, the Taira family, which had been accustomed to sea battles, maintained superior position, but the defeat of the Taira family became decisive because of Yoshitsune's cunning tactics to shoot boatmen and steersmen, the betrayal of the navy of Awa Province, and a reversal of the tidal current.

While family members and Nii no Ama and Emperor Antoku, after preparing to die, threw themselves into the sea one after another, Noritsune still continued to fight alone. He shot a lot of arrows desperately, shooting down bando musha (warriors from east Japan) and, after all his arrows were gone, he mowed down his enemies with a long Japanese sword and a sword that was more like the blade of a giant halberd, holding them in his respective hands. Tomomori, who had been looking at the scene, sent a person to convey "Do not act cruelly! They are not good enough to compete with you."

Having made his mind to die with the commander of the enemy upon each other's sword, Noritsune looked for Yoshitsune by moving from one boat to another and mowing down enemies. Finally, he found Yoshitsune's boat, jumped into it, and tried to jump on Yoshitsune, but Yoshitsune jumped up leisurely and jumped from one boat to another until he reached one that was eight boats away. This was Yoshitsune's famous hassotobi.

Knowing that he could not compete with Yoshitsune with quick work, Noritsune prepared to die, threw away his long sword, took off his helmet of armor, drew himself up to his full length, and shouted at the top of his voice, "Anyone who has self-confidence, come here and capture Noritsune alive. I have something to say to Yoritomo in Kamakura." The enemy warriors were frightened and nobody tried to jump on him.

Brothers from Tosa Province, Sanemitsu AKI, who was famous for having the strength of 30 men, and Jiro AKI, and their retainer with Herculean strength jumped on Noritsune to try to capture Noritsune alive. Having kicked the retainer into the sea, Noritsune held the Aki brothers under his arms, told them, "Follow my last journey!" and jumped into the sea with the brothers under his arms. Died at the age of 26.

[Original Japanese]