Battle of Funanoe, 13 May 1333

The battle of Funanoe (13 May 1333) was an unsuccessful attempt by the exiled emperor Go-Daigo's jailor to recapture the emperor after he had escaped from exile on Oki, an island to the north-west of Honshu.

Soon after the outbreak of the Genko War (1331-33) Go-Daigo was captured by the Shogunate. After a period of captivity in Kyoto he was exiled to Oki island, where he remained for the next year while his supporters continued to fight in his name. 

By the start of 1333 Go-Daigo was sufficiently encouraged by his supporter's successes to make an attempt to escape from exile. The Emperor was guarded by Sasaki Kiyotaka (Oki no Hogan in the Taiheiki), who received orders to keep a closer guard on the exile. Some of his guards were sympathetic to the exiled former Emperor, including Sasaki Yoshitsuna, who was in charge during the last third of the intercalary second month (6-14 April 1333). He managed to get a message to Go-Daigo informing him of the successes of his supporters. Yoshitsuna suggested that Go-Daigo should cross to Honshu and try and find refuge with one of his supporters. Yoshitsuna would pretend to pursue, but then when he was away from Oki would join Go-Daigo's side. Go-Daigo suggested that Yoshitsuna should go to Izumo Province first, find a suitable refuge and fetch him. This plan failed when the person Yoshitsuna tried to win over arrested him.

After waiting for a month Go-Daigo decided to escape on his own. He escaped by hiding in a litter and pretending to be a pregnant lady. On the night of the 23rd day of the 3rd month he headed to the coast (7-8 May 1333). He quickly found a ship and at dawn on the next day (8 May) Go-Daigo sailed from exile. Sasaki Kiyotaka soon discovered his prisoner's absence, and sent ten of his warships in pursuit. They caught up with Go-Daigo's boat, but he was hidden under bales of dried fish and wasn't found. A second pursuing fleet was successfully evaded (with divine intervention according to the Taiheiki).

After reaching land Go-Daigo's retainers attempted to find a local supporter who would aid him. Locals suggested Nawa Nagatoshi, who after some uncertainly was convinced by his younger brother to support the exiled Emperor. The Imperial party was rushed to Funanoe, a mountain castle whose location isn't entirely clear. Supplies were stockpiled in the castle and its defenders prepared for an inevitable attack. They build a barricade from tree trunks and house tiles, but didn't have time to build a ditch.

Sasaki Kiyotaka followed Go-Daigo to Honshu with 3,000 men. He soon traced Go-Daigo to Funanoe, and on the 29th day of the 3rd month (13 May 1333) he attacked the castle. He split his troops into three. He led the force attacking the main gate. The second force went to attack from the rear and the third remained in reserve. Sasaki Kiyotaka prepared to attack the castle from the front while the second force attacked from the rear.

The plan failed. The defenders had placed four or five hundred banners in the castle, each with the symbols of a local family. The attackers could see these banners, but couldn't see how few men were actually in the castle. The leader of the reserve force was killed by a lucky arrow shot, and his men withdrew. The commander of the force sent to attack from the rear surrendered without attacking. This just left Sasaki Kiyotaka, who was unaware of the failure of his second and third forces. He led his men in an attack on the front gate, but lacking support they were overwhelmed and killed almost to a man. Sasaki Kiyotaka escaped, but he couldn't land on Oki and after coming back to land committed suicide.

Go-Daigo created a court in exile at Funanoe, and remained there until his supporters had captured the Rokuhara in Kyoto and successfully captured the Shogunate's headquarters in Kamakura.

Taiheiki: A Chronicle of Medieval Japan, trans. Helen Craig McCullough. A modern English translation of the first twelve chapters of the Taiheiki, covering the period of the Genko War, a civil war that saw the Emperor Go-Daigo briefly overthrow the Shogunate and restore direct Imperial rule.
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A History of Japan, 1334-1615, Sir George Sansom. A classic history of Japan, covering the period from the fall of the Kamakura Shogunate in the 1330s to the battle of Sekigahara of 1600 and the end of the civil wars in 1615. A little dated now, but it still provides an excellent narrative history of this period, with more detail on the military events than in most more modern works.
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (8 November 2012), Battle of Funanoe, 13 May 1333 ,

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