Genpei War

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Genpei War (Gempei War)
Part of MinamotoTaira clan disputes of late Heian period
Genpei kassen.jpg
Scene of the Genpei war
Date 1180-1185
Location Japan
Result Minamoto clan victory; Kamakura shogunate established
Belligerents
Sasa Rindo.svg Minamoto clan (Yoritomo) Ageha-cho.svg Taira clan Sasa Rindo.svg Minamoto clan (Yoshinaka)
Commanders and leaders
Minamoto no Yoritomo, Minamoto no Yoshitsune Taira no Munemori Executed, Taira no Shigehira Executed, Taira no Tomomori  Minamoto no Yoshinaka , Imai Kanehira 

The Genpei War (源平合戦 Genpei kassen, Genpei gassen?) (1180–1185) was a conflict between the Taira and Minamoto clans during the late-Heian period of Japan. It resulted in the fall of the Taira clan and the establishment of the Kamakura shogunate under Minamoto Yoritomo in 1192.

The name "Genpei" (pronounced and sometimes romanised as Gempei) comes from alternate readings of the kanji "Minamoto" (源) and "Taira" (平). The conflict is also known in Japanese as the Jishō-Juei War (治承寿永の乱 Jishō-Juei no ran?),[1][2] after the two eras between which it took place.

It began with Minamoto support for a different candidate to take the throne, in conflict with the Taira's nomination. The ensuing Battle of Uji took place just outside Kyoto, starting a five-year long war, concluding with a decisive Minamoto victory in the naval Battle of Dan-no-ura.

Background[edit]

The Genpei War was the culmination of a decades-long conflict between the two aforementioned clans over dominance of the Imperial court, and by extension, control of Japan. In the Hōgen Rebellion[3] and in the Heiji Rebellion[4] of earlier decades, the Minamoto attempted to regain control from the Taira and failed. The Taira then began a series of executions, intended to eliminate their rivals.

In 1177, relations between the Taira clan and the retired Emperor Go-Shirakawa became highly strained, and the latter attempted a coup d'état to oust the Daijō Daijin (prime minister), Taira no Kiyomori. Kiyomori defeated the former emperor and abolished the Insei system. This provoked strong anti-Taira sentiment.

On March 21, 1180, Taira no Kiyomori put his grandson, Antoku (then only two years of age), on the throne, after the abdication of Emperor Takakura. Go-Shirakawa's son, Prince Mochihito, felt that he was being denied his rightful place on the throne and, with the help of Minamoto Yoritomo, sent out a call to arms to the various samurai families and Buddhist monasteries on May 5.

In June, Kiyomori moved the seat of imperial power to Fukuhara (modern day Kobe), in the hope of promoting trade with Song Dynasty China, and on the fifteenth of that month, Prince Mochihito fled Kyoto to take refuge in Mii-dera.

Beginnings of the war[edit]

The Phoenix Hall of the Byōdō-in, where Yorimasa committed seppuku.

The actions of Taira no Kiyomori having deepened Minamoto hatred for the Taira clan, a call for arms was sent up by Minamoto no Yorimasa and Prince Mochihito. Not knowing who was behind this rally, Kiyomori called for the arrest of Mochihito, who sought protection at the temple of Mii-dera. The Mii-dera monks were unable to ensure him sufficient protection, so he was forced to move along. He was then chased by Taira forces to the Byōdō-in, just outside Kyoto. The war began thus, with a dramatic encounter on and around the bridge over the River Uji. This battle ended in Yorimasa's ritual suicide inside the Byōdō-in and Mochihito's capture and execution shortly afterwards.

It was at this point that Minamoto no Yoritomo took over leadership of the Minamoto clan and began traveling the country seeking to rendezvous with allies. Leaving Izu Province and heading for the Hakone Pass, he was defeated by the Taira in the battle of Ishibashiyama. However he successfully made it to the provinces of Kai and Kozuke, where the Takeda and other friendly families helped repel the Taira army. Meanwhile, Taira no Kiyomori, seeking vengeance against the Mii-dera monks and others, besieged Nara and burnt much of the city to the ground.

Fighting continued the following year. Minamoto no Yukiie launched an unsuccessful sneak attack attempt against the army of Taira no Tomomori at the Battle of Sunomatagawa. He was pursued by them to the Yahahigawa, destroying the bridge over the river in order to slow the Taira progress. He was defeated and forced to withdraw once again, but Taira no Tomomori fell ill and called off his pursuit of Yukiie's forces.

