Renowned epic tale of the early samurai, based on real events in the close of the 12th century. when the then dominant Heike (clan of Taira) was exterminated by the Genji (clan of Minamoto), who went on to found the first shogunate in Japan. While this is written in prose, the opening lines have a regular 7-5 type meter. Versions of the work was orally recited by professional monks called the biwa hōshi who accomapnied their recital with the playing of a mandolin called the biwa. Such monks typically people without eyesight. One well-known fictionalized character whose profession is the biwa-playing minstrel-monk is "Hōichi the earless".
He might be familiar to western filmgoers who have seen the Japanese film "Kwaidan" (dir. Masaki Kobayashi, 1964), an anthology of four ghostly tales by Lafcadio Hearn.
Hoichi, who is blind, is summoned by "certain noblepersons" to perform the pathos-laden Tale of Heike. Though unbeknownst to him, his audience turn out to be dead ghosts of the historical figures who perished in the battles sung about in the romance. The poetic opening of the Tale of Heike are presented with kana-ruby above and words glossed below, with English translations in strophes on the right.
1. Gion Shōjā(the Garden-Sacrarium)
From Gion's sacrarium*1, rings the knell of transience: That there is no deed that can in permanence endure. The sal-trees*2, twain by four, with the pallor of their blooms explained: Mighty ones be assured that his might shall wane. The stay of power is fleeting, as is a spring night's dream. Champions too get toppled, like the dust-clump before a wind-blast. Witness the kingdoms far abroad, Chang Kao of Chine, [the eunuch and puppeteer of the infant king]. Wang Mao of Han, [regicide and usurper of the high throne]. Chu I of Ziang, [the sycophant to whom were directed a thousand hatreds]. An Lu-shan of Tang, [the treasonous general who tore the land to shreds]. All these refused to submit to the mandate-throne, Sought pleasure that knew no bounds, Turned deaf ears to cautions for moderation, Let the turmoil of the land go unnoticed, Ignored the grievances of the governed, And thus, before long, lost hold of the station in their grasp. Regard now the kingdom our own: Masakado of the Jokyu Wars [who overran the East and dared proclaim himself emperor,] Sumitomo of the Tengyo Wars [the pirate chieftain who tried to take Kyushu for his own,] Yoshichika of the Kowa Wars, [the exile who slew the governor of the land of his banishment,] Nobuyori of the Heiji Wars, [who rebelled and seized the high office of Prime Minister,] Though these were men all of mettle domineering and headstrong, to extents varied manifold, none above did outstrip he of Rokuhara, the one called Lord Kiyomori of Taira, who in days shortly gone by was the priestly*3 Lord Prime Minister. For, his deeds and wrongdoings, as we hear passed on, daunts both word with which to descirbe, and the credulity to one's mind.
ぎおんしょうじゃ かね こえ しょぎょうむじょう ひび 祇園精舎*1の鐘の聲、諸行無常の響きあり。 Gion Garden bell sound all-deeds-not-constant ring there is しゃらそうじゅ はな いろ じょうしゃひっすい ことわり あらわ 娑羅雙樹*2の花の色、盛者必衰の理を顯す。 shara-pair trees flower color prosperous-always-deterioate logic describes おご ひさ はる よる ゆめ ごと 奢れるもの久しからず、ただ春の夜の夢の如し。 haughty ones not enduring just spring night's dream like たけ ひと つい ほろ ひとえ かぜ まえ ちり おな 猛き人も遂には滅びぬ。偏に風の前の塵に同じ。 mighty ones at last exterminated. Particularly wind front dust same とお いちょう しん ちょうこう かん おうもう 遠く異朝をとぶらふに、秦の趙高、漢の王莽、 Far foreign kingdoms inquire Shin [Chin Dynasty]'s Cho Ko, Kan[Han Dynasty]'s Oh Moh りょう しゅい とう ろくさん 梁の朱异、唐の禄山、 Ryo[Ziang Dynasty]'s Shu I, Toh[Tang Dynasty]'s Roku-san, みなきゅうしゅせんこう まつりごと したが たの きわ これらは皆舊主先皇の政にも従わず、樂しみを極め、 these all lords' ex-emperors' governance obey not, joy taken to extremeity, いさ おも い てんが みだ こと さと 諌めをも思い入れず、天下の亂れん事をも悟らずして、 counsel consider-accept not, heaven-under[world] turmoiled fact realize not, みんかん うれ ところ し ひさ ぼう もの 民間の憂うるを所を知らざりしかば、久しからずして亡じにし者どもなり。 folk distressed fact know not, long duration without deceased ones are. ちか ほんちょう うかが しょうへい まさかど てんぎょう すみとも 近く本朝を窺うに、承平の將門、天慶の純友、 Near(er) our kingdom survey Shohei [War's] Masakado, Tengyo [War's] Sumitomo, こうわ ぎしん へいじ しんらい 康和の義親、平治の信頼、 Kowa[War's] Gishin(Yoshichika), Heiji[War's] Shinrai(Nobuyori) おご こと たけ こころ みな これらは奢れる事も猛き心も、皆 these haughy fact mighty soul, all ろくはら とりどりとなりしかども、まぢかくは六波羅 various are but, recent Rokuhara's にゅうどう さきの だじょうだいじん たいらの あそん きよもりこう もう の 入道*3 前 太政大臣 平朝臣 清盛 公 と申しし priest former Prime Minister Taira imperial subject Kiyomori lord called ひと ありさま つた うけたまわ こころ ことば およ 人の有様、傳へ承るこそ、心も詞も及ばれぬ。 person's situation, passed down heart nor words attain not.
