Minamoto no Tametomo

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  • Born: 1139
  • Died: 1170
  • Other Names: 鎮西八郎 (Chinzei Hachirou)
  • Japanese: 為朝 (Minamoto no Tametomo)

Minamoto no Tametomo was a warrior of the Minamoto clan, exiled to Izu Ôshima in 1165, in the aftermath of the Hôgen Rebellion. He is the subject of a number of myths and legends, which have him making his way to Okinawa from Ôshima, and fathering Shunten, the first king of Okinawa.

Tametomo was the eighth son of Minamoto no Tameyoshi, brother to Minamoto no Yoshitomo, and was thus a direct uncle to Minamoto no Yoritomo, first shogun of the Kamakura shogunate. Through his father Tameyoshi, he was a member of the prominent Seiwa Genji line; a grandson of Minamoto no Yoshiie, Tametomo identified himself as seven generations from Prince Rokuson and nine from Emperor Seiwa himself.[1] Tametomo lived for a time in Kyushu during his younger days, and is thus associated with the island, and with the term "Chinzei," an alternate name for Kyushu. During his time there, it is said he married a woman named Shiranui, the daughter of Taira no Tadakuni.

Tametomo fought alongside his father in the Hôgen Rebellion of 1156, siding with Emperor Sutoku against Emperor Go-Shirakawa (who, incidentally, had Minamoto no Yoshitomo, Tametomo's brother, on his side). After Go-Shirakawa's victory, Yoshitomo was forced to behead his father, Tameyoshi, and several of his brothers and other close relatives who had opposed Emperor Go-Shirakawa. Tametomo, renowned for his skill with a bow, had the ligaments or tendons of his bow arm cut, rendering it useless, before he was exiled to Izu Ôshima.

Some accounts have him simply committing suicide on Izu Ôshima, never seeing the mainland again.[2] However, according to the tales in which he traveled to Ryûkyû, he regained use of his arm before long. On Ôshima, he is said to have taken a young woman named Sasarae, the daughter of the island magistrate Tadashige, as his wife, giving her two sons, Tamemaru and Tomokawa, and a daughter named Shimagimi. He is said to have taken over the island, and several others nearby, before leaving for Ryûkyû, where he is said to have married Nei, a daughter of the chieftain Ôzato,[3] and sired the son Shunten.

The various versions of Tametomo's legend relate his death in different ways. Some sources have him dying in Okinawa, while others have him returning to Izu Ôshima and fighting off naval attackers sent by the emperor, only to kill himself in the end; still other versions of Tametomo's story have him escaping these Imperial assaults and traveling to Hachijô-jima, where he again fights off imperial forces and then commits suicide.

The legend of his involvement in Ryûkyû is related in numerous Edo period texts; the precise origin of the myth is unclear, but some suggest it took form as early as around 1400.[4] Though perhaps transmitted to Japan in the 1520s or 1530s, a truly articulated version of the legend appears perhaps for the first time in the monk Taichû's 1605 account of Ryukyuan religion, Ryûkyû Shintô ki. The story appears, too, in the 1650 official history Chûzan Seikan, compiled by Ryukyuan royal advisor Shô Shôken. It is then repeated, or elaborated upon, in Arai Hakuseki's 1719 book Nantôshi, Morishima Chûryô's 1790 publication Ryûkyû-banashi, and Takizawa Bakin's novel Chinsetsu yumihari tsuki, which expands the story out to a full novel, among other works. This myth is said to have had a central place in Japanese popular conceptions of Ryûkyû in the Edo period, and even in Ryûkyû, a number of sites including Naminoue Shrine enshrine Tametomo's spirit or are otherwise associated with him.[2]

This story is generally regarded today as pure fiction, though whether it was an idea invented and perpetuated in order to justify Japanese dominion over the Ryûkyû Kingdom,[5] or a myth that evolved somewhat more organically in connection with historical migrations and movements of people from Kyushu and elsewhere into the Ryukyu Islands, is somewhat debated.[6]

The first to assert the falsity of this legend was Katô Sango, in his 1906 publication Ryûkyû no kenkyû (lit. "Ryûkyû Research"). He asserted it was a total fabrication, and cited in particular four points of suspicion.[2] The vast distance between Izu Ôshima and Ryûkyû is but one of many elements which make the story seem rather unlikely; had he been exiled to an island off of Kyushu, in the Amami Islands chain, such as Kikaigashima, where the monk Shunkan was exiled a few years later (1177), it might be easier to believe. Yet, as recently as the 1950s, historian George Kerr devoted several pages to the Tametomo tale, and wrote that while it "cannot be verified at this time; neither can it be dismissed as pure fiction."[7]


  • Sato, Hiroaki. "A Wonder Tale: The Moonbow." in My Friend Hitler and Other Plays of Yukio Mishima. Columbia University Press, 2002. pp241-245.
  1. William de Bary, Sources of Japanese Tradition, vol 1, Columbia University Press (2001), 273.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Yokoyama Manabu 横山学, Ryûkyû koku shisetsu torai no kenkyû 琉球国使節渡来の研究, Tokyo: Yoshikawa kôbunkan (1987), 5-6.
  3. Yokoyama, 135.
  4. Gregory Smits, Maritime Ryukyu, University of Hawaii Press (2019), 154.
  5. Yokoyama Manabu suggests that since the Ryûkyû Shintô ki was written before Satsuma's 1609 invasion of Ryukyu, the story could not, strictly speaking, have been fabricated in order to curry favor with Satsuma. (Yokoyama, 53.) However, Satsuma asserted claims to Ryûkyû, and demanded tax or tribute, since at least the 1590s, so the Tametomo story still may have been created for that purpose.
  6. Smits, Maritime Ryukyu.
  7. Kerr, George. Okinawa: The History of an Island People. Tuttle Publishing, 2000. p46.