The New Taira Story (1)


  Shin Heike Monogatari (1)


By Eiji Yoshikawa


Translated by


Yutaka Hayauchi


Instead of the preface


The bells of the temples in Gion are ringing. It sounds like the transience of all living things. The color of the flowers on the sal trees follows the same rule: a powerful person’s wealth does not last long. The one who exploits his power does not survive forever, as if he dreamed a dream on a spring night. Even the most vigorous ruler is destroyed in the end, as if he were a speck of dust in the wind.  

Looking at the distant imperial courts, Zhao Gao in the Qin Dynasty, Wang Man in the Han Dynasty, Zhu Yi in the Liang Dynasty, or An Lushan in the Tang Dynasty are worthy of mention. These subjects of the respective emperors all rejected the policies of their emperors who ruled before them, fell into excesses of pleasure, ignored well-meaning advice, and did not see that the country was in turmoil. They did not want to know that the people were suffering. For this reason, somebody destroyed all these traitors after their not-so-long reigns.

You don’t have to look that far. In this country, too, there are excellent examples such as Masakado Taira in the Shohei era, Sumitomo Fujiwara in the Tenkei era, Yoshichika Minamoto in the Kowa era, or Nobuyori Fujiwara in the Heiji era. Each insurgent was different in how intense his lust for power was and how much he abused his power. But none of the examples is as terrible as the behavior of the person called the monk of Rokuhara, the former chancellor, Kiyomori Taira, who lived in our immediate vicinity. To tell about his life, I do not have a heart, nor are so many words enough.

(Excerpt from the introduction of the classic version “The Story of Taira”)


Weeds in the ground


Poor weed


“Hey, Heita, don’t hang around in Little Salt Lane again. Don't be late back!” Man called Kiyomori Taira Heita when he was little.

Kiyomori’s father, Tadamori Taira, shouted these words after Kiyomori, who was about to go out to do something. From Kiyomori’s steps, one could notice that this warning from his father was constantly echoing in his ear. In any case, he was afraid of his father.

In the year before last, the first year of the Hoen era (1135 A.D.), Kiyomori had accompanied his father and crossed the Seto Inland Sea to the islands of Shikoku and Kyushu for the first time. Tadamori had led the soldiers stationed in Kyoto to fight the pirates of the Seto Inland Sea and had begun the pursuit of the pirates. It lasted from April to August of that year. Then, he had returned triumphantly to the capital. Tadamori’s soldiers had chained more than thirty pirates in a row. Kiyomori would never forget how magnificent his father had looked. He had thought, “My father is great. He’s been great.” Kiyomori had come to a different realization about his father after that. His awe had changed.

The image of his father that had been imprinted on him from home throughout his childhood was that of a warrior, called a samurai in Japan, who had no desire to pursue his social duties, who showed no ambition to make a career, and who stubbornly stewed in his poverty. However, Heita didn’t get this father image in his little boy’s heart. Instead, it arose from his mother’s accusations, which she repeated daily and under the influence of his surroundings. He still remembered his earliest childhood. His family’s dilapidated house had stood on the capital’s outskirts, Kyoto, the seat of the palace of the Japanese emperor, called the tenno, in the Imadegawa district. Nobody repaired the roof for more than ten years, and it was no longer rainproof. The house’s residents never cut the grass in the garden, and the father and mother quarreled constantly in this house. Nevertheless, the parents had four children: Kiyomori, then the second son, Tsunemori, and two more sons.

On top of that, this father was tired of serving in the court and only appeared at the court of the former emperor Toba or in his majesty’s guard once Toba called him. His only income was the rice harvest from the state land allotted to him in Ise province; apart from that, there was no income, not even occasional gifts or special bonuses by the court.

As he grew older, Kiyomori finally began to understand the reason for his father’s behavior. Kiyomori suspected that the cause of his parents’ quarrels was the family’s financial situation and his parents’ different backgrounds.

Tadamori often said to Kiyomori that his mother could talk like a waterfall. Kiyomori overheard his mother repeatedly accuse Tadamori: “You keep blaming me for daring to contradict you, my honorable husband. You continually pull a fearsome face in doing so, but I wouldn’t know you to be a respectable husband. After all, you grew up in the countryside with your Taira family, your family’s ancestral home, so you are still comfortable in this dirt and poverty. But I grew up here in the capital. My relatives are noble court servants at His Majesty’s court and belong to the most powerful Fujiwara family. Members of my family are allowed to enter the High Hall, you hear. I, however, must live under this perforated roof all year round. The rain drips in. I have only mashed potatoes and millet to eat and am not even allowed to attend the moon festival in the fall. I cannot attend the cherry blossom festival in the palace when spring comes, either. I didn't imagine my future to be living in this misery every day. I almost think that cockroaches have a better life than I do. Oh, how unhappy I am! If I didn’t have the children, I wouldn’t be willing to continue this life.” But that was only the beginning. As long as Tadamori remained silent, her rebuke and regrets found no end.

