Battle of Rokuhara, 20 June 1333

The battle of Rokuhara (20 June 1333) was one of the decisive battles of the Genko War, and saw the Shogunate general Ashikaga Takauji turn on his former allies, side with the Emperor Go-Daigo and drive the forces of the Shogunate out of their headquarters in Rokuhara. The Shogunate's power in the west of Japan was destroyed, and soon afterwards their capital at Kamakura was captured and the Imperial victory was completed.

During the first half of 1333 the Shogunate's position in Kyoto had become increasingly vulnerable. The exiled Emperor Go-Daigo's supporters attacked the city on several occasions (battle of the Twelfth day of the Third Month, battle of the Third Day of the Fourth Month) and attempts by the garrison to dislodge the Emperor's forces from the area around the city failed (battle of Maya, 27 March 1333, battle of Segawa, 25 April 1333, battle of Yamazaki, 29 April 1333). Go-Daigo had escaped from captivity on Oki Island (off the north-west coast of Honshu) and had established a new court at Funanoe.

The Shogunate responded by sending yet another army west from Kamakura to Kyoto (leaving them vulnerable to attack). This army was commanded by Nagoya Takaie (or Nagoshi Takaiye), a loyal member of the Hojo family (the dominate power in the Shogunate) and Ashikaga Takauiji, the leader of a powerful family that had been loyal to the Shogunate. Unfortunately for the Shogunate Ashikaga decided to betray them and switch his support to Go-Daigo. He decided to accompany the army to Kyoto, contact the Emperor and pick the best time to change sides.

That opportunity came on 10 June. Nagoya and Ashikaga agreed to launch a two-pronged attack on the Imperial army south-west of Kyoto. Nagoya was to attack from the front while Ashikaga circled around and attacked from the rear. While Nagoya led his men into the attack, and was killed by an archer, Ashikaga's force rested by a river (battle of Koganawate, 10 June 1333). When the news of Nagoya's defeat reached him Ashikaga led his army west away from Kyoto and got in touch with the Imperial forces he had officially set out to attack.

News of Ashikaga's betrayal soon reached the defenders of the Rokuhara. They moved their candidate for the Imperial title, Emperor Kogon (or Prince Kazuhito) into the Rokuhara, along with retired emperors. Earth walls were built around three sides of the Rokuhara, lined with towers and protected by rows of obstacles. The fourth side was protected by a moat.

The Imperial commanders decided to attack the city on the night of the 7th day of the 5th month (the night of 19-20 June 1333). Their march began during the hour of the tiger on the 7th day (just before dawn on 20 June). The attacking force was split into three columns, one commanded by Ashikaga, one by Akamatsu Norimura and one by Tadaaki, a general sent by Go-Daigo.

The Taiheiki's account of the battle mainly concentrates on individual acts of valour and challenges between various samurai and their supporters, but also contains some information on the course of the battle. The battle began during the hour of the snake (the two hour period before noon). The fighting began outside the defences of the Rokuhara, but the defenders were soon forced back behind their walls. The attackers crossed the moat, and made a breach in the poorly constructed wall behind the water defences. The defenders withdrew into their strongest fortifications, but their morale had collapsed, and on the night of 20-21 June all but a thousand fled into the dark.

The Lords of Rokuhara realised that they had lost Kyoto and decided to try and flee to Kamakura, taking Emperor Kogon and the retired emperors with them. They hoped that they would be able to raise another army in the east and continue the fight, but their escape attempt failed. The escape party was intercepted by Imperial supporters, led by one of Go-Daigo's sons. Kogon and the retired emperors were treated with respect, but most of the party committed suicide.

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 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 (14 November 2012), Battle of Rokuhara, 20 June 1333 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_rokuhara.html

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