Taira no Kiyomori died from illness in the spring of 1181, and around the same time Japan began to suffer from a famine which would last through the following year. The Taira moved to attack Minamoto no Yoshinaka, a cousin of Yoritomo, who had raised forces in the north but were unsuccessful. For nearly two years, the war ceased, only to resume in the spring of 1183.

Turning of the tide[edit]

The Taira loss at Kurikara was so severe that they found themselves, several months later, under siege in Kyoto, with Yoshinaka approaching the city from the northeast and Yukiie from the east. Both Minamoto leaders had seen little or no opposition in marching to the capital and now forced the Taira to flee the city. Taira no Munemori, head of the clan since his father Kiyomori's death, led his army, along with the young Emperor Antoku and the Imperial regalia, to his clan's fortresses in western Honshū and Shikoku.

Internal Minamoto clan hostilities[edit]

The Taira clan set fire to their Rokuhara palace and the surrounding district, leaving Minamoto no Yoshinaka with the only force of any significant power in the Home Provinces surrounding the capital. Empowered with a mandate by Emperor Go-Shirakawa to pursue the Taira and destroy them, Yoshinaka once again sought to gain control of the Minamoto clan and regain his ancestral lands from his cousins Yoritomo and Yoshitsune.

Meanwhile, the fleeing Taira set up a temporary Court at Dazaifu in Kyūshū, the southernmost of Japan's main islands. They were forced out soon afterwards by local revolts, spurred by Emperor Go-Shirakawa and sought refuge at Yashima, a small island in the Inland Sea.

Yoshinaka sent a force to pursue the Taira, while he led a second force back to Kamakura to delay his cousins' actions. While his men lost to the Taira at Mizushima, Yoshinaka conspired with Yukiie to seize the capital and the Emperor, possibly even establishing a new Court in the north. However, Yukiie revealed these plans to the Emperor, who communicated them to Yoritomo.

Betrayed by Yukiie, Yoshinaka took command of Kyoto and, at the beginning of 1184, set fire to the Hōjūjidono, taking the Emperor into custody. Minamoto no Yoshitsune arrived soon afterwards with his brother Noriyori and a considerable force, driving Yoshinaka from the city. After fighting his cousins at the bridge over the Uji, where the war began, Yoshinaka made his final stand at Awazu, in Ōmi province. He was defeated by Yoshitsune, and killed while attempting to flee.

Final stages of the conflict[edit]

As the united Minamoto forces left Kyoto, the Taira began consolidating their position at a number of sites in and around the Inland Sea, which was their ancestral home territory. They received a number of missives from the Emperor offering that if they surrendered by the seventh day of the second month, the Minamoto could be convinced to agree to a truce. This was a farce, as neither the Minamoto nor the Emperor had any intentions of waiting until the eighth day to attack. Nevertheless, this tactic offered the Emperor a chance to regain the Regalia and to distract the Taira leadership.

The Minamoto army, led by Yoshitsune and Noriyori, made their first major assault at Ichi-no-Tani, one of the primary Taira fortresses on Honshū. The fortress was surrounded, and the Taira retreated to Shikoku. However, the Minamoto were not prepared to assault Shikoku; a six-month pause thus ensued during which the Minamoto took the proper steps. Though on the retreat, the Taira enjoyed the distinct advantages of being in friendly, home territories, and of being far more adept at naval combat than their rivals.

It was not until nearly a year after Ichi-no-Tani that the main Taira fortress at Yashima came under assault. Seeing bonfires on the mainland of Shikoku, the Taira expected a land-based attack and took to their ships. This was a deceptive play on the part of the Minamoto, however, who lay in wait with their own navy. The Yashima fortress fell, along with the improvised imperial palace built there by the Taira, many of whom however escaped along with the Imperial regalia and the Emperor Antoku.

The Genpei War came to an end one month later, following the battle of Dan-no-ura, one of the most famous and important battles in Japanese history. The Minamoto engaged the Taira fleet in the Straits of Shimonoseki, a tiny body of water separating the islands of Honshū and Kyūshū. After a series of archery duels, hand-to-hand fighting broke out. The tides played a powerful role in the development of the battle, granting the advantage first to the Taira, who were more experienced and abler sailors and later to the Minamoto. The Minamoto advantage was considerably enhanced by the defection of Taguchi Shigeyoshi, a Taira general who revealed the location of Emperor Antoku and the regalia. The Minamoto redirected their attention on the Emperor's ship, and the battle quickly swung in their favor.

