Stories of the Genji and Heike clans

  As the red rose of the House of Lancaster and the white rose of the House of York are quite popular to English people, the red military flag of the Heike (or Taira) clan and the red military flag of the Genji (or Minamoto) clan are familiar to the Japanese. These two clans played power games in the end of the 12 th century (the very last period of the Heian era) to establish their political superiority.

  Throughout the Heian era, the political leaders were members of the Fujiwara family. They connected firm relations with the Royal family (Ten-no's family) by marriage. It often happened that a grandfather of an emperor (Ten-no) was a leader of the Fujiwaras. The Fujiwaras had its acme of reign around 1000 AD.
  The Heian era was a very peaceful era, at least the vicinity of Kyoto where the Fujiwaras and the Royal family dwelt is concerned. Wars occurred only in the eastern remote region or in the northeastern frontiers. In such a circumstance, the members of Fujiwaras (and the Royal family) became much sophisticated. They loved to make poems, to play music (YOKOBUE [flute] and BIWA [Japanese lute] were their most favorite instruments), to play a dance in a formal costume, to enjoy a ball game, and so on.

  Since the central government did not have any effective military power, whoever wanted to keep his land and wealth must have keep them by his own responsibility. Hence, it was quite natural that the local leaders armed by themselves. Among these local leaders, the Heike and Genji most successfully established their military powers.
  Either of the clans branched from the Royal family. Since emperors had many sons, most of them were obliged to spend idle lives without having any political power. Some of them did not agree having such lives, abandoned the rights of the member of the Royal family, and chose to become a member of local governments or to be a local leader.

  The Genji clan cultivated its military power in the eastern remote region and in the northeastern frontier. Once the central government ordered to the clans in the eastern remote region to fight with the invader from the north. The Genji clan, with cooperative other clans, won several battles and got the final victory. However, the central government refused to pay enough war rewards to the clans. Then, the leader of the Genji clan yielded his own land and wealth to the other clans, which decisively established his fame and credibility among other clans.
  The Heike clan built up its military power in the western part of Japan. The clan, with cooperative other clans, had a power to control vessels in the Setonaikai (inland sea between the western part of the Honshu Island and the Shikoku Island). The clan also had trades with mainland Chain, which was the major source of its wealth.
  The eastern remote region where the Genji clan established its power was still underdeveloping as long as the culture level was concerned, whereas the western Japan where the Heike clan grew up was a much more sophisticated region. This difference in the cultural background deeply affected in the characters of these clans. The Heike --- sophisticated, elegant; The Genji --- brave, rustic, tasteless. This character of the Heike clan amplified later when the members of the Heike clan lived in Kyoto and had social relations with the sophisticated upper class people such as the Fujiwaras(related Noh; YUYA, KOGO,GIOH).

  For the present day Japanese, the Genji and the Heike are the symbol of the eternal rivals, but when these clans appeared on the stage of the history, they were not the major characters, but rather the by-players. There were conflicts between the emperor and the ex-emperor in getting the political superiority. Also similar kind of struggles were in Fujiwara family. Since these people did not have their own military power, they consulted with and asked cooperation to the armed clans. In the first war, members of the Genji and Heike clans joined either side of the groups and fought with the members of their own clan. In this war, and after this war, many important members of the Genji clan were killed, whereas the Heike clan lost rather minor members. The leader of the Genji clan, Minamoto-no-Yoshitomo, judged it as a trap by the Heike clan. He had a revenging war together with some Fujiwaras, and again lost the war (related Noh: TOMONAGA). Yoshitomo was killed but some of his sons were spared their lives. One of them was sent to Izu, a small village in the eastern remote region. Later, he was known as Minamoto-no-Yoritomo and started the SAMURAI government (Kamakura-Bakufu) as the leader of the clan. The youngest son, Ushiwaka, later being known as Minamoto-no-Yoshitsune, was sent to the Kurama-dera temple, to become a Buddhist priest (related Noh: KURAMATENGU, HASHI-BENKEI). He escaped from the temple to Michinoku, the northeastern frontier, (related Noh: EBOSHIORI, KUMASAKA) and grew up as a skilled military leader under the sponsorship of a local leader at Hiraizumi (Oushu-Fujiwara family).

