Yei Theodora Ozaki.

Warriors of old Japan : and other stories online

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Yorimasa sent his captain forward.

"My lord bids you welcome," he said, "and wishes me to say that he
worships the same god as yourselves, and he is therefore averse to
shooting against the _Mikoshi_ [sacred palanquin] with his bows and
arrows. Besides this, we are very few in number, so that your names will
be dishonoured and you will be called cowards for having chosen the
weakest post to fight. Now the next gate is guarded by the Heike
soldiers, who are much stronger in numbers than we are. How would it do
for you to go round and fight there? You would surely gain glory in an
encounter with them."

The priests were so pleased by the flattery of this speech that they did
not see that it was a ruse on the part of Yorimasa to get rid of them
easily, and that he was sending them round to bother his rivals. He had
also appealed to their best feelings, for Japanese chivalry teaches that
in the event of choosing between two enemies the weaker must always be

Some polite answer was made to Yorimasa, and then the priests shouldered
the _Mikoshi_ and departed in the same spirited and vociferous manner
that they had come. They went to the next gate, guarded by the Heike.
Battle was given at once, for they were refused admittance. The priests
were beaten and fled for their lives to the hills.

All these stories show us that Yorimasa was a clever man in every way,
but in the end he was unfortunate, and for this there was no help.

When we read the story of his ill-fated death our hearts are filled with
sorrow for him. It is not always as one wishes in this world, and
Yorimasa did not meet with the fate his meritorious deeds and character

The Heike or Taira clan were now in the ascendant (Yorimasa, it will be
remembered, belonged to the Genji or Minamoto), and Kiyomori, their
despotic and unprincipled leader, was Prime Minister. All the important
posts in the Government he gave to his sons, grandsons, and relations,
who under these circumstances, seeing that they owed everything to him,
did just as the tyrant ordered. All _samurai_ who did not belong to the
Heike clan he treated unjustly, even throwing those he did not like into
prison, whether they were innocent or guilty of the crimes or behaviour
deserving such punishment.

As a general of the rival Genji clan, Yorimasa suffered much from this
unfair treatment. As he watched the arrogant conduct of Kiyomori and his
son Munemori, he longed to be able to punish them and to bring
retribution on the whole clan, and to this end he thought and worked and

At last the Heike became so overbearing and so powerful that their
actions passed the bounds of all reason, and Kiyomori, on a question of
succession to the throne, confined the reigning Emperor in his Palace.

This last step was too much for Yorimasa; he could endure this state of
things no longer, and he resolved to make a bold strike for the right.
He placed Prince Takakura, the son of the late Emperor, at the head of
his army and set out to do battle with the Heike.

But the Genji were far inferior in numbers to the Heike, and, sad to
relate, Yorimasa was defeated in his good and just cause. With the
remainder of his army he fled before the enemy and took refuge in the
Temple of Byodoin, situated on the river Uji.

The Byodoin Temple, a large edifice near Kyoto, remains to this day.
Here Yorimasa made a last stand to afford time for Prince Takakura to
escape. He divided his men into two parties - one division he stationed
as a reserve force in the grounds of the temple, while the other he drew
up in battle array along the banks of the river. In case of pursuit, to
prevent the enemy from crossing the river, they tore up the planks which
formed the flooring of the bridge, so that only a skeleton of posts and
cross-beams remained. Then they rested and waited to see what would

The Heike soon came in sight following hard after them. First came the
generals, then the soldiers, twenty-eight thousand strong. They
approached the bridge, but stopped short when they saw what the Genji
had cleverly done. In a few minutes they ranged themselves along the
bank facing the enemy.

Both armies now stood confronting each other on either side of the Uji.
Simultaneously the order was given to fight by both the Genji and the
Heike generals and a fierce discharge of arrows from both sides ensued.

Then there rushed forth from the ranks of the Genji a huge priest,
Tajima Bo by name (in those days the Buddhist priests often took part in
battles); brandishing an enormous halberd he dashed out alone on the
skeleton bridge. The Heike, thinking that he made an excellent target,
shot a shower of arrows at him, but he was not in the least daunted.
When the arrows were aimed at his head, he stooped and they passed over
him; when they were aimed at his legs, he jumped high in the air and
they flew under him; when they were aimed at his body, he swept them
aside with his halberd; and in this way he escaped free from hurt. So
quick was he in his movements, and so marvellous was the way in which he
balanced himself in his progress across the bridge, that he seemed to be
endowed with power more than human; and not only his own comrades but
the enemy also looked at him in breathless admiration.

