那須 与一 Nasu no Yoichi

The Story of Nasu no Yoichi

What would you do if you were asked to choose between attempting to shoot an arrow through a fan 70 meters (230 feet) away and being killed if you failed, or committing seppuku (Japanese: “self disembowelment”)? There was a man in the past who was faced with such an ultimate choice. This article will introduce a man named Nasu No Yoichi, who succeeded in making that choice.

His Journey Until the War

The life of Nasu No Yoichi is steeped in legend but does not appear in the “Azuma Kagami,” a history book completed in the Japanese medieval times or the diaries of aristocrats. In other words, whether he actually existed or not is uncertain. Let us look at his life story with reference to “Nasu No Yoichi,” an act from the poetry book “The Tale of the Heike,” which made Nasu No Yoichi famous.

He was born between 1166 and 1169 as the 11th child of Nasu no Suketaka, who lived in what is now Tochigi Prefecture. His real name is Nasu Munetaka, and Yoichi is like a nickname for an 11th child. The most famous epitaph that made him famous is his bow and arrow technique. It is said that he was always known as a great bow and arrow player and was a hard worker who never missed a practice. It was during his training with the bow and arrow that he met Minamoto no Yoshitsune, who would become a key person in his life.

What is the “Legend of the Fan”?

The legend is that the Heike clan, which had been hostile to the Minamoto clan followed by Yoichi, had declined in power and holed up in what is now known as the Shikoku area. The Heike chose to flee to Shikoku (an island surrounded by the sea) because they believed that the Minamoto clan could not cross the sea, as they did not have ships then. There was a strong storm in the area, and it seemed that the Minamoto forces could not do anything, but their leader, Yoshitsune, threatened the local fishermen, obtained a boat, and headed for the Heike. Although this action of Yoshitsune seemed sudden, he had a neat plan, which was also very unique. He headed for Shikoku with only 150 cavalries to land and burned all the houses around him to prevent the Heike from escaping. This kept the Heike inland and made them think that the Minamoto had landed in large numbers. The Heike, fleeing towards the sea for their lives, realized only after they reached the sea that only a few Minamoto clan members actually were present. They then provoked the Minamoto clan with a challenge. They sent a woman with a fan sail out to sea and challenged them to shoot an arrow through the fan in her hand, and of course, if it failed, the woman would die.

Yoshitsune’s Decision

Yoshitsune, who had been eager to defeat Heike, flinched at Heike’s provocation and looked for someone among his subjects who could accomplish it instead. He asked his subjects to make the ultimate choice: to commit seppuku or to shoot a fan. But the challenge was, even if they chose shooting through the fan to avoid committing seppuku, if they shot through the woman instead of the fan, they would eventually have to commit seppuku. The request was first made to Yoichi’s brother, who was known to be an expert archer, but he declined. Then, Yoichi’s brother appointed Yoichi. Yoichi accepted the challenge. He aimed at the woman’s fan 70 meters away, fired a full-bodied blow, and shot through the fan with flying colors. The result of Yoichi’s training since he was a child came into full bloom here. At this time, Yoichi was only 16 years old.

After Creating a Legend

When Yoichi successfully shot the fan, both the Heike and Minamoto clans became excited and festive, and war was no longer an option. However, it is said that the war started again when Yoichi shot a Heike member dancing on a boat. Yoichi was credited with this war and the Battle of Dan-no-Ura (On April 25, 1185) and was given five private estates by Yoritomo, Yoshitsune’s older half-brother. He then became the second head of the Nasu family. He was the eleventh son to become the head of the family, but the only reason he was able to become the head of the family was because all of his other brothers had been on the side of the Heike clan and were accused of crimes. Yoichi’s elder brother, who was on the side of the Minamoto clan, was also charged with a crime because he disobeyed Yoshitsune’s order to shoot through a fan with a bow and arrow. However, Yoichi saved his brothers and shared the land he had received with them.

Yoichi’s Final Days

It is said that Yoichi was ordained soon afterward and lived a peaceful life for the rest of his life, but he died at the young age of 20. The Sokujo-in Temple, where Yoichi’s grave is enshrined, is famous for a wish-granting ceremony named after his legend. It is said that many people pray that their wishes will hit the target with one shot, just like Yoichi. People come to Sokujo-in Temple to pray for great success, such as for a public listing, a rise in stock prices, a business expansion, or a promotion, and to receive a special prayer for the fulfillment of their great wish and for their wish to hit the target.