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The Kamakura Bakufu


Minamoto Yoshitomo burning the Royal Palace

Who Was in Charge at the Nara and Heian Courts?
710-856 856-1086 1086-1160 1160-1180 Emperors or combinations of nobles Fujiwara nobles Retired emperors Military

house of Taira
[Cf. The Heritage of Japanese Civilization, 21]

平家物語 Tale of the Heike
An Account of the Gempei War
The Tale of the Heike recounts the rise of the Taira (a.k.a. Heike) clan, led by Taira no Kiyomori, and their subsequent defeat at the hands of the Minamoto (a.k.a.

who set up a separate government (under the theoretical sovereignty of the emperor) at Kamakura. led by Minamoto no Yoritomo and his brother Yoshitsune.Genji) clan. Yoritomo’s victory in the Gempei War ushered in a new era of “military” rule in Japanese history. The conflict culminated in the complete annihilation of the Heike during the Gempei War (1180-1185). where the real power shifted from the imperial court in Kyoto to a “military government” (bakufu) led by powerful generals known as Shogun. this period is consequently known as the Kamakura era. .

The following passages are two examples of the shifting martial ethic that distinguished the more aristocratic Taira from the ultimately victorious Minamoto: .

So mighty is his bow that four or five ordinary men must pull together to bend it.e. There is one famed archer who never draws a shaft less than fifteen handbreadths long. Even a warrior from a small estate has at least five hundred soldiers. In the eastern provinces there are any number of warriors who can do so. those allied with the Taira] are quite different.e. his arrow can easily pierce two or three suits of armor at once. When they fight. When he shoots. They are bold horsemen who never fall. in the eight eastern provinces [i. they do not care if even their parents or children are killed. If their parents . “I can only draw an arrow thirteen handbreadths long. they ride on over their bodies and continue the battle. “The warriors of the western province [i. nor do they let their horses stumble on the roughest road.Sanemori Describes the Minamoto “Sanemori. those dominated by the Minamoto] are there many men who are as mighty archers as you are?” “Do you then consider me a mighty archer?” asked Sanemori with a scornful smile.

their grief is so deep that they cease fighting altogether. they retire from the battle and perform Buddhist rites to console the souls of the dead. If their children are slain. they plant rice in the fields and go out to fight only after reaping it. They grumble at the severe cold of winter.are killed. They dislike the heat of summer. When their rations have given out. This is not the way of the soldiers of the eastern provinces.” [The Heritage of Japanese Civilization. Only after the mourning is over will they fight again.” The Taira soldiers “heard his words and trembled. 36-7]   What does this passage tell us about the evolution of the warrior ethic during this period? With which side—the Taira (Heike) or the Minamoto (Genji)—do you think our sympathies are supposed to lie? .

The horse he rode was dappledgray. crying out: “Shameful! To show an enemy your back. Just then his eye fell on a single horseman who was attempting to reach one of the ships in the offing. where Kumagai at once engaged him in mortal . Return! Return!” The warrior turned his horse and rode back to the beach. with the intention of intercepting one of their great captains. Kumagai beckoned to him with his war fan.e. Kumagai Naozane came riding along a narrow path onto the beach. the Taira] were routed at Ichi no tani. and its saddle glittered with gold mounting.The Death of Atsumori When the Heike [i. Not doubting that he was one of the chief captains. and their nobles and courtiers were fleeing to the shore to escape in their ships.

when he beheld the face of a youth of sixteen or seventeen. “I am Kumagai Naozane of Musashi. “Tell me your name. looking behind him.combat. “if I slay him it will not turn victory into defeat. Quickly hurling him to the ground. for I would spare your life. just about the age of his own son and with features of great beauty. he sprang upon him and tore off his helmet to cut off his head.” “Nay. “Alas! Look . and if I spare him. “Take my head and show it to some of my side. first say who you are. did it not pain me? How this young man’s father would grieve to hear that he had been killed! I will spare him. it will not turn defeat into victory. “Who are you?” he asked. a person of no particular importance.” “Then you have made a good capture.” Just then.” replied the young man.” “Though he is one of their leaders.” mused Kumagai. delicately powdered and with blackened teeth. and they will tell you who I am.” said the youth. When my son Kojiro was but slightly wounded at Ichi no tani this morning. he saw Doi and Kajiwara coming up with fifty horsemen.

