Historical Landmarks of the Kamakura Lords

Tachiarai: Waters Bloodied by Yoritomo’s Infamous Ally, Kajiwara Kagetoki

History Travel Culture Society

After Minamoto no Yoritomo ordered him to hunt down a former ally, Kajiwara Kagetoki is believed to have cleaned his bloodied sword at a Kamakura watering hole known as Tachiarai, meaning “sword-washing.” Having gained Yoritomo’s trust, Kagetoki next trained his sights on Minamoto no Yoshitsune.

The Light of Yoshitsune and the Shadowy Kagetoki

I was always curious about buses from Kamakura Station destined for Tachiarai, meaning “sword-washing.” The name had a creepy ring to it. Alighting at Tachiarai, outside the main gate to the Kamakura Reien, a cemetery in the city’s east, there is an entrance to the ancient road Kanazawa-kaidō, which climbs uphill before reaching a narrow, steeply descending stone stairway. After passing through a residential area, you suddenly encounter a small stream. Farther through the grove is a watering hole named Tachiarai-mizu, “Sword-washing water.” It is here that Kajiwara Kagetoki is reputed to have cleaned his sword after assassinating Kazusanosuke Hirotsune.

The clear stream at Tachiarai. (© Mochida Jōji)
The clear stream at Tachiarai. (© Mochida Jōji)

Following the stream brings you to a roughly cut pass through the rock face known as the Asaina Kiridōshi. Seven such cuttings were made through the mountains surrounding the coastal town of Kamakura, facilitating passage while enhancing its defense: Asaina is the easternmost of the seven. Some 800 years ago, samurai traveling to and from Kamakura passed through here. The reference to sword-washing seems unfitting for such a tranquil spot.

A small waterfall at the entrance to Asaina Kiridōshi. (© Mochida Jōji)
A small waterfall at the entrance to Asaina Kiridōshi. (© Mochida Jōji)

Asaina Kiridōshi shows obvious signs of where the rock was cut to carve out the pass. (© Mochida Jōji)
Asaina Kiridōshi shows obvious signs of where the rock was cut to carve out the pass. (© Mochida Jōji)

Minamoto no Yoritomo ordered the assassination of Hirotsune, his former ally, over his dislike of the latter’s arrogance and a belief that Hirotsune was planning an insurrection​. It is said that, in 1183, Kagetoki killed Hirotsune while playing a game of sugoroku with him. This is in itself an unsavory tale, but there are further episodes that paint Kagetoki as a shady figure.

Ōsawa Izumi, curator at the Kamakura Museum of History and Culture, explains, “There are more bloodstained tales of Kagetoki than just the Tachiarai legend. Kagetoki has a reputation as an enemy of Yoshitsune, and tradition depicts him negatively. In fact, he was well-educated, and a close ally of Yoritomo, but as much as Yoshitsune is seen as a “bright” character, Kagetoki is considered a dark persona.”

The Retainer Who Read Yoritomo’s Mind

Kagetoki was originally a warrior for the Taira clan. He was known as a compassionate man who excelled in both literary and military arts and had served in the imperial capital. In the first clash between the Minamoto and Taira clans, the Battle of Ishibashiyama, fought in 1180 near the present-day city of Odawara, Kagetoki is said to have let the overwhelmed Yoritomo escape. If he had killed Yoritomo at that time, there may never have been a Kamakura shogunate.

The site of the Battle of Ishibashiyama. (© Jiji)
The site of the Battle of Ishibashiyama. (© Jiji)

The defeated Yoritomo fled from Cape Manazuru by boat across Sagami Bay to the Bōsō Peninsula, in what is now Chiba. There, he gained the support of Hirotsune and his 20,000 soldiers, giving him the military clout he needed to secure Kamakura that year. But three years later, he ordered Hirotsune’s assassination, which suggests that he was highly suspicious of him.

Following the Battle of Ishibashiyama, Yoritomo promoted Kagetoki to the prestigious position of leader of the Samurai-dokoro (Board of Retainers). A key responsibility of his role was to guard Yoshitsune, who had successfully driven the Taira clan to the far western provinces. Kagetoki reported back to Yoritomo concerning Yoshitsune’s unauthorized receipt of a title from the imperial court, and other ways in which he acted arbitrarily and impatiently to secure his war achievements. Yoshitsune referred to this in his Koshigoe Letter, where he writes that he was the “subject of slander.”

But Kagetoki’s actions went beyond simple reporting: it seems that he also urged Yoritomo to hunt and assassinate Yoshitsune. The Naoki Prize–winning historical novel Enkan, by Nagai Michiko, includes a scene where Kagetoki recognizes Yoritomo’s equivocal demeanor, typical of the nobility, ascertains his true intentions, and encourages him to kill Yoshitsune. But why did Kagetoki take pains to second-guess Yoritomo and play the role of the bad guy? Nagai implies that Yoritomo rarely showed his true colors and portrayed that his decisions were driven by others, especially if they might draw criticism. Kagetoki knew this, and therefore acted as Yoritomo’s mouthpiece. He saw no reason to flinch if it enabled Yoritomo to strengthen his position as ruler of the eastern provinces, but his conviction in building a military-led society made him increasingly arrogant.

With Yoritomo’s death in 1199, Kagetoki lost his main supporter, and the honeymoon ended. He was shunned as a scandalmonger and denounced by 66 of the shōgun’s vassals, leading to his downfall. Although Kagetoki enjoyed a key role under both Yoritomo and his successor Yoriie, he lost his position as a member of the council of 13 officials, and was killed in Suruga in 1200. But the resulting imbalance among the 13 officials helped the Hōjō clan to gain the upper hand.

Movements of Kajiwara Kagetoki in Allegiance with Minamoto no Yoritomo

1180 Minamoto no Yoritomo raises an army
Kajiwara Kagetoki allows Yoritomo to escape in the Battle of Ishibashiyama
Yoritomo flees by sea to Awa, gains military support from Kazusanosuke Hirotsune, and enters Kamakura
1183 Yoritomo orders Kagetoki to assassinate Hirotsune (Tachiarai legend)
Kagetoki becomes head of the Board of Retainers and accompanies Yoshitsune as his guardian in the subjugation of the Taira clan
1184 Battle of Ichinotani
1185 Battle of Dannoura
Yoshitsune pens his Koshigoe Letter at Manpukuji seeking permission to enter Kamakura
1189 Yoshitsune is pursued to his death; his head is returned to Manpukuji for identification
1192 Yoritomo receives the title sei-i taishōgun (shōgun)
1199 Yoritomo’s death by horse fall
Kagetoki’s downfall following his denunciation by the shōgun’s vassals
1200 Kagetoki is killed in Suruga

The grave of Kajiwara Kagetoki at Manpukuji, Ōta, Tokyo. (© Jiji)
The grave of Kajiwara Kagetoki at Manpukuji, Ōta, Tokyo. (© Jiji)

(Originally published in Japanese. Banner photo: Tachiarai-mizu, where Kajiwara Kagetoki is said to have washed the blood off his sword after killing Kazusanosuke Hirotsune. © Mochida Jōji.)


  • Tachiarai-mizu: From the east exit of Kamakura Station, take Keihin Kyūkō bus route 4 toward Kanazawa Hakkei and alight at main gate to the Kamakura Reien cemetery, Tachiarai (stop name in Japanese: Kamakura-Reien-Seimon-Mae/Tachiarai) Walk for a few minutes alongside the Tachiarai River.
  • Asaina Kiridōshi: There is a stone monument beyond the Tachiarai-mizu that marks the entrance to the cutting. Continue in this direction.

Kamakura shogun