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Heike monogatari

(tr The Tale of the Heike, 1975). The most important of the Kamakura (1185-1333) and Muromachi (1333-1568) period prose tales known as Gunki monogatari, or "war tales." It deals with the short heyday of the Taira family and the years of the Taira-Minamoto War. The war began with the Minamoto family rising against the Taira family in 1180 and ended with the crushing defeat of the Taira in 1185. The tale divides into roughly three parts. The central figure in the first part is Taira no Kiyomori. Arrogant, evil, and ruthless, he is above all so consumed by the fires of hatred for the Minamoto that he dies in agony, his feverish body beyond all cooling, even when he is immersed in water. The main figures of the second and third parts are generals on the Minamoto side. Heike monogatari abounds in stirring scenes of battle, recounting brave deeds by warriors proud of their lineage and military prowess and prizing loyalty above life. It has a grand sweep about it that can be described as "epic." The emphasis throughout is very much on the pathos of the situation of the Taira, a warrior family forced out by uncouth rivals. The atmosphere is permeated by the Buddhist doctrine that all human activity is ephemeral and that nothings avails but faith in the grace of the Buddha Amida. Heike monogatari ranks second only to Genji monogatari (The Tale of Genji) in providing source material for later Japanese writers. (adapted from Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1993)

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