Okay. You might think we’re jumping the shark here a little too soon, but I’ve been reading a bunch of great stories of the Heian Era. Now, our target area is the Sengoku Period, but we can look at the Heian Period occasionally, too.
I read the story of the young samurai Arimaka no Yorozu and couldn’t help but convey it to you folks. So let’s begin…
Arimaka no Yorozu (??-587)
First let me just say that history has failed to record young Yorozu’s full name. He was from a small village south of Osaka, which at that time was called Naniwa. The village he was from was named Arimaka; so for the purposes of this video, I’ve opted to call him Arimaka no Yorozu (Yorozu of Arimaka Village).
[Note: You may also find him by looking for Totoribe no Yorozu, as Totoribe was his court rank. It translates as something akin to Bird Catcher, as I mention in the video.]
A little preface so you have some idea of what’s going on. Japan at this time is ruled by Emperor Yomei. Yomei died at the tender age of, well, 69 and he had only ruled for two years after the death of Emperor Bidatsu, his elder brother. With Yomei’s death there were two major choices for succession, his son Prince Shotoku and his brother Prince Anahobe.
The Emperor at the time had two major ministries who served him; they were the Emperor’s right and left hands, so to speak. One was the O-omi, or Great Administrator, which was a civil position that controlled everything within the capital; this position was held, hereditarily, by the powerful Soga clan. As a matter of fact, Emperor Yomei’s mother was of the Soga clan, as was his wife…who was actually his mother’s daughter from another marriage. So yeah…Emperor Yomei married his own half-sister.
Anyway, the other major position was the O-muraji, or Great Chieftain. His job was to control everything outside of the capital; so all of the lesser clans in the provinces answered to him. He also had the added duty of controlling the police forces and, essentially, the Imperial Army. This job was hereditarily controlled by the Mononobe clan.
Now to get even more off-track I have to mention that there was a huge religious issue brewing in the country. You see, only recently had Buddhism come over to Japan from China and Korea and many devout Shintoists wanted to prevent its spread.
Well guess what? The Soga were Buddhist and the Mononobe were devoutly Shinto. And while the late Emperor Bidatsu was also pro-Shinto, his younger brother Yomei was neutral in the debate, having been a follower of both religions; much like modern Japanese culture.
So we have the Shinto Mononobe who controls the provincial Armies and supports the pro-Shinto Prince Anahobe and on the other side of things are the Buddhist Soga who control the civilian offices within the capital and the Imperial Guard along with pro-Buddhist Prince Shotoku.
[Pause for dramatic effect.]
Now I told you all that to sum it up in a very anti-climactic way. They came to blows and the Soga and Mononobe went to war. The Mononobe called up the entire provincial army which surely would outnumber and surround the Soga with ease.
Would…assuming any of them had responded. Unfortunately most of the provincial clans refused to answer the Mononobe’s orders and the Soga managed to win the civil war in a matter of days, culminating in the disastrous Mononobe defeat at the Battle of Shigisen. Both the Mononobe leadership and Prince Anahobe were killed in the battle.
Now I told you all that to tell you about a guy on the losing end. One of the Mononobe Lord’s samurai, Arimaka no Yorozu. Yorozu was a member of the “bird-catcher’s division” [Totoribe] which probably means he was tasked with caring for the Mononobe Lord’s hunting birds (his hawks, falcons, and eagles).
Regardless of his normal duties he led a force of one-hundred men and had been ordered to protect the Mononobe villas in Naniwa, what is current-day Osaka. When Yorozu heard that his clan had been totally destroyed he very loyally…abandoned the Mononobe villas and escaped back home to Arimaka.
He passed the homes of his in-laws and hid in the hills near Arimaka, apparently hoping that the anti-Mononobe vibes would die down quickly.
He would be very disappointed. The Soga commanders reported his actions to the Emperor, the new one that is, Prince Hatsusebe. Wait, what happened to Shotoku, you ask? Yeah that’s a good one, Hatsusebe was another younger brother of Bidatsu, just like the late Emperor, Yomei, and the late Prince Anahobe. Now Hatsusebe had been installed on the throne by the Soga and his nephew, Shotoku, and was known as Emperor Sushun.
Long story short, Soga convinced Sushun to name Yorozu as a rebel and the Soga army marched to Arimaka to kill him. They knew he was hiding in the hills nearby so they announced, per Imperial Decree, they would murder Yorozu’s entire family.
