The civil war fought by two powerful rival clans called Taira and Minamoto clans during the late-Heian period of Japan.

Taira and Minamoto Clan - Before Genpei War
Taira and Minamoto Clan – Before Genpei War

Prior to war, anger and resentment against each other was built over a decade. Both clans tried to dominate not only the court of emperor, but also whole of Japan.

Both families married their daughters to Emperor Go-Shirakawa in a hope that their children will one day rule the Japan.

The two sides clashed in Hogen Disturbance of 1156 and the Heiji Disturbance of 1160. Better organized Taira clan won both of the clashes.

After winning both the clashes, Taira Clan leader Taira no Kiyomori became the Minister of State. He later married his daughter to Emperor Go-Shirakawa. His daughter latter gave birth to the son.

Why did the genpei war start?

With aim of controlling the imperial court, he moved the seat of imperial power to Fukuhara-kyo, which was closer to his stronghold.

Soon Taira no Kiyomori forced Emperor Go-Shirakawa to abdicate in favour of his son Emperor Takakura.

Later he forced Emperor Takakura to abdicate in favour of his grandson prince Antoku who was son of Emperor Go-Shirakawa and Tokuko (Taira no Kiyomori’s daughter).

Emperor Go-Shirakawa’s older son Mochihito felt that it was his birth right to be emperor but Taira no Kiyomori has denied him his denied his rightful place.

Leader of Minamoto clan Minamoto no Yorimasa also provoked Prince Mochihito for rebellion.

In May 1180, Minamoto no Yorimasa and Prince Mochihito send massage to Minamoto clan as well as Buddhist monasteries to raise the banner of revolt.

Soon Taira no Kiyomori received the news of revolt and sent his army to arrest Prince Mochihito.

As soon as Prince Mochihito heard the news of his impeding arrest, he escaped Kyoto and went to temple of Mii-dera for his own protection.

The warrior monks of Mii-dera expressed their inability to ensure sufficient protection of Prince Mochihito.

So, Prince Mochihito, Minamoto no Yorimasa and about fifteen hundred men including the warrior monks of Mii-dera escaped temple and fled south toward Nara with Taira forces chasing them.

Soon they reached Uji river and hastily crossed it. After crossing the river they destroyed the bridge to prevent Taira army from crossing the river.

Battle of Uji (1180)

Led by their young and capable general, the Taira army soon reached the river crossing. They forded the river and caught up with Minamoto army. Taira Army charged and attacked the Minamoto Army.

Battle of Uji (1180)
Battle of Uji (1180)

Minamoto no Yorimasa and his two sons tried to help the Prince Mochihito to get away, but lost his sons in this attempt. Sensing defeat, Minamoto no Yorimasa committed suicide through seppuku.

Shortly after this Taira army captured and killed Prince Mochihito.

Battle of Ishibashiyama

After the death of Minamoto no Yorimasa, Minamoto no Yoritomo became the leader of Minamoto clan. He travelled far and wide to seek new alliance against Taira clan.

When Taira no Kiyomori heard that Minamoto no Yoritomo is near Hakone Pass, he sent his army to intercept and kill him.

Battle of Ishibashiyama
Battle of Ishibashiyama

Although most of the clans were sympathetic to Minamoto clan, they were reluctant to join the fight. So, by the time Taira army caught up with Minamoto no Yoritomo, he was able to raise only 300 soldiers near Ishibashiyama.

Taira general launched the night attack on Minamoto camp with 3,000 men under the cover of heavy rain. He also sent 300 of his troops around the camp, which later attacked the Minamoto camp from the rear.

Stuck between two enemy forces, smaller Minamoto army was easily defeated.

Sensing defeat, Minamoto no Yoritomo hide inside the tree trunk with a trusted companion. One of their secret allies inside Taira forces smuggled them out of battlefield alive and helped them escape.

Battle of Fujigawa of Genpei War

After the defeat in battle of Ishibashiyama, Minamoto no Yoritomo arrived at the provinces of Kai and Kozuke.

By August 1180, Minamoto no Yoritomo setup his headquarter at Kamakura.

He sent his representative with small army to Takeda and Kotsuke clan. He wanted the support of these clans whenever he decides to march against Taira Clan.

As small Minamoto army reached Suruga Province, they were intercepted by a much larger Taira forces. However army of Takeda and Kotsuke clan arrived in the rear of Taira army. Minamoto army easily defeated the Taira army with help of its allies.  

