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平家物語 巻第一

Heike Monagatari "TALE OF HEIKE", VOL. 1

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.

一 祇園精舎

ぎおんしょうじゃ  かね  こえ  しょぎょうむじょう  ひび
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  
shara-pair trees flower color prosperous-always-deterioate logic describes

おご       ひさ              はる  よる  ゆめ  ごと  
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
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   
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
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
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  
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
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  
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        
Kowa[War's] Gishin(Yoshichika), Heiji[War's] Shinrai(Nobuyori) 

        おご    こと  たけ    こころ  みな  
these haughy fact mighty soul, all 
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 
person's situation, passed down heart nor words attain not. 

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.

2. Denjo Yamiuchi (court-ambush)

While still the governor of Bizen-no-kuni, Tadamori undertook to fulfill the wishes expressed by the ex-emperor Toba-in, erecting in his name the Tokujoju Temple [meaning "Gaining Long Life"]. On the temple grounds he bid that a thirty-three chambered hall be built to house in all one-thousand-and-one images of the Holy Buddha. The kuyo services was held on the thirteenth day of the third month. For which Tadamari was awarded a fiefdom, the then vacant Tajima-no-kuni[area north of Kobe]. The ex-emperor, out of satisfaction which overwhelmed, bestowed Tadamori the privilege to ascend the Inner Court. At age thirty-six, Tadamori, as bid, makes his first court appearance.

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.