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Clash of the Samurai

Hareth Al Bustani introduces us to Japan’s answer to the Wars of the Roses, a samurai civil war that upended centuries of imperial rule and ushered in a military dictatorship – the very first shOgunate
The Genpei War - as this clash of clans would become known - cemented the dominance of the samurai in Japanese society for generations to come
ALAMY X1, TARO NAKAMURA/SENGOKU PHOTO STUDIO SAMURAI X2

Impaled by an arrow samurai general Minamoto Yorimasa knelt and wrote a farewell poem on his fan: “Like a fossil tree from which gather no flowers, sad has been my life, no fruit to produce.” Accompanied by the symphony of ringing steel and bloodcurdling screams from the battle close by the 74-year-old calmly pulled out his dagger and cut open his belly leaving instructions for one of his men to throw his head into the river.

Yoshitomo’s Heiji Rebellion came to nothing: Go-Shikawara and his puppet emperor escaped. Kiyomori’s retribution was swift, violent and fiery
ALAMY X1, AKG IMAGES X1, BRIDGEMAN IMAGES X2, GETTY IMAGES X1

DID YOU KNOW?

The clans Minamoto were among and Taira the most samurai important Both traced (and their powerful) lineages in back Japan. to previous being minor emperors, princes their who ancestors had the names Minamoto and Taira bestowed on them.

His death, in 1180, is notable as perhaps the first recorded instance of the ritualistic suicide known as seppuku, but unremarkable as one of many caused by the Genpei War, the samurai civil war that swept through Japan at the tail end of the 12th century Two noble houses, the powerful Minamoto and Taira clans, came to blows over who held the most influence over the emperor on the Chrysanthemum Throne. What followed was five years of bloodshed, false promises and backstabbing – a conflict that might better be described as the Japanese Wars of the Roses.

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About BBC History Revealed Magazine

The 12th century can be seen as a pivotal moment in Japanese history, an era which saw beginning of the ascendancy of one of history’s most iconic warrior classes: the samurai. This month we explore the dramatic civil war that heralded their rise to power – and the formation of the first shōgunate. Plus: The black market for medieval relics, why the Wall St Crash of 1929 shook the world, how British humanitarian Nicholas Winton saved almost 700 children from the Nazis, the English pirate who inspired Captain Jack Sparrow, and more