Minamoto no Yoritomo

The first Kamakura Shogun, Minamoto no Yoritomo, was born on this day, May 9, 1147

Yoritomo’s paternal grandfather, Minamoto no Tameyoshi was head of the noble Minamoto clan, while his maternal grandfather, a member of the illustrious Fujiwara clan, was the chief priest at Atsuta Shrine, Japan’s second most venerated Shinto Shrine after the Great Shrine of Ise. His mother had returned home to what is now Nagoya, and Yoritomo was born in Atsuta, on the site where the Seigan-ji Temple stands today.

In 1156, a short civil war, the Hogen Disturbance, erupted over a dispute regarding the Imperial Court, which had split into two branches, fronted by the former Emperor Toba, supported by members of the influential Fujiwara clan and Taira no Kiyomori, and Toba’s eldest son, the former Emperor Sutoku, supported by other members of the Fujiwara clan, hereditary Imperial regents.


Following the insurrection, his father became Minamoto clan head, while Yoritomo, being of mixed Minamoto and Fujiwara blood, became heir, and received his first court title. It would not be long before the two rival families would again clash, causing the Heiji Disturbance. The Minamoto would lose this battle. With the Taira then the undisputed rulers of Japan, the Minamoto were either executed or exiled. Yoritomo and his two brothers were spared thanks to their mother’s intervention, and sent into exile in the care of Ito Sukechika. There the 13-year-old Yoritomi had an affair with Ito’s daughter, and she became pregnant. Ito was livid, and threatened to kill the boy, who escaped to the care of Hojo Tokimasa. While at the Hojo residence, the story goes that Hojo Masako fell pregnant to Yoritomo, and a marriage took place in 1179. Yoritomo marriage into the Hojo clan helped fund his petition to claim his rightful place as head of the noble Minamoto clan, and oust the tyrannical Taira from their position of power. Over the following years, he gradually formed a power base, and in 1185, watched as the Taira clan suffered a decisive defeat at the naval Battle of Dan-no-Ura. He then received the position of Seii-Tai Shogun, and this allowed him freedom to establish a government at Kamakura. The traditional date of the founding of the Kamakura Bakufu has been 1192, however experts have revised the date to 1185, following Dan-no-Ura. Yoritomo ruled until his accidental death aged 52 on February 9, 1199 after falling from his horse the previous day.

Thankyou Chris Glenn for the article.


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