Many of the Taira samurai, along with Emperor Antoku and his grandmother Taira no Tokiko, widow of Taira no Kiyomori, threw themselves into the waves rather than live to see their clan's ultimate defeat at the hands of the Minamoto.

Consequences of the Genpei War[edit]

The Taira clan was destroyed, and the Minamoto victory was followed by the establishment of the Kamakura shogunate. Though Minamoto no Yoritomo was not the first to ever hold the title of Shogun, he was the first to wield it in a role of nationwide scope. The end of the Genpei War and beginning of the Kamakura shogunate marked the rise of military (samurai) power and the suppression of the power of the emperor, who was compelled to preside without effective political or military power, until the Meiji Restoration over 650 years later.

In addition, this war and its aftermath established red and white, the colors of the Taira and Minamoto standards, respectively, as Japan's national colors. Today, these colors can be seen on the flag of Japan, and also in banners and flags in sumo and other traditional activities.

Battles[edit]

Map of the battles of the Genpei War

Major figures in the Genpei War[edit]

Minamoto Clan (Also known as "Genji")[edit]

Minamoto no Yoritomo, from an 1179 hanging scroll by Fujiwara no Takanobu

The Minamoto were one of the four great clans that dominated Japanese politics during the Heian period (794-1185). They were, however, decimated by the Taira in the Heiji Rebellion of 1160. Minamoto no Yoshitomo had been the head of the clan at this time; upon his defeat at the hands of Taira no Kiyomori, two of his sons were killed and the third, Minamoto no Yoritomo, was banished. Following the call to arms of Prince Mochihito and Minamoto no Yorimasa in 1180, the clan would gather together and rise to power again. The Genpei war would see the Minamoto clan defeat the Taira and take command of the entire country.

  • Minamoto no Noriyori (源範頼), general, younger brother of Yoritomo.
  • Minamoto no Yorimasa (源頼政), head of the clan at the beginning of the war.
  • Minamoto no Yoritomo (源頼朝), head of the clan upon Yorimasa's death.
  • Minamoto no Yoshitsune (源義経), younger brother of Yoritomo, chief general of the clan.
  • Minamoto no Yukiie (源行家), general, uncle to Yoritomo.
  • Allies and vassals:
    • Emperor Go-Shirakawa (後白河), cloistered (retired) emperor.
    • Prince Mochihito (以仁王), Imperial Prince.
    • Benkei (弁慶), sōhei (warrior monk), ally of Yoshitsune.
    • Hōjō Tokimasa (時政 北条), head of the Hōjō clan (北条), father-in-law of Yoritomo.
    • Kajiwara Kagetoki (景時 梶原), officially an ally of Yoshitsune, in fact a spy for Yoritomo.
    • Kumagai Naozane (直実 熊谷), samurai vassal of Yoritomo.
    • Sasaki Moritsuna (盛綱 佐々木), vassal of Noriyori who commanded the assault at the battle of Kojima.
    • Taguchi Shigeyoshi (重能 田口), Taira general who turned to the Minamoto camp upon seeing the tide turn at the battle of Dan no Ura, thus ensuring Minamoto victory.
    • Nasu no Yoichi (那須与一), celebrated archer and Minamoto ally.
    • Yada Yoshiyasu (矢田 義康), vassal of Yoshinaka and commander of Minamoto forces at the battle of Mizushima.
    • The sōhei (warrior-monks) of Mii-dera and other temples. Three in particular are mentioned in the Heike Monogatari for their part in the first battle of Uji:
      • Ichirai Hoshi (一来 法師), who is famous for having jumped ahead of Jomyo Meishu and led the Mii-dera monks to battle.
      • Gochin no Tajima (ごちん忽), called Tajima the arrow-cutter, and famous for deflecting the arrows of the Taira with his naginata, upon the bridge over the Uji.
      • Tsutsui Jomyo Meishu (筒井 浄妙 めいしゅ), who fought to his last on the bridge over the Uji, taking over sixty arrows and still fighting.
  • Partisans of Minamoto no Yoshinaka (源義仲), cousin of Yoritomo, who supported his rebellion:
    • Imai Kanehira (兼平 今井), who joined Yoshinaka in his escape to Seta.

Taira Clan (Also known as "Heike")[edit]

Taira no Kiyomori, by Kikuchi Yōsai

The Taira clan was one of the four great clans which dominated Japanese politics during the Heian period (794-1185). As a result of the near-total destruction of their rival clan, the Minamoto, in the Heiji Rebellion of 1160, Taira no Kiyomori, head of the clan, initiated the Genpei War at the height of his power. The end of the war, however, brought destruction to the Taira clan.

