This chapter is a continued part of Chapter 6| Kamakura Period History (1192 – 1333). Please read chapter 6 before reading this section. Some of the information here may overlaps with chapter 6 since this is the continued part.
The circle above indicates the time we discuss in this section
6| Kamakura Period History (1192 – 1333) described there were two major samurai groups, the Genji (源氏) and the Heishi (平氏) at the end of the Heian period. The head of the Genji was Minamoto-no-Yoshitomo (源義朝) and the head of the Heishi (or Heike) was Taira-no-Kiyomori (平清盛). They were childhood friends. When they became an adult, because of the political situation, they were enemies. After their several power struggle, the Genji side lost, and Taira-no-Kiyomori became very powerful. He favored his men and gave high positions, and his daughter marries the emperor. As a result, Kiyomori’s power went even beyond the emperor. This is the time it was said that “if you are not a part of the Heishi family, you are not a human being”. The situation like this created too many opponents. Eventually, suppressed Genji and other samurai groups gathered and raised an army, fought against the Heishi, and defeated them. While Taira-no-Kiyomori was in power, he started active trading with China which contributed to economic prosperity. The picture below is the Itsukushima Jinja (厳島神社) built by Taira-no-Kiyomori. It is registered at the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
From Wikipedia. The photo is a public domain. Author: Rdsmith4 File Itsukushima Floating Shrine.jpg 8 /05/04
Minamoto-no-Yoritomo (源頼朝) was a son of Minamoto-no-Yoshitomo(源義朝). After Yoshitomo was defeated by Taira-no-Kiyomori (平清盛 ), the direct line of Genji, Minamoto-no-Yoritomo was sent to Izu Island. He was in his early teens. Yoritomo grew to be a young man in Izu island, eventually, he met Hojo Masako (北条政子). She was a daughter of Hojo Tokimasa (北条時政), he was a local government official. While Tokimasa was on a business trip to Kyoto, Yoritomo and Masako had a baby. Tokimasa was afraid if the Heike finds out about his daughter and Yoritomo, the Hojo family may get into trouble. So, he planned Masako to marry somebody else. But she escaped a night before the wedding day eloped with Yoritomo. This story was written in the famous Japanese history book called “Azuma Kagami: 吾妻鏡” and a few other books, and also TV shows depict the story this way. However, some say this story may not be exactly how it happened. Meantime In Kyoto, the Heishi became very powerful and tyrannical in the central government, called Chotei (朝廷), and suppressed the opponents. All the angry dissatisfied groups raised an army to attack the Heishi. Minamoto-no-Yoritomo was the head of those opponents and his army grew bigger and stronger with the help of Masako’s father, Hojo Tokimasa. By this time Hojo Tokimasa realized he has a better chance to side with the son-in-law.
The Genji army pushed the Heike all the way to the southern part of Japan. The Heike was defeated at the place called Dan-no-Ura (壇ノ浦 ) near Kyushu area (九州) at 1185. Yoritomo set up the Kamakura Bakufu (Kamakura government) in Kamakura. After Yoritomo’s death, his wife Masako proved herself as a very able politician and she saved Kamakura Bakufu when they were attacked by the central government. Here is one famous story about her. When Yoritomo went around for different women in the town of Kamakura, Masako sent her men to follow her husband and set the fire of the woman’s house whom her husband was after. Masako is well-known as a jealous wife in Japanese history. But in her mind, the Hojo was the one who made Yoritomo the head of the Kamakura Bakufu. Without the aid of the Hojo, Yoritomo had no chance to be what he became.
Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu in Kamakura Author: Urashimataro From Wikipedia Photo is public domain
Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu is one of the major shrines in Kamakura. It is a walking distance from the Kamakura train station. In the photo, there is a big shrine on top of the long steps. Every year on Dec 31, a large number of people come to here to listen to the Joya-no-Kane (除夜の鐘: The night watch bells on New Year’s Eve)
Minamoto-no-Yoritomo (源頼朝) had several half brothers. Taira-no-Kiyomori (平清盛) saved the lives of those young boys with the condition of they become a monk when they grew up. For Kiyomori, they were childhood friend’s sons. One of them was Ushiwaka-Maru (牛若丸: later Minamoto-no-Yoshitsune源義経) who was raised by Taira-no-Kiyomori while he was an infant, believing Kiyomori is his father. Later Yoshitsune was raised in Kurama-Yama temple. He spent his life there until he became mid-teens. After that, he made a flight to live with O-shu Fujiwara (奥州藤原). They were in the northern part of Japan, quite some distance away from Kyoto. O-Shu Fujiwara was a very wealthy clan. They had a luxurious culture there. Because of the long-distance from Chotei (central government), they could behave almost like an independent county. They created grand wealth by mining the gold nearby and trading with the countries outside of Japan. Yoshitsune lived there rather happily for a while, but when he heard his half-brother Yoritomo raised an army to attack the Heike, he decided to join this war. Yoshitsune was quite skillful at the battle, he won many well-known battles which was a very critical battle for Genji to win the war. Yet for Yoritomo, he had a big political plan how to proceed to take over the Heike’s power. But Yoshitusune really could not understand this, he was a good warrior but not a politician. That made Yoritomo angry at his brother. On top of it, Yoshitsune became very popular among people in Kyoto. That made Yoritomo fearful and he decided to get rid of Yoshitsune. Yoshitsune fled to O-Shu Fujiwara. In the beginning, O-Shu Fujiwara protected Yoshitsune but could not hold against Yoritomo’s army. Yoritomo destroyed O-Shu Fujiwara entirely at the end. Today, the grand architecture built by O-Shu Fujiwara was restored. You can visit the “Konjiki-do” inside the Chuson-Ji temple.
Chinese knew about the wealth of O-Shu Fujiwara. Later, Marco Polo heard about the small wealthy country further into the East. He mentioned this small wealthy island in his book, “The travels of Marco Polo”. In this book, he wrote, “all the houses are made of gold”. This is O-Shu Fujiwara. Of course, all the houses were not made of gold. Marco Polo introduced Japan as “Zipangu” in his book. It means the golden country. That evolved into Japan. However, we Japanese don’t call Japan as Japan. We call our country “Nihon” or “Nippon”, both are correct.