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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley



Murdoch's History of Japan.


In 1180, at the instance of Kiyomori and partly, no doubt, because of the difficult position in which he found himself placed with regard to his imprisoned father, the Emperor Takakura, then in his twentieth year, resigned the throne in favour of Kiyomori's grandson, Antoku (eighty-first sovereign), a child of three. This was the culmination of the Taira's fortunes. There was at that time among the Kyoto officials a Minamoto named Yorimasa, sixth in descent from Minamoto Mitsunaka, who flourished in the tenth century and by whose order the heirloom swords, Hige-kiri and Hiza-kiri, were forged. This Yorimasa was an expert bowman, a skilled soldier, and an adept versifier, accomplishments not infrequently combined in one person during the Heian epoch. Go-Shirakawa, appreciating Yorimasa's abilities, nominated him director of the Imperial Estates Bureau (Kurando) and afterwards made him governor of Hyogo.

But it was not until he had reached the age of seventy-five that, on Kiyomori's recommendation, he received promotion, in 1178, to the second grade of the third rank (ju-sammi), thus for the first time obtaining the privilege of access to the Imperial presence. The explanation of this tardy recognition is, perhaps, to be sought in Yorimasa's preference of prudence to loyalty. In the year of Heiji, he held his little band of

bushi in the leash until the issue of the battle could be clearly forseen, and then he threw in his lot with the Taira. Such shallow fealty seldom wins its way to high place. Men did not forget Yorimasa's record. His belated admission to the ranks of the tenjo-bito provoked some derision and he was commonly spoken of as Gen-sammi (the Minamoto third rank).

But even for one constitutionally so cautious, the pretensions of the Taira became intolerable. Yorimasa determined to strike a blow for the Minamoto cause, and looking round for a figure-head, he fixed upon Prince Mochihito, elder brother of Takakura. This prince, being the son of a concubine, had never reached Imperial rank, though he was thirty years of age, but he possessed some capacity, and a noted physiognomist had recognized in him a future Emperor. In 1170, at Yorimasa's instance, Prince Mochihito secretly sent to all the Minamoto families throughout the empire, especially to Yoritomo at his place of exile in Izu, a document impeaching the conduct of the Taira and exhorting the Minamoto to muster and attack them.

Yorimasa's story shows that he would not have embarked upon this enterprise had he not seen solid hope of success. But one of the aids he counted on proved unsound. That aid was the Buddhist priesthood. Kiyomori had offended the great monasteries by bestowing special favour on the insignificant shrine of Itsukushima-Myojin. A revelation received in a dream having persuaded him that his fortunes were intimately connected with this shrine, he not only rebuilt it on a scale of much magnificence, but also persuaded Go-Shirakawa to make three solemn progresses thither. This partiality reached its acme at the time of Takakura's abdication (1180), for instead of complying with the custom hitherto observed on such occasions--the custom of worshipping at one or more shrines of the three great monasteries--Enryaku (Hiei-zan), Kofuku (Nara), or Onjo (Miidera)--Takakura, prompted by Kiyomori, proceeded to Itsukushima.*

*See Murdoch's History of Japan.

A monster demonstration on the part of the offended monasteries was temporarily quieted, but deep umbrage rankled in the bosoms of the priests, and Yorimasa counted on their co-operation with his insurrection. He forgot, however, that no bond could be trusted to hold them permanently together in the face of their habitual rivalry, and it was here that his scheme ultimately broke down. At an early stage, some vague news of the plot reached Kiyomori's ears and he hastened from his Fukuhara villa to Kyoto. But it soon became evident that his information was incomplete. He knew, indeed, that Prince Mochihito was involved, but he suspected Go-Shirakawa also, and he entertained no conception of Yorimasa's complicity. Thus, while removing Go-Shirakawa to Rokuhara and despatching a force to seize Mochihito, he entrusted the direction of the latter measure to Yorimasa's son, Kanetsuna, who, it need scarcely be said, failed to apprehend the prince or to elicit any information from his followers.

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