Mirror of Brave Military Guards in Kamakura

Utagawa Kunisada (歌川国貞, Toyokuni III, 1786-1865), Kamakura Buei Yoshi Kagami (Mirror of Brave Military Guards in Kamakura), ca. 1844. Color woodblock print triptych. Graphic Arts division GA2009- in process

Minamoto no Noriyori (1156-1193) sixth son of Minamoto no Yoshitomo

These three Japanese men were half-brothers during the late Heian and early Kamakura period. They were also successful generals whose achievements made them celebrated figures in the battles of the Genpei War. From 1180-1185, they fought against the Taira warriors, leading tens of thousands of soldiers over mountains and across seas. The brothers won magnificent battles and accomplished remarkable feats to successfully retake the city of Kyoto and ultimately defeat their enemies in the climactic Battle of Dan no Ura in April 1185.

However, suspicion and envy led to violent arguments between the brothers and in 1189, Yoritomo ordered that Yoshitsune be put to death. Noriyori was asked to lead the expedition to kill their brother and when he refused, Yoritomo had him sent into exile and later executed. To save face, Yoshitsune committed suicide.

Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147-1199) third son of Minamoto no Yoshitomo
Minamoto no Yoshitsune (1159-1189) ninth son of Minamoto no Yoshitomo

The story of Yoshitsune has been retold in many books and songs, as well as a movie by Akira Kurosawa entitled Tora no O wo Fumu Otokotachi (They Who Step on a Tiger's Tail), based on the kabuki play Kanjincho.

For more information, see Elizabeth Oyler, Swords, Oaths, and Prophetic Visions: Authoring Warrior Rule in Medieval Japan (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2006). East Asian Library (Gest): Western PL747.33.W3 O95 2006