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Historic Kansai :Kyoto is full of historical sites related toYoshitsune

By Junzo Tanaka
If Japanese are asked to choose three favorite historical stories, most would cite Taikoki, Chushingura and Gikeiki.
Taikoki is a biography of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598), who climbed up from the bottom of society and became the national leader. Chushingura is a story of the teamwork of a band of retainers of the Ako Clan who in 1703 avenged their master who met a tragic death. Gikeiki is a story of the life of tragic warrior Minamoto Yoshitsune (1159-1189).
The three great tales have been repeatedly taken up in plays, motion pictures and TV dramas. Yoshitsune will be the hero of a TV historical drama which Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) will air throughout 2005.
Historical spots related to Yoshitsune abound throughout the country. So we might as well visit Yoshitsune-related historical sites in Kyoto.
Yoshitsune was born the son of Minamoto Yoshitomo and Tokiwa Gozen in Kurama, northern Kyoto and was called Ushiwakamaru in his childhood. There are various mementos related to Ushiwakamaru in Kyoto. The Buddhist temple Konenji in the neighborhood of the Imamiya Shrine in Kita Ward, keeps a belly belt which Tokiwa Gozen wore while she was pregnant with Yoshitsune. In the compound of the nearby Jotokuji Temple there is a guardian deity built to wish Tokiwa Gozen safe delivery of the baby.
Since Yoshitsune (then Ushiwakamaru) trained himself in the mountains of Kurama, various mementos related to him exist in the Kurama region. There is a tombstone erected for the repose of Yoshitsune's soul near the Yuki Shrine located on the slope of a hill above the Kurama Station of Eizan Railway. At the Kifune Shrine on the other side of the hill, there is a monument built at the site of the house of Kiichi Hogen who taught Yoshitsune military tactics. Hogen's daughter Jorurihime fell in love with Yoshitsune, but Yoshitsune stole a secret document about military tactics possessed by Hogen. Hogen discovered the theft and tried to kill Yoshitsune but himself was killed in the attempt. Lovelorn Jorurihime later committed suicide.
The Gojo Ohashi bridge in Kamigyo Ward, is where Yoshitsune fought with warrior-priest Benkei. Just as in the story of David and Goliath, the small and agile Yoshitsune easily subdued the towering man Benkei. Benkei was so impressed by Yoshitsune that he became Yoshitsune's retainer and served him all his life. On the bridge there stands a monument of Yoshitsune and Benkei. But areas around the bridge have been modernized and no vestige remains of the bridge's historical significance.
Among other Yoshitsune-related historical relics in Kyoto is the Kadode Hachiman Shrine near the Honryuji temple in Chie-Koin Street, Kamigyo Ward, where Yoshitsune is said to have prayed for safety of his expedition. When Yoshitsune became supreme commander of the Minamoto Clan Army, he asked the war god enshrined at the Usa Hachiman Shrine for help.
Yoshitsune's surname, Minamoto, is the name of a warrior clan. Warrior clans initially had the mission of guarding noblemen, but they soon seized political power and controlled the country. The Minamoto and Taira clans fought for hegemony and at one time Taira overpowered Minamoto and ruled the country. But Yoshitsune and other members of the Minamoto clan fought back and regained power from the Taira Clan. Minamoto Yoritomo, who got rid of Yoshitsune, established military rule, which lasted for 700 years. Japan became a modern civic country after the military rule collapsed in 1868.
Yoshitsune's tragic fate aroused strong public sympathy for him, which coined the phrase ""Hougan biiki (sympathy for Hougan),"" meaning sympathy for the underdog. Hougan is the name of the title Yoshitsune held. Hougan biiki may underlie Japanese people's peculiar trait which feels strong sympathy for a good fight put up by the loser, rather than the victor.