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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

And they rushed at the Taira position


These

remarks apply to all the fighting men of whatever part of Japan, but as to the Kwanto bushi, their special characteristics are thus described by a writer of the twelfth century: "Their ponderous bows require three men or five to bend them. Their quivers, which match these bows, hold fourteen or fifteen bundles of arrows. They are very quick in releasing their shafts, and each arrow kills or wounds two or three foemen, the impact being powerful enough to pierce two or three thicknesses of armour at a time, and they never fail to hit the mark. Every daimyo (owner of a great estate) has at least twenty or thirty of such mounted archers, and even the owner of a small barren estate has two or three. Their horses are very excellent, for they are carefully selected, while as yet in pasture, and then trained after their own peculiar fashion. With five or ten such excellent mounts each, they go out hunting deer or foxes and gallop up and down mountains and forests. Trained in these wild methods, they are all splendid horsemen who know how to ride but never how to fall. It is the habit of the Kwanto bushi that if in the field of battle a father be killed, the son will not retreat, or if a son be slain the father will not yield, but stepping over the dead, they will fight to the death."*

*Murdoch's History of Japan.

The Taira, as noted above, had by this time largely recovered from the disasters suffered in their first

encounters with Yoshinaka's forces. In the western provinces of the main island, in Shikoku, and in Kyushu, scions of the clan had served as governors in former times, so that ties of close intimacy had been established with the inhabitants. Since the first flight to Kyushu in August, 1183, their generals, Shigehira, Michimori, Noritsune, and others had defeated the forces of Yoshinaka at Mizushima and those of Yukiiye at Muroyama, so that no less than fourteen provinces of the Sanyo-do and the Nankai-do owned Taira sway, and by the beginning of 1184 they had re-occupied the Fukuhara district, establishing themselves at a position of great natural strength called Ichi-no-tani in the province of Harima. Their lines extended several miles, over which space one hundred thousand men were distributed. They lay within a semi-circle of mountains supposed to be inaccessible from the north; their camp was washed on the south by the sea where a thousand war-vessels were assembled; the east flank rested on a forest, and the west was strongly fortified.

On March 21, 1184, the Kamakura armies delivered their assault on this position; Noriyori with fifty-six thousand men against the east flank at Ikuta; Yoshitsune's lieutenants with twenty thousand men against the west at Suma. Little progress was made. Defence and attack were equally obstinate, and the advantage of position as well as of numbers was with the former. But Yoshitsune himself had foreseen this and had determined that the best, if not the only, hope of victory lay in delivering an assault by descending the northern rampart of mountains at Hiyodori Pass. Access from that side being counted impracticable, no dispositions had been made by the Taira to guard the defile. Yoshitsune selected for the venture seventy-five men, among them being Benkei, Hatakeyama Shigetada, and others of his most trusted comrades. They succeeded in riding down the steep declivity, and they rushed at the Taira position, setting fire to everything inflammable.


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