Sunday, December 25, 2011

No. 3: Kiyomori Taira: the military commander who brought samurais to the front stage of politics (December 26, 2011)

Kiyomori Taira
Kiyomori Taira (1118-1181), head the Taira family, was the military commander who virtually ruled Japan for the first time in Japan. Yoritomo Minamoto (1147-1199), head of the Minamoto family, defeated the Taira family and became the military commander who established a samurai government for the first time in Japan. In this sense, Kiyomori Taira opened up the road to and laid the foundation for a samurai government. Yoritomo Minamoto who opened Japan’s first samurai government in 1192 will be covered later. In the Japanese system, only an emperor can rule Japan, and only a member of the emperor family can be an emperor. This is the firmly established system since the beginning of the Japanese history, though emperor’s sovereign power is nominal at present. 

What Kiyomori Taira did was to rule Japan under the auspices of the incumbent emperor. In the Heian period (794-1192), aristocrats owned their lands across the country under the sponsorship of an emperor. They lived in Kyoto, then capital of Japan, and never engaged themselves in the reclamation of rural areas. It was samurais who reclaimed rural areas to create paddy fields and develop cities. Living in Kyoto, the aristocrats lent their ownership rights to samurais and received a certain amount of money in exchange for the lending. That is, samurais were never able to own the land that they cultivate by themselves. Samurais worked hard to reclaim rural areas and became powerful in their respective areas, while paying a fixed amount of money to the aristocrats in Kyoto. 
Itsukushima Shinto Shrine built by Taira Kiyomori
It is quite natural that the more powerful samurais became, the stronger their dissatisfaction with the present situations grew. The head of these samurais was the father of Yoritomo Minamoto. The samurais fought against the Kiyomori Taira under the leadership of Yoritomo’s father, but they lost the war. Kiyomori Taira killed Yoritomo’s father but did not kill Yoritomo. In later years, the Taira family was ruined by Yoritomo and his brother Yoshitsune (to be covered later). This is an irony of history. He should have killed Yoritomo. In a sense, Kiyomori Taira was a politician and not a military commander.

Kiyomori Taira was not able to work out effective measures to settle the dissatisfaction of samurais because he lived in Kyoto and knew nothing about the reality of the rural areas. In some ways, he was not a good politician. Anyway, Kiyomori Taira should be memorized as a great leader to bring samurais to the front stage of politics for the first time in the Japanese history. A drama that features Kiyomori Taira will be televised by Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) starting on January 8, 2012. 

Seto Inland Sea Kiyomori loved most

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