I would like to remind you of what happened when the Emperor Kammu decided that the government of Japan had become too expensive. He replaced the educated bureaucrats trained for the job since youth with private contractors who did the work in exchange for a cut in their taxes. The contractors then hired a new bunch of underpaid bureaucrats to actually do the work, and they were called samurai. As was to be expected, eventually the samurai evolved into the masters, and the two most powerful samurai families divided Japan between them; the Taira and the Minamoto. The Minamoto were the puppet masters, marrying their daughters to the powerless Emperors, and pulling the strings. The Taira clan frowned upon such pointless subtly. But between them they had turned the Emperors into expensive house pets. And then in 1180 the competition between the two families broke out into open warfare.
“So, Barzini will move against you first. He'll set up a meeting with someone that you absolutely trust, guaranteeing your safety. And at that meeting, you'll be assassinated.” (Don Corleone, The Godfather”)
The final break came on March 21, 1180 when Kiyomori Taira had his 2 year old grandson, Antoku, declared Emperor. The godfather of his clan, Kiyomori was described as “arrogant, evil, ruthless" and consumed by his hatred for the Minamoto. But actually many of the lesser samuria families did not trust Kiyomori, either. Sensing an oportunity, Yorimasa Minamoto encouraged Prince Mochihito, who had just been disenfranchised, to call for an uprising to make himself emperor, which he did on May 5th. The Prince also made an appeal to that most Japanese of institutions, the warrior Buddhist monks. But only those from the temple of Miidera answered his call. And the other samurai families also hesitated. Infuriated, Kiyomori issued a warrant for the Prince’s arrest and sent an army to take him into custody.
“You're taking this very personal. Tom, this is business and this man is taking it very, very personal.” (Sonny Corleone “The Godfather”)
While the Minamoto clan was gathering, Yorimasa and the Prince fell back on their stronghold around the old Imperial city of Kyoto. They took a stand at the Buddhist temple of Byodoin, on the banks of the river Ujii. To protect their retreat the Miridera monks began tearing apart the bridge over the Ujii as the Taira army advanced, firing flights of arrows to disrupt the work.
This was when a samuri named Tamjima Gochiin stepped forward to defend the bridge, using only his naginata. This was a long thin wooden pole, with a curved blade (usually sharpened bamboo) along one end. As the Taira army fired flights of arrows at Tamjima, he used his naginata to bat the arrows away. He went down in Japanese legend as “Tajima the arrow-cutter”. But still the monks held back.
“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” (Peter Clemenza. “The Godfather”)
Suddenly one of the monks ran forward and pushed up next to Tajima. He was Jomyo Meishu. According to the legend, “With his naginata he mows down five of the enemy, but with the sixth the naginata snaps asunder…flinging it away, he draws his (sword)…cutting down eight men; but as he brought down the ninth...the blade snapped at the hilt and fell with a splash into the water beneath. Then, seizing his (dagger), which was the only weapon he had left, he plied it as one in a death fury.”
“Fredo, you're my older brother, and I love you. But don't ever take sides with anyone against the Family again. Ever.” (Michael Corleone “The Godfather”)
But the defense of the bridge was being outflanked by mounted Tiara warriors who drove their horses into the river and let them swim to the opposite shore. The Minamoto had few men watching the banks and it took only a handful of Tiara horsemen to undercut the bridge defense. The Minamoto were driven back into the temple. And that was when Yorimasa Minamoto, who had organized the entire rebellion, did something that would change Japanese life for the next 700 years.
“Look how they massacred my boy.” (Don Corleone “The Godfather”).
Faced with the defeat of his army, as the triumphant Tiara were slaughtering monks in the temple’s Phoenix Hall, Yorimasa knelt on a pillow and committed seppuku, literally opening his own belly with a left to right sweep of his sword. His servant then finished the job by immediately removing Yorimasa’s head, thus ending his agony. The servant then tied the head to a rock and threw it into the Ujii River. The Prince was quickly captured and put to death. And that should have put an end to the rebellion. But two things altered the balance.
The first was that Yoritomo Minamoto took over leadership of his family, and secondly Kiyomori Taira took ill and died in the spring of 1181. The new leaders of the Taira family were far weaker than Yoritomo. And the other samurai families eventually sided with the Minamoto. The war would continue for five long and bloody years and end with the complete destruction of the Taira family line. With Minamoto dominance the government of Japan fell under the absolute control of the samurai. And their ultimate hero became Yorimasa, and his final act of defiance, held up as an example of noble behavior for generations of Japanese.
“Blood is a big expense.” (Virgil “The Turk” Sollozzo. (The Godfather”)