Yeah, civil war is usually a tough gig for innocent bystanders. Nonetheless now I’ve finally weighed you down with enough backstory to get to Yorozu, himself.
Yorozu, emaciated and dirty in tattered clothes, came down from the hills and presented himself to the Soga army. He was armed with the usual accoutrements of a warrior, but had abandoned his armor.
The Soga commander intended to finish things quickly and sent several hundred soldiers to surround the young warrior. Yorozu, seeing he was being enveloped in what could easily become a 300-on-one battle, dashed into a grove of bamboo trees.
He brilliantly rigged up a system of ropes to the bamboo which allowed him to strategically make decoy movements by causing the bamboo to shift by pulling on the ropes.
At one point he moved one of the bamboo shafts enough that the Soga believed he was hiding there. They rushed at the decoy and attacked the nothingness there.
At this point Yorozu drew forth his bow and unleashed arrow, after arrow. One dead, two dead, three dead…every arrow struck and killed a man until the Soga soldiers were too frightened to enter the bamboo grove.
With them properly cowed, he undid the string from his bow, tucked it under his arm, and burst from the other side of bamboo grove and rushed back toward the hills he had been hiding in. The Soga army managed to get enough willpower to pull out their bows and fire at Yorozu.
The entire hundreds of them fired at him as he tried to cross a river toward the hill. And…they all missed.
Finally one soldier managed to get ahead of Yorozu and planted himself at the far end of the river. When Yorozu crossed the river, this soldier fired an arrow at him. It struck him in the knee.
And so ends the tale of Arimaka no Yorozu…
Yeeaah, sure it does…
Yeah, right. Yorozu yanked the arrow from his knee and, with a wounded leg, re-strung his bow; shooting and killing the poor schmuck that had just wounded him.
He then turned to face the Soga army that was approaching the river to fight him, still outnumbered by several hundreds and cried out to them…
“I am a loyal shield to the Emperor and wanted nothing more than to show my bravery! His majesty has never called upon me before, though! And now I am put into this extreme situation? Please somebody tell me…do you intend to kill me or to capture me?”
The Soga response was basically what you’d expect…they pulled their own bows back out and fired upon him from across the river. They challenged each other to see which one could kill Yorozu first and started firing arrows at him.
Yorozu, not one to easily die, swatted away the arrows and pulled his own bow back out. Once again he fired back at the Soga army. One dead, two dead, three dead…over thirty men were shot to death by Yorozu.
But alas, he was wounded in the leg and couldn’t run away, and now he was out of arrows. He drew his sword and sliced his own bow into three parts so that it could not be taken and used by the Soga soldiers as a prize.
Similarly he bent the sword and tossed it into the river he had just crossed. Finally, he drew his dagger and in one of the earliest accounts of seppuku before seppuku was even a thing, he jammed his dagger into his neck, killing himself.
When the report was filed the Soga-controlled court ordered that he be hacked into 8 parts and each part be impaled on a spear and put up in one of the eight provinces that comprised Japan at this time.
Legends claim that each hack against his corpse was met by torrential rainfalls and claps of thunder, but finally…his body was cut into 8 pieces. Now Yorozu was said to have had an all-white dog. The dog barged into the butchering and stole his dead master’s head, taking it into the fields near Arimaka and burying it. The dog then laid himself atop the buried head and starved itself to death.
When the Soga forces reported that to the Imperial Court they responded that such a show of loyalty was remarkable in that day and age, especially by a dog. They decreed that the dog should be honored for his loyalty and that Yorozu’s corpse should be pardoned and the remains were turned over to Yorozu’s kinsmen who built two tombs in Arimaka Village, one for Yorozu and just beside it was one for his faithful dog.
Thus, really ends the tale of Arimaka no Yorozu. A tragic story of a talented youth who got the short end of the stick.
By the way…remember that Emperor Sushun guy? Yeah well he pissed Soga off a couple years later and Soga had him assassinated. And he was replaced by Prince Shotoku, right? Nope, Emperor Bidatsu’s wife, Empress Suiko took over. Well, at least Shotoku finally got promoted to Regent under his step-mother’s reign, I guess.
Man, this Heian stuff is weird. Maybe we’ll go back to Sengoku stuff next month. Unless there was something else Heian-y you wanted to know about? Let me know what you’re interested in, in the comments. And like, share, and subscribe or Arimaka no Yorozu’s spirit will return from the grave and…I dunno, like…pet your dog or something.
Yeah, I’m not great with the threats.