Heike Monogatari (The tale of the Heike) (平家物語)

"Heike Monogatari" is a war chronicle which deals with the prosperity and downfall of the Taira family, and seems to have been completed during the Kamakura period.

The tale describes the contrast between the Taira family and the Minamoto clan after Taira's victory in the Hogen and Heiji Wars. It also splendidly depicts the fabric of human relationships between the declining Heian nobles and warriors on the rise, in the fall of the Taira family which had started since the Jisho-Juei War. It is a representative work of literature written in the mixed writing style of Japanese and Chinese, which is known for the simple and refined sentences. The tale is widely known to everyone, especially the opening line, 'The bell of the Gion Temple tolls …' is famous.

The writing process

The title of Heike Monogatari was put by posterity. It is conjectured that the tale had originally been called "Jisho Monogatari" since the Jisho era, when the battle grew more severe, as well as "Hogen Monogatari" (The Tale of the Hogen War) and "Heiji Monogatari" (The Tale of Heiji), but there is no evidence.

Although it is not known exactly when the tale was completed, the shihai monjo (an old document which was written on the other side of a piece of used paper) of "Heihanki" (diary of TAIRA no Nobunori) transcribed by FUJIWARA no Teika in 1240 states that "Jisho Monogatari volume Six, transcribed," therefore it is considered that the tale was completed before 1240. However, there remains a question that 'Jisho Monogatari' is really equivalent to the present Heike Monogatari, so it cannot be said to be reliable. It seems to have been completed at least before 1309, when the original okugaki (postscript) of the Engyo-bon manuscript was made. However, it is generally considered that the extant Engyo-bon manuscript cannot be said to have remained the same as the okugaki suggests.


There have been many different views about the authorship. The oldest one was stated by Kenko YOSHIDA in "Tsurezuregusa" (Essays in Idleness), which mentions that Shinano no Zenji (former official from Shinano) Yukinaga is the author of Heike Monogatari, and he taught the tale to a vision-impaired musician called Shobutsu to have him narrate it.

During the reign of the Retired Emperor Gotoba, Shinano no Zenji Yukinaga, who got a reputation for his studies (…), wrote Heike Monogatari, and taught the tale to a vision-impaired man called Shobutsu in order to have him recite it.' (Section 226, Tsurezuregusa)

It also has a detailed record that Shobutsu was from Togoku (the eastern part of Japan, particularly the Kanto region), so he directly asked the warriors about the war and recorded it, and furthermore, it mentions the relevance between Shobutsu and a biwa (Japanese lute) -playing minstrel in later years.

It is said that Shinano no Zenji Yukinaga was Shimotsuke no kami (the governor of Shimotsuke Province) FUJIWARA no Yukinaga and also a grandson of FUJIWARA no Akitoki, who was Keishi (household superintendent) serving Kanezane KUJO. Also, according to "Sonpi Bunmyaku" (Lineage Sects of Noble and Humble), "Daigo Zassho" (miscellaneous records made at the Daigo-ji Temple Hon-in), and "Heike Monogatari Hoketsu Tsurugi no maki" (Supplement Volume, Sword, of Heike Monogatari (The Tale of Heike)) Tokinaga HAMURO (the Fujiwara Clan), a grandson of Akitoki, is considered the author. Those who advocate the opinion that FUJIWARA no Yukinaga is the author claim that 'Shinano no Zenji is an error for Shimotsuke no Zenji,' while in Tsurezuregusa, the man is also called 'Shinano no Nyudo' (man with a shaven head) (variations of his name are Shinano no Zenji Yukinaga, Shinano no Nyudo, and Yukinaga Nyudo).

So there is an opinion that the author should have been a person who was related to Shinano, and it would have been a monk called Saibutsu, Shinran's high-caliber disciple and also Honen's disciple. According to the history of Hongan-ji Temple and the origin of Koraku-ji Temple (Shinonoi Shiozaki, Nagano Prefecture), Saibutsu is identified with Yukinaga (or Michihiro) UNNO, the son of Yukichika UNNO, who was descended from the Shigeno clan, a famous clan in Shinano Province. He is mentioned in the Heike Monogatari under the name of Taifubo Kakumei as a tactician for MINAMOTO no Yoshinaka.

However not every opinion is based on evidence, and first of all, given the process involved in compiling a military chronicle, there is little use in attributing the work to a particular author.

Different versions of the book

There are two kinds of extant different versions of the book: a group of kataribon (or katari kei, todo kei) (recited book), which has been handed down orally by a biwa-playing minstrel known as a vision-impaired monk (a blind musician who belongs to Todo-za (the traditional guild for the vision-impaired), such as kengyo (the highest title of the official ranks within the Todo-za)) all over Japan, and a group of yomihon (or zoho kei, non todo kei) (read texts), which was enlarged as read texts.

Kataribon group

The Kataribon group can be further divided into the Yasaka version and the Ichikata version.

