The Tale of Heiji

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Night Attack on the Sanjo Palace (detail)

The Tale of Heiji (平治物語, Heiji monogatari) is a Japanese war epic (gunki monogatari) detailing the events of the Heiji Rebellion of 1159–1160, in which samurai clan head Minamoto no Yoshitomo attacked and besieged Kyoto, as part of an Imperial succession dispute, in which he was opposed by Taira no Kiyomori, head of the Taira clan.[1] The Tale, like most monogatari, exists in three main forms: written, oral, and painted.

The original text is sometimes attributed to Hamuro Tokinaga, and is written in 36 chapters. As is the case with most other monogatari, the text has been rewritten and revised many times over the years, and developed into an oral tradition as well. Most often, the Tale of Heiji would be chanted as a continuation of the Tale of Hōgen, which relates the events of the closely related Hōgen Rebellion.[2]

The picture scroll version of the tale, called Heiji Monogatari Emaki or Heiji Monogatari Ekotoba, dates from the 13th century. It tells the tale in color on paper, on five scrolls. Each scroll begins and ends with a written portion of the tale, describing the events depicted in a single continuous painting across the length of the scroll. Perhaps the most famous scene of these five scrolls is the Night Attack on the Sanjō Palace. The emaki scrolls are now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in Boston, Massachusetts.[3] A digital reproduction of this scene is visible at


The Tale of Heiji presents a conflict between old aristocratic and new military elites. The Heiji story moves beyond from the comparatively simple narration template of the Hōgen monogatari towards a more complicated focus which suggests a need for more nuanced principles and more flexible policies which become more appropriate to desperate times.[4]

As in the Hōgen story, multi-level and inter-related rivalries lead to war; and the main characters are presented in traditional status order: Emperors and former Emperors first, Fujiwara ministers second, and military clan warriors third.[5]

As in the Hōgen story, the narrative structure is divided in three distinct segments:

  • Part 1 introduces origins of the conflicts.
  • Part 2 retells the course of events.
  • Part 3 enumerates the tragic consequences.[6]

Monogatari historiography[edit]

The Japanese have developed a number of complementary strategies for capturing, preserving and disseminating the essential elements of their commonly accepted national history – chronicles of sovereigns and events, biographies of eminent persons and personalities, and the military tale or gunki monogatari. This last form evolved from an interest in recording the activities of military conflicts in the late 12th century. The major battles, the small skirmishes and the individual contests—and the military figures who animate these accounts—have all been passed from generation to generation in the narrative formats of the Hōgen monogatari (1156), the Heiji monagatari (1159–1160), and the Heike monogatari (1180–1185).

In each of these familiar monogatari, the central figures are popularly well known, the major events are generally understood, and the stakes as they were understood at the time are conventionally accepted as elements in the foundation of Japanese culture. The accuracy of each of these historical records has become a compelling subject for further study; and some accounts have been shown to withstand close scrutiny, while other presumed “facts” have turned out to be inaccurate.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ In the name "Hōgen Rebellion," the noun "Hōgen" refers to the nengō (Japanese era name) after "Kyūju" and before "Heiji." In other words, the Hōgen Rebellion occurred during Hōgen, which was a time period spanning the years from 1156 through 1159.
  2. ^ In the name "Tale of "Hōgen," the "Hōgen" refers to the Japanese era name after "Kyūju" and before "Heiji", which was a time period spanning the years from 1156 through 1159.
  3. ^ Murase, Miyeko (1967). "Japanese Screen Paintings of the Hogen and Heiji Insurrections". Artibus Asiae. 29 (2/3): 193. doi:10.2307/3250273. ISSN 0004-3648. JSTOR 3250273.
  4. ^ Brown et al. (1979). Gukanshō, p. 392.
  5. ^ Brown et al. (1979). Gukanshō, p. 388.
  6. ^ a b Brown, p. 391.
  7. ^ Brown, p. 385-386.