Minamoto No Yoshiie (1039 – August 4, 1106) is a Japanese warrior who officiated during the Heian era (which lasted from 794 to 1185). He is one of the most influential members of the Minamoto clan, the family that will establish the first shogunate, that of Kamakura, in 1192. It is safe to say that Yoshiie paved the way for his descendants to reach the shogunate , as its prestige has helped the clan to develop.
The Minamoto clan
Yoshiie is from the Minamoto clan. To be more precise, it is part of the branch Seiwa Genji, that is to say that resulting fromEmperor Seiwa (850-880). Let’s be clear now, to avoid confusion later: Minamoto equals Genji. It’s exactly the same clan, it all depends on how you read the characters that make up that name.
At that time, to prevent each imperial succession from degenerating into internal strife, the Emperor of Japan provided non-eligible princes with titles of nobility and accepted them as subjects. The two most famous clans from this tradition were the Taira and the Minamoto . TheEmperor Saga for example, who was the first to give the name “Minamoto” to some of his descendants, had the trifle of 49 children. That’s a lot, and it was better to have thought about the succession well in advance.
But among the Minamoto, many branches exist. Emperor Saga was not the only one to give the name “Minamoto”, it is not less than 21 branches which exist, one per emperor having used this little trick. Some were more productive than others, especially the one that interests us today: the Seiwa Genji branch. They are the descendants of Minamoto no Tsunemoto, son of Prince Sadazumi and grandson of Emperor Seiwa.
Historical background of the Heian period
During the heian period, disturbances appear in the northern part of Japan. The Abe family, which descends from the Emishi barbarians pacified during the Nara period (they are called the fushûs), becomes a little too cumbersome by the standards of the imperial court.
The Abe clan occupies the six districts of the Koromo. He acquired the title of gunshi, or district chief, certainly in exchange for his rallying to the power of the court. The area controlled by the Abe in the north acts as a buffer zone: it is the transit between the Emishi populations of the north of Honshu as well as the island ofHokkaido and the “Japanese” provincial governors of the south.
At the start of the 11th century, the Abe completely controlled the administrative management of their districts and rallied new chiefs to strengthen their position. The head of the clan, Abe no Yoritoki, begins to arm garrisons and eyes south, which exasperates the provincial governors.
As Yoritoki crosses the Koromo barrier in 1051 to extend his power south, the governor of the region tries to intervene, but he is defeated. The court, to stave off the rebellion, send the leader Minamoto no Yoriyoshi, with his eldest son Yoshiie. He went there largely accompanied by men from Kanto, region where the clan managed to rally a large number of warriors to its cause.
Officially, the Minamoto must bring the region back under the yoke of the Imperial Court. Unofficially, Minamoto no Yoriyoshi intends to take some land to increase its influence, and solidify its hold over the Kanto warriors, just to establish itself definitively as their overlord. This is the start of the zenkunen war, or nine years’ war.
The feats of arms of Minamoto no Yoshiie
As soon as the occupants arrive, Abe no Yoritoki quickly submits. Yoriyoshi exerts pressure very quickly, unbearable for the Abe clan, and the war resumes in 1056. If most of the chronicles make Yoritoki responsible for the war since he rose again, it seems obvious that the Minamoto clan did not. is no stranger, since eager to seize Abe land.
Although equipped with a substantial army, the Minamoto take six years to achieve their goals. Cold and hunger affect the morale of their army. But Yoriyoshi is an excellent general and above all, his son Yoshiie inspires his men in battle. It was during this war that he demonstrated his talents which had become legendary. The chronicles of the time portray him as a bitter warrior, excellent horseman and distinguished archer.
Abe No Yoritoki was killed in 1057, his son Abe No Sadato continues to lead his warriors into battle, with success. One of his great victories is the kawasaki battle, where he manages to fend off the Minamoto thanks to the winning combination of an impregnable defense and a snowstorm that greatly annoys his opponents.