Then another of Yorimasa's men, also a priest, Jomyo by name, inspired
by this example, came forth and stood up at the end of the bridge, and
fitting his arrows to the bow, in rapid succession shot about a dozen of
the foe, in the twinkling of an eye.

Crying out, "Oh, this is too much trouble!" he threw away his bow and
arrow, and walked over the bridge on another beam, sweeping aside with
his sword the arrows aimed at him.

Yet another priest, famous for his great strength, dashed out and
followed after his friends across the bridge. He soon came up with
Jomyo, but as the beams of the bridge were narrow he could not pass him.
Stopping for a moment to think what he should do, he stretched out his
hands and touched the helmet of the man just in front of him, then
lightly and quickly jumped leap-frog over his head. The bridge was now
soon swarming with the Genji, who with fierce battle-cries began to
attack the Heike, whose advance was entirely checked. For some minutes
the Heike were greatly put out, not knowing what to do.

Then one brave youth, seeing how matters stood, and that it required
some one to take a dauntless lead, sprang forth in front of the Heike
and called out: "Now that it comes to this, there is no other way!" and
with these words he dashed his horse into the river. It was the rainy
season, and the waters were higher and the current stronger than usual.
Black with mud the river ran swirling and whirling on its course.

Never was there a braver sight than when the young soldier drove his
horse into the swollen river and made for the other side. His comrades
could not stand still and watch him; fired by his courage, numbers of
the Heike, shouting "I also! I also!" dashed in after him. In a few
minutes, while the Genji looked on in surprise, three hundred men had
followed the gallant young captain, stemmed and crossed the torrent, and
landed on the other side; and with the same dashing spirit, carrying
everything before them, they broke through the last lines of the Genji
and entered the Byodoin Temple, where their last stand was made. The
Genji, with Yorimasa at their head, were now in a desperate condition.
Seeing his father hard-pressed, Kanetsuna, Yorimasa's second son, an
intrepid young knight, rushed into the thickest of the fight and tried
to defend his father. A Heike captain coming up with fifteen of his men
seized Kanetsuna, overpowered him, and cut off his head.

Not one of Yorimasa's little band turned to flee. Although they knew
there was no hope, they fought on face to face with the foe, for
_samurai_ traditions held it a disgrace to be even wounded in the back.
One famous general in ancient history issued an order to the effect that
prizes would be awarded to those who were shot in the forehead, but
those who were wounded in the back should be slain.

One by one, the Genji fell, slain either by sword or arrow. Yorimasa
received several wounds. Then he saw that there was no use in fighting
more; all was lost. Those of the Genji who were still left made a brave
stand round their chief; while they kept the enemy at bay Yorimasa
slipped away and hastened to Prince Takakura, in the temple, and begged
him to flee in safety while there was yet time.

Having seen his Imperial master safe, Yorimasa then retired to an inner
part of the garden, and sitting under a large tree drew out his sword
and prepared himself to commit _harakiri_, for _samurai_ honour would
not let him survive defeat. Calling his retainer Watanabe, who had
escaped unhurt and who never left his master's side, Yorimasa bade him
act as second in the rite. Then quietly taking off his armour, he
composed a poem. He likened himself to a fossil tree that never knows
the joy of blossoming, for he had never attained his ambition (the
destruction of his enemies), "and sad indeed is the end of my life," the
last line of the verse, were the last words he uttered.

He took out his short sword, and thrusting it into his side died like a
brave and gallant _samurai_, without a moan. Then from behind, as was
his duty as second, Watanabe cut off his master's head, and so that it
should not be discovered by the enemy and carried away as a trophy of
war, he tied a large stone to it, and with sorrowful reverence dropped
it into the river and watched it sink beneath the water out of sight.

In this way died Yorimasa; those of his followers who were not killed by
the enemy died by their own hand, and Prince Takakura, fleeing to Nara,
was overtaken by the Heike and put to death on the way.

