Update: The original Yoshitomo video had an upload error; was re-filmed; and re-uploaded. The embedded video has been updated to the new one.
A few months ago we talked about Minamoto no Tametomo. So now let’s talk a little bit about a few of his brothers and his father.
Remember that his elder brothers, led by Minamoto no Yoshitomo, had sided against Tametomo and his father, Minamoto no Tameyoshi.
Along with Yoshitomo were two of his younger brothers, Yukiie and Yoshinori. But on Tameyoshi’s side were, of course, Tametomo and five other sons…Yorikata, Yorinaka, Tamemune, Tamenari, and Tamenaka.
Tameyoshi’s other son of some renown, Yoshikata – the father of Kiso Yoshinaka, died the year before the Hogen Disturbance that Tameyoshi’s sons all fought in; it’s hard to tell which side he would have been on in the conflict.
As we discussed earlier in the month, Tametomo managed to escape the battle’s initial defeat and was exiled to Izu-oshima island. But what happened to Tameyoshi and his younger sons? For that we must look at what happened to the victorious son, Minamoto no Yoshitomo.
*Gasp!* Live-action pictures. That means someone made a film about it!
After the battle Tameyoshi was stripped of his position as head of the Minamoto clan. His son, having been the Minamoto leader of the winning side, was elevated to the position of head of the clan.
Although one could argue that Yoshitomo was lacking in filial propriety by siding in a war against his father’s side, one can’t fault the fact that he continually petitioned for his father to be spared. Regardless, Go-Shirakawa and Taira no Kiyomori ordered Yoshitomo to kill his father. There would be no exile, only execution.
Yoshitomo called up one of his retainers, a Kamada Masakiyo, and asked for advice. He asked Masakiyo which was worse…violating the Confucian beliefs that were so prevalent in Heian Era court ideologies by killing one’s own father, or by violating those same beliefs by disobeying the Emperor’s command?
Masakiyo advised his lord on several incidents in Buddhist texts where men were compelled to kill their own fathers because of overriding circumstances.
Masakiyo reasoned that Tameyoshi would be killed either way; he was now an enemy of the crown. Might as well be killed by his own son rather than some stranger sent by the court.
So Yoshitomo relented and went to see his father. But Yoshitomo is a conniving, cowardly man in the face of his task. He first reassures his father by relating how many times he was commanded to slay his father and how each time he refused to comply. He tells his father that because of his meritorious achievements in defeating, well…his father, he was given special consideration by the Emperor.
Yoshitomo tells his father that he has been permitted to build a small hermitage in the eastern hills where his father will be exiled to, but spared, to take up the tonsure and spend the rest of his life in prayer.
Tameyoshi is moved to tears by his son’s filial display. Unbeknownst to him they are all lies. Tameyoshi exclaims, “Ah! They say no treasure is as great as one’s children! Who, but my own son, could help me at the risk of his own life?”
He then puts one final nail in the coffin that Yoshitomo has placed his conscience in. “I shall not forget what you’ve done for me for the rest of my lives…in this world and the next.”
Tameyoshi joins hands with his son and prays, Yoshitomo is distraught by his own actions and tries to remain composed. He calls Masakiyo to prepare a carriage for his father to be taken to his new home in the eastern hills, but what Tameyoshi doesn’t realize is that the carriage is actually going west.
Masakiyo rides ahead and prepares a location at Suzaku-dori where Tameyoshi expects to be transferred from the carriage to a palanquin. In reality it is where he will be beheaded.
Aww, who would want to kill this sad looking guy? Really?
At this point we must introduce another of Yoshitomo’s retainers…Hadano Yoshimichi. Yoshimichi remonstrated with his colleague Masakiyo and informs the man that Tameyoshi had adopted him and raised him like a son. Yoshimichi felt that Tameyoshi deserved to be told of his fate to be given the opportunity to pray before his death and prepare himself with honor. Masakiyo agreed, but on the condition that Yoshimichi be the one to inform Tameyoshi.
Yoshimichi approached Tameyoshi and spoke to him. “Are you still not aware, Sir? What is happening? Yoshitomo has received an imperial command to execute you and on his orders Masakiyo is to kill you during the transfer from cart to palanquin.”
Tameyoshi was astonished at his son’s trickery. He remarked that he’d wished he had followed Tametomo’s advice to flee north; he announced, “If I and my sons had fired every last one of our arrows and had died in the fighting my name would be known through the ages! Am I to die like a dog, instead? I would have given my life to save Yoshitomo’s. But alas, as the saying goes…parents always think about their children, though children never think about their parents.”
