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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

The western Chikuzen and Buzen



The fight at Yashima was followed by a month's interval of comparatively minor operations, undertaken for the purpose of bringing Shikoku completely under Minamoto sway. During that time the two clans prepared for final action. The Taira would have withdrawn altogether into Kyushu, but such a course must have been preceded by the dislodging of Noriyori, with his army of thirty thousand men, from Bungo province, which they had occupied since the beginning of March. It is true that Noriyori himself was unable to make any further incursion into Kyushu so long as his maritime communications with his advanced base in Suwo remained at the mercy of the Taira fleet. But it is equally true that the Taira generals dared not enter Kyushu so long as a strong Minamoto force was planted on the left flank of their route.

Thus, a peculiar situation existed at the beginning of April, 1185. Of the two provinces at the extreme south of the main island, one, the eastern (Suwo), was in Minamoto occupation; the other, the western (Nagato), was mainly held by the Taira; and of the three provinces forming the northern littoral of Kyushu, two, the western (Chikuzen and Buzen), were in Taira hands, and the third, the eastern (Bungo), was the camp of Noriyori with his thirty thousand men. Finally, the Strait of Shimonoseki between Chikuzen and Buzen was in Taira possession. Evidently the aim of the Taira must be to eliminate

Noriyori from the battle now pending, and to that end they selected for arena Dan-no-ura, that is to say, the littoral of Nagato province immediately east of the Shimonoseki Strait.

We have seen that ever since the Ichi-no-tani fight, the Minamoto generals, especially Kajiwara Kagetoki, had been actively engaged in building, or otherwise acquiring, war-junks. By April, 1185, they had brought together a squadron of seven to eight hundred; whereas, in the sequel of Yashima and minor engagements, the Taira fleet had been reduced to some five hundred. The war-junk of those days was not a complicated machine. Propelled by oars, it had no fighting capacities of its own, its main purpose being to carry its occupants within bow-range or sword-reach of their adversaries. Naval tactics consisted solely in getting the wind-gage for archery purposes.

By the 22nd of April, 1185, the whole of the Minamoto fleet had assembled at Oshima, an island lying off the southeast of Suwo, the Taira vessels, with the exception of the Hikoshima contingent, being anchored at Dan-no-ura. On that day, a strong squadron, sent out by Yoshitsune for reconnoitring purposes, marshalled itself at a distance of about two miles from the Taira array, and this fact having been signalled to the Taira general, Tomomori, at Hikoshima, he at once passed the strait and joined forces with the main fleet at Dan-no-ura. Yoshitsune's design had been to deliver a general attack immediately after the despatch of the reconnoitring squadron, but this was prevented by a deluge of blinding rain which lasted until the night of the 24th.

Thus, it was not until the 25th that the battle took place. It commenced with an inconclusive archery duel at long range, whereafter the two fleets closed up and a desperate hand-to-hand struggle ensued. Neither side could claim any decisive advantage until Taguchi Shigeyoshi deserted from the Taira and passed over with all his ships to the Minamoto. This Taguchi had been originally an influential magnate of Iyo in Shikoku, whence he had accompanied the Taira retreat to Nagato, leaving his son with three thousand men to defend the family manors in Iyo. The son was so generously treated by the Minamoto that he threw in his lot with them and sent letters urging his father to adopt the same cause. Taguchi not only followed his son's advice but also chose the moment most disastrous for the Taira.

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