During the war, it is said that Yoriyoshi (or Yoshiie depending on the version), to quench the thirst of his soldiers, shot an arrow at random in the air. Where it fell, he dug with the base of his bow and found a spring of clear water to quench his men.
The end of the war is due to the division of the Fushûs chiefs, which the Minamoto clan exploits to its advantage: Yoriyoshi asks for help from Kiyohara no Takenori of the province of Dewa, which rallies the dissident Fushûs chiefs. Together they end up winning Abe no sadato in 1062, during the siege of his fortress on the Kuriya-gawa river. The chiefs of the clan are killed or forced to suicide.
But things do not go as planned for Minamoto no Yoriyoshi: the Court, probably fearful that the Minamoto clan is growing too large, decides to cede the assets of the Abe clan to Kiyohara no Takenori. The Kanto warriors on the other hand are summoned to return home, as are the Minamoto clan.
Yoriyoshi settles in Kamakura, where he builds the shrine of their protective kami Hachiman. But although they had not won any plot of land, the Minamoto managed to rally to them a huge part of the Kanto warriors, who saw in Yoriyoshi an outstanding general and who knew how to understand his subordinates.
The situation is therefore not catastrophic, but it fills the clan with resentment towards the Kiyohara.
In 1080, an unexpected opportunity presented itself: the Kiyohara clan divides itself. Tensions are such that war broke out in 1083 between Masahira, Iehira and Narihira, heads of the different branches of the Kiyohara clan.
Minamoto no Yoshiie, become chief of the Minamoto clan, takes the opportunity and interferes in this new war, the Gosannen or three years war. He supports the so-called Kiyohara no Kiyohira, the half-brother of Iehira no Kiyohira.
See as well
Yoshiie demonstrates once again during this war his status as an undisputed leader, keeping the morale of his troops at the highest level thanks to iron discipline and unwavering determination. The war was won in 1087, after the siege of Fort Kanesawa, where Iehira and his uncle Takahira were finally killed.
It is just before this siege that one of the most famous anecdotes about Yoshiie takes place: he indeed manages to thwart an ambush by surprising a flight of cranes which have taken flight because disturbed by the presence of the hidden enemy troops.
After this victory, Kiyohara no Kiyohira asks to join the powerful family Fujiwara, to which he is linked by his father. A new branch of the clan is born, the Ôshu Fujiwara, that is to say Fujiwara of the north, which brings back the rebel provinces of the north under the yoke of the imperial nobility.
As far as the Kanto warriors are concerned, victory is not what one hoped for. Indeed, once again, the Court does not grant any reward to the Minamoto clan and its followers because it considers that Yoshiie engaged in this war for personal reasons and thus does not deserve anything.
However, this new campaign has strengthened the solidarity of the Kanto warriors: back home, they tell their stories, their feats and between them is born a new solidarity, a esprit de corps.
The caste of samurai begins to take off at Japan: although still considered vulgar brigands by the nobles of the court, they are beginning to realize that they belong to a group … Together which is becoming more and more important in the rapidly changing country.
As for Minamoto no Yoshiie, he decides to reward his men by offering them clan plots. This gesture is seen as highly honorable by the warriors of the Kanto, and more and more of them are bringing their domain under the tutelage of the Minamoto. The phenomenon is so important that the Court itself must stop its practice to prevent the clan from becoming too important.
Despite this, Yoshiie is now the overlord of a troop of loyal warriors and has begun to write the beginning of the legend of the Minamoto … Legend that his descendants will hasten to perpetuate.
The impact of Minamoto no Yoshiie
Minamoto No Yoshiie is seen as one of the pioneers of the warrior nobility, who would subsequently supplant the court nobility in control of Japan until 1868. He has gone down in the annals as “Hachimantaro”, the son of the kami of war, so great were his talents both in combat and in command.
For the newly created caste of warriors, he quickly became a model to follow, a paragon of values that would later be those of bushido. It is in large part because of him that the Minamoto clan enjoys so much prestige and can rally so many warriors under his banner in the years, and wars, to come.
Open the doors of his dojo to enjoy his teachings in video.