The sun had still not risen at Suzaku-dori as Tameyoshi kneels and exposes his head, loudly repeating prayers to the Buddha. He urges the men to be quick about his execution. He tells them that his youngest four sons will each be worth a hundred men to Yoshitomo in the future and that he should take care of his younger brothers.
Masakiyo stares at the man and finds himself unable to strike down the head of the clan his family has served for generations. He cowardly bids Yoshimichi to make the fatal strike. Yoshimichi, too, is unable to kill his adoptive father and outright refuses to partake in the execution.
One of Masakiyo’s soldiers draws his sword and strikes at Tameyoshi’s neck. In the darkness he misses and strikes Tameyoshi in the backbone. Tameyoshi turns his head and looks to his son’s retainers. He quietly remarks, “Masakiyo…why don’t you do it?”
The second sword stroke rings true and while Yoshitomo’s men stand in terrified reticence, Tameyoshi is finally killed as the sun rises over his body. The men gather and look at the body; they collect the head for presentation to the Emperor. And so ends the life of the venerable head of the Minamoto clan, Tameyoshi.
Yoshitomo is not finished with his cruelties, though. He is called upon by Go-Shirakawa again. There is one more threat to the throne that must be dealt with. Before the Hogen disturbance court traitors who surrendered had been forced to become monks or exiled, but for almost two-hundred years executing fellow members of the court in cold blood was almost unheard of.
Not anymore, though, now Tameyoshi was dead…and at his son’s own orders no less. But Tameyoshi had other sons, they had all been executed as well for participating in the battle. But Go-Shirakawa wanted more blood, you see Tameyoshi had four sons who were underage. Yoshitomo’s child brothers, aged 13 and younger. They, too, must be dealt with in similar brutal fashion.
So Yoshitomo reluctantly did as he was ordered…and again he sent his cronies to do the work he could not do himself. Again he calls on Hadano Yoshimichi to do his dirty work. Yoshimichi is sent to the Minamoto estate of their father; of course the boys don’t know their father is dead.
Yoshimichi arrives at the estate and calls on the boys, “Come boys, we’re going to Funaoka, in the mountains, to meet your father.”
Funaoka; my what a beautiful place to get murdered at!
The boys are all excited…save one, the eldest of the youngsters, Otowaka. He does not recall his father ever mentioning going to Funaoka, why now would he be there? Otowaka wants to wait for their mother to return before leaving with Yoshimichi.
The younger boys, however, brow beat Otowaka into going immediately. Yoshimichi escorts the boys into the mountains and when their palanquin is sat down and they are bid to come out Yoshimichi is already in tears.
He sits down and places the two youngest boys on his knees, stroking their hair.
Yoshimichi says to them, his voice shaking, “Boys…you must understand. Your father was executed on the Emperor’s orders yesterday morning, at dawn. And now your brother has sent me here because the Emperor demands you all be executed as well.”
The boys weep and cling to Yoshimichi, save for one…Otowaka, again. He stands apart from the others, arms crossed, and defiant. Otowaka pulls his younger brothers away from Yoshimichi and chastises them for weeping.
“It makes no difference if we die today as children or die as adults later. Our father and our brothers have already been killed…so what good is it to live on? We will simply become beggars, pointed and laughed at by our peers. Instead we should pray that Father will meet us and welcome us into paradise upon our deaths.”
Otowaka asks for a knife and with it he cuts a piece of hair off himself and each of his brothers, the front lock of their hair. He gives these to Yoshimichi to be given as a final memento to their mother. And with that Yoshimichi draws his sword and he executes each brother in turn, Otowaka watching on until his turn has come.
When all is said and done, Yoshimichi gathers the boys’ heads and reports to the palace in Yoshitomo’s stead. The Emperor’s attendants inform him that the inspection of the children’s heads will not be necessary, they’re not important enough to bother with such ceremony and ritual.
Yoshitomo brought the Minamoto to a prosperity unheard of before, now the Minamoto and Taira were more powerful than even the great Fujiwara clan. But alas, Taira no Kiyomori had achieved more esteem than Yoshitomo, even though the Emperor had forced him to do such terrible things to his own father and brothers.
In the end Yoshitomo led a rebellion against Go-Shirakawa and his rebellion was put down by Kiyomori. Yoshitomo had many sons of his own, just like his father. Many of whom were killed when Yoshitomo was defeated, Yoshitomo himself was also killed.
Yoshitomo’s sons, Yoshitsune and Yoritomo, would go on to defeat the Taira forces in the Genpei War and create the first Shogunate, ushering in centuries of samurai rule.