When Kiyomori heard this accusation from his mother, he asked himself, “What on earth is she trying to say? What is she begging heaven and gods for? What is she complaining about to my father?” Kiyomori could not listen to her nagging and, according to his understanding, summed up his mother’s discontent thus:

First, his mother scolded his father, saying that her husband was lazy and unable to finance the household. He had no skills at all except sitting at home and eating. Second, she complained that contact with her Fujiwara family had broken off as a natural consequence of his laziness. She was ashamed to attend the festivals of the five seasons and the occasional celebrations at court. Although she was born into a family for whom a splendid life was possible, Tadamori had ruined her life as an upper-class woman. Not belonging to the noble society pained her the most. Moreover, her arguments with her husband often ended with, “If only the children had not been born!” 

This last, constantly repeated saying of the mother stabbed deeply into the young, not adult heart of Kiyomori. It hurt him terribly in a strange way and made him sad. He often cried bitterly. When he was sixteen or seventeen years old, he observed his mother with more mature eyes than was usual at his age and tried to put himself in his mother’s heart:

“What would my mom do if the kids weren’t around?”

Kiyomori thought, “My mother regrets marrying my father. If the situation allowed it, she would separate from him immediately. After the divorce, she wanted to return to a rich and splendid world, even though it was already too late for that. As she has told repeatedly, she wants to admire the full moon, adorn herself with flowers, ride in an ox-drawn carriage, and flirt with seductive men like an officer or a civil servant, just as the aristocratic women in her family do. She wants to enjoy her life, like the women in the novel ‘The Story of Prince Genji.’ Otherwise, she cannot die. It would not have been worthwhile for her to have been born a woman.”

So, his mother had her tantrums from time to time.

It was a great misfortune for the children that they could not rely on their mother unconditionally and had to be constantly alert to watch what she would do.

Kiyomori then wondered, “What? Are we children that much in her way? She should leave the house herself! But what's wrong with my father? Why does he tolerate her nagging? I can't take it anymore. Damn it! To hell with the Fujiwara clan! I can't understand my father. He puts up with such snootiness from my mother just because she has relatives in the Fujiwara family. My father has no courage. After all, people talk that our one-eyed father only obeys his wife because she is pretty.”

Kiyomori, whose age was already approaching his 20th year, felt his pride hurt. Usually, children tended to cling to their mothers, but in his family, it was the other way around. The third and fourth brothers, who were still too young to understand everything, and the youngest child, still breastfed by his mother, clung to his mother. But the second oldest brother, Tsunemori, who was calm by nature, looked at his mother’s lips with cold, hateful eyes as soon as she became hysterical.


It was precisely in such situations that it appeared to him that the father was not living up to his role as husband. He sat silently and endured his wife’s criticism as if he had been born to be humiliated by his wife. He lowered his half-closed eye and furrowed his brow so strikingly that he had been given his nickname “one-eyed Mr. Tadamori” because of it. He looked at his fists on his knees.

His face was covered with pimples, and he was one-eyed - as his epithet implied - but in the prime manhood of forty and a little over. So, his father was an ugly man. Even Kiyomori, as his son, felt that way.

On the other hand, the mother was a beauty. She looked like a twenty-year-old woman. It was understandable that people doubted whether she was even the mother of five children. Despite her poverty, she permanently attached great importance to her outward appearance. The house servants could not look away when the children cried out with hunger and got them something to eat. On the other hand, the house lady did not care that old bamboo from the house fence and wooden boards from the house floor were torn out to be burned in the kitchen. Her little children ran around crying in wet diapers in clothes blackened by sweat and dirt. She had a living room that no one, not even her husband, could enter. When she got up in the morning, she opened her brightly painted cosmetic box coated with wood varnish and the mirror. When evening came, she took a bath to clean her skin. Sie surprised the servants with her beautiful costumes.

“I am going to visit my relative, Mr. Nakamikado, and ask his forgiveness for not letting me see him for a long time,” she said.

She dressed elegantly, as noble women used to go out, strolled to the nearest oxcart owner, and took an oxcart there.

“She’s a vixen. That beauty.”

Thus, even the house servants talked about her behind her back. The old servant Mokunosuke Iesada, who served in the house from childhood and whose hair had begun to turn gray by now, would often see the children's mother leaving the house with his all-bearing eyes while carrying a crying child on his back. On such an evening, the house residents always heard him singing a lullaby as he walked around the horse stable.

At such moments, Tadamori remained leaning against a black pillar, closed his eyes, and gave himself to his thoughts.

Kiyomori’s younger brother, Tsunemori, was diligent and eager to learn. Most of the time, he continued reading his book at the table as if none mattered to him. Tsunemori, like Kiyomori, became a student of the Kangakuin Academy at an early age, but Kiyomori no longer attended. He should learn at least one science; his father occasionally admonished his son Kiyomori. But when Kiyomori looked at the current situation of samurai in society or thought about his family, studying the works of Confucius seemed silly. Then, he had no desire to learn. He would imitate his father’s laziness, lean back cheekily at his desk, and talk to his younger brother about the horse race on the Kamo River or the neighbor's wives. If his brother ignored him, he would look at the ceiling, pick his nose, and pick up dirt. Or he would suddenly jump up, go to the practice field behind the house for archery, and draw his bow. Or he would get his horse out of the stable and ride until he returned drenched in sweat. This behavior showed that he did not have much discipline.

