Taira no Masakado
Portrait of Masakado formerly kept at Tsukudo Shrine (築土神社) in Chiyoda, Tokyo. The original painting was destroyed in 1945.
BornUnknown; c. early 900s?
Died14th day of the 2nd month, Tengyō 3 (March 25, 940)
Resting placeMasakado-zuka, Ōtemachi, Tokyo (head)
Enmei-in, Bandō, Ibaraki (body)
Other namesTaira no Kojirō Masakado (平小次郎将門)
Sōma no Kojirō (相馬小次郎)
Known forRebelling against the central government
Haruhime (Nyoshun-ni)
Nyozō-ni (Jizō-ni)
Satsukihime (Takiyashahime)

Taira no Masakado (平将門, died March 25, 940) was a Heian period provincial magnate (gōzoku) and samurai based in eastern Japan, notable for leading the first recorded uprising against the central government in Kyōto.[1]

Early life

Kanmu, 50th emperor of Japan. The branch of the Taira clan (Heishi) to which Masakado belonged, the Kanmu Heishi (桓武平氏), traces itself from Kanmu's children who were not considered eligible for the throne.

Masakado was one of the sons of Taira no Yoshimasa (平良将), also known as Taira no Yoshimochi (平良持),[2][a] of the Kanmu Taira clan (Kanmu Heishi), descendants of Emperor Kanmu (reigned 781–806) who were demoted from princely to commoner status and granted the Taira surname. Yoshimochi[b] was one of the sons of Prince Takamochi, a grandson or great-grandson of Kanmu who was appointed the vice-governor of Kazusa Province (modern central Chiba Prefecture) in 889 (Kanpyō 1). Takamochi's sons who joined him there occupied a variety of provincial offices in the eastern part of the country such as that of chinjufu shōgun, the commander-in-chief of the defense garrison (chinjufu) in Mutsu Province tasked with subjugating the Emishi peoples of the north.[8][9][10][11][12]

Not much is known of Masakado's birth and early life due to lack of written evidence. The genealogical record Sonpi Bunmyaku (compiled 1377-1395) identifies Masakado as the third of Yoshimochi's eight sons, while the genealogy of the Sōma clan (an offshoot of the Chiba clan, who were descended from Masakado's uncle Yoshifumi), the Sōma Keizu (相馬系図), identifies him as the second of seven sons.[2] The latter text also claims that he was nicknamed Sōma no Kojirō (相馬小次郎, Kojirō meaning "little second son") during his childhood, suggesting that he was raised in the district of Sōma (相馬郡) in Shimōsa Province (part of modern southwest Ibaraki Prefecture and northwest Chiba Prefecture),[13] though the factuality of this information has been disputed.[6] Masakado's mother is sometimes identified as the daughter of a certain Agata (no) Inukai no Harue (県犬養春枝), perhaps a local magnate from Sōma District.[6][14]

Masakado's year of birth is also unclear. Accounts of his exploits in the mid-930s suggest that his children were young enough to be still in the care of their mother, which may imply that he was born sometime around 900.[13] Later legend portrays Masakado as the reincarnation of scholar and politician Sugawara no Michizane (later deified as the god Tenjin), who died in 903 (Engi 3).[15]

At some point in his late teens, Masakado went to the capital city of Heian-kyō (Kyōto) and served in the household of the imperial regent Fujiwara no Tadahira. He is said to have aspired for a position within the imperial police force, the Kebiishi, but failed to obtain court rank or any significant office in spite of his credentials and his patron's high status.[13][8]

The Jōhei-Tengyō Rebellion

Beginning of hostilities (931–936)

Masakado attacking an opponent on horseback (Yoshitoshi)

