Saturday, 9 May 2015
A month after he killed his cousin Yoshinaka at the Battle of Awazu, Yoshitune defeated the Taira at the Battle of Ichi-no-Tani and, again in 1185, at the Battle of Yashima. But it was on March 24, 1185, at the Battle of Dan-no-ura, during a half-day engagement in the Shimonoseki Strait, that he won the major sea battle of the Genpei War, wiping out the remaining Taira clan to the westernmost of Honshū.
According to the narrative, the grandmother of the child Emperor Antoku jumped with him into the water. She turned her face to the young sovereign, holding back her tears.
‘Don't you understand? You became an Emperor because you
obeyed the Ten Good Precepts in your last life, but now an evil
karma holds you fast in its toils. Your good fortune has come to
an end. Turn to the east and say goodbye to the Grand Shrine of
Ise, then turn to the west and repeat the sacred name of Amida
Buddha, so that he and his host may come to escort you to the
Pure Land. This county is a land of sorrow; am taking you to a
happy realm called Paradise.’
Enter the crab. The Heikigani, Heikeopsis japonica, the Samurai Crab, has a shell that bears a pattern resembling a human face of an angry samurai. Local fishermen believed the crabs are reincarnations of the spirits of the warriors defeated at the Battle of Dan-no-ura, as told in The Tale. Over the intervening centuries, the crab carapaces have, in fact, come to resemble samurai faces more and more. The reason, as first recognized by Julian Huxley in 1952, was that crabs with shells resembling samurai were thrown back to the sea by fishermen out of respect for the Heike warriors, while those not resembling Samurai were eaten, giving the former a greater chance of reproducing. It appears that unnatural selection can also be a voice in the cosmic fugue.
A single Samurai crab in an uncovered bucket will find a way to climb up and out on its own. But if there are others in the bucket, they will fight to pull down the shining striver. And so it was that Yoritomo not only didn’t appreciate Yoshitune’s achievements, he resented them. There is no retraining a Samurai crab to walk straight.
Friday, 8 May 2015
The second story is that of Yoritomo’s cousin, Yoshinaka. Both men resolved not to fight each other, but Yoshinaka, shamed by having to accept Yoritomo as the Minamoto clan leader, the loss of his father’s domain, and the sending of his 10-year old son to Kamakura as a hostage, resolved to beat Yoritomo to Kyoto, defeat the Taira on his own, and take control of the Minamoto for himself. When Yoritomo found out, he killed the boy.
Yoshinaka, meanwhile, having taken Kyoto, paraded the heads of the defeated Taira in the streets of the capital. Decapitation was copied from early Chinese warfare, where a soldier was rewarded with promotion by a single rank for taking the head of a worthy enemy in battle. The expression shuky o ageru, ‘take a head and raise a rank,’ derived from that bounty system. An enemy’s head was proof of a samurai’s duty done. After a battle, heads were washed thoroughly, hair combed and teeth blackened, set on a small wooden holder, labeled with the victim’s and killer’s names, and presented to the daimyô, who enjoyed a relaxing head-viewing ceremony to celebrate his victory. If there was no time, a hasty commemorative ritual could be arranged over leaves, to soak up the blood.
In 1184, Yoritomo, ordered his brothers to destroy Yoshinaka. With night coming and an army of enemy soldiers chasing him outside Kyoto, Yoshinaka attempted to find an isolated spot to commit seppuku. However, his horse became trapped in a field of partly frozen mud and his cousins were able to approach nd kill him.
The main character of the third section of The Tale was half-brother Yoshitsune, one of the most famous samurai in the history of Japan. Yoshitsune was only 15 when he defeated the notorious bandit leader Kumasaka Chohan, in 1174. A skilled swordsman, he defeated the legendary warrior monk Benkei in a duel on the Gojo bridge in Kyoto. Benkei became his loyal follower, a Friar Tuck to his Robin Hood.
Thursday, 7 May 2015
Kiyomori, the Taira central figure of the first section, is characterized as arrogant, evil, ruthless and so consumed by the fires of hatred that even in death nothing can cool his fevered body. Water sprayed on his body turns to flames and black smoke that fills the room. Before his death, Prince Mochihito had sent Yoritomo an imperial order.
