Minamoto no Yoshitsune
(1159-89). Warrior; principal figure in the Taira-Minamoto War; immortalized in legend as Japan's foremost tragic hero. The son of Minamoto no Yoshitomo and Tokiwa Gozen, he was a younger brother of Minamoto no Yoritomo by a different mother. In 1160, during the Heiji Disturbance, Yoshitomo was killed by the Taira family; his wife and children were captured, but their lives were spared. Yoshitsune grew to manhood intent on avenging his father's death. Later, a rivalry developed between him and his brother, which led to a series of battles. Following a failed attack against his brother in 1189, Yoshitsune was forced to commit suicide. Three years later, Yoritomo was granted the title of shogun, thereby establishing Japan's first warrior government, the basic structure of which would survive for nearly 700 years. The poignanat story of Yoshitsune's life, especially his attempts to stand up against his ruthless older brother, has long appealed to the Japanese. The colloquial phrase hōgan biiki, meaning sympathy for an underdog or an ill-fated person, derives from a military title bestowed on Yoshitsune. The exploits of Yoshitsune and his fathful retainer Benkei have been a staple of Japanese popular literature and drama since the Muromachi period (1333-1568). (adapted from Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1993)
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