The Deadly Archer Named Nasu No Yoichi

The Japanese history is filled with all kinds of events that made current Japanese culture. Among the many types of events that molded the culture of Japan, there is no denying that the wars that happened in Japan were a significant fact to why things are the way they are today. These wars changed the nation’s beliefs and ideologies several times and these wars are also what paved the way for Japan to produce their killer warriors. The samurai warrior class and the kabuki warrior class are some of the more popular warrior classes in Japanese history but there were some great warriors that were in a class of their own. A perfect example of such a Japanese warrior is one of the deadliest archers in human history and that man was named Nasu No Yoichi, otherwise known as Nasu Suketaka Yoichi.

By Enrôsai Shigemitsu (unknown - unknown) (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, online database) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

General Information about Nasu No Yoichi

Nasu No Yoichi was known for his exemplary skills in archery but he was not a pure archer. He was actually a samurai that served the Minamoto clan. You might not be aware of this fact but the samurai is known to be an all-around kind of warrior. They are taught to fight skillfully with their swords as well as with their bows in case they find themselves in a long ranged battle. They are taught to fight on their feet and on their steeds so that they will be better prepared for any terrain they must fight on. With this said, a lot of samurai warriors were also great archers and for Nasu No Yoichi’s fellow samurai to applaud and look up to his skill in archery means that his level in that specific category is surely something out of the ordinary.

He was born in the year of 1169 and was exposed to the life of war at a very early age. This can be said about him because he was only almost 16 years old when he had his immortal moment on the battlefield. He ruled as a daimyo or a feudal lord of the Tottori Castle after the famous Genpei War. It was said that he ruled fairly but his reign did not that long because he eventually lost his title through a defeat in a hunting competition against his fellow Minamoto clan member, Kajiwara Kagetoki.

Usually, when you hear stories that like happen to warriors with great pride and honor, the thing that comes after the loss is an act of retaliation or revenge. In the case of Yoichi, he showed that he was not only a skilled warrior but a wise man as well because he took the loss with humility and accepted the consequences of his defeat. After the death of Minamoto no Yoritomo, Yoichi did something that showed his maturity even more and this act was to become a Buddhist monk of the Jodo Shinshu sect. This choice showed his maturity and uniqueness as a person because you hardly encounter people who experienced life at war and then lived a luxurious life after the war because of his spoils of war and then completely turns his back against the war to become a monk that preserves all life.

He got so active with his spiritually that he even formed his own temple that has been passed down from generation to generation in his family. A fun fact about their temple is that there used to be a record there that shows the line of successors of the temple. Basically, with that, you could have traced the lineage of Nasu No Yoichi. Sadly, World War II destroyed the temple during the war which consequently destroyed the record as well. It might not much mean to others but to be able to say that you are a blood relative to Yoichi is pretty amazing considering that he is known to be one of the favorite historical figures in Japanese history.

The War Which Made Nasu No Yoichi’s Name among His Brothers and Comrades

Yoshitoshi [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Earlier, it was mentioned that Yoichi had a moment on the battlefield that immortalized him forever. Before getting into the discussion of that moment, you would better understand it if you know more about the war that it happened in and this war was the Genpei War of Japan. It was a war between the Minamoto clan and the Taira clan and although there were only 2 clans involved, their power at the time was so great that it ultimately shifted the control in the country of Japan.

Like most wars, the friction that caused the Genpei War was the fighting over the dominance of the Imperial court, which lasted for decades. Both clans wanted to gain control of the Imperial court because, by extension, it immediately gives you control over the entirety of Japan. There were rebellions like the Hogen Rebellion and the Heiji Rebellion that were Minamoto clan’s attempts to overthrow the control the Taira clan had over the Imperial court but both rebellions failed to achieve the goal.

They say a unit is only as strong as their weakest link. This is true especially in the world of war because an internal conflict could ruin the success a clan has by splitting one huge force into several groups. In this case, the Taira clan was a huge force and the internal conflict that would eventually lead to their demise was Taira no Kiyomori’s decision to place Antoku, who has his 2-year-old grandson, on the throne after the resignation of Emperor Takakura.

