Taira no Shigehira (平重衡)

TAIRA no Shigehira was a warlord in the late Heian period. He was the fifth son of TAIRA no Kiyomori. TAIRA no Tokiko was his mother. He held the rank of Jusanmi (Junior Third Rank) but was later promoted to the rank of Shosanmi (Senior Third Rank) and dubbed Sanmi no Chujo (middle captain of the palace guards with Sanmi rank).

He fought battles in many places as a commander of the Taira clan and carried out Nanto Yakiuchi (the Incident of the Taira clan's army setting fire to the temples in Nanto), which destroyed the statue of Vairocana-Buddha, Todai-ji Temple by fire. He was active in battle and won the Battle of Sunomata-gawa and the Battle of Mizushima, but he was captured in the Battle of Ichinotani and sent to Kamakura under guard. After the Taira clan were destroyed, he was handed over to Nara priests upon their request, and was beheaded on the bank of Kizu-gawa River in Kyoto Prefecture. His battlefield leadership was deemed 'sufficient to meet martial spirit' ("Gyokuyo"(Diary of Kanezane KUJO)); but, his personal appearance was purportedly compared to the flowers of the peony tree.


His father, Kiyomori won the Hogen War and Heiji War and established the Taira government. Born as a son of Tokiko, the legal wife of Kiyomori, Shigehira was conferred with a Court rank from his infancy, promoted smoothly as a Kindachi (children of nobles) of the Taira clan and appointed to the position of Sakone gon no chujo (Provisional Middle Captain of the Left Division of Inner Palace Guards).

However, an increase in power of the Taira resulted in an increase in friction between the Cloistered Emperor Goshirakawa and In no Kinshin (the Retired Emperor's courtier), and in November 1179, Kiyomori carried out a coup d'etat and suspended the cloister government (Coup of the Third Year of Jisho). When this occurred, Shigehira went on a mission to address Goshirakawa.

In May 1180, Prince Mochihito and MINAMOTO no Yorimasa raised an army to overthrow the Taira clan (raising an army for Prince Mochihito). The army was soon surpressed, but in its wake came numerous anti-Taira clan armies. In August, MINAMOTO no Yoritomo raised an army in Izu Province and defeated TAIRA no Koremori's army by search-and-destroy tactics in the Battle of Fujigawa and brought Kanto under his control. In addition, Onjo-ji Temple, being closely connected to Goshirakawa and Kofuku-ji Temple and opposing the deportation sentence imposed on Motofusa MATSUDONO, the chief advisor to the Emperor, directly confronted the Taira clan.

On December 25, 1180, following an order from Kiyomori instructing him to 'Track down and dispose of villains,' Shigehira marched toward Nanto through Uji City. The priests of Kofuku-ji Temple fought to repulse Shigehira's army by aligning their shields like fences and abatis along the Nara-zaka slope and at Hannya-ji Temple. Shigehira's 40,000 horsemen invaded from the Kawachi Province side, broke through the defensive position of priests at Kofuku-ji Temple and advanced on Nanto. On December 28, Shigehira's troops invaded Nanto and incinerated all of the Doto-garan Ichiu (a set of buildings in a temple, such as a main hall, pagoda and temple) along with all of the Buddhist sutras and instructional texts. It was this incident that destroyed the statue of the Vairocana Buddha erected by Emperor Shomu in Todai-ji Temple. According to the "Heike Monogatari" (The Tales of the Taira Family), it was Fukui no sho Geshi (administrator of Fukui no sho manor), Jiro-dayu Tomokata, who set fire to private houses for light, but inadvertently caused a terrible disaster when the fire caught the wind and spread.

This Nanto Yakiuchi (the Incident of the Taira clan's army setting fire to the temples in Nanto) was criticized as the greatest evil perpetrated by the Taira clan and Shigehira, who carried out the act, was despised by the priests of Nanto. Kiyomori died on the fourth day of the Intercalary second month in 1181. In March 1181, Shigehira defeated MINAMOTO no Yukiie and MINAMOTO no Gien in the Battle of Sunomata-gawa and held back the Minamoto clan's invasion.

The Taira Family in Exile from the Capital
In May 1183, the Taira clan troops, led by Koremori, were defeated by MINAMOTO no Yoshinaka in the Battle of Kurikara-toge and the Taira were forced to abandon Kyo, Capital. Shigehira was also exiled from the capital with his wife, Sukeko.

Shigehira played an active role, as a leading warlord, in recovering the power. Shigehira defeated MINAMOTO no Yoshikiyo (Yada Hangandai) and Yukihiro UNNO in the Battle of Mizushima in Bitchu Province in October 1183, and he defeated Yukiie again in the Battle of Muroyama in November, causing damage to Yoshinaka. In January 1184, internal conflict in the Minamoto clan occurred and Yoshinaka was destroyed by MINAMOTO no Noriyori and MINAMOTO no Yoshitsune sent by Yoritomo in Kamakura. During this time, the Taira clan had recovered enough to make their way into Fukuharakyo in Settsu Province in an attempt to recapture Kyo.

