by Dr. Pelham Mead
Taira No Masakado was one of the greatest samurai in Japan’s history. I conquered all of the northern provinces and replaced the Emperor’s appointed Governors and assistants with his own and sent the Governors packing back to Kyoto, the capital. Masakado was the Robin Hood of his time. He gave back to the peasants their farms that the rich and wealthy had taxed to death. He stood for fairness and mediation of disputes and was an able bodied archer and swordsman after having served in the Imperial Guard for the Emperor’s summer home.
What brought about Masakado’s demise was three betrayals. The first was a courier who Masakado trusted to convey written messages. The Second was his concubine named Kaisho and the third was a warrior who posed as a friend Hidesato.
Taira No Yoshicane the father in law of Masakado allowed Masakado to marry his daughter even though he felt Masakado was not worthy. Often Samurai would marry their cousins to strength the family ties and the children would be brought up with the mother’s family. Yoshicane bribed a courier of Masakado’s to tell him the layout of Masakado’s compound and how many buildings there were and how many warriors were staying the compound. After Masakado killed his Uncle Taira No Kunika in self defense he angered Yoshicane even further. Taira No Sadamori a horse trainer for the Emperor and Masakado’s cousin was the son of Kunika. At first he did not want to get involved but the die was set. After Yoshicane convinced Sadamori to join with him in attacking Masakado and taking his lands and horses they proceeded to ride to Masakado’s compound in a northern province. They rode through a nearby town and a guard for Masakado joined with them and later dropped out and warned Masakado that Yoshicane and Sadamori were going to attack his compound with a hundred troops. Masakado only had ten warriors at his compound at the time, so he sent for other warriors to join him and fight off Yoshicane. With just a few hours to prepare, Masakado set up a defense line and when Yoshicane and his troops appears, Masakado attacked them surprising them and killing 60 of Yoshicane’s troops. The rest fled into the mountains. Later on with some investigation Masakado found out his courier have betrayed him and had his head removed.
Meanwhile Hidesato a local warrior who owed taxes in a local province sought refuge with Masakado, and Masakado welcomed him to his house. Hidesato fell in love with one of Masakado’s concubines and got her to reveal to him Masakado’s secret to his seven decoy soldiers. The concubine thinking Hidesato really loved her betrayed her master and told Hidesato the the one Samurai that cast a shadow was the real Masakado. Later on when Yoshicane and Hidesato with Sadamori attached Masakado they aimed for the Samurai with the shadow on the ground and shot him dead with an arrow to his head. Hidesato cut of Masakado’s head to prove to the Emperor that he killed the enemy of the Imperial court. The head was hung on a tree for weeks in the marketplace in Kyoto.
Hidesato’s betrayal of Masakado’s trust sealed the final chapter of Masakado, but the story goes on. After cursing the Emperor, Sadamori, Yoshicane and Hidesato, Masakado’s head flew to what is now Tokyo and the locals washed off the head and buried it in a mound. Many superstitions are associated with the burial place of Masakado and his name is still famous to this day in Japan. His mistake was in trusting to many people, his concubine, Hidesato, and his courier. His wife and children escaped and his daughter became a witch casting spells and his son later was killed by Sadamori. The Taira clan became very wealthy as a result of the battles against Masakado and years later they would become involved in a war for several years against the Emperor.
Betrayal is the lowest form of deceit, especially when it is from family or friends. Masakado was a trusting man and that was his weakness. He let his ego get in the way of his conquests. He thought that he was great and named himself Northern Emperor. Eventually he came to be his demise. Masakado did many good deeds in his lifetime, but they were overshadowed by the greed of his relatives in trying to steal his father’s horse ranches and horses. Greed can be a big factor in betrayal. in the end the good guy does not win, it is the bad guys that won because of three betrayals.