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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

Yoshitsune saw his opportunity


The

21st of March, 1185, was a day of tempest. Yoshitsune saw his opportunity. He proposed to run over to the opposite coast and attack Yashima under cover of the storm. Kagetoki objected that no vessel could live in such weather. Yoshitsune then called for volunteers. About one hundred and fifty daring spirits responded. They embarked in five war-junks, some of the sailors being ordered to choose between manning the vessels or dying by the sword. Sweeping over the Harima Nada with the storm astern, Yoshitsune and his little band of heroic men landed safely on the Awa coast, and dashed at once to the assault of the Taira, who were taken wholly by surprise, never imagining that any forces could have essayed such an enterprise in such a tempest. Some fought resolutely, but ultimately all that had not perished under the swords of the Minamoto obeyed Munemori's orders to embark, and the evening of the 23rd of March saw the Taira fleet congregated in Shido Bay and crowded with fugitives. There they were attacked at dawn on the 24th by Yoshitsune, to whom there had arrived on the previous evening a re-enforcement of thirty war-junks, sent, not by Kagetoki, but by a Minamoto supporter who had been driven from the province of Iyo some time previously by the Taira.

As usual, the impetuosity of Yoshitsune's onset carried everything before it. Soon the Taira fleet was flying down the Inland Sea, and when Kajiwara Kagetoki, having at length completed his preparations,

arrived off Yashima on the 25th of March with some four hundred war-vessels, he found only the ashes of the Taira palaces and palisades. Munemori, with the boy Emperor and all the survivors of the Taira, had fled by sea to join Tomomori at Hikoshima. This enterprise was even more brilliant and much more conclusive than that of Ichi-no-tani. During three consecutive days, with a mere handful of one hundred and fifty followers, Yoshitsune had engaged a powerful Taira army on shore, and on the fourth day he had attacked and routed them at sea, where the disparity of force must have been evident and where no adventitious natural aids were available.

When every allowance is made for the incompetence of the Taira commander, Munemori, and for the crippling necessity of securing the safety of the child-sovereign, Antoku, the battle of Yashima still remains one of the most extraordinary military feats on record. Among the incidents of the battle, it is recorded that Yoshitsune himself was in imminent peril at one time, and the details illustrate the manner of fighting in that era. He dropped his bow into the sea during the naval engagement, and when he essayed to pick it up, some Taira soldiers hooked his armour with a grapnel. Yoshitsune severed the haft of the grapnel with his sword and deliberately picked up the bow. Asked why he had imperilled his person for a mere bow, he replied, "Had it been a bow such as my uncle Tametomo bent, its falling into the enemy's possession would not matter; but a weak bow like mine would give them something to laugh at." Observing this incident, Noritsune, one of the best fighters and most skilled archers among the Taira, made Yoshitsune the target of his shafts. But Sato Tsuginobu, member of the band of trusted comrades who had accompanied the Minamoto hero from Mutsu, interposed his body and received the arrow destined for Yoshitsune. Kikuo, Noritsune's squire, leaped from his boat to decapitate the wounded Tsuginobu, but was shot down by the latter's younger brother. Yoshitsune pillowed Tsuginobu's head on his knees and asked the dying man whether he had any last message. The answer was: "To die for my lord is not death. I have longed for such an end ever since we took the field. My only regret is that I cannot live to see the annihilation of the Taira." Yoshitsune, weeping, said, "To annihilate the Taira is a mere matter of days, but all time would not suffice to repay your devotion."


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