This Father’s Day, we take a few moments to shine a light on a legendary Father and Son pair of fearless Samurai Warriors.
Hundreds of years after their deaths, Kusunoki Masashige and Kusunoki Masatsura are still revered as Heroes across Japan for their absolute loyalty and ultimate sacrifice to the Throne.
Kusunoki Masashige (1294-1336)
Kusunoki Masashige was a well-known and much-feared Japanese Samurai warrior active during the Kamakura period which followed the end of the great Genpei war. The Genpei War saw a clash of the Tiara and Minamoto clans and with it, the rise of feudalism in Japan.
As well as being a famous warrior, Masachige was a devout Buddhist and scholar. Much of his early education was at the Kanshin-ji Temple, of which he would become patron of later in life.
According to legends, the Emperor Go-Daigo had a dream that he would find his most loyal protector under the boughs of a Camphor wood tree. The surname Kusunoki means Camphor in Japanese.
He is seen as the ideal of Samurai loyalty as he fought for Emperor Go-Daigo to restore power to the Imperial family during the Genko war (1331-1333). He was so devoted to the service of the Emperor that he went willing into the battle of Minatogawa (1336) of which there was no chance of winning, and as a result died. This last act of blind devotion secured his legend and he became a symbol of loyalty and virtue.
500 years after his death he was posthumously awarded the highest court rank in Japan by the Meiji government. The phrase “Would that I had seven lives to give for my country” is attributed to him.
There is a large impressive statue of him mounted on a horse which can be seen outside the Imperial Palace (Edo Castle) in Tokyo. It is thought to be one of the most photographed Statues in the City.
Kusunoki Masatsura (1326-1348)
Masastsura was the son of the famous warrior Masashige. Like his father he was a Patriot and strong supporter of the Imperial family and fought for them during the Nanbokucho wars (1336-1392). Masatsura developed a particularly strong devotion to the Emperor’s son Go-Murakami who himself, came to power when he was just 12 years old.
A year before his death, in 1347 Masatsura led an attack on Shogunate sympathisers in Kii province and as a result gained fame and an army of supporters from Kii, Izumi and Settsu Provinces.
For his loyalty, Masatsura was rewarded with the most beautiful woman in court, Ben no Naishi, as his wife. Sadly he died soon after, at the tender age of 22 in the battle of Shijo Nawate (1348).
Before and during the Second World War, the story of Masatsura and his father was included in the primary school education of all Japanese children and was the subject of a popular patriotic song.
Their legends are captured in this fantastic, large pair of Bronze figures by Gyoko. (Click on any of the images for a closer look.)