Following in the Footsteps of a Peerless Hero

October 22, 2013

The Legend of Yoshitune and Kyoto

By Airi Kinoshita

…On the Gojo bridge in the city of Koto

Is a huge man Bennkei, with a sword in hand

Throwing the weapon up high over his head

He darts for Ushiwaka who stands on the parapet…

 

These words are from a famous song that appears in a song book that was used by elementary school students from 1911~1941. The song represents the popular scene of the first meeting of Ushiwakamaru and Benkei on the Gojo Bridge in Kyoto. Ushiwakamaru is a childhood name of Minamoto-no-Yoshitsune, one of the greatest and best-known samurai in Japanese history. In addition to his achievements based on historical facts, there are many stories that hae been handed down from generation to generation.  

Yoshitsune was born in 1159, the late Heian period when samurai gradually rose to power and were soon to overthrow the aristocratic class. Blood relationships were important to Samurai and they and teamed together for each clan. Among these clans, there were two most powerful families: Minamoto and Taira families. Both of these families believed they were entitled to power since they both had ties to the imperial family and had strong armies. Consequently, the two families clashed and fought one another. This world of conflict cast a shadow over Yoshitsune’s early life. In the year Yoshitsune was born, the Taira clan killed Yoshitune’s father during the Heiji Rebellion. Soon after his mother, Tokiwa, was forced to marry Taira-no-Kiyomori, the top general of Taira family. Yoshitsune’s brother, Yoritomo, was exiled to the Izu Peninsula.

 

 

Yoshitsune himself was sent to Kurama temple, which is located in the mountains north of Kyoto city.Legend says that he was raised and trained by Tengu, the red-faced, long-nosed goblins that inhabit the deep forest of Japan.Even today, huge trees surround Kurama temple, so it would not seem not surprising to encounter a Tengu goblin there. The legend also says that one day Yoshitsune heard that a warrior monk named Benkei was robbing people on the Gojo Bridge every night. He went to see for himself and soon found himself in a duel with the monk. He defeated Benkei, so Benkei became his right-hand man and served him well. On the Gojo Bridge there are statues of Ushiwaka (Yoshitsune) and Benkei to commemorate this legend.

Yoshitsune grew up to be a brave and great strategist. In 1180, his brother Yoritomo raised an army to fight against the Taira family and Yoshitsune joined him. He became well-known for many clever tactics he deployed in battles. These operations helped lead his clan to victory. One of the most remarkable operations he pulled off was Hiyodorigoe-no- sakaotoshi (running down the Hiyodori Slope). In the Battle of Ichi-no-tani in1184, the Taira family had set up their camp at the base of Hiyodori Slope, which was a very, very steep hill. The Tairas had expected the Minamoto Clan to attack them from the front, head-on, but Yoshitsune surprised them and attacked from the rear, rushing down the steep slope on horseback followed by his army. The Taira Clan was stunned. They fled in a panic, so the Minamoto clan could win an easy victory with few dead.

Although the Minamoto Clan was victorious, Yoshitsune soon fell into conflict with his brother, Yoritomo, because they both desired to become the new clan leader. Eventually Yoritomo decided to kill his his brother, so Yoshitsune fled Kyoto for Iwate, in the far north of Japan. He was going to ask for help from another prominent clan leader, Hidehira Fujiwara. Unfortunately, Hidehira’s successor, Yasuhira, betrayed Yoshitsune and attacked him. He lost most of his soldiers in the ensuing fight including loyal Benkei, who died by throwing himself in front of his master during a volley of arrows. Yoshitsune was forced to commit hara-kiri and died in his estate which had been set ablaze.

History sympathizes with this tragic hero by remembering his exploits as legends and kin Kabuki plays. If you are interested in Minanoto-no-Yositsune, Kyoto has many places connected with him, for example, where Ushiwaka and Bennkei dueled. Actually there are three candidates for the place: Gojo Bridge, Kiyomizu temple, and Gojoten temple. These all are in Kyoto city, so how about visiting these sites and let yourself imagine this brilliant historical figure?

Il Ponte di Gojo

Kyoichi Yoneoka, Takuro Yoshimura

Il Ponte di Gojo
Il luogo d’incontro di Ushiwakamaru e Benkei

Vi vogliamo parlare del ponte di Gojo.
Questo ponte ha una lunga storia,
e su di esso ci sono tante leggende e racconti.
Il ponte di Gojo è famoso perché
è il posto in cui si incontrarono Ushiwakamaru e Benkei.
Vi raccontiamo dunque la storia di Ushiwakamaru e Benkei,
due personaggi molto famosi in Giappone.
Durante il periodo Kamakura (1185-1333), volendo rubare mille spade, ogni sera
Benkei, un monaco guerriero di corporatura gigantesca,
cercava spade nella città di Kyoto.
Avendone già rubate 999, aspettava l’occasione per rubare la millesima al ponte di Gojo.
Una notte passò sul ponte Ushiwakamaru, membro del potente clan dei Minamoto, ammantato in un vestito da donna, e i due si affrontarono in duello.
Sopraffatto dall’incredibile agilità di Ushiwakamaru, che poteva saltare su e giù dal parapetto del ponte come un’ uccelino,
Benkei fu sconfitto, e si sottomise a Ushiwakamaryu, diventando suo fedele vassallo .
(Il ponte si trovava allora in una parte diversa di Kyoto.
In seguito fu trasferito da Hideyoshi Toyotomi nel luogo presente.)
Ushiwakamaru cambiò in seguito il proprio nome in Yoshitsune, e combatté a fianco del fido Benkei in una guerra di sei anni contro il clan rivale dei Taira o Heike, comandando la flotta dei Minamoto nella battaglia navale di Dannoura (presso la città di Shimonoseki, nella prefettura di Yamaguchi) contro Taira no Munenori, in cui i Taira furono definitivamente sconfitti.
Grazie alla sconfitta dei Taira, il fratello di Yoshitsune, Minamoto no Yoritomo, fondò il Kamakura Bakufu, il governo di Kamakura incentrato sulla figura dello Shogun, o generalissimo. In seguito però Yoritomo e Yoshitsune combatterono tra di loro, e Yoshitsune e Benkei morirono nella battaglia del fiume Koromo.
La guerra tra i Minamoto e i Taira è molto importante e famosa in Giappone.
Tutti i giapponesi la imparano sui libri di testo a scuola, ed è famosa anche la grande devozione di Benkei per il suo signore Yoshitsune.
Però non sono in molti a conoscere la leggenda dell’incontro tra
Ushiwakamaru e Benkei.

Ushiwakamaru e Benkei

Accesso:

  • È vicinissimo alla Stazione Kiyomizu Gojo della linea ferroviaria Keihan, uscita numero 3.
  • Dalla stazione di Kyoto delle ferrovie JR si prende l’autobus numero 4, 17, oppure 205, e si scende alla fermata Gojo Ohashimae, a cui il ponte è vicinissimo.