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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

By that time Hidehira had died


attitude of this great fief had always been an object of keen solicitude to Yoritomo. At one time there were rumours that Hidehira intended to throw in his lot with Yoshinaka; at another, that he was about to join hands with the Taira. Yoritomo could never be certain that if the Kwanto were denuded of troops for some westward expedition, an overwhelming attack might not be delivered against Kamakura from the north. Thus, when he learned that Yoshitsune had escaped to Mutsu, all his apprehensions were roused. By that time Hidehira had died, in his ninety-first year, but he had committed to his son, Yasuhira, the duty of guarding Yoshitsune. Hence, when, in the spring of 1188, Kamakura became aware of Yoshitsune's presence in Mutsu, two consecutive messages were sent thither, one from Yoritomo, the other from the Court, ordering Yoshitsune's execution. Yasuhira paid no attention, and Go-Shirakawa commissioned Yoritomo to punish the northern chief's contumacy. Yasuhira now became alarmed. He sent a large force to attack Yoshitsune at Koromo-gawa. Benkei and the little band of comrades who had followed Yoshitsune's fortunes continuously during eight years, died to a man fighting for him, and Yoshitsune, having killed his wife and children, committed suicide. His head was sent to Kamakura.

But this did not satisfy Yoritomo. He wanted something more than Yoshitsune's head; he wanted the great northern fief, and he had no idea of losing his opportunity.

Three armies soon marched northward. They are said to have aggregated 284,000 of all arms. One moved up the western littoral; another up the eastern, and the third, under Yoritomo himself, marched by the inland route. The men of Mutsu fought stoutly, but after a campaign of some two months, Yasuhira, finding himself in a hopeless position, opened negotiations for surrender. His overtures being incontinently rejected, he appreciated the truth, namely, that Yoritomo was bent upon exterminating the Fujiwara of the north and taking possession of their vast estates. Then Yasuhira fled to Ezo, where, shortly afterwards, one of his own soldiers assassinated him and carried his head to Yoritomo, who, instead of rewarding the man, beheaded him for treachery. Thus, from 1189, Yoritomo's sway may be said to have extended throughout the length and breadth of Japan. In the storehouses of the Fujiwara, who, since the days of Kiyohira had ruled for a hundred years in the north, there were found piles of gold, silver, and precious stuffs with which Yoritomo recompensed his troops.


The system of government established by Yeritomo towards the close of the twelfth century and kept in continuous operation thereafter until the middle of the nineteenth, was known as the Bakufu, a word literally signifying "camp office," and intended to convey the fact that the affairs of the empire were in the hands of the military. None of the great Japanese captains prior to Yoritomo recognized that if their authority was to be permanent, it must be exercised independently of the Court and must be derived from some source outside the Court. The Taira chief, in the zenith of his career, had sufficient strength to do as Yoritomo did, and at one moment, that is to say, when he established his headquarters at Fukuhara, he appears to have had a partial inspiration. But he never recognized that whatever share he obtained in the administration of State affairs was derived solely from the nature of the office conferred on him by the Court, and could never exceed the functions of that office or survive its loss. The Fujiwara were astuter politicians. By their plan of hereditary offices and by their device of supplying maidens of their own blood to be Imperial consorts, they created a system having some elements of permanency and some measure of independence.

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