Disagreement exists about the exact cause of Masakado's rebellion. While some sources portray the uprising as revenge for his failure to secure a government post,[8][16] the Shōmonki (将門記, also read as Masakadoki), an anonymous monograph on Masakado's life believed to have been completed as early as the 940s,[17] suggests that the conflict originally began in 931 (Jōhei 1) as a dispute between Masakado, freshly returned from Heian-kyō, and his paternal uncle Taira no Yoshikane (平良兼) over a woman.[9] The identity of this woman is uncertain, though one theory suggests that it may have been a daughter of Yoshikane who married her cousin and apparently went to live with him against her father's wishes.[18][19][20][21] (Aristocratic marriages during the Heian period were usually matrilocal; the wife continued to reside with her parents while the husband either moved in with his wife's family or simply visited her.)[22] Besides this affront to his honor, Masakado not obtaining any post or rank in the capital might have been another factor in Yoshikane's opposition to the marriage.[18] Another theory based on folk tradition meanwhile suggests that Masakado and Yoshikane quarreled over a daughter of Minamoto no Mamoru (源護), former senior secretary (大掾, daijō) of Hitachi Province who had married off his daughters to Masakado's uncles, Yoshikane among them.[18]

On the other hand, the Konjaku Monogatarishū (c. 1120) gives another reason for the conflict, namely that Masakado's uncles had appropriated the lands the young man was supposed to inherit from his late father. Masakado's uncle Taira no Kunika (平国香), who as Takamochi's eldest son was the head of the clan, might have tried to take over his younger brother Yoshimochi's property and place it under his control. Kunika, like Yoshikane, was related by marriage ties to Mamoru, who would eventually become involved in the conflict.[9][14][18]

In the 2nd month of 935 (Jōhei 5), Masakado and his men were ambushed by Mamoru's three sons, Tasuku, Takashi, and Shigeru, at a place called Nomoto (野本) in the district of Makabe (真壁郡), near the border between Hitachi and Shimōsa (modern Chikusei, Ibaraki), but managed to repel their attack; the three brothers all died in the battle. In retaliation, Masakado then burned and ransacked the houses of Tasuku's supporters across southwestern Hitachi. Kunika also died during this conflict, under circumstances not entirely clear: he may have either been killed during the skirmish at Nomoto or when Masakado set fire to his residence.[18][23]

Takiyasha-hime, the sorceress, is shown carrying a sword in one hand, a bell in the other, and a torch in her mouth; the toad, her familiar, is shown in the inset with her father, Taira no Masakado. Ukiyo-e woodblock print by Yōshū Chikanobu, 1884

On the 21st day of the 10th month of the same year, Taira no Yoshimasa (平良正), Masakado's paternal uncle or cousin who was also related by marriage to Mamoru, seeking to avenge the deaths of Kunika and Mamoru's sons, faced Masakado in battle in the village of Kawawa (川曲村) in western Hitachi (identified with the town of Yachiyo, Ibaraki)[21] but Masakado once again proved the victor; more than sixty of Yoshikane's men were killed while the rest dispersed.[21][24]

After his humiliating defeat, Yoshimasa called to Yoshikane – now the vice-governor of Kazusa Province – for aid, who then gathered a large number of warriors from Kazusa and Shimōsa such that officials from the two provinces initially attempted to prevent their dispatch (Such protests were later withdrawn after the issue was deemed to be a private matter beyond the sphere of state affairs). On the 26th day of the 6th month of 936 (Jōhei 6), Yoshikane led his massive army to Hitachi, where he joined forces with Yoshimasa and Kunika's son Sadamori (who had been in the capital when his father was killed and initially took a neutral stance), whom he had prevailed upon to take part in the attack against Masakado. They made contact at the border between Hitachi and Shimotsuke (modern Tochigi Prefecture) with Masakado, who went there to verify reports about a plan to launch a joint attack on him from the north. Despite only having about a hundred poorly-equipped soldiers with him, Masakado inflicted heavy casualties upon his enemies' several thousand strong army. Scattered and thrown into confusion, Yoshikane and the remnants of his forces fled to the provincial headquarters of Shimotsuke, Masakado pursuing them. Although he managed to surround his uncle in the governmental offices, Masakado, seemingly concerned about subsequent censure should he kill Yoshikane then and there, allowed him to escape through a gap in his western line. He then filed a formal grievance with the provincial authorities in neighboring provinces before returning to his territory.[21][24][25]

Not long after his victory, Masakado received a summons from the imperial court because of a complaint lodged against him by Minamoto no Mamoru over the battle at Nomoto. Masakado then hurried to the capital to give an account of himself; his lord, Fujiwara no Tadahira, probably intervened in the case and helped lighten his punishment. He was eventually pardoned early the following year (937 / Jōhei 7) when a general amnesty was declared at the occasion of Emperor Suzaku's coming of age (genpuku).[24][25]

