新平家物語 The New Taira Story of Eiji Yoshikawa

Maybe you've seen movies like "Shogun" written by James Clavell with Richard Chamberlain as the leading actor. You still remember "The Last Samurai" with Tom Cruise. They are excellent entertainment films about Japanese warriors. However, the producers did not base these films on actual historical events. They are good entertainment, but more is needed. The New Taira Story, written by the famous Eiji Yoshikawa, is a true historical novel classic from Japan. The new Taira Story is his life's work. One literary critic describes it as eternal literature. The samurai saga tells of the rise and fall of the Taira samurai tribe at the end of the 12th century in Japan. It covers around 50 years of the history of this Far Eastern country.

In the beginning, the warrior tribes were subterranean people. The emperor, I would rather say tenno, is the absolute monarch. He lets the nobility implement his policies.

The warriors laboriously make themselves heard. The samurai families must first decide among themselves who has the strongest army. This struggle involves brutal wars. The victor takes power away from the tenno and the nobles. The victorious family forms its samurai government in Kamakura.

Above picture: Lady Gion, Kiyomori's mother, argues with Tadamori Taira (volume 1). Kenkichi Sugimoto 杉本健吉 新平家物語屏風 2.貧乏草 (杉本美術館蔵)

What is it about?

The saga wants to tell us about the transience of human life. Every evil person cannot escape the eternal cycle of ascent and decay. He will always perish in the end. This lecture is a view from the Buddhist world. Unfortunately, the never-ending cycle of victory and defeat swept away many innocent people to their deaths. Fierce civil wars broke out in the 12th century. At first, some ambitious nobles fell for the illusion. They could take the place of the tennos. With the help of the Minamoto samurai tribe, they dared to commit treason. In the end, they were killed. Kiyomori Taira emerged victorious from the uprisings. He came to power in place of the nobles. After twenty years of his rule, the reinvigorated rival destroyed his tribe. Minamoto formed the samurai government in Kamakura. These are the historical facts. The old documents describe this history. Many humanities scholars have studied the matter since then. Yoshikawa wanted to know how this tragic change in power could happen and what the individual protagonists might have done, thought and felt. It is not a dry history book with facts, figures, and dates. It is his literary reconstruction of the events of the time and how the Japanese of the time, as reported in the old documents, lived. It has become a touching novel about brave men and kind women who fought, lived, and died.


Eiji Yoshikawa (1892 - 1962) is one of the best-known writers in Japan. He wrote novels about historical characters and themes from an early age. He published Miyamoto Musashi's story in a weekly newspaper from 1935 to 1939. No other serial novel was as widely read as Miyamoto Musashi. His portrayal of the famous swordsman resonated strongly with the Japanese. As a popular literature novel, Miyamoto Musashi was a great success. Eiji Yoshikawa was very disappointed by the defeat of the Second World War. The Allies dropped atomic bombs on Japan. The author was unable to pick up a pen for a long time. He only began writing Shin Heike Monogatari in 1950. After seven years, he completed the publication, which also appeared as a newspaper series. In this novel, Eiji Yoshikawa wrote about the Taira samurai tribe. The chief Kiyomori won the Hogen and Heiji rebellion. In the end, however, Taira perished in the Genpei War. This samurai saga appealed to many Japanese who were badly shaken in the post-war years. The author's life's work was honored with several literary awards.


Yutaka Hayauchi was born in 1951 in Masuda, Japan, where he enjoyed his school education up to high school. He began studying chemistry at the University of Osaka, Japan, at eighteen. When he was twenty, he moved to Hamburg and continued his studies at the University of Hamburg, where he also obtained a doctorate in organic chemistry. During his studies, he translated scientific literature and patent specifications. He was an interpreter for business negotiations and a simultaneous interpreter for congresses. In 1984, he joined Bayer AG with a doctorate in chemistry. He was in charge of drug approval for Bayer in Japan (1988 to 1991). His work took him to various development laboratories for new drugs in Leverkusen and Wuppertal (1991 to 2016) until his retirement. He is married, has two daughters, and lives in Leverkusen.



The translator became acquainted with Eiji Yoshikawa's samurai saga Shin Heike Monogatari, which has been filmed several times and is highly regarded in Japan when he was living with his family in Kyoto. His mother told him about the tragic General Yoshitsune when he was a schoolboy. He was already fascinated by the story back then. When he translated the novel, he remembered Kyoto. After thirty years, he published an unabridged German translation.