Monday, December 26, 2011

No. 4: Yoritomo Minamoto: the military commander who opened a samurai government for the first time (December 27, 2011)

Yoritomo Minamoto
Yoritomo Minamoto (1147-1199) established a samurai government for the first time in Japan in 1192. He was not killed by Kiyomori Taira despite the fact that his father was defeated by Kiyomori Taira. In those days, it was quite natural that he was killed because he was a son of the military commander of the defeated army. Instead of being killed, he was marooned on the Izu area at the age of 13. The Izu area is now famous as a hot spring resort, but it was a very isolated area back in the 12th century. In the Izu area, he mingled with various kinds of people including farmers and fishermen. His life in this area enabled him to know the daily life of commonalities and the dissatisfaction of samurais. As is often the case, no one can predict what may turn to your advantage. 

Yoritomo had originally no intention of fighting against the Taira family because the Taira family was in the heyday of its power. However, a member of the Minamoto family recklessly tried to defeat the Taira family and lost the battle. Kiyomori Taira angrily asked his subordinates to ruin the Minamoto family. Accordingly, Yoritomo had only two choices: running away from and fighting against the Taira family. He decided to start a war against Kiyomori Taira. In the initial stage, he lost and ran away to a rural area. However, his decision to fight against the Taira family spread among samurais in the Kanto region, and his soldiers increased in number tremendously in a short period of time. This was purely because samurais were dissatisfied with the current situations. In those days, only aristocrats and shrines & temples were allowed to own their land, and samurais were allowed to own their land that they reclaimed and cultivated by themselves. Kiyomori Taira was not able to formulate measures for the stalemate. He knew nothing about the situation in the rural area because he lived in Kyoto. But Yoritomo knew it very well because he lived in a rural area not in Kyoto.

Yoritomo sent an advance unit to Kyoto. The advance unit successfully defeated the Taira family, but the unit members looted Kyoto. The looting made people in Kyoto angry with the Minamoto family, saying that even the Taira family never looted. Then, Yoritomo sent a unit to kill the commander of the advanced team. At this moment, Yoshitsune Minamoto, Japan’s most famous genius of military affairs, made a dazzling debut. One of the indispensable abilities of a leader is to find an asset of a person and make it function effectively in an organization. In this sense, Yoritomo was a great leader because he detected the natural gift of Yoshitsune Minamoto (to be covered later) immediately. Although he sent Yoshitsune to Kyoto, Yoritomo never moved from his hometown because he knew very well that he was not a good military commander.

Thanks to the natural gift of Yoshitsune Minamoto, the Minamoto army defeated the advanced unit and the Taira family completely. However, Yoshitsune was ultimately killed by the unit sent by Yoritomo because he was not able to understand Yoritomo’s strong resolution to establish a samurai government. In short, Yoshitsune was not a politician but a military man, while Yoritomo was not a military man but a politician. No Japanese accuse Yoshitsune of his inability to understand Yoritomo’s real intention. As a matter of fact, root for the underdog (sympathy with the weak) that still clearly exists in the mindset of Japanese results from Yoshitsune’s tragedy.  

The Yoritomo Festival

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