Yorimasa was seventy-five years of age when he died. Though, as he
lamented in his last poem, he had not achieved his ambition in punishing
the Heike, yet years later his work was carried on, and the Heike were
completely exterminated by Yoritomo, the great chief and mighty avenger
of the Genji; and the name of Gen Sanmi Yorimasa lives forever in the
history of his country.

[1] All Japanese poetry is regulated and counted by syllables, not by
lines and feet, as with us. Many words have several meanings and the
witty use of these punning facilities is greatly sought after.

[2] The cuckoo in Japanese literature and fancy takes the same place as
the nightingale in England.

[3] "Above the clouds" - a complimentary expression used for the exalted
Court circle.


In old Japan more than seven hundred years ago a fierce war was raging
between the two great clans, the Taira and the Minamoto, also called the
Heike and the Genji. These two famous clans were always contesting
together for political power and military supremacy, and the country was
torn in two with the many bitter battles that were fought. Indeed it may
be said that the history of Japan for many years was the history of
these two mighty martial families; sometimes the Minamoto and sometimes
the Taira gaining the victory, or being beaten, as the case might be;
but their swords knew no rest for a period of many years. At last a
strong and valiant general arose in the House of Minamoto. His name was
Yoshitomo. At this time there were two aspirants for the Imperial throne
and civil war was raging in the capital. One Imperial candidate was
supported by the Taira, the other by the Minamoto. Yoshitomo, though a
Minamoto, sided at first with the Taira against the reigning Emperor;
but when he saw how cruel and relentless their chief, Kiyomori, was, he
turned against him and called all his followers to rally round the
Minamoto standard and fight to put down the Taira.

But fate was against the gallant and doughty warrior Yoshitomo, and he
suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the Taira. He and his men,
while fleeing from the vigilance of their enemies, were overtaken within
the city gates, and ruthlessly slaughtered by Kiyomori and his soldiers.

Yoshitomo left behind him his beautiful young wife, Tokiwa Gozen, and
eight children, to mourn his untimely death. Five of the elder children
were by a first wife. The third of these became Yoritomo, the great
first Shogun of Japan, while the eighth and youngest child was Ushiwaka,
about whom this story is written. Ushiwaka and the hero Yoshitsune were
one and the same person. Ushiwaka (Young Ox - he was so called because of
his wonderful strength) was his name as a boy, and Yoshitsune was the
name he took when he became of age.

At the time of his father's death, Ushiwaka was a babe in the arms of
his mother, Tokiwa Gozen, but his tender age would not have saved his
life had he been found by his father's enemies.

After the defeat they had inflicted on the rival clan, the Taira were
all-powerful for a time. The Minamoto clan were in dire straits and in
danger of being exterminated now, for so fierce was Kiyomori's hatred
against his enemies that when a Minamoto fell into his cruel hands he
immediately put the captive to death.

Realizing the great peril of the situation, Tokiwa Gozen, the widow of
Yoshitomo, full of fear and anxiety for the safety of her little ones,
quietly hid herself in the country, taking with her Ushiwaka and her two
other children. So successful was Tokiwa Gozen in concealing her
hiding-place that, though the Taira clan either killed or banished to a
far-away island all the elder sons, relations, and partisans of the
Minamoto chief, they could not discover the whereabouts of the mother
and her children, notwithstanding the strict search Kiyomori had made.

Determined to have his will, and angry at being thwarted by a woman,
Kiyomori at last hit on a plan which he felt sure would not fail to draw
the wife of Yoshitomo from her hiding-place. He gave orders that Sekiya,
the mother of the fair Tokiwa, should be seized and brought before him.
He told her sternly that if she would reveal her daughter's hiding-place
she should be well treated, but if she refused to do as she was told she
would be tortured and put to death. When the old lady declared that she
did not know where Tokiwa was, as in truth she did not, Kiyomori thrust
her into prison and had her treated cruelly day after day.

Now the reason why Kiyomori was so set on finding Tokiwa and her sons
was that while Yoshitomo's heirs lived he and his family could know no
safety, for the strongest moral law in every Japanese heart was the old
command, "A man may not live under the same heaven with the murderer of
his father," and the Japanese warrior recked nothing of life or death,
of home or love in obeying this - as he deemed - supreme commandment.
Women too burned with the same zeal in avenging the wrongs of their
fathers and husbands.

