Samurai Gaiden: Minamoto no Yorimasa

Note: During the busy changeover time and all that in June and July I realized I managed to forget to include the announcement on the 2nd of our ‘Seppuku’ series videos.  So here is the link and full transcript on…Minamoto no Yorimasa.  This Friday will still be the usual August Samurai Gaiden post and video.

All last month we talked about the Hogen Disturbance, the fight between Emperors Sutoku and Go-Shirakawa where Taira no Kiyomori first began his ascent into power. In that discussion we centered on the two sons of Minamoto no Tameyoshi…the first person to perform what eventually became seppuku, Minamoto no Tametomo and his elder brother who was first to murder basically his entire family, Minamoto no Yoshitomo.

Today we’re going to talk about the brothers’ uncle, Minamoto no Yorimasa.

Yorimasa in his younger days.

Yorimasa in his younger days.

The Hogen Disturbance occurred in the year 1156, and Minamoto no Yoshitomo’s rebellion against Go-Shirakawa and the Taira occurred four years later, in 1160, known as the Heiji Disturbance. As we mentioned Yoshitomo died as a result of the Heiji Disturbance.

One prominent member of the Minamoto was a respected warrior, poet, and politician who had avoided the ebbing tides of the Minamoto clan. He was Minamoto no Yorimasa, who was personal friends with Taira no Kiyomori, and had managed to stay relatively neutral in the conflicts between his clan and the Taira.

When Yoshitomo rebelled against the Taira-favored court, Yorimasa sided with the Taira. Yoshitomo’s failure nearly ended the Minamoto clan’s prosperity, allowing the Taira to completely take over the court and replace the Fujiwara as the dominant clan in power.

In the year 1180, though, Kiyomori grew too powerful. He had married his daughter, Taira no Tokuko, to a former Emperor and they had born a young Prince next in line for succession two years earlier. But Kiyomori was growing old, he had to ensure the Taira clan lived on in prosperity after his death.

Kiyomori placed his grandson, the Imperial Prince, on the throne as two-year-old Emperor Antoku. He then went about banishing his political rivals from the court and assigning positions to his relatives and allies.

This was one step too far, as far as another member of the Imperial family was concerned, former Emperor Go-Shirakawa, himself. Go-Shirakawa, who Kiyomori had backed during the Hogen Disturbance, was now orchestrating a new rebellion against the Taira.

Go-Shirakawa sent his son, Prince Mochihito, to gather supporters from among the Minamoto. The downtrodden tend to befriend the other downtrodden. Prince Mochihito and Yorimasa gathered together and called upon the support of whatever Minamoto allies still remained.

One of those major allies was the monks of the Temple Complex as Mii-dera. When Kiyomori discovered Go-Shirakawa’s plans he sent men to capture, and presumably murder, Mochihito. Mochihito fled to the Mii-dera temple complex, but found their loyalties wavering. Mii-dera, located at the base of Mt. Hiei. Kiyomori had allied with the monks in nearby Enryakuji and Mii-dera found it difficult to get other monasteries to lend their support.

The Minamoto forces were unable to get into position to defend the temple in time and so Yorimasa, Mochihito, and the Mii-dera monks loyal to their cause fled the temple with Taira forces right behind them.

They passed over the bridge across the Uji River and took up a position at the Byodo-in Temple. Yorimasa led a combined force of Minamoto samurai and Mii-dera warrior monks in the defense of Byodo at the Uji River crossing.

Taira no Kiyomori, too old to lead his own troops now, had sent two of his sons, Tomomori and Shigehira to lead the Taira advance. They came upon the Uji River and found a poor scene:

The monks of Mii-dera had broken up the bridge, tearing the planks out so that the Taira forces could not cross it. Only a narrow beam remained in the center which the Minamoto and Mii-dera monks could protect easily.

After some time of fierce fighting the two Taira sons were beginning to consider going further down the river and crossing at the Seta Bridge, instead of the Byodo-in bridge. But this would delay their crossing, giving Yorimasa and Mochihito a chance to escape to more numerous allies.

