Tales of Bravery: Nasu no Yoichi

In my previous post I spoke about Kyūba no Michi as a systematized martial system used during the Heian period to Kamakura period. There are many stories and tales of warriors who represent this, some displaying remarkable skills against unfavorable odds, or impeccable judgment during critical moments to change the tide in their favor.

An example of this is “Heike Monogatari¹”, which is a written account of the conflicts between the Taira clan and Minamoto clan as they struggled for power to rule over Japan. In it is the heroic tale of a young warrior named Nasu no Yoichi² and his display of archery prowess. The setting takes place at the end of a battle at Yashima³ in 1185, where the Taira had moved out into the sea, and hid then 8-year old emperor Antoku on board of one of 8 boats attached together. These boats were positioned a good distance in the sea away from the shore, where the army of the Minamoto stood out of reach. As a form of a taunt, a crimson red fan with a circle drawn in the center was placed on a pole of a boat many yards away from the shore where the Minamoto army watched from, daring them to shoot it down.

Nasu no Yoichi, an individual known to possess exceptional archery skills within the ranks of the Minamoto army, was chosen among his peers to shoot the fan down. Riding his horse out into the turbulent sea, Yoichi’s fate, along with the pride of the Minamoto army, will be determined by a single arrow.

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Drawing of Nasu no Yoichi on a kakejiku (hanging scroll). Yoichi is shown drawing his bow, in preparation to take a shot at a fan.

In the original source, this tale is told entirely in 2 chapters, which are “Ōgi no Mato⁴”, and the other called “Yuminagashi⁵”. Here is the original Japanese text, along with an English translation done by myself, of this critical moment.

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矢の射度距離には少し遠かったので、海へ一段(約十一メートル)ほど(馬を)乗り入れたけれども、さらに扇との間は、七段ほどはあろうかと見えた。

時筋は二月十八日の午後六時頃のことであったが、ちょうどその時、北風が激しくて、磯を打つ波も高かった。船は揺れ下がり、揺れ下がり漂うので、扇も竿先で不安定にひらめいていた。沖には平家が船を一面に並べて見物する。陸では源氏が(馬の)轡を並べてこれを見る。どちらも、どちらも、晴れれがましくないということはない。

Yoichi rode his horse into the sea around 21 meters, as the shooting distance was too far from the shore. Even then, the distance of the fan appeared to be at a distance around 147 meters.

The time was around 6 pm, evening, of the 28th day of the 2nd month. Yet, at the time the wind from the north was blowing strongly, and the waves that crashed upon the shore were tall. As the boat bobs up and down, the fan also waves around on the pole troublesomely. Out in the sea, members of the Taira gather to one side of their boat as they look on. At the shore, Yoshitsune looks on while straightening the bit of his horse. There is no one, absolutely no one, who would not say this moment is grand.

与一は、目を塞いで、

「南無八幡大菩薩、我が下野国の神、日光権現、宇都宮、那須の湯泉大明神、どうかあの扇の真ん中を射させてくださいませ。これを射損じるものならば、弓を切り折り、自害して、人に再び顔を向けないつもりです。もう一度、本国へ向かわせようとお思いならば、この矢を外させなさるな」

と心の中で祈念して、目を開いたところ、風も少し吹き方が弱まり、扇も射やすそうになってきた。

As Yoichi closed his eyes, he prays in his heart, “Praise to bodhisattva Hachiman, god of Shimotsuke Province’s Nikko Gongen⁶ in Utsunomiya. Oh, great god of the Nasu family’s Yuizumi shrine, please allow me to shoot straight into the center of the fan. If I am disgraced by my shooting, I will not face my people again, as I will split my bow, and kill myself. Please, let this arrow not miss its mark, as I want to be able to return to my home country.”

Opening his eyes, he notices the wind blowing in his direction started to die down, while the fan appeared easier to aim at.

sub014-那須与一-平家の舟の扇の的-透かし

Ehagaki (postcard) showing a depiction of Nasu no Yoichi shooting the fan off of the pole on one of the Taira’s boats.

与一は、鏑矢を取って、(弓に)つがえ、引きしぼって、びゅんと放つ。小兵とはいうものの、十二束三伏の(長さの矢を射る)弓は強い。浦に響くほど長く鳴って、狙いを外さず扇の要の端から一寸ほどをおいて、ひゅんと射切った。鏑矢は海へ入ったところ、扇空へ上がった。しばらく虚空にひらめいたが、春風に一もみニもみもまれて、海へさっと散ってしまった。

Taking his whistling arrow and nocking it on his bow, Yoichi draws the string back, and lets the arrow fly. While appearing small in frame, he is a very strong archer who can group 12 arrows while pulling a long bow. The screech from the whistling went on for a long time, as it echos off the waves. The arrow did not miss its mark, as it propels straight through the center of the circle just a bit away from the outer edge. As the whistling arrow sailed into the sea, the fan rose skyward. It flutters around in the air for a bit, then is tossed around once, then twice by a spring breeze. Finally, the fan crumbles into the sea.

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Yoichi’s miraculous deed is an example of Kyūba no Michi, and how the importance placed upon the bow could near decide victory or defeat. Look out for more tales as such, as I will be adding those that correspond with the different phases of Japan’s martial systems.


1) 平家物語

2) 那須与一. In some sources, such as “Nasu no Yoichi no Katari” (那須与市語), the name is also written as “那須与市”.

3) Known as “Yashima no Tatakai” (屋島の戦い) in Japanese.

4) 扇的

5) 弓流

6) This is a shrine, presently known as Nikkō Futaarasan Jinja (日光二荒山神社) , located in Nikkō City, Tochigi Prefecture.

2 thoughts on “Tales of Bravery: Nasu no Yoichi

  1. Great story. I have seen one reference to this which indicated the fan had been set up as a trap for Minamoto Yoshitsune. The Taira knew he would be tempted to make the shot and had hoped he would present himself to make the attempt – in so doing revealing his position and opening himself up to direct attack. Thanks for sharing it.

    • Hi Bruce. Thanks for the response! Do you remember which text/source mentions this? There are several different takes on the Taira/Minamoto feuds, and depending on the source the details may vary.

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