Tokiwa Gozen, though hiding in the country, heard of what had befallen
her mother, and great was her sorrow and distress. She sat down on the
mats and moaned aloud: "It is wrong of me to let my poor innocent mother
suffer to save myself and my children, but if I give myself up, Kiyomori
will surely take my lord's sons and kill them. - What shall I do? Oh!
what shall I do?"

Poor Tokiwa! Her heart was torn between her love for her mother and her
love for her children. Her anxiety and distraction were pitiful to see.
Finally she decided that it was impossible for her to remain still and
silent under the circumstances; she could not endure the thought that
her mother was suffering persecution while she had the power of
preventing it, so holding the infant Ushiwaka in her bosom under her
kimono, she took his two elder brothers (one seven and the other five
years of age) by the hand and started for the capital.

There were no trains in those days and all travelling by ordinary people
had to be done on foot. _Daimios_ and great and important personages
were carried in palanquins, and they only could travel in comfort and in
state. Tokiwa could not hope to meet with kindness or hospitality on the
way, for she was a Minamoto, and the Taira being all-powerful it was
death to any one to harbour a Minamoto fugitive. So the obstacles that
beset Tokiwa were great; but she was a _samurai_ woman, and she quailed
not at duty, however hard or stern that duty was. The greater the
difficulties, the higher her courage rose to meet them. At last she set
out on her momentous and celebrated journey.

It was winter-time and snow lay on the ground, and the wind blew
piercingly cold and the roads were bad. What Tokiwa, a delicately
nurtured woman, suffered from cold and fatigue, from loneliness and
fear, from anxiety for her little children, from dread lest she should
reach the capital too late to save her old mother, who might die under
the cruel treatment to which she was being subjected, or be put to death
by Kiyomori, in his wrath, or finally lest she herself should be seized
by the Taira, and her filial plan be frustrated before she could reach
the capital - all this must have been greater than any words can tell.

Sometimes poor distressed Tokiwa sat down by the wayside to hush the
wailing babe she carried in her bosom, or to rest the two little boys,
who, tired and faint and famished, clung to her robes, crying for their
usual rice. On and on she went, soothing and consoling them as best she
could, till at last she reached Kyoto, weary, footsore, and almost
heartbroken. But though she was well-nigh overcome with physical
exhaustion, yet her purpose never flagged. She went at once to the
enemy's camp and asked to be admitted to the presence of General

When she was shown into the dread man's presence, she prostrated herself
at his feet and said that she had come to give herself up and to release
her mother.

"I am Tokiwa - the widow of Yoshitomo. I have come with my three children
to beseech you to spare my mother's life and to set her free. My poor
old mother has done nothing wrong. I am guilty of hiding myself and the
little ones, yet I pray humbly for your august forgiveness."

She pleaded in such an agonizing way that Kiyomori, the Taira chieftain,
was struck with admiration for her filial piety, a virtue more highly
esteemed than any other in Japan. He felt sincerely sorry for Tokiwa in
her woe, and her beauty and her tears melted his hard heart, and he
promised her that if she would become his wife he would spare not only
her mother's life, but her three children also.

For the sake of saving her children's lives the sad-hearted woman
consented to Kiyomori's proposal. It must have been terrible to her to
wed with her lord's enemy, the very man who had caused his death; but
the thought that by so doing she saved the lives of his sons, who would
one day surely arise to avenge their father's cruel death, must have
been her consolation and her recompense for the sacrifice.

Kiyomori showed himself kinder to Tokiwa than he had ever shown himself
to any one, for he allowed her to keep the babe Ushiwaka by her side.
The two elder boys he sent to a temple to be trained as acolytes under
the tutelage of priests.

By placing them out of the world in the seclusion of priesthood,
Kiyomori felt that he would have little to fear from them when they
attained manhood. How terribly and bitterly he was mistaken we learn
from history, for two of Yoshitomo's sons, banished though they had been
for years and years, arose like a rushing, mighty whirlwind from the
obscurity of the monastery to avenge their father, and they wiped the
Taira from off the face of the earth.