Masakado and Yoshikane (937-938)

Anxious to avenge his defeat, Yoshikane almost immediately recommenced hostilities upon Masakado's return. He first launched an attack on Masakado at the Kogai River near the border between Shimōsa and Hitachi while displaying portraits of Yoshimochi and Takamochi (Masakado's father and grandfather) in front of his vanguard. This ploy succeeded in weakening the morale of Masakado and his men, who "withdrew, carrying their shields." (Shōmonki) Afterwards, Yoshikane burned a critical stable and some houses at Masakado's base in Toyoda District (豊田郡) in Shimōsa to weaken his ability to make war. Masakado launched a counterattack some days later, but was again defeated due to being struck by a severe pain in his legs (thought to be due to beriberi). During his retreat, Masakado had his wife (Yoshikane's daughter) and children flee by boat for their safety, but Yoshikane discovered them and carried them off to Kazusa. The woman's brothers eventually allowed them to escape back to Masakado.


In 939 (Tengyō 2, 12th month), Masakado led a minor rebellion which is also known as Tengyō no Ran. The armed struggle began when Masakado led an attack on an outpost of the central government in Hitachi Province, capturing the governor. In December of that year, he conquered Shimotsuke and Kōzuke Provinces; and he claimed the title of Shinnō (New Emperor).

The central government in Kyoto responded by putting a bounty on his head, and fifty-nine days later his cousin Taira no Sadamori, whose father Masakado had attacked and killed, and Fujiwara no Hidesato, killed him at the Battle of Kojima (Shimōsa Province) in 940 and took his head to the capital.


The head found its way to Shibasaki, a small fishing village on the edge of the ocean and the future site of Edo, which later became Tokyo. It was buried. The kubizuka, or grave, which is located in the present day Ōtemachi section of Tokyo, was on a hill rising out of Tokyo Bay at the time. Through land reclamation over the centuries, the bay has receded some three kilometers to the south.


When Masakado was preparing for his revolt, a vast swarm of butterflies appeared in Kyoto, a portent of the upcoming battle.[26]

Over the centuries, Masakado became a demigod to the locals who were impressed by his stand against the central government, while at the same time feeling the need to appease his onryō (vengeful spirit). The fortunes of Edo and Tokyo seemed to wax and wane correspondingly with the respect paid to the shrine built to him at the kubizuka (ja); neglect would be followed by natural disasters and other misfortunes. Hence, to this day, the shrine is well maintained, occupying some of the most expensive land in the world in Tokyo’s financial district facing the Imperial Palace. His tomb (which contains only a monument to his head) is near exit C5 of Tokyo's Ōtemachi subway station.

Other shrines which he is deity of include Kanda Shrine (神田明神, Kanda-myōjin) (located in Kanda), and Tsukudo Jinja (which has multiple locations.)

The legendary final resting place of Taira no Masakado's head near the Tokyo Imperial Palace

In Gifu Prefecture, there is a Mikubi shrine (ja) dedicated to Taira no Masakado. According to a legend left at the Shinto shrine, a priest at a shrine in Mino Province prayed to a kami (Shinto deity) to prevent the head of Taira no Masakado, who was beheaded in Kyoto, from returning to Kantō for revenge, and the kami shot the head off with a yumi (bow) as Taira no Masakado flew back to Kantō. The Mikubi Shrine was built on the spot where the head fell.[27]

See also


  1. ^ While some texts such as the Azuma Kagami and the Sonpi Bunmyaku give the name of Masakado's father as 'Yoshimasa' (良将), others such as the Fusō Ryakuki and the Konjaku Monogatarishū instead identify him as 'Yoshimochi' (良持).[2][3][4][5][6] Rather confusingly, some texts suggest that Yoshimochi's elder brother Kunika (国香) was originally the one named 'Yoshimochi'. Some sources reconcile this discrepancy by suggesting that the two brothers changed their names at some point.[7]
  2. ^ To prevent confusion with Yoshimochi's nephew or younger brother Yoshimasa (平良正, the kanji for masa in this name, 正, is different from that of Masakado's father, which is 将), this article will refer to the former as 'Yoshimochi' throughout.