‘To the members of the Minamoto clan in the provinces of the three
regions of the Tkai, Tsan, and Hokuriku, as well as their soldiers: It
is ordered that Lay Priest Kiyomori and the rebellious cohorts who
follow him be pursued and destroyed at the earliest time possible.’
Kiyomori’s successor, Munemori, was even more aggressive, and attacked Minamoto bases from Kyoto.
Wednesday, 6 May 2015
Yoritomo’s exile lasted twenty years. In 1179, he married Masako, the Hōjō clan leader’s daughter. A year later he entered and set up his capital at Kamakura. Responding to Prince Mochihito’s call to arms of the Mimamoto against the Taira-backed accession of the throne of his nephew, Antoku, Yoritomo recruited his half brother, Yoshitune, and his cousin Yoshinaka. The Genpei War became a classic medieval Japanese military tale, chronicled as a samurai epic narrative, in The Tale of the Heike, written two hundred years later. Despite the liberties taken in the pursuit of allegory, it isn’t an inappropriate way to understand the events that would define the direction the country would take, on the way to unification.
A narrative of Yoritomo’s eventual victory, The Tale of the Heike is roughly divided into a sequence of three deaths, those of Kiyomori and Yoshinaka and Yoshitune.
Tuesday, 5 May 2015
On the night of July 29, and Yoshitomo and Kiyomori led 600 cavalry and attacked Sutoku’s palace. They encountered a vigorous defense from Tameyoshi and Tametomo’s archers. Tametomo’s own left arm was six inches longer than his right, so powerful that he once sunk a full-sized Taira ship by firing a single arrow below the craft’s waterline (Fourteen years later, when the Taira captured him and left him useless by severing the tendons in his left arm, Tametomo committed seppuku, one of the first samurai on record to do so).
Yoshitomo and Kiyomori simply set Sutoku’s palace on fire. Go-Shirakawa ascended the Chrysanthemum Throne, Tameyoshi was executed, and Yoshitomo became head of the Minamoto.
In 1160, in Kyoto, the Taira and the Minamoto clans began to factionalize again. Yoshitomo supported Emperor Go-Shirakawa, while Kiyomori supported his son Nijō, against him. But the Heiji Rebellion caught the Minamoto unprepared- the Taira burned down Go-Shirakawa’s palace, Yoshitomo was betrayed and executed by a retainer, and Kiyomori seized control, relegated the emperor to figurehead, and established the first samurai-dominated central government. Yoshitomo’s children were hunted down. His son, Yoritomo was exiled to a remote island under the rule of the Hōjō clan, another son Yoshitune, forced to enter a monastery, and all other siblings were executed. But the Taira would come to regret their leniency.
Kiyomori’s ascension to the highest circle of governance was one of two reasons for change in samurai status. The second, a further consolidation of power aloof from the Emperor in Kyoto, would come from the result of the next conflict.
Monday, 4 May 2015
‘Even the deer near a village are afraid of us and stay deep in the
mountains. But these deer have rushed right into our midst.
This is a sure sign that the Minamoto forces are riding down
upon us from the top of the mountain!’
Ichinotani Castle Taira clan samurai, The Tale of the Heike
“It feels like a small fishing village.” Robyn said, as we began our walk down to the sea.
“It is.” I said. “And it was. And, for a little while, it wasn’t.”
Kamakura is the story of clan conflict and decapitations and crab carapaces. Far back in the early Heian period, while the Vikings were subjugating the northern European coastline, the Emperor Kammu was trying to do the same thing to the Emishi ‘Hairy People.’ He disbanded his army, in favour of increasingly powerful clan warriors, at the head of whom he appointed a Commander-in-Chief of the Expeditionary Force Against the Barbarians, or Shōgun. The Emishi quickly succumbed to their own mounted archery tactics, which the clan warriors had skillfully adopted, but Kammu found his central power in Kyoto increasingly usurped by the monster hydra clan heads on their large country estates. They became ministers and bought their relatives magisterial positions. They amassed wealth through the imposition of heavy taxes, forced many farmers off their lands, and formed alliances to displace the traditional aristocracy. By the mid-Heian, their samurai had adopted characteristic Japanese weapons and armour, laid the foundations of the Bushidō ethical code, and came to dominate internal Japanese politics. The two most powerful families, the Taira and Minamoto, like feuding feudal Hatfields and McCoys, fought for control over the declining imperial court.