Time passed by, and when the little babe Ushiwaka at last reached the
age of seven, Kiyomori likewise took him from his mother and sent him to
the priests. The sorrow of Tokiwa, bereft of the last child of her
beloved lord Yoshitomo, can better be imagined than described. But in
her golden captivity even Kiyomori had not been able to deprive her of
one iota of the incomparable power of motherhood, that of influencing
the life of her child to the end of his days. As the little fellow had
lain in her arms night and day, as she crooned him to sleep and taught
him to walk, she forever whispered the name of Minamoto Yoshitomo in his

At last one day her patience was rewarded and Ushiwaka lisped his
father's name correctly. Then Tokiwa clasped him proudly to her breast,
and wept tears of thankfulness and joy and of sorrowing remembrance, for
she could never even for a day banish Yoshitomo from her mind. As
Ushiwaka grew older and could understand better what she said, Tokiwa
would daily whisper, "Remember thy father, Minamoto Yoshitomo! Grow
strong and avenge his death, for he died at the hands of the Taira!" And
day by day she told him stories of his great and good father - of his
martial prowess in battle, and of his great strength and wonderful
wielding of the sword, and she bade her little son remember and be like
his father. And the mother's words and tears, sown in long years of
patience and bitter endurance, bore fruit beyond all she had ever hoped
or dreamed.

So Ushiwaka was taken from his mother at the age of seven, and was sent
to the Tokobo Monastery, at Kuramayama, to be trained as a monk.

Even at that early age he showed great intelligence, read the Sacred
Books with avidity, and surprised the priests by his diligence and
quickness of memory. He was naturally a very high-spirited youth, and
could brook no control and hated to yield to others in anything
whatsoever. As the years passed by and he grew older, he came to hear
from his teachers and school friends of how his father Yoshitomo and his
clan the Minamoto had been overthrown by the Taira, and this filled him
with such intense sorrow and bitterness that sleeping or waking he could
never banish the subject from his mind. As he listened daily to these
things the words of his mother, which she had whispered in his ear as a
child, now came throbbing back to his mind, and he understood their full
meaning for the first time. In the lonely nights he felt again her hot
tears falling on his face, and heard her repeat as clearly as a bell in
the silence of the darkness: "Remember thy father, Minamoto Yoshitomo!
Avenge his death, for he died at the hands of the Taira!"

At last one night the lad dreamed that his mother, beautiful and sad as
he remembered her in the days of his childhood, came to his bedside and
said to him, while the tears streamed down her face: "Avenge thy father,
Yoshitomo! Unless thou remember my last words, I cannot rest in my
grave. I am dying, Ushiwaka, remember!"

And Ushiwaka awoke as he cried aloud in his agony: "I will! Honourable
mother, I will!" From that night his heart burned within him and the
fire and love of clan-race stirred his soul. Continual brooding over the
wrongs of his clan generated in his heart a fierce desire for revenge,
and he finally resolved to abandon the priesthood, become a great
general like his father, and punish the Taira. And as his ambition was
fired and exalted and his mind thrilled back to the days when his poor
unhappy mother Tokiwa prayed and wept over him, daily whispering in his
ear the name of his father, his will grew to purpose strong. Tokiwa had
not suffered in vain. From this time on, Ushiwaka bided his time every
night till all in the temple were fast asleep. When he heard the priests
snoring, and knew himself safe from observation, he would steal out from
the temple, and, making his way down the hillside into the valley, he
would draw his wooden sword and practise fencing by himself, and,
striking the trees and the stones imagine that they were his Taira foes.
As he worked in this way night after night, he felt his muscles grow
strong, and this practice taught him how to wield his sword with skill.

One night as usual Ushiwaka had gone out to the valley and was
diligently brandishing about his wooden sword. His mind fully bent upon
his self-taught lesson, he was marching up and down, chanting snatches
of war-songs and striking the trees and the rocks, when suddenly a great
cloud spread over the heavens, the rain fell, the thunder roared, and
the lightning flashed, and a great noise went through the valley, as if
all the trees were being torn up by the roots and their trunks were

While Ushiwaka wondered what this could mean, a great giant over ten
feet in height stood before him. He had large round glaring eyes that
glinted like metal mirrors; his nose was bright red, and it must have
been about a foot long; his hands were like the claws of a bird, and to

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Online LibraryYei Theodora OzakiWarriors of old Japan : and other stories → online text (page 4 of 14)