Kusunoki Masashige is one of the most celebrated figures in Japanese history. His devotion to the emperor and to the imperial cause, which ultimately cost him his life, has made him the ultimate nationalistic tragic hero. When realizing that the battle against Takauji was lost, he exclaimed "seven lives for the emperor," and committed seppuku. Some six hundred years later, Kamikaze pilots in WW2 also used this phrase to express their devotion to the emperor before taking off to their final mission.

Other than what is told in the Taiheiki we know very little about Kusunoki Masashige. In fact, it is likely that he did not belong to the imperial forces until he was recruited, and that he did not hold an imperial title. According to the Taiheiki, emperor Godaigo was in dire straits when one night he dreamt of a seat facing south by a tree. He then asked the monk Jojubo what that means, and the monk explained that the character for south next to the character for tree produces the character kusunoki (camphor tree). Godaigo's advisors told him about a warrior by the name of Kusonoki Tamon Hyoe Masashige who was an unusual strategist. They explained that Masashige was a descendant of emperor Bidatsu, but his family chose to live the capital and "dwell among the common people of Kawachi province." Emperor Godaigo ordered to summon Kusunoki and his followers, and appointed him to the imperial forces. From the descriptions in the Taiheiki it is possible that Kusunoki had an independent group of warriors under his command, and that his strategy and tactics where not common among the imperial generals. It is clear that he used deceit to achieve his goals, sometimes by employing warriors who were able to perform covert operations such as infiltrating a castle and opening its gates from the inside, for example. It is thus not surprising that Kusunoki is often referred to as a master of ninjutsu from whom Kusunoki-ryu took its name.