Episode 153 – The Birth of the Samurai, Part 8

This week, we conclude our series on the rise of the samurai with murder, intrigue, political reform, and gratuitous Game of Thrones references.

Listen to the episode here.


McCullough, Helen. The Tale of the Heike.

Friday, Karl. Hired Swords: The Rise of Private Warrior Power in Early Japan.

Sansom, George B. A History of Japan to 1334.


Minamoto no Yoshitsune’s exploits remained the stuff of legend after his death. They are memorialized in manga, TV shows, video games, and statues like this one.
An Edo-era print of the three Minamoto brothers (from left to right: Yoshitsune, Yoritomo, Noriyori) by the prolific printer Utagawa Kunisada. I particularly like this print because of the way the men are dressed. Yoshitsune and Noriyori are in battle gear, but Yoritomo is dressed like a courtier — or perhaps a politician.
We’ve already touched on the Japanese fondness for wax statues. This one shows the monk Benkei at the moment of his death protecting his friend Yoshitsune. It depicts a popular tale about Benkei: that he died standing up and never fell to the ground until toppled after the battle. That story mirrors one from China about another famously loyal warrior with a halberd: the great Chinese saint of war Guan Yu. The two stories were probably linked specifically to draw a parallel between the reputation of Guan Yu and that of Benkei.