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Authors: Eiji Yoshikawa

The Heike Story

BOOK: The Heike Story
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The Heike Story





Translated from the Japanese by




The sound of the Gion Shфja bells echoes the impermanence of all things; the color of the sвla flowers reveals the truth that the prosperous must decline. The proud do not endure, they are like a dream on a spring night; the mighty fall at last, they are as dust before the wind.




THIS superb translation brings to the English-speaking world, with no loss of color or emotion, a spectacular and famous historical novel. It is a medieval epic on a heroic scale, full of splendor and pageantry and surging narrative power. Once we plunge into its exotic atmosphere, every page brims with excitement.


The Heike Story tells of the wars, feuds, intrigues, scandals, and love affairs of the decadent Imperial Court in Kyoto in the twelfth century. It was a time of corruption, of the disintegration of the effete aristocracy, of brawling samurai. Those who have seen that extraordinary film Gate of Hell will instantly recognize the scene and some of the characters.


Kyoto was then at its finest, a city of palaces, temples, pagodas, and shrines surrounded by thickly wooded hills. A number of imposing gates, including Rashomon, led to its parks and broad avenues lined by the shops of gifted artisans.


But crime, disorder, and lust were rampant in this beautiful city. The people were abused by the nobility, and armed Buddhist monks terrorized court and commoner alike. In despair, the Emperor called upon the provincial warrior clans, the Heike and the Genji, to quell civil disturbances. Although they succeeded, the two clans quarreled over the spoils and plunged Japan into a century of feudal war.


This novel tells of the rise to power of Kiyomori of the Heike in this lurid setting. We first meet him as a youth sunk in the poverty and obscurity to which the despised clans were still condemned. But when the Emperor's call came, his rise to power was spectacular, and he became the Emperor's Chief Councillor, to the consternation of his enemies, the Genji.


In his wake he left a trail of blood and ruin, even though he was a gentle, enlightened man. Very attractive to women, he was helped in his intrigues by some of the most beautiful ones in the world, the court ladies of Kyoto, as well as by his own bravery and manliness. The strange twists of his fate are the core of this novel so impossible to summarize, so packed with action—and with poetry. For these times, bloody and terrible as they were, were also a time of great art and literature.


The Heike Story is a modern version of a medieval classic first assembled by itinerant ballad-singers. It will enthrall Western readers; it will also offer them a delightful and diverting introduction to the source of Japanese culture.


Eiji Yoshikawa was born in 1892, of an impoverished samurai or warrior family. With little more than a primary-school education, he became by turns a day laborer, a dockside painter, a toolmaker, and a dozen other unrelated things, until a Tokyo newspaper hired him as a reporter. After the great earthquake of 1923 destroyed the newspaper office, he decided to become a writer. Since then he has produced a succession of best-sellers, among which the Heike Story has topped a million copies.


The title and author are presented on the cover in Japanese characters.


THE JAPANESE, like the Chinese, write their family name first, their given name last. While they sometimes now reverse this order when dealing with the Western world, it is impossible to do so with historical characters.


Originally an individual was designated as "of" a certain family or clan, such as the Heike. Thus the central character of this novel was known as Kiyomori of the Heike—Heike-no-Kiyomori, or, for brevity, Heike Kiyomori. In order to preserve the historical flavor associated with this famous name, it is written both as Kiyomori of the Heike and as Heike Kiyomori in this English translation but never in the Western order, Kiyomori Heike. The same method has been used for the other characters.


It was customary among the ancient Japanese to use a pet or childhood name until the coming-of-age rites, which usually took place after a boy reached his fifteenth or sixteenth birthday. Therefore Kiyomori is sometimes called Heita in the opening pages of this novel.


Consonants are pronounced approximately as in English, except that g is always hard, as in Gilbert. Vowels are pronounced as in Italian and always sounded separately, never as diphthongs. Thus Heike is pronounced Heh-ee-keh. There is no heavy penultimate accent as in English; it is safest to accent each syllable equally. The final e is always sounded, as in Italian.



