Thursday, December 29, 2011

No. 5: Yoshitsune Minamoto: a tragic military commander incapable of understanding the game of politics (December 29, 2011)

Yoshitsune descends on a horse
Yoshitsune Minamoto (1159-1189) was undefeated in wars, but he was killed by the army sent by his brother Yoritomo Minamoto. He was the greatest military commander in his time. The war between the Taira family and Minamoto family began when Yoritomo Minamoto decided to fight against Kiyomori Taira. Convinced of the military genius of Yoshitsune, Yoritomo appointed Yoshitsune the military commander.

Surprise attack characterizes Yoshitune’s strategy. In the battle in Kobe, a city in the Kansai district, the Taira army took up a position facing the Seto Inland Sea with mountains behind. Because the mountains in this area have rather steep slope, it was hardly possible to attach the Taira army from the mountainside. The Taira family never dreamt of being attached from the mountainside. When the two armies were in the middle of the war, the unit led by Yoshitsune, soldiers and horses alike, descended at full speed the slope and attacked the Taira army from the mountainside. Before he ordered his soldiers to ascend the slope ahorse, he asked a local hunter if a deer could descend the slope. Responding to the farmer’s affirmative reply, he and his soldiers went down the slope at full speed and destroyed the Taira army. 

Yoshitsune achieved an overwhelming victory over the Taira family, but he failed to recover one of the three sacred imperial treasures that symbolize the sovereignty of the emperor. Yoritomo wished to use the three treasures as the bargaining chip in the negotiations with the emperor because he tried to establish a samurai government for the sake of samurais. Presumably, Yoritomo strongly ordered Yoshitsune to bring them back to him, but Yoshitsune failed to execute the order not knowing how important it was. Yoritomo naturally got angry with Yoshitsune, but Yoshitsune was not able to understand why his brother was so angry. It was his tragedy that he had no competent subordinate with the ability to understand political affairs.

Ultimately, Yoshitsune was killed by the army sent by Yoritomo. Ironically enough, however, the tragic death made Yoshitsune even more popular among people. It was believed that Yoshitsune went to Mongolia and became Genghis Khan (1162-1227). This plot shows how popular Yoshitsune is among Japanese, though it is totally absurd and nonsense.  

A legendary hero: Yoshitsune Minamoto

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