|Fig.1: There's really no contest here.
It was common practice in the Heian period of Japan (which began in the 794th Year of Our Doughnut) that the Emperor would become popular with the ladies, and thus have too many children on his hands. The solution was to create noble clans from the various descendants, and down the line these clans would become influential families in charge of taking government posts, advising the Emperor, and making sure the Emperor doesn't eat too much candy and get all wound up before bedtime. Around the 10th century, the Taira clan emerged as a dominant force in Japanese politics. The clan's founder, Taira no Takamochi, was the grandson of the Emperor Kammu; his son became a regional ruler, whose son became a governmental minister, whose son became a successful general, whose son was a little bit of a disappointment and became a doctor (what a slacker), but his son became a personal adviser to the Emperor. The Taira reached their height under Taira no Kiyomori, who became Chief Minister in 1167. He had helped defeat several rebellions against Taira rule in the 1150s, including one against their jealous rivals, the Minamoto clan, who were always looking out their window with binoculars at the Taira clan and shaking their fists.
|Fig.2: The Emperor Go-Shirakawa
abdicated in 1159, and was allowed
to wear his favorite pajamas for the
rest of his life.
Things didn't get off to a good start. The Taira crushed the opposition at the Battle of Uji in 1180; not only was one of Go-Shirakawa's sons captured and killed, the leader of the Minamoto clan committed seppuku (ritual suicide, fig.3) for the first time in recorded history. This trend would continue all the way until World War II, even though everyone knew they were being a drama queen as they were doing it. The new leader of the Minamoto clan, Minamoto no Yoritomo (which sounds like a Dr. Suess character if you say the name out loud), scoured Japan for allies, hoping to find a Mr. Miyagi somewhere. Nonetheless, he still lost his first fight at the Battle of Ishibashiyama, mainly because his soldiers spent too much time reading the "Welcome to Ishibashiyama" sign. The story goes that the only reason Minamoto no Yoritomo survived was because he hid in a hollow tree during the retreat. While that may make Yoritomo look like a pansy, I say living to fight another day makes more sense then just killing yourself whenever you lose. Bunch of crybabies...
|Fig.3: Don't give him any attention...that's exactly what he wants!
|Fig.4: Legend states that Heike
crabs found near the site of
Dan-no-ura have human-like
faces on their shells because they
are the embodiment of Taira
warriors who died there. It goes
without saying that everyone in
the Taira clan was pretty ugly.
The Genpei War ended the Heian era of Japanese history, and allowed for the rise of the shogunate, a form of government led by the military establishment of samurai warriors. In other words: AWESOMENESS!!! Once Go-Shirakawa finally died and stopped meddling in everything in 1192, Minamoto no Yoritomo established what would be known as the Kamakura shogunate, with himself as the effective ruler of the country. The chubby little Emperor was then tucked away, meant to be seen and not heard, revered but not obeyed, all the way until 1868! Samurai clan leaders took charge, establishing successive shogunates and creating a dominant samurai culture revered by Medieval Japanese historians and smelly Anime fans today. And it was all thanks to the family feud between the Minamoto and Taira clans, where several people were surveyed, and the #1 answer was death!
Japan: A Concise History (Fourth Edition), by Milton W. Meyer
Published: 2009; Hardcover: 361 pages
Canned Rating: 3 out of 5 Creepy Samurai Helmets