Emperor Go-daigo, who aimed to defeat the Kamakura Shogunate, had a prince named Moriyoshi.
Prince Moriyoshi followed his father from the time when he first took up arms, and even when his father was captured by the Kamakura Shogunate, Moriyoshi continued the fight.
In 1332 CE, the battle of Yoshino Castle would prove to be a pivotal event in Prince Moriyoshi’s story.
Prince Moriyoshi, in support of his father, gathered 3,000 soldiers and held up in Mt. Yoshino.
In response, the Kamakura Shogunate sent 60,000 troops across the Ryumon Mountains towards the much smaller force. On February 18, the Shogunate troops advanced across the Yoshino River to Mt. Yoshino and the battle began.
In preparation for the fight with the approaching Shogunate troops, Moriyoshi fortified Mt. Yoshino to great effect, overcoming the disadvantages of having a much smaller army and forcing the attackers to fight on their terms.
The fight lasted seven days and nights. The blood of the soldiers stained the autumn leaves, and corpses piled up along the sides of roads. Despite all this, Moriyoshi’s troops did not let the Shogunate troops take one step on the soil of Mt. Yoshino.
However, the tides of the battle finally changed when a person who was familiar with the topography of Mt. Yoshino joined the Shogunate army.
Prince Moriyoshi’s forces were attacked by the Shogunate troops on two fronts (from the front and rear) and their lines finally collapsed. Shogunate troops entered Mt. Yoshino, and Moriyosh’s army was on the verge of defeat. The headquarters of Moriyoshi was surrounded by the enemy and the siege ring gradually narrowed. It was as if the sounds of slashing swords, the noise of the wind, roars, screams, sobbing, bloody odors, and death itself was approaching one step at a time.
Observing the situation, Prince Moriyoshi donned a helmet and armed himself with a 105cm long sword. Along with only 20 allies, he charged into the ring of death.
The Shogunate troops. shocked by the sight of Moriyoshi, were forced into a minor retreat.
Though only for a brief moment, Prince Moriyoshi was able to lift the siege of death. However, seven arrows pierced his body, and blood poured from his cheeks and arms. He had just a brief amount of time so he promptly returned to his base which now stood side by side with the battlefield.
General Prince Moriyoshi sat down and drank some sake that his subordinates brought for him. In front of him, one soldier was performing a sword dance.
“Like as Ashura (a bellicose god), I waved my sword like a lightning bolt and threw big stones like rain,
――but in this battle, I couldn’t beat the enemy.”
The soldier laughed out loud, swinging his 130cm around with ease.
The looseness of the atmosphere made Prince Moriyoshi smile a little.
“Well, this is the end.”
It was when Prince Moriyoshi was about to depart for the battlefield once more that Yoshiteru Murakami, one of his subordinates, offered to take over and advised Prince Moriyoshi to flee.
“It is no longer possible to defeat the Shogunate forces. I will take over. You must break through the enemy lines before they properly fortify.”
Ignoring the protests of Prince Moriyoshi, Yoshiteru removed the prince’s armor and donned it himself.
Then Yoshiteru climbed up the Yagura tower, which separated the main army from the enemy army. On the other side of the tower, the enemy was rushing in like a tsunami.
Heedless of the enemy’s numbers, Yoshiteru unleashed his sword and screamed aloud.
“I am Emperor Go-daigo’s son, Prince Moriyoshi!”
The enemy troops, thinking they had found Murakami, began to approach his position. Yoshiteru, facing the enemy, noticed his prince running away at the edge of his field of view.
“Prince – please be safe.”
“My son – you protect your prince.”
Yoshiteru, who cried out in his heart, thinking that he had provided enough time for the prince, shouted, “Use this as a model for when you committed suicide.”
He then slashed his own belly open and threw his internal organs at the enemy, eventually collapsing with a sword in his mouth.
The sounds of shouting voices rising from behind Prince Moriyoshi told him that Yoshiteru was dead. “I’m sorry,” he muttered and looked at the back of Yoshiteru’s son, Yoshitaka, who was accompanying him.
Then Yoshitaka turned to his lord and said, “Prince, could you go first?”
If Prince Moriyoshi listened carefully, he could hear the footsteps of horses approaching.
Leaving his prince, Yoshitaka said, “I got something I need to do.”
“Don’t die,” he said, turning his back to Prince Moriyoshi, who continued onward. Yoshitaka then fought for an hour to prevent an army of 500 horsemen from catching the prince.
Now, 700 years after the battle, the location of Moriyoshi’s base camp and the place where Yoshiteru sacrificed himself are just a few historical sites among many in the area of Yoshinoyama.
Basho’s disciple who visited this land once wrote a song:
“Missing Yoshinoyama more than a songbook”