Instead, one of the Taira captains took a force of three hundred men across the river by fording it on horseback. When they reached the Minamoto side there was little that could stop them. They attacked the bridge defenders from the flank and the Taira forces were able to cross shortly thereafter.

Now Yorimasa’s back was to the wall. He urged Prince Mochihito to flee while the monks of Mii-dera sacrificed themselves to protect the man whom they hoped would be the future emperor and their allies.

Yorimasa had two sons involved in the battle, a Nakatsuna and a Kanetsuna, and together with his sons he gathered up a small force and the prince. They departed the temple to flee to their friends in Nara, to the south.

But as Yorimasa prepared to leave, he was struck by an arrow. Wounded, he knew he wouldn’t be able to keep up with the fleeing de facto imperial guard. He urged the prince to keep going and he retired to a small grove of trees to rest.

Yorimasa in his later years.

Yorimasa in his later years.

The token force that remained with him were quickly overrun by Taira soldiers. Yorimasa drew his war fan and dipped his finger in the blood of his wound. Upon the fan he wrote the following words…

Umoregi no,

Hana saku koto mo,

Nakarishi ni,

Mi no naru hate zo,

Kana shikari keru.

Like a fossil tree, from which we gather no flowers,

Sad has been my life, fated no fruit to produce.

With that done he pulled off his breastplate, drew his dagger, and sliced open his abdomen. A nearby retainer slashed at Yorimasa and cut off his head. That retainer tied a heavy rock to Yorimasa’s head and rushed to the river’s edge, hurling the weighted skull into the water. It was one trophy the Taira would not be getting this day.

During this time his younger son, Minamoto no Kanetsuna, was struck by an arrow in the head and died. The elder son, Minamoto no Nakatsuna, was also wounded by an arrow, but only maimed. Nakatsuna limped over to his father’s headless corpse, dropped to his knees, and drew forth his own dagger.

Minamoto no Yorimasa was not the first to commit seppuku, nor was he certainly the last. But he created a template for which all other samurai would look up to, when and if forced to perform seppuku.


Samurai Gaiden: Ryuzoji Iekane

Ryuzoji Iekane (1454-1546)

Last month, in case you weren’t in attendance, we presented a panel at Tekko 2016 called Samurai Mythconceptions. You canfind a link to the video in the description below…or by clicking on the annotation that is across my chest, right now.

In the panel we talked about the misconception that all samurai believed in the utmost idea that death in battle was their life’s goal and also the myth that most samurai either died in battle or by committing seppuku.

In reality many samurai lived to a ripe old age, Mori Motonari and his grandson Terumoto both lived into their seventies; Ukita Hideie lived to be 90 years old, albeit over sixty years were in a relatively peaceful exile; and Shimazu Yoshihiro lived to be over eighty years old and he survived over fifty battles – not all of which were victories for him.

So we’re going to talk about a rarely spoken of samurai who lived an exceptionally long lifespan and was a true warrior to the end. A peaceful end, no less.

Ryuzoji Iekane (1454-1546)

Ryuzoji Iekane (1454-1546)

Hizen province, western Kyushu in the 15th and 16th centuries: Much of this land is ruled by the descendants of Fujiwara no Hidesato, now known as the Shoni clan. This clan was very important during the Mongol Invasions three centuries ago. The current daimyo is Shoni Masasuke and one of his vassals is a Ryuzoji Yasuie. Yasuie has several sons, at least five that we know of. And this is where our story really begins.

Hizen and Chikugo are the most important ones to this story.

Hizen and Chikugo are the most important ones to this story.

The fifth son of Yasuie, a Ryuzoji Iekane, is born in the year 1454. He is the fifth son, so he has fairly low hopes of ever being daimyo of the Ryuzoji clan, himself. But lo and behold…Iekane was gifted with one thing that let him surpass his elder brothers: A long lifespan.