Taira no Kiyomori got very upset at this defeat and decided to attack Mii-dera monks who previously helped deceased Prince Mochihito.

He besieged Mii-dera monks headquarter Nara and burnt much of the city to the ground.

Battle of Sunomata-gawa

In the spring of 1181, Taira no Kiyomori died from illness and Taira no Munemori became the head of the clan. At the time of his death Japan began to suffer from a famine for next two years.

In June 1181, Minamoto no Yukiie and his army found Taira no Tomomori and his army camping directly opposite from his camp, along the Sunomata River.

During the night, Minamoto army attempted the sneak attack against the Taira Army.

However, Taira army was ready for their attack. As Minamoto army crossed the river, they were soaking wet. In dark night Taira army was able to tell the distinct wet enemy and killed them as soon as they crossed the river.

Sensing defeat, Minamoto no Yukiie and few of his loyal followers cross the river back to the safety of their own camp.

After winning the battle Taira army crossed and river and attacked Minamoto Camp.

Battle of Kurikara

The Taira army launched the attack on Minamoto no Yoshinaka, who raised a large force in the north. However, they were unsuccessful in dislodging Minamoto no Yoshinaka.

For next two due famines in Japan two sided fought no war.

For next two years Minamoto no Yoshinaka ravaged and looted the land under Taira control.

In March 1183, Minamoto no Yoritomo saw Minamoto no Yoshinaka as his rival and moved his army to eliminate his rival.

Division in Minamoto Clan
Division in Minamoto Clan

However, Yoshinaka appealed to Yoritomo not to fight one another and join forces to defeat Taira Clan. To calm down Yoritomo, Yoshinaka sent his son as hostage to Yoritomo.

Soon after this, Minamoto no Yoshinaka received the news that Taira army is moving toward his domain to attack him, eager to exact revenge for all his looting in past two years.

However, famine has severely depleted the strength of Taira Army. They tried to replace the depleted army by recruiting peasants. This also increased the risk of future famine.

Soon Taira army left Kyoto and approached Kurikara Pass. When Minamoto no Yoshinaka saw the approaching Taira army, he device the clever tactics to defeat his enemy.

Battle of Kurikara
Battle of Kurikara

He divided his army in 3 groups. The First group took postion at the end of the pass, second group moved around the pass to take position at the start of the pass behind Taira Army and the third group moved to take position at the bottom of the pass.

The first group engages the Taira army in archery exchange to hide the movement of second and third group. Minamoto no Yoshinaka also employed delaying tactics like individual duel between hundred of samurai.

He waited till end of the day so that his army in place to launch an ambush. Just before the sunset he gave ordered to send herd of oxen with tourched lit to their horn to spread panic within the rank of Taira army.

Herd of Oxen forced the Taira army to break formation. At this movement, Minamoto army attacked Taira army from both end of Kurikara Pass.

As Taira army was attacked from both sides, some of the soldier were simply knocked off the path and charged down the valley.

Here third group of Minamoto army was waiting for them and killed Taira troops enmass.

Battle of Shinohara

Remaining Taira army along with the head of the clan Taira no Munemori retreated back to Kyoto. However before they can reach safety of kyoto.

They were caught up by advancing army of victorious Minamoto no Yoshinaka.

After the many celebrated instances of single combat both sides engaged in archery duel.

Soon both sides were engaged in full fledge battle in which Minamoto clan won the battle.

After loss in the battle of Kurikara and Shinohara, Taira position became so weak that several months later they found themselves besieged in Kyoto by minamoto army.

Two Minamoto army approaches Kyoto one under Yoshinaka from north and second under Yukiie from east.

Minamoto Army
Minamoto Army

Taira no Munemori along with his 6 years old Emperor Antoku and his loyal supporter flee Kyoto.

He also took with him Imperial regalia. They first setup his court in Dazaifu, but after the local revolt moved to Yashima.

Soon Minamoto army arrived in Kyoto and liberated the Go-Shirakawa from his confinement. Soon they declared Go-Shirakawa as new emperor.

The new emperor Go-Shirakawa issued the order in which he ordered Minamoto no Yoshinaka to join the forces of Minamoto no Yukiie who was leading Minamoto no Yoritomo’s army.