  The Heike clan obtained the political power through these two wars. The members of the clan got important positions in the central government. They often conflicted with Fujiwaras and with the Royal family. The ex-emperor (Goshirakawa), the leader of the Royal family, wrote letters to the leaders of local clans to drive the Heike away from Kyoto. In response to the letter, the members of the Genji clan as well as some Fujiwaras and other clans planned or actually started wars against the Heike clan. In the early stage, the Heike clan successfully destroyed the plan (related Noh: SHUNKAN) and won the wars (related Noh: YORIMASA, SHICHIKIOCHI). The first man who invaded Kyoto and won a victory over the Heike (related Noh: SANEMORI) was Kiso-Yoshinaka, the leader of an important branch of the Genji.
  Since Yoshinaka and his fellows were least sophisticated and often rude to the Royal family, the ex-emperor hated them and wrote another letter to Minamoto-no-Yoritomo, the leader of the Genji clan. Yoritomo ordered to his brother Yoshitsune to hunt Yoshinaka away from Kyoto. Yoshitsune won the battle over Yoshinaka. Yoshinaka died in a suburb of Kyoto (related Noh: TOMOE, KANEHIRA).

  Meantime, the Heike, once moved to western Japan, regained its power and was planning to come back to Kyoto. Here started the final phase of the power game between the two clans. The Heike clan stayed in a camp at Ichinotani (near Kobe) where the sea (Setonaikai) faced in front of the camp and behind the camp there was a steep cliff. The Heike people believed it was impossible to attack the camp from the back cliff. Hence, they only watch the front sea. However, Yoshitsune's genius in military skill enabled the attack from the cliff. Fierce battles were taken place in Ichinotani and Ikuta (related Noh; EBIRA). Many members of the Heike clan were killed (related Noh; ATSUMORI, IKUTA-ATSUMORI, TADANORI, SHUNZEI-TADANORI, TSUNEMASA, MICHIMORI). Luckily survived members went aboard and moved to Yashima, Shikoku Island, just opposite side of the strait. The genius Yoshitsune made an unexpected attack by boats on a stormy night, and defeated the Heike again(related Noh, YASHIMA).
  The Heike moved to the west with continuously losing battles(related Noh: KIYOTSUNE, FUJITO). The final battle was taken place at Dan-no-ura, the westernmost part of the Honshu Island (the main island of Japan). The Heike completely lost the war and the most of important members of the clan, including the emperor Antoku, the age of four at that time, died in sea water(related Noh: OHARA-GOKO). After the war, some survived members of the Heike were sent to the military court in Kamakura (related Noh: SENJU, MORIHISA).

  Yoshitsune obtained the great popularity in Kyoto, which introduced a suspicion to Yoritomo that Yoshitsune could betray him. Yoritomo ordered Yoshitsune to come back to Kamakura, but Yoshitsune continued to stay in Kyoto. Being angry at Yoshitsune's disobedience, Yoritomo sent a troop to arrest Yoshitsune (related Noh: SHOZON). The Yoshitsune's party left Kyoto (related Noh: TADANOBU). First they tried to go west, but a storm prevented their way(related Noh: FUNA-BENKEI). Then they changed their destination to Michinoku where Yoshitsune had grew up, and after a troublesome odyssey (related Noh: ATAKA, SETTAI) they reached Hiraizumi, Michinoku. But since the members of the Oushu-Fujiwara family chose to belong to the Yoritomo's side (related Noh: NISHIKIDO), Yoshitsune and his people died in Hiraizumi.

  There are some other related Nohs such as DAIBUTSU-KUYOU, KAGEKIYO, and YOSHINOSHIZUKA.

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