Battle of Minatogawa

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Battle of Minatogawa
Part of the Nanboku-chō Wars
Troops disposition at Minatogawa
Troops disposition at Minatogawa
Date July 4, 1336
Location near the Minato river, Kobe
Result Ashikaga victory
Ashikaga rebels Japanese imperial forces
Commanders and leaders
Ashikaga Takauji
Ashikaga Tadayoshi
Kō no Moroyasu
Kusunoki Masashige
Nitta Yoshisada
50,000 25,000
Casualties and losses
? Kusunoki force decimated

The Battle of Minatogawa(湊川の戦い) also known as the Battle of Minato River was fought in July 4, 1336 between Japanese forces loyal to Emperor Go-Daigo and the Ashikaga clan. The battle took place near the Minato River of Settsu Province (present day, Kobe, Hyōgo Prefecture). The Imperial force led by Kusunoki Masashige and Nitta Yoshisada attempted to intercept the Ashikaga force led by Ashikaga Takauji which had rebuilt its force by dominating forces of Kyushu through the victory at the Battle of Tatarahama.


The previous year had resulted in the defeat of the Ashikaga clan by the Imperial force and Ashikaga Takauji had been forced to flee Kyoto for Kyushu. With the position of strength, Kusunoki Masashige attempted to persuade Emperor Daigo II to seek peace. Daigo refused, as he believed that the threat of the Ashikaga clan could be eliminated. Nitta Yoshisada was ordered to assemble the force to defeat the Ashikaga clan while Masashige was ordered back to his domain in disgrace.

Yoshisada launched his campaign but Akamatsu Norimura who sided with Ashikaga clan forced the Imperial force into a protracted siege by defending Shirohata Castle in Harima Province, which gave Ashikaga clan time to regroup and consolidate Kyushu forces by winning the Battle of Tatarahama. Immediately, Takauji launched the counter-invasion, convincing clans such as Hosokawa, Toki, and Kono to his side along the way and quickly moved his force by sea.

Informed of Takauji's advance, Yoshisada ended the siege and attempted to find a better defensive position by retreating to Settsu Province but with Norimura giving chase and the loss of morale, the Imperial force dwindled in number as local forces switched to the Ashikaga side.


Running out of options, Emperor Go-Daigo ordered Masashige to gather his force and reinforce Yoshisada. After failing to argue for the strategy of letting Ashikaga clan into Kyoto and forcing them to defend it while harassing its supply route, knowing the futility of trying to defend with a demoralized and numerically inferior force, Masashige ordered Kusunoki Masatsura, his eldest son to back to his domain to continue the war and advanced to successfully join Yoshisada. The Imperial force had no naval force to prevent itself from being surrounded but choose a defendable position near Minato River and extending its troop east to attempt to prevent a landing from sea to south. The fresh force under Masashige crossed the river to form the center taking the deliberate risk of encirclement to cause as much damage as possible before being defeated. Defending a narrow land corridor, the numerical strength of Ashikaga force could be minimised if only a frontal assault is attempted.

The Ashikaga force chose to encircle and destroy the Imperial force. The main land force led by Tadayoshi attacked the Imperial from west to tie down Masashige with Shoni Yorihisa launching a side attack from south and Shiba Takatsune circling from north to attack from behind. The landing of Hosokawa Jozen further to east forced Yoshisada to avoid an encirclement by pulling back and Masashige was quickly surrounded with the Takauji landing his naval force between two Imperial forces without any interference. Abandoned by the main Imperial force, the force under Kusunoki clan was quickly overwhelmed and Kusunoki Masashige, Kusunoki Masasue and their entourages were forced to commit suicide.

The battle was not overyet as Yoshisada was able to rally his force to mount a ferocious assault which was later commented to be the final battle between Nitta clan and Ashikaga clan in Taiheiki. This was still not enough as the numerical difference begin to show and even Yoshisada himself was forced to personal combats to enable his force to retreat. The remaining Imperial force was forced back to Kyoto which was quickly abandoned as undefendable and Go-Daigo retreated to the religious sanctuary of Mount Hiei. The umimpeded force of Ashikaga clan entered Kyoto and Emperor Kōmyō was enthroned to begin Nanboku-chō period.

Cultural Significance[edit]

This and series of battles are recorded with drama and exaggeration of accounts in Taiheiki, an historical epic which provide the wealth of information known to this period. During Edo period, Masashige, despite only commanding a fraction of Imperial force, became a figure of loyalty for choosing to sacrifice himself for the Imperial family against the impossible odd with Tokugawa Mitsukuni writing the epitaph and Minatogawa Shrine consecrated in May 24, 1872 to cement his fame. The battle was commonly taught as a morality tale until the end of World War II and Captain Goro Nonaka criticized the use of Ohka by 721st Naval Air Group comparing it to this battle as a sign of futility.

See also[edit]