At this point of time emporer favored Yoshinaka over Yoritomo.

At this time, Minamoto no Yoshinaka planned to attack Yoritomo while simultaneously pursuing the Taira.

Battle of Mizushima

After hearing the news of Taira consolidation of Yashima, Minamoto no Yoshinaka sent a force from Kyoto under the leadership of Yata Yoshikiyo.

To attack Yashima, Yata Yoshikiyo assembled a fleet of boats at Mizushima. Taira clan knew about their preparation and planned to make a surprise attack Mizushima.

Battle of Mizushima
Battle of Mizushima

Taira army tied their boat together with grappling hooks and wooden planks. This increased the stability of their boat and morale of the troops. 

Soon, Taira army launched the attack on Minamoto position. They first rained down the arrows on minamoto army followed by hand to hand combat.

Taira army killed Minamoto commander Yata Yoshikiyo. Taira army has brought with them horses. The mounted warrior launched the attack on remaining Minamoto army on the beach and routed them.

This victory raised the moral of Taira clan and demoralized the remaining force of Minamoto no Yoshinaka.

Minamoto no Yoshinaka also lost large portion of troops loyal to him. Soon, emperor Go-Shirakawa started supporting Minamoto no Yoritomo’s faction within Minamoto clan.

Siege of Hojujidono

Sensing that his position is getting worse, Minamoto no Yoshinaka conspired to seize control of the clan from his cousins Minamoto no Yoritomo.

He asked Yukiie (commander of Yoritomo army) to betray Yoritomo and join him. He planned to kidnap Emperor Go-Shirakawa, and establish his government in the north of Japan.

However Yukiie did not support Minamoto no Yoshinaka and stayed loyal to Yoritomo.

As his conspiracy was made public, Yoshinaka had no option but to take action.

He attacked royal residence of Hojujidono or Hojuji Palace and killed all its guard. He kidnapped Emperor Go-Shirakawa and set Hojuji Palace on fire.

Soon warrior monks of Mii-dera and court nobles turned against him and attacked his army. Minamoto no Yoritomo’s army arrived at city and surrounded the city.

Minamoto no Yoshinaka decide to flee with emperor as his hostage from Kyoto and successfully broke through the blockade of Yoritomo’s army.

By the time Yoshinaka reached Uji river, Yoritomo’s army caught up with him. They soon fought the second battle of Uji.

Second Battle of Uji (1184)

Yoshinaka successfully crossed the bridge and torn up bridge to prevent Yoritomo’s army from following him.

Yoritomo’s army didn’t care about the bridge and crossed the river to face Yoshinaka’s army.

Larger Yoritomo’s army easily defeated Yoshinaka’s army. Yoshinaka fled the battlefield with the small retinue of his loyal follower. Yoritomo’s army continues to pursue Yoshinaka’s retinue.

Battle of Awazu

Finally Yoritomo’s army caught up with Yoshinaka and few remaining men of his army near Awazu.

Minamoto no Yoshinaka decided to make his final stand at Awazu. He fought valiantly and holds off Yoritomo’s large force for few hours.

During the fight Yoshinaka’s horse got stuck in paddy field and became easy target for archer. Soon he was stuck by an arrow and died.

This was the end of Minamoto no Yoshinaka and Minamoto no Yoritomo remain undisputed head of Minamoto clan.

Battle of Ichi-no-Tani

While Minamoto clan was fighting to among themselves, Taira clan began consolidating their position in their ancestral home territory.

Soon they receive the message from Emperor Go-Shirakawa, that if they surrendered he can convince Minamoto clan for truce. As everyone knew that this was a ploy, so no one took it seriously.

It gave Emperor the chance to regain the Regalia and to distract the Taira leadership. However nothing came out of it.

However by spring of 1184, Minamoto clan has united under the leader ship of Minamoto no Yoritomo and left Kyoto with the intention of destroying Taira Clan.

Soon, Minamoto army reached the Taira stronghold of Ichi-no-Tani. The commander of Minamoto army split his army in two groups.

The first group hid in the forest at the east end of Ichi-no-Tani. The second group took position on the mountain ridge to the north.

At appointed hour, both group attacked and caught Taira Army offgaurd. The army was unable to deploy fully as attacked caused confusion in the rank of Taira army.

Taira army was annihilated by Minamoto army. Only 3000 Taira soldier were able to escape the battle.

