Saturday, 13 June 2015
On May 21, 1333, the warlord Nitta Yoshisada, an imperial loyalist, judged a land invasion of Kamakura invasion too difficult, and waited for low tide. According to tradition, Yoshisada threw his golden sword into the water, and prayed to the sea-god Ryūjin to withdraw the waves and let him through. He did, and he did. The Siege of Kamakura was a bloodbath, the city sacked and its temples burned. Over 6,000 died by their own hand, including the last three regents, and a mass suicide of almost 900 samurai. In 1953, Tokyo University Professor Hisashi Suzuki excavated the remains of 556 bodies. The majority of the 280 skulls he found, women and children included, showed evidence of atrocious sword wounds. And we were having just another day at the beach. To see a world in a grain of sand.
‘The osprey always lives on the windswept seashore,
because it fears the proximity of human beings.’
Kamo no Chomei
Friday, 12 June 2015
Before the consequences of that denial would become obvious one other event would stir the sand on Shichirigahama. In 1271, the Buddhist monk, Nichiren, condemned to death for his Treatise on Peace and Righteousness, was pardoned when his executioner, ready to carry out the sentence on Shichi’s beach, was struck by lightening.
Three years later, 900 Mongol ships carrying 33,000 troops were destroyed in the middle of a northern Kyushu battle by a typhoon. In 1279, the eighth Hōjō regent, Tokimune, beheaded five Mongolian emissaries in Kamakura. This threw Kublai Khan into the rage that, two years later, sent an invasion force of 4,000 ships carrying 140,000 soldiers, only just stopped again by another kamikaze ‘divine wind’ typhoon.
Though peace was restored, the Kamakura government had been financially drained. The warlords who had fought against the invaders were unhappy with the inability of the Hōjōs to provide the customary territorial rewards, in recognition of service rendered. The Shogunate had nothing left to grant. The disappointed warlords began to create disputes inside the government, and the Hōjō regime began to slide.
Strangely, none of this was showcased in the contemporary classic thirty year enchanting memoir of The Confessions of Lady Nijo, which chronicled the life of the Emperor’s favorite Minamoto concubine, her other lovers and pregnancies, expulsion from the court, and spiritual struggle as an old wandering Buddhist nun. The rich narrative is a lucid, subtle, intimate portrait of a very human emperor, a court obsessed with nostalgia for the glorious Heian past, and the often turbulent life of a beautiful woman, pursued from all sides by the amorous advances of well-placed suitors. She grew old without being able to see her children and, prevented from attending the funeral procession of her beloved emperor, ran barefoot after it instead, through the streets of Kyoto. Through the various common people she met on her travels, prostitutes and warlords and nuns and Shinto priests and musicians, Lady Nijo transformed from a vain aristocrat into a compassionate human being.
‘How much longer will pity
Lead you to this garden,
As choked with weeds
As my thoughts with pain?’
“So what finally happened to the Hōjō, and the Kamakura Shogunate?” Robyn asked. “And why the bodies and the swords in the sand?” I pointed down the beach to a headland.
“Inamuragasaki Cape.” I said. “Believed impassable.”
Thursday, 11 June 2015
By the year 1200, Kamakura had become Japan’s largest city, eclipsing Kyoto. Three years later, Yoriie was assassinated in Izu and his surviving 6 year-old son, forced to become a Buddhist priest, under the name Kugyō.
Yoritomo’s second son, Sanetomo, took the post of shogun, at only 11 years of age. With his passion for writing tanka poetry, and his political apathy, he became a cultural favorite of the Kyoto Imperial Court. To keep the shogun only titular, the Hōjōs replaced young Kyoto aristocrats with other children as they grew up, citing one reason after another.
‘When mountains are split
And the seas run dry-
Should such a world be born,
I would not show a double heart
In the service of my Lord.’
In the winter of 1219, Sanetomo was abruptly assassinated by his nephew Kugyō, under the giant ginkgo tree that still stands at the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine. Kugyō himself, the last of Yoritomo’s bloodline, was beheaded by the Hōjō just hours later. Barely 30 years into the shogunate, the dynasty which created the Kamakura shogunate was gone. For the next century, all real power belonged to the Hōjō regents, and the shogun became a hereditary figurehead.
In 1221, the Emperor Gotoba thought he would try his hand at overthrowing the Kamakura Shogunate, and was exiled, with the samurai he had recruited for this purpose, to the remote island of Okinoshima. The Hōjō established a military station called Rokuhara Tandai in Kyoto, to check any further ambitions of the Imperial Court. In 1225, Yoritomo’s widow, Masaka, became the Nun Shogun, and every successive regent was a legitimate son of the Hōjō. The family crest is ubiquitous in Kamakura, on its most prestigious temples and shrines. By 1250 the city was the fourth largest in the world, with 200,000 people.
But the sun doesn’t shine on the same heads forever. The Hōjō’s control of the Shogunate would be ultimately weakened by their parceling out land to favored patrons, in ways they had not forseen. In 1268, Kublai Khan sent an envoy to Japan, to convince Kamakura to accept Mongol suzerainty. The Hōjō’s refused this overture, and many successive ones.