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楠木 正成

Kusunoki Masashige (1294-1336) was a 14th century samurai who fought for Emperor Go-Daigo in his attempt to wrest rulership of Japan away from the Hojo Shogunate.

A brilliant tactician, Kusunoki's cunning defense of two key loyalist fortresses at Akasaka and Chihaya helped allow Go-Daigo to briefly return to power. However, one of the loyalist generals, Ashikaga Takauji, betrayed Go-Daigo and led an army against Kusunoki and the remaining loyalists. Kusunoki suggested to the Emperor that they take refuge on sacred Mount Hiei and allow Takauji to take Kyoto, only to swoop down from the mountain, and with the help of the monks of Mount Hiei, trap Takauji in the city and destroy him. Go-Daigo was unwilling to leave the capital however, and insisted that Kusunoki meet Takauji's superior forces in the field in a pitched battle. Kusunoki, in what would later be viewed as the ultimate act of samurai loyalty, obediently accepted his Emperor's foolish command and knowingly marched his army into almost certain death. The Battle of Minatogawa, which took place near present-day Kobe, was a disaster. Kusunoki, his army completely surrounded, committed suicide along with 600 of his surviving troops. According to legend, his last words were Shichisei hokoku! (七生报国; "Would that I had seven lives to give for my country!")

During the Meiji period, educational reformers resurrected the legend of Masashige Kusunoki and enshrined him as a national hero who epitomized loyalty, courage, and devotion to the Emperor. Kusunoki became a patron saint of sorts to the World War II kamikazes, who saw themselves as his spiritual heirs in sacrificing their lives for the Emperor.

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