JAPANESE SAMURAI / MINAMOTONO Yoritomo


源頼朝 MINAMOTONO Yoritomo

1147 – 1199

Name List of Yoritomo

(Japanese historical figures change their names frequently.)

Oniwakamaru (鬼武丸) or Onimusha (鬼武者) → Yoritomo (頼朝)


The Very First “Samurai Administration” in Japan

This time we will talk about Yoritomo’s life, who established the very first “Samurai Administration” in Japan during the Kamakura era.  Let’s focus on his personality and life, much more than just the ‘Kamakura Shogunate’.

Born as Celebrity

Yoritomo was born on May 9th, 1147, as a third child of Minamotono Yoshitomo at Atsuta Jingu Shrine, Owari province.  His mother was the relative of Atsuta Jingu Shrine, so at that time their dependents were very rich.  On top of that, Yoritomo’s grandfather, Minamotono Tameyoshi, was the head of the Minamoto.  His childhood name was Oniwakamaru or Onimusha.

Becoming a Part of Imperial Court

Minamoto’s political power began growing in 1156.  Yoshitomo came on the side of Go Shirakawa Emperor at Hogen No Ran, against Sutoku Retired Emperor, then became one of the winners of this war.  Two years later, Yoritomo began to serve Jousaimonin, then officially these fathers and son became cabinet ministers in the loyal family.  Then in 1159, he also became a secretary of Nijo Emperor.  It means he started spying Imperial court to run his own in the future.

Was He a Good-Looking Guy?

Surprisingly, the most famous portrait of Yoritomo had been called fake these past years in Japan.  He was known as a handsome-shogun among the people in the same Kamakura era.  People thought Yoritomo already looked like an adult when he was a kid, very tall, and good looking.  His armor size was estimated to be 165 cm (5.4 ft.) tall.  It doesn’t sound tall today, but during that era, 165 cm was counted tall.  Even Oda Nobunaga, a shogun from another era, was 168 cm (5.5 ft.).  It means that 165 cm in his era is very tall, far from any average male.  His face and height helped himself so much when he was in a crisis.  For example, at Heiji No Ran, in 1159, after serving to Nijo Emperor, Yoritomo’s power was growing, and he was getting a high status in his career.  However, when Tairano Kiyomori, Yoritomo’s rival who belongs to Heike came back to Kyoto, his situation changed suddenly.

V.S. Tairano Kiyomori

Yoshitomo had lost so badly.  So he got away from Kyoto but got caught at Mino province, then had to face Kiyomori.  He was supposed to get a death penalty due to his father’s failure, but surprisingly Ikenozenni (Kiyomori’s stepmother), defended Yoritomo.  Kiyomori was so mad about what his stepmother did, because Genji is the strongest enemy of Heike, and he had no idea why she protected Yoritomo.  As a fact, Ikenozenni was a very smart person and was also famous as a chief of staff who had excellent political foresight.  Back in Hogen No Ran (the Hōgen rebellion), she advised his son to take the side of Go Shirakawa Emperor to survive as Heike.  Moreover, she ordered Yorimori, Kiyomori’s step younger brother to obey his older brother, which saved Heike from terrible separation at that time.  Despite Ikenozennni was the nanny of the son of Sudoku retired emperor, she judged the situation very carefully with the exact winning prediction.  That’s the reason why Kiyomori accepted her behavior in the end as a political decision.  Therefore, he ordered Yoritomo a relegation to Izu instead of a death penalty.

Shimanagashi Freedom (Relegation to Izu)

Kiyomori had a good political sense like his stepmother, but not as much as Yoritomo.  At Izu, the biggest mistake that Kiyomori made was either not knowing that the powerful people in Izu were on Yoritomo’s side or looking down on Yoritomo’s power.  He was considered to be very free at Izu, despite his punishment as relegation.  He was traveling a lot and also met his future wife, Hojo Masako, who counts as one of the ‘Japanese top 3 evil women’ today.  He was also liked by the people around him.  As episodes, one of the samurais who was on Genji’s side visited him to serve him, and they enjoyed hunting together.  Mailing someone was prohibited there, but Yoritomo was frequently mailing his family members, friends, and of course his political supporters.  Not to mention, Kiyomori had no idea about these truths, that resulted in the terrible defeat of Heike.

Married Hojo Masako, ‘Japanese Top 3 Evil Women’

One of the biggest events during the relegation to Izu for Yoritomo was falling in love with Masako.  Hojo Tokimasa, her father, was so angry when he found out that his daughter and Yoritomo fell in love and wanted to marry.  Because Yoritomo had freedom but he was a criminal, and Masako got away from her fiancé to marry him.  However, Tokimasa gradually started understanding Yoritomo’s political intelligence, so he changed his mind and accepted his daughter’s marriage.  But, why is Masako counted as one of the ‘Japanese top 3 evil women’ today?  There are two huge reasons.  First, Masako never allowed Yoritomo to have his 2nd or 3rd wife, even though there was a custom of polygamy during this era.  One time, Yoritomo had an affair with Kamenomae when she was pregnant with her 2nd child, so she ordered her stepmother’s father to destroy Kamenomae’s mansion.  She was somehow safe but never came back to Yoritomo after this incident.  Moreover, Masako wasn’t satisfied with this result, so she punished Kamenomae’s other lover to face relegation at Toonoe, just like how her husband Yoritomo who went through the same thing.  His close associates were all surprised that his wife was getting the political power from her husband and father.  No one refused to her orders after this incident, because they all did not want to face relegation.  Later on, everybody realized that her jealousy made Genji end up with only 3 generations.  She got 4 children in total between Yoritomo but realized it wasn’t enough to continue Genji’s power for the next 100 years ahead as they wanted.  Second, after Kamakura Shogunate was established, Genji was almost gone due to only having 4 children, therefore, her family (= Hojo family and relatives) held the power, then controlled the rest of Genji’s samurais and servants.  In 1221, at Jokyunoran, she made a very strong speech and encouraged the rest of Genji’s.  After Hojo got a victory at this war, she ordered relegation again.  This time she ordered it to Go Toba Retired Emperor.  Can you imagine how rude this punishment was?  A politician’s wife ordered relegation to a retired emperor (loyal family).  These activities emphasized her as an ‘Evil wife’ forever among the citizens.

Died at 53 for Mystery

He gradually lost close associate’s trust throughout his wife’s behavior, killing Minamotono Yoshinaka, his cousin, and the tough fight at Oushu Gassen.  Even today, the cause of his death is still a mystery.  Do you think somebody assassinated him? Or was it a fatal disease?  In 2019, all the Japanese historians still haven’t found the last moment of this man who established the very first “Samurai Administration” out yet.

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