  1. ^ Nussbaum, Louis Frédéric et al. (2005). "Taira no Masakado" in Japan Encyclopedia, p. 926., p. 926, at Google Books.
  2. ^ a b c Rabinovitch, Judith N. (1986). Shōmonki: The Story of Masakado's Rebellion. Sophia University Press. p. 73.
  3. ^ "平新皇將門戰傳記". Retrieved 2021-01-29.
  4. ^ "扶桑畧記 卷廿五 起朱雀天皇紀 盡村上天皇紀 上". Retrieved 2021-01-29.
  5. ^ "『今昔物語』卷廿五 平將門發謀叛被誅語". Retrieved 2021-01-29.
  6. ^ a b c 石下町史 (Ishige-machi Shi). Ishige-machi Shi Hensan Iinkai. 1988. pp. 136–139.
  7. ^ Friday, Karl (2008). The First Samurai: The Life and Legend of the Warrior Rebel, Taira Masakado. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 112–113, 166, 270.
  8. ^ a b c Department of Education (Monbushō), ed. (1937). History of the Empire of Japan. Dai Nippon Tosho Kabushiki Kwaisha. p. 137.
  9. ^ a b c Varley, Paul (1994). Warriors of Japan as Portrayed in the War Tales. University of Hawaii Press. p. 9. ISBN 9780824816018.
  10. ^ Sansom, George Bailey (1958). A History of Japan to 1334. Stanford University Press. p. 247. ISBN 9780804705233.
  11. ^ Friday, Karl (2008). The First Samurai: The Life and Legend of the Warrior Rebel, Taira Masakado. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 34–39. ISBN 9780471760825.
  12. ^ Plutschow, Herbert E. (1995). Japan's Name Culture: The Significance of Names in a Religious, Political and Social Context. Psychology Press. p. 112. ISBN 9781873410424.
  13. ^ a b c Friday, Karl (2008). The First Samurai: The Life and Legend of the Warrior Rebel, Taira Masakado. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 39-40.
  14. ^ a b "平将門公生誕1111年記念 特別展「平将門伝説 ~東国の自立を夢見た男 その史実と伝承~" (PDF) (in Japanese). さしま郷土館ミューズ. 2013. p. 4. Retrieved 2021-01-29.
  15. ^ "(1)将門と道真". Tsukudo Shrine Official Website (in Japanese). Retrieved 2021-01-29.
  16. ^ The Japan Weekly Mail, vol. 3. Japan Mail Office. 1872. p. 183.
  17. ^ See Stramgioli, Preliminary Notes on Masakadoki and the Taira no Masakado Story, Monumenta Nipponica Vol. 28; also Rabinovitch, Shomonki, pp. 33
  18. ^ a b c d e Stramigioli, Giuliana (1973). "Preliminary Notes on Masakadoki and the Taira no Masadado Story". Monumenta Nipponica. 28 (3): 271–272. doi:10.2307/2383784. ISSN 0027-0741. JSTOR 2383784.
  19. ^ Clements, Jonathan (2013). A Brief History of the Samurai. Hachette UK. p. 45. ISBN 9781472107725.
  20. ^ Farris, William Wayne (2020). Heavenly Warriors: The Evolution of Japan's Military, 500–1300. Brill. p. 132. ISBN 9781684172979.
  21. ^ a b c d 石下町史 (Ishige-machi Shi). Ishige-machi Shi Hensan Iinkai. 1988. pp. 144–150.
  22. ^ Ambros, Barbara (2015). Women in Japanese Religions. New York University Press. p. 58. ISBN 9781479827626.
  23. ^ Farris, William Wayne (2020). Heavenly Warriors: The Evolution of Japan's Military, 500–1300. Brill. pp. 133–136.
  24. ^ a b c Stramigioli, Giuliana (1973). "Preliminary Notes on Masakadoki and the Taira no Masadado Story". Monumenta Nipponica. 28 (3): 272–275.
  25. ^ a b Farris, William Wayne (2020). Heavenly Warriors: The Evolution of Japan’s Military, 500–1300. Brill. pp. 136–137.
  26. ^ Hearn, Lafcadio (1904). Kwaidan p. 184.
  27. ^ ご祭神/由緒/ご利益 (in Japanese). Mikubi Shrine. Archived from the original on 24 September 2022. Retrieved 24 February 2023.
  28. ^ "Soma Nomaoi". Japan National Tourism Organization.