In Feburary 1184, however, the Taira clan were defeated badly by Noriyori and Yoshitsune in the Battle of Ichinotani, and Shigehira's horse was shot among the defeated army and then captured by Kagesue KAJIWARA. Shigehira was sent under guard to Kyo; and, Sanehira DOI was responsible for his imprisonment. Cloistered Emperor Goshirakawa attempted to convince Shigehira by sending FUJIWARA no Sadanaga, and negotiated with Munemori, the commander of the Taira clan in Yashima in Sanuki Province to exchange the three sacred imperial treasures with Shigehira; but, this was refused.

In March 1184, Shigehira was sent under guard by Kagetoki KAJIWARA to Kamakura and interviewed by Yoritomo. Later, Shigehira was taken into the care of Munemochi KANO; Yoritomo recognized him by his capability and showed great hospitality to him, and Yoritomo's wife, Masako HOJO offered her maid, Senju no mae to entertain Shigehira. Yoritomo held a banquet to comfort Shigehira. Suketsune KUDO used the hand drum and sang Imayo, and Senju no mae played the Biwa (Japanese lute), while Shigehira played the Yokobue (flute). In the "Heike Monogatari," Shigehira was described as being in Kamakura while Senju no mae played Biwa and sang Roei recitation to comfort him during his imprisonment; she later fell in love with this nobleman.

In March 1185, when the Taira clan were destroyed in the naval battle of Danno-ura and the women of the Taira clan threw themselves into the water, it was the wife of Shigehira, Sukeo, who was rescued and then taken prisoner.

Shigehira's Death

On June 9, 1185, after strong petitioning by the Nanto priests, who hated Yakiuchi, Shigehira was handed over to Nanto. He departed Kamakura under the guard of MINAMOTO no Yorikane. On June 22, he was handed over to emissaries from Todai-ji Temple. There is a tragic episode in the "Heike Monogatari": when his procession passed through the neighborhood of Hino where Sukeko lived, Shigehira requested and was permitted to see his wife a final time; she came to see him, and with tears in both their eyes, Shigehira bit off the hairs falling on his forehead and handed them to Sukeko. "Gukansho" (Jottings of a Fool) also has a description of Shigehira and Sukeko meeting with each other in Hino.

On June 23, Shigehira was beheaded on the bank of Kizu-gawa River in Kyoto Prefecture and had his head left to be viewed by the public in front of the gate of Hannya-ji Temple. He was 29 years old.

His wife, Sukeko, became a priestess to pray to Buddha for the happiness of the dead Shigehira, and also worked for TAIRA no Tokuko. The couple bore no children.

Three years after the death of Shigehira, Senju no mae in Kamakura died at a young age. It is said that she died in mourning for her love, the late Shigehira.

There is a memorial tower for Shigehira in Anpuku-ji Temple in Kizu Miyanoura, Kizugawa City, Kyoto Prefecture.

The statue of Vairocana-Buddha in Todai-ji Temple was reconstructed using the money collected from Daikanjin (priest to collect contributions) run by Shunjobo Chogen, and a Buddhist memorial service of dedication for the Colossal Hall of the Great Buddha was held in 1195. It was again incinerated by Hisahide MATSUNAGA during the Sengoku period (Period of Warring States in Japan), and the present statue is reconstruction from the Edo period.

Official Career
* Date = Chinese calendar
1162 (6 years old)
December 23: He was granted the rank of Jugoinoge (Junior Fifth Rank, Lower Grade).

1163 (7 years old)
January 24: He was assigned the position of Governor of Owari Province (as successor to Yorimori).

1166 (10 years old)
November 18: He was granted the rank of Jugoinojo (Junior Fifth Rank, Upper Grade) (Chugu (consort of an emperor), FUJIWARA no Muneko, to be given). December 30: He was assigned the position of Sama no kami (Captain of Samaryo, Left Division of Bureau of Horses) (as successor to Munemori).

1168 (12 years old)
January 6: He was granted the rank of Shogoinoge (Senior Fifth Rank, Lower Grade) (Nyogo court lady, TAIRA no Shigeko, to be given). August 4: He was granted the rank of Jushiinoge (Junior Fourth Rank, Lower Grade).

1171 (15 years old)
January 6: He was granted the rank of Jushiinojo (Junior Fourth Rank, Upper Grade) (Kenshunmonin, to be given).

1172 (16 years old)
February 10: He was assigned to the position of Chugu no suke (Assistant Master of the Consort's Household) (Chugu: TAIRA no Tokuko). February 17: He was granted the rank of Shoshiinoge (Senior Fourth Rank, Lower Grade).

1178 (22 years old)
December 15: He was assigned the position of Togu no suke (Assistant Master in the Crown Prince's Quarters) (Togu: Imperial Prince Tokihito). Retained his position as Sama no kami. He resigned as Chugu no suke.

1179 (23 years old)
January 19: He was assigned the position of Sakone gon no chujo. December 14: He resigned from his position as Sachujo (Middle Captain of the Left Division of Inner Palace Guards). Retained his position as Togu no suke.

1180 (24 years old)
January 28: He became the Kurodo no to (Head Chamberlain). February 21: He was appointed Kurodo no to for the new emperor (Emperor Antoku). He resigned from his position as Togu no suke.

1181 (25 years old)
May 26: He was reappointed to the position of Sachujo. Jusanmi rank.

1182 (26 years old)
March 8: He served concurrently as the Provisional Governor of Tajima Province.

1183 (27 years old)
January 7: He was granted the rank of Shosanmi (Kenreimonin, to be given). August 6: He was removed from office.

[Original Japanese]