Japan’s greatest samurai, not yet 30, was on the run with his young wife and his baby son, his death ordered by the very brother he had made Shogun. How had this happened? Yoritomo, now shogun, was the older half-brother, and Yoshitsune was of the brilliant young general. They were the feared Minamoto.
There had been a number of brothers by two different mothers. Yoshitsune was the youngest. When their father was murdered, only three of his sons were spared – Yoshitsune and his brother Noriyori, three years older, plus their older half-brother, Yoritomo. When the three were finally united again, the two younger brothers were teenagers. Yoshitsune, the youngest, was a skinny kid with prominent buck teeth, but somehow, he exuded charm and confidence. Maybe because he was an amazing swordsman. The two boys fought side-by-side against their rivals, often against astounding odds, winning great victories. Their final victory – making their older brother the most powerful warlord in Japan, was a stunning defeat of the mighty Taira clan
at a sea battle at Dan-no-Ura.
Now Shogun, Yoritomo rewarded Noriyori with awards and titles, but he refused to honor Yoshitsune. Was he jealous? Was he afraid of Yoshitsune’s skills, his popularity, his charm? Wisely, Yoshitsune fled. The shogun ordered Noriyori to track down his younger brother and kill him. Noriyori refused. The shogun sent others. They finally cornered Yoshitsune. While his trusted retained, the giant Benkei, held off the men, taking arrow after arrow to his body but refusing to fall, Yoshitsune had enough time to kill his wife and baby son and then himself.
Even before his murder, Yoshitsune was a hero to his people. For the next decade, his legend grew. Exactly ten years later, something spooked the Shogun’s horse. He was thrown and suffered internal injuries, which killed him. What spooked his horse? People still say it was the ghost of Yoshitsune, the little brother he had treated so badly.