01 Japanese History

#12 The Rise & Fall of The Taira Clan

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The theme of this topic is the rise and fall of the Taira clan. Let us look at how the samurai era began.


From the middle of the 11th century, the emperors had an active movement to regain power from the aristocratic Fujiwara clan. Emperor Go-Sanjo was not closely related to the Fujiwara. He organized the manors and took control of the public domain. And it damaged the aristocrats.


The next emperor, Shirakawa, gave up the imperial throne to his young son and became a “Joko”, or retired emperor. It allowed him to govern freely. This was called “Insei”, or cloistered rule. Following this, Joko Toba increased the number of manors and assigned warriors to guard the capital to deal with land disputes.


After the death of Joko Toba in the middle of the 12th century, the rivalry between the Emperors and the Fujiwara clan over political power intensified. Against this backdrop, Taira no Kiyomori had won the Hogen and Heiji wars in Kyoto and gained the trust of Joko Go-Shirakawa. And he came to hold political power.


Taira no Kiyomori became the first samurai to hold real political power. He became Grand Minister of State, the highest position in the Imperial Court. He made his daughter the consort of the emperor. He appointed members of his family to high positions and ruled over vast tracts of land. The Taira clan prospered.


Kiyomori also established shipping routes in the Seto Inland Sea and traded with the Sung Dynasty in China, earning enormous profits. Itsukushima Shrine in Hiroshima Prefecture, now a World Heritage site, was established by the Taira clan.


The emperor, aristocrats, and local warriors were increasingly opposed to the growing power of the Taira clan. When Prince Mochihito, son of Joko Go-Shirakawa, issued an order to overthrow the Taira. Minamoto no Yoritomo, whose father had been killed by Taira no Kiyomori during the Heiji war and who had been exiled to Izu, united with other warriors of the Minamoto clan and rose in arms.


Minamoto no Yoshinaka from the Kiso province entered Kyoto defeating the Taira forces. When Taira no Kiyomori fell ill and died, the Taira army was utterly defeated. The Taira, defeated after numerous battles, were driven back by Minamoto no Yoshitsune, Yoritomo’s younger brother. The Taira clan finally fell at Dannoura, on the western edge of Honshu in 1185.


The story of the Heike clan’s rise and fall was later compiled into the Heike Monogatari (The Tale of the Heike), which was sung by biwa poets and passed down to the present day.


Thank you for reading.

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