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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

Tracing the career of Taira no Kiyomori


of these sons, Tomonaga, fell by his father's hand. Accompanying Yoshitomo's retreat, he had been severely wounded, and he asked his father to kill him rather than leave him at Awobake to fall into the hands of the Taira. Yoshitomo consented, though the lad was only fifteen years of age.


In human affairs many events ascribed by onlookers to design are really the outcome of accident or unforseen opportunity. Historians, tracing the career of Taira no Kiyomori, ascribe to him singular astuteness in creating occasions and marked promptness in utilizing them. But Kiyomori was not a man of original or brilliant conceptions. He had not even the imperturbability essential to military leadership. The most prominent features of his character were unbridled ambition, intolerance of opposition, and unscrupulous pursuit of visible ends. He did not initiate anything but was content to follow in the footsteps of the Fujiwara. It has been recorded that in 1158--after the Hogen tumult, but before that of Heiji--he married his daughter to a son of Fujiwara Shinzoi. In that transaction, however, Shinzei's will dominated. Two years later, the Minamoto's power having been shattered, Kiyomori gave another of his daughters to be the mistress of the kwampaku, Fujiwara Motozane. There was no offspring of this union, and when, in 1166, Motozane died, he left a five-year-old son, Motomichi, born of his wife,

a Fujiwara lady. This boy was too young to succeed to the office of regent, and therefore had no title to any of the property accruing to the holder of that post, who had always been recognized as de jure head of the Fujiwara family. Nevertheless, Kiyomori, having contrived that the child should be entrusted to his daughter's care, asserted its claims so strenuously that many of the Fujiwara manors and all the heirlooms were handed over to it, the result being a visible weakening of the great family's influence.*

*See Murdoch's History of Japan.


The most signal result of the Hogen and Heiji insurrections was to transfer the administrative power from the Court nobles to the military chiefs. In no country were class distinctions more scrupulously observed than in Japan. All officials of the fifth rank and upwards must belong to the families of the Court nobility, and no office carrying with it rank higher than the sixth might be occupied by a military man. In all the history of the empire down to the twelfth century there had been only one departure from this rule, and that was in the case of the illustrious General Saka-no-ye no Tamura-maro, who had been raised to the third rank and made dainagon.

The social positions of the two groups were even more rigidly differentiated; those of the fifth rank and upwards being termed tenjo-bito, or men having the privilege of entree to the palace and to the Imperial presence; while the lower group (from the sixth downwards) had no such privilege and were consequently termed chige-bito, or groundlings. The three highest offices (spoken of as san-ko) could not be held by any save members of the Fujiwara or Kuga families; and for offices carrying fifth rank upwards (designated taifu) the range of eligible families extended to only four others, the Ariwara, the Ki, the Oye, and the Kiyowara. All this was changed after the Heiji commotion. The Fujiwara had used the military leaders for their own ends; Kiyomori supplemented his military strength with Fujiwara methods. He caused himself to be appointed sangi (councillor of State) and to be raised to the first grade of the third rank, and he procured for his friends and relations posts as provincial governors, so that they were able to organize throughout the empire military forces devoted to the Taira cause.

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