XII. THE BEGINNING OF MILITARY DOMINATION.
WITH rank, place, and power as the prizes, there were not wanting rival contestants to dispute the monopoly of the Fujiwara. The prosperity and domineering pride of the scions of this ancient house, instead of overawing those of younger families that were forming in the capital, served only as spurs to their pride and determination to share the highest gifts of the sovereign. It may be easily supposed that the Fujiwara did not attain the summit of their power without the sacrifice of many a rival aspirant. The looseness of the marriage tie, the intensity of ambition, the greatness of the prize - the throne itself - made the court ever the fruitful soil of intrigue, jealousies, proscription, and even the use of poison and the dagger. The fate of many a noble victim thus sacrificed on the altars of jealousy and revenge forms the subject, of the most pathetic passages of the Japanese historians, and the tear-compelling scenes of the romance and the drama. The increase of families was the increase of feuds. Arrogance and pride were matched by craft and subtlety that finally led to quarrels which rent the nation, to civil war, and to the almost utter extinction of one of the great families.
The Sugawara were the most ancient rivals of the Fujiwara. The most illustrious victim of court intrigue bearing this name was Sugawara Michizané. This polished courtier, the Beauclerc, of his age, had, by the force of his talents and learning, risen to the position of inner great, minister. As a scholar, he ranked among the highest of his age. At different periods of his life he wrote, or compiled, from the oldest records various histories, some of which are still extant. His industry and ability did not, however, exempt him from the jealous annoyances of the Fujiwara courtiers, who imbittered his life by poisoning the minds of the emperor and courtiers against him. One of them, Tokihira, secured an edict banishing him to Kiushiu. Here, in the horrors of poverty and exile, he endeavored to get a petition to the mikado, but failed to do so, and starved to death, on the 25th day of the Second month, 903. Michizané is now known by his posthumous name of Tenjin. Many temples have been erected in his honor, and students worship his spirit, as the patron god of letters and literature. Children at, school pray to him that they may become good writers, and will success in study. Some of his descendants are still living.
When Michizané died, the Sugawara were no longer to be dreaded as a rival family. Another brood were springing up, who were destined to become the most formidable rivals of the Fujiwara. More than a century before, one of the concubines, or extra wives, of the Emperor Kuammu had borne a son, who, having talents as well as imperial blood, rose to be head of the Board of Civil Office, and master of court ceremonies - an office similar to the lord high chamberlain of England. To his grandson Takamochi was given the suranme of Taira in 889 - one hundred and one years before the banishment of Michizané.
The civil offices being already monopolized by the Fujiwara, the members of the family of Taira early showed a fondness and special fitness for military life, which, with their experience, made them most eligible to the commands of military expeditions. The Fujiwara had become wholly wedded to palace life, and preferred the ease and luxury of the court to the discomforts of the camp and tile dangers of the battle-field. Hence the shōguns, or generals, were invariably appointed among sons of the Taira or the Minamoto, both of which families became the military vassals of the crown. While the men led the armies, fought, the foc, and returned in triumph, the mothers at home fired the minds of their sons with the recital of the deeds of their fathers. Thus bred to arms, inured to war, and living chiefly in the camp, a hardy race of warriors, grew up and formed the military caste. So long as the Taira or Minamoto leaders were content with war and its glory, there was no reason for the Fujiwara to fear danger from them as rivals at court. But in times of peace and inaction, the, minds of these men of war longed to share in the spoils of peace; or, having no more enemies to conquer, their energies, were turned against their fellows. The peculiar basis of the imperial succession opened in equally wide field for the play of female ambition; and while Taira and Minamoto generals lusted after the high offices held by Fujiwara courtiers, Taira and Minamoto ladies aspired to become empresses, or at least imperial concubines, where they might, for the glory of their family, beard the dragon of power in his own den. They had so far increased in influence at court, that in 1008, the wife of the boy-emperor, Ichijō, was chosen from the house of Minamoto.