  • Taira no Atsumori (平敦盛), young samurai killed by Kumagai Naozane who, because of his youth and innocence, became quite famous in death.
  • Taira no Kiyomori (平清盛), head of the clan at the beginning of the war.
  • Taira no Koremori (平維盛), grandson of Kiyomori.
  • Taira no Munemori (平宗盛), son and heir of Kiyomori; head of the clan for much of the war.
  • Taira no Noritsune (平教経), a Taira clan samurai
  • Taira no Shigehira (平重衡), general, son of Kiyomori.
  • Taira no Tadanori (平忠度), general, brother of Kiyomori.
  • Taira no Tokiko (平時子), wife of Kiyomori who committed suicide at the battle of Dan-no-ura.
  • Taira no Tomomori (平知盛), general, son of Kiyomori.
  • Taira no Yukimori (平行盛), general, commander of the Taira forces at the battle of Kojima.
  • Taira no Kagekiyo (平景清), a Taira clan samurai, adopted from the Fujiwara family.
  • Allies and vassals:
    • Emperor Antoku (安徳), Emperor of Japan and grandson of Taira no Kiyomori
    • Ōba Kagechika (大庭景親), vassal of the Taira.
    • Saitō Sanemori (斎藤実盛), former vassal of Minamoto no Yoshitomo, switched sides and became a vassal of Taira no Munenori.
    • Senoo Kaneyasu (妹尾兼康), vassal of the Taira who commanded at the Fukuryūji fortress.
    • Taguchi Shigeyoshi (田口重能), Taira general who turned to the Minamoto camp upon seeing the tide turn at the battle of Dan no Ura, thus ensuring Minamoto victory.
    • The sōhei (warrior-monks) of Enryaku-ji (延暦寺), at least in theory, on account of their rivalry with the Mii-dera, which was allied with the Minamoto.

Genpei War in literature[edit]

Many stories and works of art depict this conflict. The Tale of the Heike (Heike Monogatari, 平家物語) is one of the most famous, though many Kabuki and bunraku plays reproduce events of the war as well. Ichinotani futaba gunki (Chronicle of the battle of Ichi-no-Tani) by Namiki Sōsuke may be one of the more famous of these.

"Shike" by Robert Shea features a somewhat fictionalised account of the wars, as seen from the perspectives of his two main characters, the Zinja Monk Jebu, and the Noblewoman Lady Shima Taniko. The names of the two rival clans have been changed, "Minamoto" to "Muratomo" and "Taira" to "Takashi".

Another fictionalized account of the conflict forms the central plot of Civil War (also known as Turbulent Times), the ninth volume of Osamu Tezuka's celebrated Phoenix series.

The Genpei War is the backdrop for much of Katherine Patterson's young adult novel, Of Nightingales That Weep.

Genpei War in popular culture[edit]

On September 27th, 2011, The Creative Assembly released a DLC pack for Total War: Shogun 2 entitled "Rise of the Samurai", which allows players to play as members of the Taira, the Minamoto, or the Fujiwara families. Through a complex system of province building, diplomacy, research, and combat, players can decide the outcome of the Genpei War for themselves.

Cinemaware's Amiga title Lords of the rising sun features Genpei war. It was made in the beginning of nineties.

The conflict between the Genji and Heike gangs in 2007 Japanese Western film Sukiyaki Western Django mirror's that of the actual Genpei war, albeit "a few hundred years after."

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ In the name "Jishō-Juei War", the noun "Jishō" refers to the nengō (Japanese era name) after "Angen" and before "Yōwa." In other words, the Jishō-Juei War occurred during Jishō, which was a time period spanning the years from 1177 through 1181.
  2. ^ In the name "Jishō-Juei War", the noun "Juei" refers to the nengō (Japanese era name) after "Yōwa" and before "Genryaku." In other words, the Jishō-Juei War occurred during Juei, which was a time period spanning the years from 1182 through 1184.
  3. ^ In the name "Hōgen Rebellion", the noun "Hōgen" refers to the nengō (Japanese era name) after "Kyūju" and before "Heiji." In other words, the Hōgen Rebellion occurred during Hōgen, which was a time period spanning the years from 1156 through 1159.
  4. ^ In the name "Heiji Rebellion", the noun "Heiji" refers to the nengō (Japanese era name) after "Hōgen" and before "Eiryaku." In other words, the Heiji Rebellion occurred during Heiji, which was a time period spanning the years from 1159 through 1160.

External links[edit]