I The Market-Place

II The Lady of Gion

III The Horse-Race

IV A Lady in the Moonlight

V "The Trodden Weed"

VI The Boy with a Gamecock

VII A Warrior Takes His Farewell

VIII Comet over the Capital

IX Monk Soldiers of the Holy Mountain

X The Heretic

XI Foxes and a Lute

XII The Dead Speak

XIII The Willow-Spring Palace

XIV The Red Banner of the Heike

XV The White Banner of the Genji

XVI Swords and Arrows

XVII The River of Blood

XVIII Song on a Flute

XIX A Teahouse at Eguchi

XX A Pilgrimage to Kumano

XXI Red-Nose the Merchant

XXII Oranges from the South

XXIII The Emperor Kidnapped

XXIV Drums Beat

XXV Snowstorm

XXVI Mercy

XXVII A Chapel on the Hill

XXVIII The Mother

XXIX Exile

XXX Cherry Blossoms

XXXI The Crow

XXXII The Street of the Ox-Dealers

XXXIII A White Peony

XXXIV A Silver Image

XXXV Myriads of Candles

XXXVI The Wandering Poet

XXXVII A Merchant from the Northeast

XXXVIII Three Dreams

XXXIX Asatori the Physician

XL The Jewel of the Inland Sea

XLI An Emperor Dies

XLII The Light of Truth

XLIII Two Dancing-Girls

XLIV A Fracas

XLV The Building of a Harbor

XLVI A Monk is Banished

XLVII "The Genji Will Rise Again . . ."

XLVIII The Demons of Kurama Mountain

XLIX Ushiwaka Escapes

L Journey to the East

Historical Background






And you, Heita, no more of that loitering and mooning along the Shiokoji on your way back!" Heita Kiyomori heard his father, Tadamori, shout after him as he set out on his errand. He felt that voice pursuing him every step of the way. He feared his father; his every word seemed to stick in the back of Kiyomori's mind. The year before last, in 1135, Kiyomori had accompanied his father and some men-at-arms for the first time from Kyoto to Shikoku and then to Kyushu on an expedition against the pirates of the Inland Sea. From April of that spring until August they had hunted their quarry and, with the pirate chief and more than thirty of his henchmen in chains, returned to the capital triumphant, in an unforgettable march of victory. Yes, undoubtedly his father was a hero—despite everything!


Kiyomori's opinion of his father had changed after that. His fear of him, too. From boyhood Kiyomori had believed that indolence caused his father to shun people, that he lacked ambition, had no head for managing his worldly affairs, and clung to his poverty from pure obstinacy. This, however, was not the father he had observed for himself as a child, but the image impressed on Kiyomori's mind by his mother. As early as he could remember, their home at Imadegawa, in the purlieus of the capital, had been a miserable ruin; the leaking roofs had not been repaired for more than ten years; the untended gardens ran wild with weeds, and the decaying house been the scene of unending quarrels between his father and mother. And in spite of such disharmony, child after child was born to them—Heita Kiyomori, the eldest; Tsunemori, the second son; a third and even a fourth son. Tadamori, to whom the duties of a Palace official were distasteful, made no effort to put in an appearance at the Palace or the office of the Imperial Guards unless he was specially summoned. His sole revenues now were the crops from his manor in Isй, and except for occasional largess from the Palace, he received none of the emoluments of his rank.


Kiyomori was beginning to understand the reasons for those endless parental bickerings. His mother was a talkative woman— in the words of his father, one who talked "like oiled paper set on fire"—whose habitual complaint was: "At every word I say, you turn on me with grim looks. When have I ever seen you behave like a proper husband? I never knew you to behave as though you were the respected master of this house. There are laggards enough in this world, yet there must be few in this capital as lazy as you! Were you a state councillor or a court official, I could understand. Have you never taken thought for our poverty? You country-bred Heike no doubt find this wretched penury suits you, but I, reared in this capital, and all my kinsmen come of the noble Fujiwara clan! Here, under this leaking roof, morning and night, yesterday and yet again today, I munch the same coarse fare. I shall not be at the moon-viewing and the imperial banquets when autumn comes, nor when spring returns shall I, in my festive robes, join the cherry-viewing at the Palace. I hardly know whether I am a woman or a badger as I go on like this day after day. . . . Ah, ill-starred woman that I am! Little did I dream that this was to be my fate!"


This would be only the prelude to an unquenchable stream of reproaches and complaints, if Tadamori did not silence her. And once this "oiled paper" was set on fire, what did she most bewail, crying to the heavens and calling upon the earth as witness? Even her son Kiyomori wearied of her complaints. He knew them each one. First, her husband, a sluggard, had never troubled his head about a livelihood. For years he had done nothing but stay at home —a good-for-nothing! Second of her complaints: because of his poverty, she had been obliged to forgo all exchanges of hospitality with her relatives, the Fujiwara; no longer could she attend the imperial entertainments or accept invitations to the banquets at the Court. Alas, she who had been born to grandeur and luxury had married a mere Heike warrior and ruined her life. And she would end her laments with the cry: "Ah, had there only been no children! . . ." These words frightened Kiyomori as a child, harassed and saddened him unreasonably, so by the time he was sixteen or seventeen the grave look in his eyes often perplexed his mother.

BOOK: The Heike Story
7.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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