Usually, this type of power transfer isn’t a big deal but considering the fact that the Taira clan practically controlled the whole of Japan at the time, placing an infant in a position of great power like the throne caused distraught among their royalties. Although the decision created an atmosphere on uneasiness, no one dared to say anything about it except for the son of Go-Shirakawa, Prince Mochihito. The prince found it ridiculous that he lost his chance to sit on the throne because an infant was placed there so he asked for the help of the Minamoto clan and then sent out a call to arms to the Buddhist monasteries as well.

These series of events led to the start of the Genpei War which opened up with the “First Battle of Uji”. This encounter at Uji was the battle that cost the Minamoto clan Yorimasa, Prince Mochihito, and several monks of the Byodoin that fought alongside Yorimasa. Despite the loss of significant figures in their clan, they did not surrender and it was the right decision because the Taira clan then went on the offensive for the succeeding battles of this war. The Taira clan was victorious from the battle of Uji until the Siege of Hiuchi in 1183. Afterwards, the tides of the war turned in favor of the Minamoto clan as more people joined their forces.

Several battles continued until the year of 1185 and majority of the later battles were won by the Minamoto clan. It was also during the latter part of the war that Nasu No Yoichi technically won a battle with one arrow because it took away the moral of the enemy forces. This happened in the battle of Yashima and it has been recorded in several historical scrolls that document the Genpei War because it was a monumental moment for the Minamoto clan.

The forces of the Taira clan were on their naval ships and the forces of the Minamoto clan surrounded them on the shore. Sadly, the Minamoto clan could not launch any attacks because they were at a disadvantage due to the terrain and the ships that the Taira clan had. According to the Heiki Monogatari, which is one of the historical documents about the Genpei War that you can find in a library, the Taira clan was feeling confident due to their advantages so they placed a fan on top of a pole on their ship. They did so to dare the Minamoto forces to hit it if they could.

The waves were crashing hard so it was almost an impossible shot to make considering that the boat was moving as well. Yoritomo, who is the younger brother of Yoshitsune, knew the significance of taking down the fan for the morale of their forces and so he asked his crew for the best archer they had in their ranks. This was when a 16-year-old Yoichi was referred and was called by Yoritomo to hit the target. Yoichi leaped into the water on his steed, he steadied his bow and arrow and without flinching at the obstacle in front of him, he took down the fan with one shot. This raised the morale of the Minamoto forces and obviously sent fear and shame for the Taira forces. This moment of Yoichi might not have shed blood but its effect on the forces carried over to the “Battle of Dan-no-ura” which was the war that decided Minamoto’s victory over the Taira clan during a naval battle.

The Anime That Make Use of Nasu No Yoichi’s History and Reputation

You can now find anime storylines that make use of historical warriors as their main characters and it is very addictive. A solid example of such an anime is the Fate franchise that also comes out in manga form. The anime called Fate is one that makes use of historical warriors as servants to the masters in this realm. These “masters” are technically the owners of these heroes and they use them as warriors in the competition they call the Holy Grail War. You will encounter warriors like Joan of Arc, Gilgamesh, and Nasu No Yoichi in this anime. They also make use of their actual history so by watching this anime, you really can learn about the accurate details about these people in their real lives.

Another anime you can watch that has the same type of storyline is the anime called “Drifters”. Although this anime isn’t like Fate that operates on a master-servant system between their characters, it still does make use of historical figures like Oda Nobunaga as well as Shimazu Toyohisa, who is actually the main protagonist in this anime. Yoichi also plays a part in this anime as the sly and sneak archer that cleans the battlefield with his legendary archery. It might not specifically involve romance in the story but like Fate, Drifters based their characters on the actual lives they led during their time which makes it an education anime to watch too.

Both these anime have manga so if you prefer reading over watching, this option may be more appealing to you. Aside from both having manga, these anime have more than 1 season each already so if you are the type of person that binge watches these types of things, you will be relieved to discover this to avoid the feeling of sadness that is brought about by a cliff-hanger of an ending or just plainly because you want to watch more after the seasons have ended.

With all the information about Yoichi that you can read here, it is understandable why he is seen as such a great warrior and an even greater historical figure. He fought for what he believed in and, as you can clearly see from the latter part of his life, violence did not control him. He was a deadly killer that turned into a Buddhist monk that serves people in need.  He lived a great life that a lot of people can learn from because his life is proof that people can change for the better if they truly want to.