But there was no help for it.there.” said the young warrior. His eyes swam and he hardly knew what he did. “it was this youth and his friends who were amusing themselves with music within the walls this morning. “what life is so hard as that of a soldier? Only because I was born of a warrior family must I suffer this affliction! How lamentable it is to do such cruel deeds!” He pressed his face to the sleeve of his armor and wept bitterly.” Kumagai was so overcome by compassion that he could scarcely wield his blade. wrapping up the head. those allied with the Minamoto] I doubt if there is any one of them who has brought a flute with him.e.” “Indeed it must be so. “Alas!” he cried. the whole countryside swarms with our men. Among all our men of the Eastern Provinces [i. “Cut off my head at once. he was stripping off the young man’s armor when he discovered a flute in a brocade bag.” he exclaimed. and I will see that prayers are said for your rebirth in Paradise. and you cannot escape them. weeping bitterly he cut off the boys head.” he exclaimed. If you must die. all who . Then. let it be by my hand. “though I would spare your life. How gentle the ways of these courtiers!” When he brought the flute to the Commander. “Ah. the tears running down his face.

179-81]  Again. From this time the mind of Kumagai was turned toward the religious life.saw it were moved to tears. [Anthology of Japanese Literature. are we supposed to be sympathetic to the more courtly Taira/Heike or the more martial Minamoto/Genji? “An Account of My Hut” Kamo no Chomei (1136-1216) The devastation caused by the . the youngest son of Tsunemori. he discovered then that the youth was Atsumori. aged sixteen years.

” One might conjecture that this aesthetic principle allowed the Japanese to find meaning in a world dominated by violence—a world in which a young warrior must be prepared to die in battle at a moment’s notice.” The combination of a strong warrior ethic and a profound appreciation for the suffering that it produced led to the development of a uniquely Japanese aesthetic principle that would eventually be called mono no aware. when it dies). which may be loosely translated as “sensitivity to (the sadness of) things. which attains the height of its beauty precisely when it falls from the tree (i.Gempei War led not only to the development of a new political system (the bakufu or “military government”). . but also to a deeper appreciation for the Buddhist notion of “suffering. like Atsumori in the preceding passage. The notion that there is great beauty to be found in the midst of suffering is aptly symbolized by the cherry blossom (sakura).e.

great and small. but of those I used to know. are not of long duration: so in the world are man and his dwellings. They die in the morning. they are born in the evening. but when we examine whether this is true. The flow of the river is ceaseless and its water is never the same. great houses have crumbled into hovels and those who dwell in them have fallen no less.This “sensitivity to (the sadness of) things” is well expressed in the opening section of Kamo no Chomei’s “An Account of My Hut”—one of the most famous passages in the history of Japanese literature: . Which will be first to go. a bare of one or two in twenty remain. It might be imagined that the houses. but . where does he go. The dew may fall and the flower remain— remain. only to be withered by the morning sun. The city is the same. man that is born and dies? We know not. like foam on the water. Whence does he come. the master or his dwelling? One might just as well ask this of the dew on the morningglory. now vanishing. Some were burnt last year and only since rebuilt. the people are as numerous as ever. how few are the houses that were there of old. For whose benefit does he torment himself in building houses that last but a moment. which vie roof against proud roof in the capital remain unchanged from one generation to the next. now forming. The flower may fade before the dew evaporates. The bubbles that float in the pools. for what reason is his eye delighted by them? This too we do not know.

the twenty-eighth day of the fourth month of 1177. I believe. Kamo goes on to recount a series of natural disasters that hit the capital (Kyoto): The Great Fire In the forty and more years that have passed since first I became aware of the meaning of things. on a night when the wind blew fiercely without a moment of calm. it waits not the evening. It was. that a fire broke out toward nine o’clock in . 197-8]   How does this passage express mono no aware? What are the „bubbles‟ and how are they related to the „houses‟? .though it does not evaporate. [Anthology of Japanese Literature. I have witnessed many terrible sights.

but never one like this.. as well as countless horses and oxen.Several thousand men and women lost their lives...the southeast of the capital and spread northwest. It is no common case—it must be a presage of terrible things to come. great or small. It finally reached the gates and buildings of the palace.People said in wonder.” [Anthology of Japanese Literature. “We have whirlwinds all the time. a great whirlwind sprang up in the northeast of the capital and violently raged as far south as the Sixth Ward. [Anthology of Japanese Literature. was destroyed within the area engulfed by the wind…. on the twenty-ninth day of the fourth moon of 1180. Every house. and within the space of a single night all was reduced to ashes. Of all the follies of human endeavor. 199] . none is more pointless than expending treasures and spirit to build houses in so dangerous a place as the capital. 198-9] The Whirlwind Again.