Iekane outlives all four of his elder brothers and eventually becomes the head of the Ryuzoji clan. I am personally unsure of when exactly he took over the clan, but my sources state that he was the Ryuzoji head by the year 1506, at which point he would be fifty-two years old, already.

Now, here we are in the year 1506, the Ouchi clan has recently invaded and defeated the Shoni clan in battle, killing their head, Shoni Masasuke. The young lord, Shoni Sukemoto, is only nine-years-old. The Ryuzoji begin to rise to the forefront of the Shoni clan and later in the year Iekane is able to beat back the Ouchi invasion that killed Sukemoto’s father.

Sukemoto grows up and becomes a man, ruling the Shoni clan, and Iekane is one of his elder councilors. Officially speaking, Iekane is retired – having giving up the title of Ryuzoji head to his son Ryuzoji Chikaie – but in truth he still holds the reigns of the Ryuzoji clan which is continually gaining power within the Shoni realm.

In 1530 the Ouchi return and Iekane once again leads the Ryuzuji forces out and they defeat the Ouchi at the Battle of Chikugogawa. With yet another victory under his belt, Iekane begins to drift out of Sukemoto’s camp and begins gathering his own strength and taking over what was once Shoni territory.

These borders are constantly fluctuating at this point.

These borders are constantly fluctuating at this point.

And then it happens, in 1532 Sukemoto dies and is succeeded by his son, Shoni Tokinao. Tokinao would prove to be the last lord of the Shoni clan – but I’m getting a little ahead of myself there. For now…Iekane is gathering a powerbase and is ultimately becoming more powerful than Tokinao, himself.

Another vassal clan, the Baba, are unhappy with Iekane’s growth of power and their lord, Baba Yorichika sees an opportunity to make things, as he sees them, right. Yorichika secretly communicated with the Ouchi clan, the Shoni’s natural enemies, and also slandered Iekane to the new Shoni lord and convinced him to give his blessing to striking down Iekane’s branch of the Ryuzoji clan.

Yorichika sent his agents into Ryuzoji’s lands and caused an uprising. Iekane led his army out to put an end to the uprising and, after failing to make any real progress, his battered and demoralized army returned home.

It was just then the joint Shoni-Ouchi forces, under Baba’s leadership, sprung their trap and ambushed Iekane’s broken army at his castle of Mizugae. Iekane had little chance of winning the siege and Yorichika came to him under the pretense of friendly negotiations. Yorichika said that if Iekane retired into the care of his cousins in the province of Chikugo, he would act as a mediator to the Shoni. Iekane recognized his position and agreed, retiring to Chikugo. Yorichika then led his troops into the castle and slaughtered Iekane’s family; sparing no one baring the Ryuzoji name.

Iekane had managed to escape the ambush sprung by Yorichika, although he lost a lot of retainers and family members, including his son and the technical head of the Ryuzoji clan, Chikaie. Only one grandson of Iekane’s survives, mostly because he was under the care of a temple and had been sent to become a monk at a young age. Iekane has him brought out of the monastery and legitimizes him as Iekane’s young heir.

At this time there are actually two Ryuzoji clan branches, Iekane’s branch and the branch of his cousins, run by Ryuzoji Tanehide. So there, in the year 1544, at the age 90 years old Iekane goes over to his cousin’s lands and gathers and army to avenge his family. With Tanehide in tow Iekane attacks Baba Yorichika.

Seeing Iekane’s return old Ryuzoji retainers who fled the ambush and those who were exiled by Yorichika begin gathering rural samurai and peasants who flock to Iekane’s banner. The 90 year old general is unstoppable and Yorichika is not only defeated…but he is killed by the Ryuzoji forces. Iekane has avenged his family and his pride and he retakes what used to belong to him.

Here's a picture of Arima Haruzumi...y'know, just because!

Here’s a picture of Arima Haruzumi…y’know, just because!