In 1156, rival sons of Emperor Toba, Sutoku and Go-Shirakawa, battled over succession, in the Hōgen Rebellion. Sutoku was supported by the Minamoto clan head Tameyoshi and his son Tametomo, while his other son Yoshitomo, and Taira clan head Kiyomori, sided with Go-Shirakawa.
Sunday, 3 May 2015
From the earliest recorded poem, to the oldest Japanese narrative, in the last scene of the tenth century Taketori monogatari, Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, Princess Kayuga left behind an elixir of immortality for the emperor, as she returned to her home on the moon. The heartbroken Mikado ordered the potion to be burned at the summit of the mountain closest to heaven, not only hoping that his message would reach the distant princess, but because he couldn’t live forever without her. The word for immortality, fuji, became the name of the mountain, and its kanji character, literally ‘Mountain Abounding with Warriors’, derived from the Emperor's army ascending its symmetrical slopes to carry out his order. The vapor from the burning still rises.
‘Trailing on the wind,
The smoke from Mount Fuji
Melts into the sky.
So too my thoughts-
Unknown their resting place.’
Priest Saigyo (1118- 1190)
Shugendō was the combined mystical-spiritual Buddhist-Shinto tradition of pre-Feudal En no Gyoja, a mountain wizard who made night flights to the summit. Experiential awakening comes from the interaction of humanity and nature, centered in a yamabushi mountain ascetic.
“Like the sense of place of our own Mount Benson.” Robyn said.
“Like what we feel on the slopes of Mount Benson.” I agreed. To Shugendo pilgrims the plains and villages at the foot of Fuji represented this world of mundane concerns; the deep, dark mossy forests on the black lava fields of its middle reaches, the transition to death; and the bare slopes, rarefied air and ethereal views from the summit, enlightenment.
The first successor to his pure Fuji asceticism was Matsudai Shonin, who, in the mid twelfth century, climbed the volcano over a hundred times, and erected a chapel to the Dainichi Cosmic Buddha on the summit. The second would appear in the Warring States period, to help Tokagawa Ieyasu unite the country, through the worship of Fuji as the Godhead pillar of the world.
The mountain did abound with warriors. Ancient samurai used the base as a remote training area, near the town of Gotemba. After 1600, when Edo became the capital, the mountain was visible to travelers on the Tōkaidō Road, and later inspired both Hokusai and Hiroshige to create their unique Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji ukiyo-e woodcuts.
Fuji has been sacred since antiquity, forbidden to women until the Meiji Era, why Aokigahara became the prime location for suicide, and why Shoko Asahara established his Aum Shinrikyo cult headquarters at the foot of the cone.
The highest mountain in Japan at 12,389 feet, Fuji-san is an active stratovolcano. It last erupted in 1707. A recent increase in magma chamber pressure may lead to an eruption ‘in early 2015 or sooner.’
There is a well-known Japanese saying suggesting that anybody would be a fool not to climb Mount Fuji once- but a fool to do so twice.
Climb Mount Fuji
But slowly, slowly!’
Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828)
The first dream that one has in the New Year is called Hatsuyume. Of the three best things to have in your first dream, the first is Fuji.
Robyn and I were late, because of the perfect beauty outside our window, and the fascinating new experimental bottom sprays we had discovered beyond the pink plastic toilet slippers. We checked out and, under the pink morning sky, on our way out of the grounds, stopped to take in the Zen garden sand trap, green fingers invading grey gravel. The hotel clerk ran after us, to bow again. Beyond the beach below us, Enoshima’s high island cliffs pushed out of the water in Sagami Bay. The Japanese word for blue, ao, is the same as the Japanese word for green. There is no difference. In the first hours of our Kamakura morning, we could clearly see why.
‘Each and every master, regardless of the era or the place, heard the
call and attained harmony with heaven and earth. There are many
paths leading to the top of Mount Fuji, but there is only one summit-