Episode 419 – A Tale as Old as Time

For our final episode of 2021, we’re looking at the origin of one of Japan’s most famous pieces of literature: the war epic known as the Heike Monogatari, or Tale of Heike. How did a story about a single conflict in Japanese history become one of the best known chronicles in the entirety of Japan’s history, and what did the story tap into to attain that status?


Ruch, Barbara, “The Other Side of Medieval Japan” in The Cambridge History of Japan, Vol 3: Medieval Japan

Ruch, Barbara, “Medieval Jongleurs and the Making of a National Literature,” in John W. Hall and Takeshi Toyoda, eds., Japan in the Muromachi Age

Beauchamp, Fay. “The Tale of the Heike and Japan’s Cultural Pivot to the Art of War.” Education About Asia 23, No 3 (Winter 2019)

McCullough, Helen Craig, trans. The Tale of the Heike


Edo period depiction of a biwa houshi (on the right). Note the blind female performer on the left.
An Utagawa Kuniyoshi print of the race across the Uji River.
The same race across the river depicted in an early Meiji print.
A late Edo print of Kumagai Naozane and Taira no Atsumori’s fight.
A wax depiction of the Atsumori/Naozane fight in the Takamatsu Heike Heritage Museum in Takamatsu city, Kagawa Prefecture. I have not been but this alone really makes me want to go.
Painting of Nasu no Yoichi taking his famous shot. Date unknown.



3 thoughts on “Episode 419 – A Tale as Old as Time”

    1. That would be because I made the mistake of ad-libbing on not that much sleep and flubbed the line! I was thinking of the Latter Three Years War. Which I guess also goes to show how unmemorable that particular conflict is relative to the Genpei War as well.

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