Iso no Zenji (磯禅師)

Iso no Zenji (dates of birth and death unknown) was a woman who lived during the late Heian period. She was a shirabyoshi (traditional Japanese dancer). She was Shizuka Gozen's mother. In some documents, her name is written "Iso no Zenni." She is believed to have been born either in Isono in Yamato Province or in Koiso in Sanuki Province.

According to "Kirei Mondo" (a book published in the late Heian period), besides working as a shirabyoshi dancer herself, Iso no Zenji was also engaged in the business of sending out dancers to the residences of nobles in Kyoto.

It is written in Tsurezuregusa (Essays in Idleness; written by Kenko YOSHIDA in the early 14th century) that the shirabyoshi dance originated during Emperor Toba's reign, when Iso no Zenji, dressed in men's white clothing (called suikan) and wearing a sword and a cap, danced for Shinzei (Buddhist monk) to his favorite tunes. According to Tsurezuregusa, Iso no Zenji taught Shizuka Gozen how to perform shirabyoshi dances.
(However, Tsurezuregusa was written about 150 years after the time of ISO no Zenji and Shizuka Gozen and its explanation lacks reliability.)

MINAMOTO no Yoshitsune fell in love with her daughter, Shizuka, who later became his concubine. In 1185, when Yoshitsune came into conflict with his elder brother, MINAMOTO no Yoritomo, and fled from Kyoto, Shizuka was captured by her enemies. Then, in March 1186, Iso no Zenji and Shizuka were sent to Kamakura. When the retainers of the Kamakura family crowded into their lodging for a party, Iso no Zenji performed traditional Japanese dances.

Shizuka gave a birth to Yoshitsune's child in Kamakura, but the baby being a boy, Yoritomo ordered his men to kill him. Although Shizuka cried and would not give up her baby, Iso no Zenji took him away from her. The baby was handed to a messenger and was discarded at Yuigahama beach.

Iso no Zenji and Shizuka were subsequently given presents from Masako HOJO and Princess Ohime (MINAMOTO Yoritomo's daughter) and were sent back to Kyoto. Isono of Yamatotakada City, Nara Prefecture, is known as the village where Iso no Zenji was born and some people believe that Shizuka sought shelter in this village.

[Original Japanese]