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The Minamoto clan crest
In 814 AD, Emperor Saga was facing a certain problem. He had too many children, causing economic stress for the imperial family. His solution? Make them nobles rather than royals. As part of this, he bestowed upon them a surname, as the Imperial line did not officially have one (unless you count "Yamato"). Thus, the Minamoto (源, "Origin", to remind them of the fact that they used to be imperials) clan was founded. Unlike most Japanese clans, they weren't a single family (in fact they were only related by way of Imperial blood), they were cadet branches formed at the pleasure of the emperor. To differentiate the 21 lines, they are often called by their Imperial scion's posthumous name, and their arguably more famous name, Genji, an Alternate Character Reading of the words "Minamoto clan" (源氏). The Minamoto family is the whole reason why samurai dominated Feudal Japan, and many clans (including the other shogunates) were descended from them, or at least claimed to be. The clan lasted from the middle Heian-era as Kuge (aristocrats) to the at least the late Sengoku-era as Buke (samurai), though only prominent for a fraction of the time. One of the Four Noble Clans, including the Fujiwara, the Taira, and the Tachibana.

Lines of the Minamoto include:

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  • Saga Genji: The one that started it all. Amongst the imperial court, brothers Makoto, Tokiwa, and Toru stood out as powerful Ministers of the Left. Clans such as the Watanabe, Matsura, and Kamachi claimed descent.
  • Ninmyō Genji: Masaru and Hikaru were Ministers of the Right, but that's about it.
  • Montoku Genji: Yoshiari, Minister of the Right and progenitor of the Sakado, was of this line.
  • Seiwa Genji: Probably the most successful and famous Genji line. Founded the Kamakura Shogunate, making them samurai pedigree. Cadet branches: too big to list, but includes the Ashikaga and Tokugawa, both of them (well, the second one at least claimed descent).
  • Yōzei Genji: Evidence suggests that Tsunemoto was a member of this branch, instead of the Seiwa Genji as commonly thought.
  • Kōkō Genji: They were Buddhist sculptors.
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  • Uda Genji: Formed five dōjō houses (those who sat on the floor with the emperor) as kuge, and the Sasaki and Kuroda as buke.
  • Daigo Genji: Had a musician in its ranks and spawned the Okamoto and Kawajiri clans.
  • Murakami Genji: Held the title of Genji no Chōja... at least until the Ashikaga took it during the Muromachi period.
  • Reizei Genji: They existed.
  • Kazan Genji: Became the Shirakawa and headed Shinto affairs.
  • Sanjō Genji: Chief Genealogists of the imperial family.
  • Go-Sanjō Genji: Not really relevant.
  • Go-Shirakawa Genji: One man wonder. As one of the causes of the Genpei War, Prince Mochihito-ō was exiled and declassed.
  • Juntoku Genji: Pretty much the point at which the Minamoto clan started to lose relevance.
  • Go-Saga Genji: Another one man wonder. Prince Koreyasu was installed as a Puppet Shogun and briefly assumed the name.
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  • Go-Fusakusa Genji: Kamakura's final shoguns.
  • Ōgimachi Genji: The Genji's end point, a footnote in history. Became the Hirohata.

Famous works involving the Minamoto:

Anime and Manga

Film

Literature

Video Games

  • Genji series, starring Yoshitsune and Benkei. Though most people would probably know the game for finding a Giant Enemy Crab then flip it to Attack Its Weak Point For Massive Damage.
  • Onmyōji in which the Minamoto is an onmyōji clan. Named members that appear in person consist of Hiromasa and Yorimitsu. Maybe Onigiri (a.k.a. Higekiri/Tomokiri/Shishinoko/Sunnashi) too if you count a personified sword.
  • Touken Ranbu doesn't feature the clan itself, but the swords that belonged to its members: Higekiri and Hizamaru, Imanotsurugi - specifically owned by Yoshitsune - as well as Mikazuki and Honebami who belonged to the Ashikaga at some point. "Genji banzai!" indeed.

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