Taira clan not only lost large number of soldier but also many high ranking clan members. The survivors of the battle escape to Yashima.

Final Battle of Genpei War
Final Battle of Genpei War

Battle of Yashima

Yashima on Shikoku Island became the final stronghold for Taira Clan. As Minamoto clan don’t had navy so they didn’t immediate invade Yashima.

It took Minamoto clan almost a year to build navy which can fight powerful Taira Navy. Minamoto commander came up with a clever plan to flush out Taira from Yashima.

One of the commanders of minamoto army Yoshitsune crossed the narrow sea with 150 of his warrior and arrived at Tsubaki Bay, in Awa Province.

They then advance toward Yashima through the night and arrived at Yashima from behind. Since Taira army was expecting a Naval Attack, so most of its army was on ships.

Just outside the Yashima, minamoto army lit a bonfire and fooled Taira Clan into believing that a large Minamoto army is approaching from Land.

Sensing impending defeat, Taira clan along with Emperor Antoku and the imperial regalia abandoned their palace and boarded their ships.

Minamoto army entered the city of Yashima without much fighting. After this battle, only threat left for Minamoto army was Taira Navy.

Battle of Dan-no-ura

This is the last and famous battle of genpei war was Battle of Dan-no-ura. Minamoto navy decided to engage Taira fleet in the strait of Shimonoseki.

The tide played an important role in this battle. As Taira navy was more experienced sailor, they took full advantage of tide and launch the devastating attack on Minamoto Navy.

However Minamoto navy was able to withstand the attack and waited for tide to turn to launch their attack. Soon Minamoto navy gain advantage. In the middle of the battle, Taguchi, a Taira warrior changed side along with his follower. This further strengthens the position of Minamoto Navy.

After long battle Minamoto navy was able to defeat Taira Navy and many Taira nobles perished along with Emperor Antoku and his mother Tokuko.

Who won the genpei war

The Genpei War completely destroyed the power of Taira Clan and Japan fell under the complete control of Minamoto clan. After the war, Go-Shirakawa granted to Minamoto no Yoritomo power to collect taxes, and appoint governor in all provinces.

In 1192, after the death of emperor Go-Shirakawa, the new emperor granted imperial title of Sei-i Tai Shogun to Minamoto no Yoritomo.

The end of Genpei war marks the beginning of Kamakura Shogunate and decline in power of emperor, who was effectively reduced to a purely symbolical and ceremonial head of state.

The genpei war also saw the rise of new class of warrior called samurai.

The Genpei war also establishes the red and white as Japan’s national colors, seen on modern flag of Japan. Red flag was the color of Taira Clan whereas white was the color of Minamoto clan.


How did the Genpei war change the lifestyle of the samurai?

Before the Genpei war, the emperor and aristocracy employed the warriors for their protection and waging war against their rivals.

Soon Japanese aristocracy started entrusting the security of the provinces to these warriors and called them Samurai. The samurai became the symbols of the ideal warrior and citizen. 

Soon these samurai accumulated lots of military and economic power and became very powerful faction in imperial court.

Their support was essential in suppressing the Hogen rebellion of 1156 even though both sides hired samurai.

Later, they started forming alliances with one another in imperial court in order to establish samurai-dominated government.

In fact Taira no Kiyomori became first person to established the first samurai-dominated administrative government in the history of Japan.

After the Genpei war, Kamakura Shogunate became real power behind the throne.

 The shogun, who now became more powerful than emperor, allowed band of samurai to act as soldiers and police.

They were also allowed to collect a certain amount of tax in provinces to which they were appointed. But gradually they started accumulating power and they started interfering in running of provincial government.  

Originally Shogun appointed these samurai for the four-year fixed terms in the provinces.

After few years, these samurai refused to return to capital after successful completion of their terms and kept their position in the provinces.

Later they demanded that their son should inherit their position which was granted by shogun as these samurai were very successful in putting down the rebellion on the behalf of Shogun.

Because of their rising military and economic power, the warriors ultimately became a new force in the politics of the Japan.

This laid down the foundation of power dominance of various samurai clans who would rule Japan in future.

After the defeat in first battle of Uji in 1180, Minamoto no Yorimasa committed hara-kiri. This was the first recorded act where hara-kiri or seppuku was performed and set the standard for generations to come.

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