about 1181—it is so long ago that I cannot remember for certain—there was a famine in the country which lasted two years. and there were many sights of decomposing bodies too horrible to behold.The Famine Again. a most terrible thing…. [Anthology of Japanese Literature. 202] . There being no one even to dispose of the bodies. a stench filled the whole world.The number of those who died of starvation outside the gates or along the roads may not be reckoned.

The intense quaking stopped after a time.It is needless to speak of the damage throughout the capital—not a single mansion. or shrine was left whole…. Not a day passed without twenty or thirty tremors of a severity which would ordinarily have frightened people…. pagoda. but the aftertremors continued for some while.Aftertremors continued for three months.The Earthquake Then there was the great earthquake of 1185. 203-204]  What is the significance of these four natural disasters? What do they symbolize for Kamo? Kamo was not immune to the effects of these disasters. after losing his hereditary position as the Shinto priest of . [Anthology of Japanese Literature. of an intensity not known before….

and my life seems about to evaporate like the dew.. it is like the cocoon spun by an aged silkworm. a traveler might spend a single night.the Kamo shrine he built a small cottage (a tenth the size of his previous home) where he lived a simple life for many years. . I have fashioned a lodging for the last leaves of my years. perhaps. It is a hut where. This hut is not even a hundredth the size of the cottage where I spent my middle years. He finally became a Buddhist priest at the age of 50 and then built an even smaller hut—an aesthetic masterpiece of rustic simplicity that ultimately served as the model for the kind of tea hut that would be used for the Japanese tea ceremony: The Ten Foot Square Hut Now that I have reached the age of sixty...

I have added a lean-to on the south and a porch of bamboo. . On the doors of the reliquary I have hung pictures of Fugen and Fudo. Above the sliding door that faces north I have built a little shelf on which I keep three or four black leather baskets that contain books of poetry and music and extracts from the sacred writings. Beside them stand a folding koto and a lute. The light of the setting sun shines between its eyebrows. along the west wall. and inside the hut. I have installed an image of Amida. On the west I have built a shelf for holy water.Since first I hid my traces here in the heart of Mount Hino.

however. I have cut open a window in the eastern wall. I grow many species of herbs there. To the north of the hut I have staked out a small plot of land which I have enclosed with a rough fence and made into a garden. Kamo still chides himself for his sense of attachment (which is regarded as the cause of suffering in Buddhism): Now the moon of my life sinks in the sky and is close to the edge of the mountain. Near my pillow is a square brazier in which I burn brushwood. Soon I must head into the . 206-7]   How would you compare Kamo‟s hut with the “Great Houses” of Kyoto? Which would you prefer? Why does Kamo prefer his tiny hut? Despite the simplicity of the hut. [Anthology of Japanese Literature. and beneath it have made a desk.Along the east wall I have spread long fern fronds and mats of straw which serve as my bed for the night.

but you preserve the Law even worse than Handoku. your heart is stained with impurity. is it right that you afflict yourself over it? Or should you permit delusion to come and disturb you?” To these questions my mind could offer no reply. in spite of your monk’s appearance. “And yet. [Anthology of Japanese Literature. as I thought over the reasons for this weakness of mine. It is now the end of the third moon of 1212. Your hut may take after Jomyo’s. and my attachment to its solitude may also be a hindrance to salvation.darkness of the Three Ways: why should I thus drone on about myself? The essence of the Buddha’s teaching to man is that we must not have attachment for any object. however unacceptable from a defiled heart. All I could do was to use my tongue to recite two or three times the nembutsu. Why should I waste more precious time in relating such trifling pleasures? One calm dawning. and I am writing this at the hut on Toyama. I told myself that I had fled the world to live in a mountain forest in order to discipline my mind and practice the Way. 211-2]   What is the underlying message of An Account of My Hut? How would you compare An Account of My Hut with The Tale of the Heike? How are they similar? How do they differ? . If your low estate is a retribution for the sins of a previous existence. It is a sin for me now to love my little hut.

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