The books of the Yasaka version are what is called 12 volumes of 'Danzetsu Heike' (extinguishing the Taira family), which ends with the downfall of the Taira family after four-generation. Meanwhile, the books of the Ichikata version contains 'Kanjo no maki' (the Initiate's Chapter), a tragic love story of a waiting woman, and a sequel to the story in which TAIRA no Tokuko, who was saved after she threw herself into the ocean in the Battle of Dannoura, became a nun and was leading a life devoted to praying to Buddha.

The following are the books which are easy to get today: "Japanese Classic Literature Systematic Edition" published by Iwanami Shoten, Publishers (Kakuichihon version, book collection of Ryokoku University Library), "Japanese Classic Literature Complete Works" by Shogakukan Inc., "New Japanese Classic Literature Outline" by Iwanami Shoten (later came out in Iwanami bunko (paperback) of four volumes in total, and the Wide Edition, too), "Complete Translation of Japanese Classics" by Shogakukan (Takanobon (manuscript owned by Tatsuyuki TAKANO) of Kakuichihon (Kakuichibon (manuscript by Kengyo KAKUICHI) version), "Japanese Classics Corpus" by Shinchosha (Kana Hyakunijukuhon version, book collection of National Diet Library).

Heikyoku (Heike Monogatari recited by lute-playing chanters)

Kataribon was told by a vision-impaired biwa-playing minstrel, who belonged to Todo-za.
This is called 'heikyoku.'
In this context, 'to tell' means to sing a song to a tune, but it was written in narrative style; that is why we call it 'telling' instead of 'singing.'
A biwa used for this purpose is called 'Heike biwa', which has the same structure as Gakubiwa (lute for Gagaku (ancient Japanese court dance and music) performance), and the small-sized one is often used. By the way, there are many pieces of music which were composed for Heike Monogatari to be played with Satsuma biwa (Japanese lute music of the Shimazu clan of Satsuma Province), which was made after early-modern times, and Chikuzen biwa (Japanese music lute of Chikuzen Province). However, they belong to a completely different genre of music, so they are not called heikyoku.

Originally, there were two schools of heikyoku: the Yasaka School (those who belonged to the school were given the Chinese character of '城' (castle) for their names) and the Ichikata School (the Chinese character of '一' (one) was given to those who belonged to this school). However, the Yasaka School disappeared soon, and today only one piece of music called 'Tsukimi' (moon viewing) remains. The Ichikata School was divided into the Maeda School and the Hatano School in the Edo period. However, the Hatano School was not prosperous from the beginning, and only the Maeda School flourished.
In 1776, Kengyo Tomonoichi OGINO, who was celebrated as a master, compiled a book of traditional Japanese music of the Maeda School called 'Heike Mabushi.'
Since then, it has been the standard text for the Maeda School.

After the Meiji Restoration, Todo-za was broken up and the number of those who passed down the tradition dropped sharply. During the Showa period, a kengyo named Kogo TATEYAMA (1894-1989) was in Sendai. In Nagoya, there were only three kengyo who were in the line of Kengyo OGINO: Koji INOKAWA, Masayasu MISHINA, and Masatomi DOIZAKI. However, as of 2008, only a disciple of Kengyo MISHINA, certain IMAI, remains. In addition, it was only TATEYAMA with normal eyesight, who could tell the whole story. Today these people are designated as Important Intangible Cultural Property in order to protect them, and their disciples inherited the masters' skill.

A History of the Japanese Performing Arts' states that the history of heikyoku can be traced back to a vision-impaired monk attending a ceremony to consecrate a newly made Buddhist image which was held in Daibutsu-den Hall (the Great Buddha hall) of Todai-ji Temple. However, it is considered appropriate that heikyoku was generated under the influence of shomyo (chanting of Buddhist hymns) by the Ohara School of the Tendai Sect, considering the musical scales and the way the music was composed for heikyoku. According to the diaries written by those who were in Hongan-ji Temple, heikyoku was recited not for entertainment, but for the repose of a dead person's soul.

It has been adapted for music and performing arts in later years, especially the Noh play (Shuramono (Noh about warriors)) has a lot of programs based on Heike Monogatari.

Yomihon group

Yomihon includes Engyobon (the oldest manuscript of Heike Monogatari), Nagatobon (manuscript of Nagato Province), and Genpei Seisuiki (The Rise and Decline of the Minamoto and Taira clans). In the past, it had been considered that kataribon group spread by a biwa-playing minstrel was added in order to change it into a reading material. In recent years, however, a view is dominant that the yomihon group (especially Engyobon) preserves the original style more than kataribon group does. However, it is another question whether the yomihon group describes the facts precisely when compared with the kataribon group.

The relationship between kohon (expanded texts) and ryakuhon (abbreviated texts) is still unknown, although there are various views about it. It is regarded as certain that among the yomihon group, the ryakuhon is the closest to the kataribon group because Genpei Tojoroku (a record of Genpei battles) contains a record concerning 'chuon' (mediant) and 'shoju' (lowest octave), which were equivalent to a tune of heikyoku.

[Original Japanese]