Which brings us to the year 1546, Iekane is now 92 years old. The Arima clan, led by Arima Haruzumi, has attacked his castle of Mizugae and captured it. Iekane let him hold the castle for…two months before he gathered his army and marched against the castle, retaking it from the Arima.

This was to be Iekane’s last campaign. In April of 1546, Ryuzoji Iekane finally succumbed to old age and passed away. Two years later his nephew, Tanehide would die of tuberculosis. This left Chikaie’s surviving son, Takanobu, to inherit Tanehide’s branch, uniting the Ryuzoji clan into a single, powerful entity.

Ryuzoji Takanobu

Ryuzoji Takanobu

And it was Ryuzoji Takanobu who would finally break from their masters and defeat and kill Shoni Tokinao, bringing an end to the Shoni clan. Ryuzoji Takanobu, Iekane’s grandson.


Tekko 2016 East vs. West Panel Part 2 Live!

As you might have guessed from the title, today is Day 2 of the review and video upload process.  So Part 2 of the East vs. West panel is now live!  You can find it clicking on the picture below!



Tekko 2016 Schedule

So I’ve been talking about it a lot on Social Media, but I just realized I haven’t really said much about it on the site, here.

I’ll be attending Tekkoshocon this year, or just plain ‘ol Tekko as they’re calling it now. I will be presenting 4 panels, total: 3 on Friday and 1 on Saturday.

I know, I'm excited, too!

I know, I’m excited and surprised, too!


East vs West: Arms, Armor, and Lifestyles of the Samurai of Japan and the Knights of Europe

3:30pm in the Tekko Gakkou Room

-We will be discussing a comparison between the European Knight and the Japanese Samurai. The respective warrior classes of the Western and Eastern worlds. If you like swords, spears, court politics, and non-magical ponies, come join us!

I'm not sure I want to know what flavor that is.

I’m not sure I want to know what flavor that is.

How To Write Dirty Stuff (18+)

7:00pm in Panel Room 5

-Whether you’re writing erotica, just a regular sex scene, or outright porn and hentai you need to know the delicacies of dirty writing. Join author Richard C. Shaffer as he discusses how to plan, frame, word, and publish some sexy scenes.

The Four Classic Novels: China’s Literary Effect on Japanese Anime and Games

9:30pm in Tekkou Gakkou Room

-Dragon Ball, Saiyuki, Ikki Tousen, Dynasty Warriors, and the Suikoden series. What do they all have in common? They’re all based on classic Chinese novels. Come learn how these novels shape many of the anime we watch and the games we play from Japan.


"Outta the way, I gotta see this panel!"

“Outta the way, I gotta see this panel!”

Samurai Misconceptions: Learn the Truths of the Legendary Japanese Warrior

1:30pm in Tekkou Gakkou Room

-Armed with his katana, an unbeatable weapon of razor-sharp, high quality steel, the legendary samurai warrior fought one-on-one to victory or death in each battle. Or…maybe that’s just in the movies? Learn the real history of the Samurai from Heian courts to Sengoku battlefields and beyond!

Hope to see some of your folks there!


Have I Beat This Horse Enough?

Hey!  Have I mentioned that I wrote a book, coming out in a few days?

Once or twice, yes...

Once or twice, yes…


Okay then, uhh, how about we talk about something else?  Something like…



That’s right folks!  I’ll be hosting panels again this year at Tekkoshocon.  Unless anything changes I will be in Panel Room #3 at 1:30pm on Friday April 17th for How To Avoid Bad Writing.  That’s right, I’ll be teaching you how to not write complete drivel!  Trust me, if anyone knows a bag of crap masquerading as writing, it’s me.

I will then be shifting gears over to History of Sengoku Japan in Panel Room #1 at 4:00pm that same day.  Come by if you have an interest in anything Samurai.

Both panels will have my charismatic Alto spewing forth all kinds of knowledge, not to mention my usual humor (I use the term loosely, in case you’re new to the site), and even some door prizes!