The Heike Story

Eiji Yoshikawa

Young Heita of the Heike lives in poverty after his father, the samurai Tadanori, fell from grace at court. Not only that, the constant quarreling between his parents often lead him to roam the streets of Kyoto. When Heita becomes a member of the guards at the palace, he takes on a new name – Kiyomori – and soon his talent as a leader shows itself, and he rises in ranks and status. This leads to discontent among the rival Genji clan, and they begin plotting against Kiyomori, even involving the Retired Emperor. Kiyomoro, however, manages to foil all the intrigues, executes or banishes the Genji and their followers and eventually becomes the Chief Councillor to the Emperor. But one act of mercy allows the remaining Genji to hold on to hope, and dark clouds are forming over the head of Kiyomori and the Heike…

The Heike Monogatari is the epic tale of the struggle for power between the houses of Genji and Heike that culminated in the Genpei Wars (1180 – 1185) Eiji Yoshikawa bases his own story on the old tradition and starts with the youth of Kiyomori and tells about the rise of the Heike until shortly before the war begins.

Historical novels, especially when the protagonist is a well-known historical figure, often have to grapple with long stretches of time when nothing much is happening or entire characters drop off the scene. This novel is no exception, and thus there are many parts that could have been shortened. It is a sad fact that strife and battle are so much more interesting than the times of peace in between.

Eiji Yoshikawa (1892 – 1962) was not educated as a writer, yet, he worked as a journalist and wrote numerous short stories and novels. He received the Cultural Order of Merit, the Order of the Sacred Treasure and the Mainichi Art Award. When he died from cancer, he was considered among the best historical novelists of Japan.

I don’t think this book is as good as his Musashi or Taiko, but if you want to give it a try, it’s available from amazon.