*1 Gion Shōjā: Gion is usually footnoted as a phonetic transcription from the Sanskrit of the part of estate of Prince Jetta, sold to a devout wealthy merchant and donated to Buddha for his use. However, I like to think of this as the Gion Shrine(now Yasaka Shrine) in Kyoto, erected in 876. [back]
*2 Sal Trees: sara soju Legend has that there were four pairs of sal-trees where Buddha fell sick and died, when the trees suddenly bloomed in white. [back]
*3 That is, he had become a Buddhist monk (supposedly leaving matters mundane and temporal behind), but continued to exercise power. [back]
To inquire of his lineage: the clan sprang from his majesty the Emperor Kammu. To him was born a fifth prince Kazurahara. Thereupon, nine scions must be counted down the lineage to arrive at Masamori, Lord Sanuki. And his grandson was the Lord Executioner, his nobleship Tadamori, the very father of the one of whom we speak. The aforesaid fifth prince had a son, the Takami-no-O, who departed without rank or appointment. He begat a son, Takamochi-no-O, who first adopted the surname Taira when the deputy governorship of Azusa was bestowed him, at which point the clan was stricken from the Imperial Household, to thenceforth join the ranks of the subjects. Whence came his eldest, the shogun-general Yoshimochi, later called Kunika. From Kunik on and up to Masamori, governorship appointments were awarded here and there, however, visit to court was yet to be granted.
The cloud-dwellers did then harbor such enmity and rage that they assmbled to plan his ambush, choosing the night of the Gosetsu-dance of the Niiname[First-Crop] Fest. Receiving word of this, Tadamori saith: "That I, for not being one among the nobles, being born of the swordsman's class, must face this ignominy, this hazard unseen.. The rue of it all, as at stake are family honor and my flesh and hide both. Still, I should mark the sage writings of old, where it is said, in service to thine liege, at the risk of one's flesh and all."
Thus he prepares for the assault that awaits. As he enters court, he flaunts the short sword on his sash-belt. In a dimly lit quarter, he draws the sword and places it next to his hairlock, whence it appears as an icicle or such. All eyes widen among those present. Now among Tadamori's vassals was a palace guard of the Left Division, a man named Iesada, who was suited up in a chartreuse-colored breastplate underneath a blue kariginu[type of kimono], and armed with a long sword, and he now appeared somberly to the courtyard. A host of men thought this most suspicious, and the Private Secretary above all. "You there, behind the umnarked suit, declare yourself. Intruder, reveal yourself." Wherupon he replied with stately calm "Reports have com in that my lord governor of Bizen is under threat of ambush, hence I am here arrived to see to his safety." Taking this to be an ill sign, the ambushers withdraw their attack.
As Tadamori presents himself in front of his Highness to perform his dance, the people altered the sing-along to mock him thus:
Eye askew, from Taira's tribe, Have you had enough to imbibe? Give your eye a bat, If a refill's what you please, Or does a vinegar vat Better suit your needs, For your likes back in the Ise Country?Though the clan are descendants of Emperor Kashiwabara... As Ise [Mie Prefecture] was in the backwoods, they made a play on the word heishi(sake decanter) with the Heishi[Taira Clan]'s name. And the fact taht Tadamori was sugame wall-eyed, this they also mocked by punning with su-game, a vinegar vat.