Taira no Masakado image

Taira no Masakado: The First Samurai

Samurai or bushi were Japanese warriors from the ruling military class. They became the highest rank in Japanese society during the Edo Period. Samurai were skilled in the use of weapons such as the yari or Japanese spear, yumi or longbow, and most notably the katana or long sword. They lived their lives according to bushido (“the way of the warrior”) which has high Confucian origins in ethical behavior. Many of them also practiced Zen Buddhism.

Taira no Masakado image

Taira no Masakado.

Taira no Masakado whose childhood name was Sōma no Kojirō , was the son of Taira no Yoshimasa, the “commander-in-chief of the defense of the north”. Taira no Masakado was a powerful landowner in the Kantō region. He is regarded as the first samurai of Japan because he was the first to lead a self-governing party.

Taira no Masakado’s life is documented in the Shōmonki (将門記) by an anonymous author. The detailed account of the powerful bushi is said to have been completed in the early 940’s by a monk or aristocrat closely connected to Masakado because of the religious and political nature of how the accounts were written.

Taira no Masakado, Odaiba burial mound

Masakado led a minor rebellion known as rebellion Tengyō no Ran. It begn when Masakado led an attack on an outpost in Hitachi Province, eventually leading to the capture of the governor. He subsequently conquered the provinces of Kōzuke Province and Shimotsuke. He then claimed the title of Shinnō or New Emperor.

When Masakado killed his uncle, Kunika, the central government of Kyoto placed a bounty on his head. Less than two months later, Masakado’s cousin Taira no Sadamori and Fujiwara no Hidesato killed Masakado at the Battle of Kojima, and took his head to the capital.

Taira no Masakado’s grave, Ōtemachi district, Tokyo, Japan. | Charles Monaco

The decapitated head of Masakado was later found in a small fishing village in Shibasaki by the edge of the ocean and future site of Edo, eventually being known as Tokyo.

After Masakado’s death, his daughter, Princess Takiyasha continued living in the ruins of his home.

Takiyasha-hime image

Through the centuries, Masakado was considered a demigod to the locals who were in awe of his stand against the central government and at the same time feeling the need to appease his malevolent spirit. After his death, a number of legends were spread throughout Japan. One such legend says that his head did not rot for three months and his eyeballs continuously rolled in their sockets.

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 iset with her father, Taira no Masakado.

Taira no Masakado’s grave or kubizuka is found in the Ōtemachi district, Tokyo. Other shrines of Masakado include Kanda Shrine and Tsukudo Jinja.