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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

Commonly called Kiso Yoshinaka


This

was the stripling who rode into Yoritomo's camp on a November day in the year 1180. The brothers had never previously seen each other's faces, and their meeting in such circumstances was a dramatic event. Among Yoshitsune's score of followers there were several who subsequently earned undying fame, but one deserves special mention here. Benkei, the giant halberdier, had turned his back upon the priesthood, and, becoming a free lance, conceived the ambition of forcibly collecting a thousand swords from their wearers. He wielded the halberd with extraordinary skill, and such a huge weapon in the hand of a man with seven feet of stalwart stature constituted a menace before which a solitary wayfarer did not hesitate to surrender his sword. One evening, Benkei observed an armed acolyte approaching the Gojo bridge in Kyoto. The acolyte was Yoshitsune, and the time, the eve of his departure for Mutsu. Benkei made light of disarming a lad of tender years and seemingly slender strength. But already in his acolyte days Yoshitsune had studied swordsmanship, and he supplemented his knowledge by activity almost supernatural. The giant Benkei soon found himself praying for life and swearing allegiance to his boy conqueror, an oath which he kept so faithfully as to become the type of soldierly fidelity for all subsequent generations of his countrymen.

KISO YOSHINAKA

Looking at the map of central Japan, it is seen that the

seven provinces of Suruga, Izu, Awa, Kai, Sagami, Musashi, and Kazusa are grouped approximately in the shape of a Japanese fan (uchiwa), having Izu for the handle. Along the Pacific coast, eastward of this fan, lie the provinces of Shimosa and Hitachi, where the Nitta and the Satake, respectively, gave employment for some time to the diplomatic and military resources of the Minamoto. Running inland from the circumference of the fan are Shinano and Kotsuke, in which two provinces, also, a powerful Minamoto resurrection synchronized with, but was independent of, the Yoritomo movement.

The hero of the Shinano-Kotsuke drama was Minamoto no Yoshinaka, commonly called Kiso Yoshinaka, because his youth was passed among the mountains where the Kiso River has its source. In the year 1155, Yoshitomo's eldest son, Yoshihira,* was sent to Musashi to fight against his uncle, Yoshikata. The latter fell, and his son, Yoshinaka, a baby of two, was handed to Saito Sanemori to be executed; but the latter sent the child to Shinano, where it was brought up by Nakahara Kaneto, the husband of its nurse. Yoshinaka attained an immense stature as well as signal skill in archery and horsemanship. Like Yoritomo and Yoshitsune, he brooded much on the evil fortunes of the Minamoto, and paid frequent visits to Kyoto to observe the course of events. In the year 1180, the mandate of Prince Mochihito reached him, and learning that Yoritomo had taken the field, he gathered a force in Shinano. Between the two leaders there could be no final forgetfulness of the fact that Yoritomo's brother had killed Yoshinaka's father, and had ordered the slaying of Yoshinaka himself. But this evil memory did not obtrude itself at the outset. They worked independently. Yoshinaka gained a signal victory over the Taira forces marshalled against him by the governor of Shinano, and pushing thence eastward into Kotsuke, obtained the allegiance of the Ashikaga of Shimotsuke and of the Takeda of Kai. Thus, the year 1180 closed upon a disastrous state of affairs for the Taira, no less than ten provinces in the east having fallen practically under Minamoto sway.


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