In the latter years of the Heian period, as the legend goes, an immense warrior monk named Benkei stood upon Gojo Ohashi Bridge, challenging any passing swordsman to a duel. It was his goal to collect one thousand swords this way, and with his great height and incredible strength, he had won nine hundred ninety-nine battles and taken his rival’s swords each time. For his one thousandth battle, he challenged a young man named Minamoto Yoshitsune. Yoshitsune was an accomplished swordsman himself, and despite his young age and his relatively small size, he defeated Benkei on the bridge. Benkei then pledged himself to Yoshitsune, and followed him as a loyal retainer throughout his travels. When Yoshitsune joined with his brother Minamoto Yoritomo to defeat the rival Taira clan in the Genpei War, Benkei naturally fought at his side. However, Yoritomo soon grew jealous of his brother’s successes and Yoshitsune and Benkei were exiled, living their lives as pursued fugitives until they were eventually betrayed by Fujiwara no Yasuhira. Inside Fujiwara’s residence, Yoshitsune was forced to commit suicide, while on the bridge outside Benkei fought off hundreds of Yoritomo’s samurai. Retreating back at Benkei’s incredible prowess, Yoritomo’s forces launched a flurry of arrows at the lone monk and still the giant did not fall. After some time the samurai cautiously approached the arrow riddled warrior, only to discover the Benkei had died standing up. Yoshitsune’s head was captured and brought to his brother, ending the story of the famous pair of warriors.
While the actual fight between Benkei and Yoshitsune happened at the site of present day Matsubara Bridge, the event is nonetheless commemorated at present day Gojo Ohashi Bridge where a statue of the two swordsmen in battle stands. This current Gojo Ohashi Bridge was constructed in 1959, nearly eight hundred years after the Kamakura period was begun by the Minamoto victory in the Genpei War.
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