Uji River, Cherry Blossoms and Heike Monogatari:
Uji City is a town not so far from Kyoto and steeped in history. Recently, I visit Byōdō-in (平等院) and afterwards strode along the Uji River. The Ajirogi-no-michi (あじろぎの道) is a walking path along the Uji River and is lined with sakura trees. During the summer months, cormorant fishing is the high lite of the evening. Although many people flock to Uji City to see the famous sites, not many people know about the battles that have been fought here. The famous Uji-bashi Bridge of olden has many hero warrior tales. The following is some of that history from Heike Monogatari courtesy of Wikipedia.
The first battle along the Uji River (1180) is famous and important for having opened the Genpei War.
In early 1180, Prince Mochihito, the Minamoto Clan’s favoured claimant to the Imperial Throne, was chased by Taira forces to the Mii-dera, a temple just outside Kyoto. Due to the interference of a Mii-dera monk with Taira sympathies, the Minamoto army arrived too late to help defend the temple.
Minamoto no Yorimasa and Prince Mochihito, along with a few hundred men including the warrior monks from Mii-dera, fled south towards Nara. They crossed the Uji River, just outside the Byōdō-in, and tore up the planks of the bridge behind them to prevent the Taira following them.
Three warrior monks in particular are named in the Heike Monogatari: Gochi-in no Tajima, Tsutsui Jōmyō Meishū, and Ichirai Hōshi. These three, along with the other monks of Mii-dera, fought with bow and arrow, a variety of swords and daggers, and naginata.
As for the Heike troops, they were led by Ashikaga Tadatsuna, one of the few warrior of direct Minamoto descent who stayed loyal to his oath to the Taira family even when it was crumbling around him, until him and his father were murdered by one of their retainers, Kiryū Rokurō. A young hero of 18 years old, Tadatsuna is remembered as having the strength of hundred men, a voice echoed over 10 li (5 km), and teeth of 1 sun (3.03cm) long. Describing it as such, Azuma Kagami further stated that “there will be no warrior in future ages like this Tadatsuna.”
Led by their young general, the Taira force soon began to ford the river and caught up with the Minamoto. Tadatsuna was the first warrior on the frontline, and gallantly proclaimed his name and lineage before charging the enemies, as it was the traditional custom. Yorimasa tried to help the Imperial Prince get away, but was struck with an arrow in the right elbow. While his sons, Nakatsuna and Kanetsuna were dying to fend off the enemies eager for the old man’s head, Yorimasa committed seppuku.
“Yorimasa committed hara-kiri in a way that was to set the standard for generations to come.” As for Prince Mochihito, he was captured and killed shortly afterwards by the Taira warriors.
Minamoto no Yoshinaka tried to wrest power from his cousins Yoritomo and Yoshitsune, seeking to take command of the Minamoto clan. To that end, he burned the Hōjūji Palace, and kidnapped Emperor Go-Shirakawa. However, his cousins Noriyori and Yoshitsune caught up with him soon afterwards, following him across the Bridge over the Uji, New Year’s Day, 1184, which Yoshinaka had torn up to impair their crossing.
This was an ironic reversal of the first Battle of the Uji River, only four years earlier. Much as the Taira did in that first battle, Minamoto no Yoshitsune led his horsemen across the river, and defeated Yoshinaka.
The third battle at the Uji River was the primary battle of the Jōkyū War in Japan. Bakufu forces led by Imperial regent Hōjō Yoshitoki sought to enter Kyoto and overthrow Emperor Go-Toba, using Uji and Seta as their gateways.
The Emperor’s forces, alongside warrior monks from Mount Hiei, attempted to make a final stand at the bridge into Kyoto, defending it from the Shogun’s armies.
The bakufu forces attacked the entire river line from Uji to Seta, and the Imperial forces stood firm for many hours. However, eventually they broke through and scattered the remaining defenders, and opening the way into the city for the rest of their rebel forces.
As had happened twice before, the bridge over the Uji-gawa proved to be a tactically crucial entryway into Kyoto, and highly defensible; but, as before, it was ultimately not defensible enough and the attackers crossed the river and entered Kyoto. See more pictures here: read about the: Asagiri Bridge and the Tale of Genji in Uji City!