by Dr. Pelham Mead, Ed.D., Colmbia University 1992.
In researching my movie script called “Kozaisho,” after the concubine of Samurai Taira No Masakaso 903-940 CE I find that real life endings seldom have happy endings. When we go to movies or read a book, we all want a happy ending. In Samurai Masakado’s case he is killed and his head hung from a tree to disgrace his legacy. End of story.
Not quite, Masakado was betrayed by three people close to him, his courier, his concubine Kozaisho and his guest and friend Figiwara No Hidesato. The person that took the credit for killing and beheading Masakado was a coward and nothing more than a horse trainer. It was Hidesato that plotted to learn which of the seven impersonator Samurai was really Masakado. It was Hidesato that help lead the raid on Masakado’s Somi Castle in the dawn hours of March 25 940 CE, but it was the evil and back stabbing Taira No Sadamori that claimed the credit for killing Masakado.
Truth be told, every time Sadamori tried to attack or ambush Masakado, he was driven back and went into hiding in the Hitachi mountains. He alway ran away in the face of diversity or if it looked like he was losing. As a cousin to Masakado and the son of Taira No Kunika, who Masakado killed, Sadamori had good reason for revenge. It was Yoshicane, Masakado’s father-in-law that got Sadamori to team up with him and Hidesato to kill Masakado. The Emperor was afraid the Masakado might try to take over Kyoto the Imperial palace, so he offered a reward and the right to divide up the rich horse herds and pastures of Masakado for the warrior who could kill Masakado.
So Masakado is betrayed three times. First with the courier the Yoshicane paid to betray Masakado by mapping out Masakado’s compound and goings and comings. With only ten warriors, Masakado fought back against one hundred warriors of Yoshicane. Sixty were killed on the first charge and then Yoshicane fled in a retreat.
Mosakado trusted Hidesato and allowed him to join him and stay at his castle in Soma. Hidesato betrayed Mosakado by falling in love with Mosakado’s concubine Kozaisho, whom he convinced her he was in love with her and they should run away. Koraisho knew the secret of Masakado’s seven imposters that rode with him into battle. Only one was the real Masakado, the one that cast a shadow. When Hidesato found out this secret, he revealed it to Sadamori and Yoshicane and they set out to kill Masakado once and for all and steal the rights to his lands and property.
Imagine it was Masakado’s wife’s father Taira No Yoshicane that orchestrated revenge upon Masakado the husband of his daughter and grand children? Greed was rampant and even though Yoshicane was a richer Samurai than Masakado, Yoshicane wanted more and he wanted to show his daughter that Masakado was not worthy of her. In those days the wife and her children lived with the father of the wife and not with the husband. Once in a while Masakado would visit his children and wife who lived with Yoshicane in another Province.
So, after defeating all of the Northern Provinces of Japan, Masakado decides to call himself, “the New Emperor.” That was a big mistake even though his younger brother told him not to do it. Once he became a threat to the current Emperor, he forced the Emperor into hiring someone to kill Masakado.
So why is Masakado such a great Samurai and a legend today in Tokyo? He was the Robin Hood of the day. Taking from the crooked rich governors and giving the land back to the Peasants who were being taxed to death. He tried to settle disputes between Governors and officials and he pleaded his cause before the Imperial Court and won temporarily.
What makes Masakado great is the centuries that have passed and his head is still an important worship site in Tokyo. He never defeated the Emperor, but he did defeat his enemies for four years at least after his father died. He was a skilled archer and swordsman which he learned when he was in the Emperor’s Imperial Guard for ten years. Masakado cursed the Emperor, Sadamori and Hidesato and nothing bad happened to them. His head that hung on a tree for weeks and then flew off to Tokyo to be washed off by the local fisherman and buried in a sacred mount exists even unto today. Every time someone wanted to remove or cover over the sacred mount they died or had unusual luck against them. The Taira clan became famous and powerful until the 1100’s when they lost a major battle and lose power in the Imperial City and the Emperor.
In the end, Takiyasha, the Princess daughter of Masakado and her brother fled to the Hitachi mountains and hid from Sadamori’s troops who want to kill all Masakado family members. Takiyasha became a Nun and studied the black arts of Witchcraft. She learned the black arts and summoned up an army of ghosts to fight the Emperor and a Giant Skeleton, but in the end lost.
Agains where is the happy ending? There is no happy ending in reality. Good vs bad and not always does good win. What Masakado accomplished in four years, some samurai took a whole life-time to accomplish. He proved that he was a military genius and a well trained Samurai who was to be remembered forever in Japanese history and folk law. What did he accomplish? Immortality was what he accomplished. His name lived on forever throughout the many years from 940 CE when he was killed and beheaded until today. Like the Knights of the Middle Ages, Masakado had a mission for fairness to the farmers and peasants and justice for the poor. Even though he was rich from his father’s horse ranches, he sympathized with the peasants and being over-taxed by the Emperor appointed Governors.
We will always remember Masakado because currently Japan has done cartoons about his legacy and his daughter Prince Takiyasha. The sacred mound still exists to remember the greatness of Masakado who dared to challenge the Emperor of Japan.