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A warlord who established the Samurai and the military government, Minamoto no Yoritomo ended the Heian Period and started the Kamakura Period. Samurais capture our imagination through mainstream media, but how did Minamoto create this warrior class? Let's take a closer look at Minamoto no Yoritomo, the Genpei War, and the establishment of the Kamakura Period!
The timeline below offers a simple breakdown of the life of Minamoto no Yoritomo. After the timeline, we'll dive deeper into these events' significance!
|May 9, 1147||Minamoto no Yoritomo was born|
|1159||Minamoto was banished|
|1180||The Genpei War began|
|1183||Minamoto created his form of government in Kyoto|
|1185||Genpei War and the Heian period both ended while the Kamakura Period began|
|1192||Minamoto initiated a government reform and became Shogun|
Minamoto no Yoritomo was the son of the warlord Minamoto no Yoshitomo and his wife Yura Gozen on May 9, 1147. Yoritomo had two brothers, Yoshihira and Noriyori. He also had two half-brothers, Tomonaga and Yoshitsune. The Minamoto were a powerful clan that dominated Eastern Japan while their political rivals, the Taira, controlled the West. Yoshitomo, Yoritomo's father, challenged the Taira and lost in 1159. Part of his punishment was the banishment of Yoritomo to the Izu province. For twenty years, Yoritomo lived beneath the Taira.
The Minamoto and Taira were loyal to Emperor Go-Shirakawa and his court, but that didn’t stop tensions from rising between the Minamoto and the Taira. The Emperor resigned from the throne and left his infant son, Anotku, to rule. The Minamoto, led by Yoritomo and Taira clans, met in a series of battles called the Genpei War.
The legacy of the samurai can be traced back to this war as the warlords battled for control. Many warlords showed their intellect through clever strategies, while others showed bravery in battle.
The war began with several attacks on the Taira across Japan. Eventually, the Taira met the rebels, led by Yoritomo, in battle. Yoritomo had over 100,000 more men than the Taira. The Taira retreated, and Yoritomo focused on strengthening his army. This war lasted for five years and ended with the death of the young Antoku.
Antoku, who was six years old, was fleeing from the capital, Kyoto, with his grandmother. The pair traveled on Tairo ships but were eventually surrounded by Minamoto warriors and their allies. The general on the boat declared that it was better to die than to be captured by the Minamoto. The general then took his own life.
Antoku’s grandmother carried him to the stern of the boat and led him through Buddhist prayers. After which, she jumped from the boat with the boy in her arms. The two died together, followed by the rest of the soldiers on the boat. This is the first instance of a practice called seppuku.
A Japanese ritual where one would take their own life to show loyalty and reclaim honor.
Yoritomo won the Genpei War in 1185. During this, Yoritomo consolidated a significant amount of power. He also had the loyalty of the warriors who had been displeased with the Taira rule.
The war was over, but Yoritomo's work was not over. He began to consolidate power and kill his enemies. Yoshitsune, Yoritomo's brother, gained the reputation of a strong warrior during the Genpei War. He was brave, heroic, and intelligent, plus, unfortunately for Yoshitsune, a threat.
Yoritomo wasn't going to risk losing his newfound power for his brother, so Yoshitsune was exiled. Two years later, the warrior was forced to commit seppuku.
The Revenge of the Soga Brothers
Kawazu Sukeyasu was a sumo wrestler and member of the Ito clan. The Ito clan allied with the Taira during the war, and Yoritomo considered them enemies. Kawazu's cousin murdered him in the mountains of Hakone. The wrestler left behind two young sons, Juro and Goro. Their mother eventually remarried, and her husband adopted Juro. Goro was sent off to become a monk.
When Juro was 22 and Goro 20, Yoritomo hosted a hunting party, and Kawazu's murderer was invited. Juro saw this as a chance for revenge and collected Goro. The two young men snuck into the camp, and Juro killed their father's murderer. The camp was awakened when the boys proclaimed that they honored their father. The camp attacked them, and Juro was killed. Goro was captured, and Yoritomo had him executed.
This story has a bit of truth to it, but additional pieces have been added over the centuries. The Revenge of the Soga Brothers still captures people's interest today and has a play adaption! It highlights the code of the samurai and the importance of honor.
In 1192, the former emperor, Go-Shirakawa, died. Yoritomo saw this as a chance to advance his position; Yoritomo declared himself the Shogun and created a military government called a bakufu or Shogunate. He established his base as far from Kyoto as possible in Kamakura.
Yoritomo’s power grab was successful, thus ending the Heian period and starting the Kamakura period. The emperor had been reduced to a figurehead who only held power in Kyoto. Yoritomo introduced sweeping reforms. A clear and fair justice system was established with the Minamoto clan as the head.
The clans that assisted Yoritomo during the Gempei war were rewarded for their loyalty during Minamoto's rule. They were given land they could rule, but it was tied to the Minamoto's power. The Minamoto could give out land and titles but take them away just as quickly. This encouraged the warlords to remain loyal to the Shogun. Yoritomo died in a horse riding accident in 1199.
The system that Yoritomo created would evolve into the feudal system in Japan. The Shogun would grant land to lords, who were called daimyo, in exchange for their loyalty. The people tied to this land would work for the daimyo. The daimyo would raise their army. The daimyo didn’t own their territory. Instead, it was loaned to them by the Shogun.
The feudal system lasted Minamoto no Yoritomo and significantly impacted Japan. Eventually, this system became an issue for the Shogun. Daimyos, who had lands far from Kyoto, were far from the Shogun’s influence. They had more control over their lands and would raise armies to challenge the very Shogun to who they were supposedly loyal!
Minamoto no Yoritomo, along with his allies, changed the course of Japanese history. When Yoritomo took power, he ended the Heian period, which the Kamakura replaced. Yoritomo’s power was not sustainable and led to periods of unrest as warlords fought to take the title of Shogun. Still, it was a completely different system than the one Japan had previously.
Minamoto no Yoritomo changed Japan by consolidating power across Japan. He ended the Heian period and started the Kamakura period.
Minamoto was historically significant because he was the first Shogun, ended the Heian period, and started the Kamakura period.
Minamoto No Yoritomo was a Japanese warlord. He was the first Shogun of Japan and consolidated power across Japan.
Minamoto No Yoritomo was an important leader because he was the first Shogun. After the Genpei war, Minamoto installed himself as Shogun while he appointed legal clans and military governments.
Minamoto no Yoritomo is known as the first Shogun.
What period did Minamoto no Yoritomo end?
The Heian Period
Why was Yoritomo banished in 1159?
His father challenged the Taira
Which of the following clans was a political rival of the Minamoto?
True or False:
Emperor Antoku was killed by his grandmother as an act of seppuku.
____ Wars were started when the Taira were attacked across Japan.
What position did Yoritomo create when Emperor go-Shirakawa died?
The system of government that Yoritomo created paved the way for which of the following?
Feudalism in Japan
The Genpei war was the start of which Japanese warrior class?
Where was Yoritomo's seat of power?
______ was a Japanese ritual where one would take their own life as a way to show loyalty and reclaim honor
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