The Minamoto family, or, as the Chinese characters express the name, Genji, was founded by Tsunémoto, the grandson of Seiwa (859-880) and son of the minister of war. His great-grandson Yoriyoshi became a shōgun, and was sent to fight the Ainōs; and the half-breeds, or rebels of mixed Ainō and Japanese blood, in the east and extreme north of Hondo. Yoriyoshi's son, Yoshiiyé, followed his father in arms, and was likewise made a shōgun. So terrible was Yoshiiyé in battle that he was called Hachiman tarō. The name Tarō is given to the first-born son. Hachiman is the Buddhist form of Ōjin, the deified son of Jingu Kogō, and the patron of warriors, or god of war. After long years of fighting, he completely tranquilized the provinces of the Kuanto. His great-grandson Yoshitomo became the greatest rival of the Taira, and the father of Yoritomo, one of the ablest men in Japanese history. The star of Minamoto was in the ascendant.
Meanwhile the Taira shōguns, who had the military oversight of the South and West, achieved a succession of brilliant victories. As a reward for his services, the court bestowed the island of Tsŭshima on Tadamori, the head of the house. It being a time of peace, Tadamori came to Kiōto to live, and while at court had a liaison with one of the palace lady attendants, whom he afterward married. The fruit of this union was a son, who grew to be a man of stout physique. In boyhood he gave equal indications of his future greatness and his future arrogance. He wore unusually high clogs - the Japanese equivalent for "riding a high horse." His fellows gave the strutting, roisterer the nickname of kohéda ("high clogs"). Being the son of a soldier, he had abundant, opportunity to display his valor. At this time the seas swarmed with pirates, who ravaged the coasts and were the scourge of Corea as well as Japan. Kiyomori, a boy full of fire and energy, thirsting for fame, asked to be sent against the pirates. At the age of eighteen he cruised in the Sea of Iyo, or the Suwo Nada, which is part of the Inland Sea, a sheet of water extremely beautiful in itself, and worthy, in a high degree, to be called the Mediterranean of Japan. While on shipboard, he made himself a name by attacking and capturing a ship full of the most desperate villains, and by destroying their lurking-place. His early manhood was spent alternately in the capital and in service in the South. In 1153, at the age of thirty-six, he succeeded his father as minister of justice. The two families of Minamoto and Taira, who had together emerged from comparative obscurity to fame, place, and honor, had dwelt peacefully together in Kiōto, or had been friendly rivals as soldiers in a common cause on distant battle-fields, until the year 1156, from which time they became implacable enemies. In that year the first battle was fought between the adherents of two rival claimants of the throne. The Taira party was successful, and obtained possession of the imperial palace, which gave them the supreme advantage and prestige which have ever since been possessed by the leader or party in whose hands the mikado is. The whole administration of the empire was now at Kiyomori's disposal. The emperor, who thus owed his elevation to the Taira, made them the executors of his policy. This was the beginning of the domination of the military classes that lasted until 1868. The ambition of Kiyomori was now not only to advance himself to the highest position possible for a subject to occupy, but also to raise the influence and power of his family to the highest pitch. He further determined to exterminate the only rivals whom he feared - the Minamoto. Not content with exercising the military power, he filled the offices at court with his own relatives, carrying the policy of nepotism to a point equal to that of his rivals, the Fujiwara. In 1167, at the age of fifty years, having, by his energy and cunning, made himself the military chief of the empire, having crushed not only the enemies of the imperial court, but also his own, and having tremendous influence with the emperor and court, he received the appointment of Dai Jō Dai Jin.
Kiyomori was thus, virtually, the ruler of Japan. In all his measures he was assisted, if not often instigated to originate them by the ex-emperor, Go-Shirakawa, who ascended the throne in 1156, and abdicated in 1159, but was the chief manager of affairs during the reigns of his son and two grandsons. This mikado was a very immoral and the evident reason of his resigning was that he might abandon himself to debauchery, and wield even more actual power than when on the throne. In 1169, he abdicated, shaved off his hair, and took the title of Hō-ō, or "cloistered emperor," and became a Buddhist monk, professing to retire from the world. In industrious seclusion, he granted the ranks and titles created by his predecessor in lavish profusion. He thus exercised, as a monk, even more influence than when in actual office. The head of the Taira hesitated not to use all these rewards for his own and his family's private ends. In him several offices were held by one person. He argued that as others who had done no great services for court or emperor had held high offices, he who had done so much should get all he could. Finally, neither court nor emperor could control him, and he banished kugé, and even moved the capital and court at his pleasure. In 1168, the power of the Taira family was paramount. Sixty men of the house held high offices at court, and the lands from which they enjoyed revenue extended over thirty provinces. They had splendid palaces in Kiōto and at Fukuwara, where the modern treaty-port of Hiōgo now stands overlooking the splendid scenery of the Inland Sea. Hesitating at nothing that would add to his glory or power, Kiyomori, in 1171, imitating his predecessors, made his daughter the con cubine, and afterward the wife, of the Emperor Takakura, a boy eleven years old. Of his children one was now empress, and his two sons were generals of highest rank. His cup of power was full.
The fortunes of the Fujiwara and Minamoto were under hopeless eclipse, the former having no military power, the latter being scattered in exile. Yoshitomo, his rival, had been killed, while in his bath, by Osada, his own traitorous retainer, who was bribed by Kiyomori to do the deed. The head of Yoshitomo's eldest son had fallen under the sword at Kiōto, and his younger sons - the last of the Minamoto, as he supposed - were in banishment, or immured in monasteries.
The most famous archer, Minamoto Tamétomo, took part in many of the struggles of the two rival families. His great strength, equal to that of many men (fifty, according to the legends), and the fact that his right arm was shorter than his left, enabled him to draw a how which four ordinary warriors could not bend, and send a shaft five feet long, with enormous bolt-head. The court, influenced by the Taira, banished him, in a cage, to Idzu (after cutting the muscles of his arm), under a guard. He escaped, and fled to the islands of Ōshima and Hachijō, and the chain south of the Bay of Yedo. His arm having healed, he ruled over the people, ordering them not to send tribute to Idzu or Kiōto. A fleet of boats was sent against him. Tamétomo, on the straiid of Ōshima, sped a shaft at one of the approaching vessels that pierced the thin gunwale and sunk it. He then, after a shout of defiance, shut himself up, set the house on fire. and killed himself. Another account declares that he fled to the Liu Kiu Islands, ruled over them, and founded the family of Liu Kiu kings, being the father of Sunten, the first historical ruler of this group of islands. A picture of this doughty warrior has been chosen to adorn the greenback currency of the banks of modern Japan.
"Woe unto thee, O land, when thy king is a child!" The mikados during the Taira period were nearly all children. Toba began to reign it six, abdicating at seventeen in behalf of his son Shintoku, four years old; who at twenty-four resigned in favor of Konoyé, then four years old. The latter died at the age of sixteen, and was succeeded by Go-Shirakawa, who abdicated after three years in favor of Nijō, sixteen years old, who died after six years, when Rokujō, one year old, succeeded. After three years, Takakura, eight years old, ruled thirteen years, resigning to Antoku, then three years of age. It is easily seen that the real power lay not with these boys and babies, but with the august wire-pullers behind the throne.
The Heiké Monogatari, or the "Historic Romance of the Taira," is one of the most popular of the many classic works of fiction read by all classes of people in Japan. In this book the chief events in the lives, and even the manners and personal appearance, of the principal actors of the times of the Taira are seen, so that they become more than shadows of names, and seem to live before us, men of yesterday. The terms Heiké and Genji, though Chinese forms of the names Taira and Minamoto, were, from their brevity, popularly used in preference to the pure native, but longer, forms of Taira and Minamoto.