Kiyomori’s mother was an unusual woman. His father was also an unique man. Only the second son, Tsunemori, took life somewhat seriously. But the most important man and the family’s heir, Kiyomori, was somehow different. If one were to think about this family today, it would give one a headache. One would suddenly realize that the family was composed of noisy people, all of whom would cause infinite concern in today’s society. However, the family tribe called Taira, also known as Heike, from Ise province united many personalities of extraordinary, famous stature. Taira was one of the most renowned warrior tribes, with only a few remaining. It belonged to a middle-ranking social class, and the tribe members lived in a corner of the capital for several generations. There would be many more generations of sons and grandchildren, just as potatoes grew in the field behind the house. But Kiyomori did not yet know what place he would take in the family tree and what fate awaited him. Only one thing was sure: his young life was still unspoiled and healthy.


Kiyomori immediately guessed the purpose of his errand that day. He had seen through that he should borrow money from his relatives again. Such errands were common. It was always the same relative, his father’s only younger brother, Tadamasa Taira, to whom his father sent him. He belonged to the samurai guard of the ministry of defense. His father always turned to this brother when he urgently needed money.

In those New Year days of the third year of the Hoen era (1138), Kiyomori’s mother caught a cold. Her cold was so severe that she had to stay in bed. She ordered the court physician to come and buy her expensive medicine. She complained that her bedspread was too heavy and the food they served her was unsuitable for a sick person. As always, her selfishness caused great trouble for the whole family. They had almost been able to forget the poverty in which the family found itself last year, but now, due to the mother's illness, a shortage of money caught the house's inhabitants again like a cold snowwind. The wages and expensive valuables that Tadamori had received from the tenno as a reward for his victory over the pirates the year before last, the mother had gradually squandered. Now, there was nothing left. The previous few days, they did not have enough porridge for breakfast and dinner. Tadamori, who found it difficult to write pleading letters because he always had to do it for the same occasion, sheepishly said to Kiyomori:

“Heita, I’m sorry every time I have to send you. Please go to your uncle!”

That’s how Kiyomori ended up running this errand.

In itself, he did not mind. He could bear the visit to his uncle to borrow money. But when he wanted to leave the house, he had to listen to the sentence so often: “Heita, don’t hang around in Little Salt Lane on your way home!” He did not like this one sentence at all.

“We young people are also allowed to have a little fun. I’m sorry that I’m turning twenty this spring and my family is so poor that I have no money to go out. Instead, I must borrow money at my uncle's house.”

He had to console himself. “The fact that I think like that shouldn’t be cheeky at all,” Kiyomori said on the way and continued walking.


“You’re back already, Heita!”

His uncle Tadamasa read his father’s letter, put it on the floor, and made an angry face. Nevertheless, he gave him everything the letter asked for. Later, however, his wife came and said:

“Why don’t you go borrow money from your mother’s relatives? Your mother has influential family members such as Mr. Fujiwara, a civil servant, and Mr. Nakamikado. They are all noble lords, which your mother is so proud of. Tell your father that!”

So, the aunt began, enumerating many old stories to insult his parents. It is the worst thing for children to hear someone drag their parents through the mud and endure this humiliation. Kiyomori also began to cry.

But Kiyomori could see that his uncle and family did not have it easy either. Both the court of the emperor (called Tenno) and the court of the former tenno began a reorganization of the guard and the samurai department. They hired so many new warriors. However, these samurai were employed only for their strength in arms and courageous character. The nobles of the Fujiwara family talked about these public enslaved people only as one spoke of guard dogs, describing the characteristics of dog breeds such as the Kyushuinu or the Tosainu. Of course, the court prohibited samurai from entering the High Hall like other nobles. The state awarded samurai their lands as salary, but these were outside the capital and were remote hillsides or undeveloped lands. The Taira family and the Minamoto family were referred to as “underground people” during this period. Crop yields from state lands were often meager, supplemental income was non-existent, and poverty was not uncommon among samurai.




The cold February wind was called “the first east wind.” And because people imagined it would soon be spring when the first east wind blew, they felt it all the more as piercingly cold.

“Oh, I’m ravenous. This cold is also from my empty stomach.”

Neither his uncle nor his aunt had offered him anything to eat. Now, it came in handy for him. He wanted to leave his uncle’s house as quickly as he tried to fly. He never wanted to run such an errand again, even if he had to be a beggar. As he walked back down the path, he became angry about the visit to his uncle and aunt:

“It is a pity that even I, Kiyomori, burst into tears in front of them. They probably misunderstood me to mean that I would have cried with joy because we got the money we desperately needed. If so, it is very annoying.”

His eyes were still swollen. He was ashamed that people noticed he had been crying when they turned to look at him closely on the street. However, people noticed not his dirty face, blurred by tears, but the rags the young Kiyomori wore. He had on a rumpled hitatare (the simple clothing of a samurai) and an undergarment on which the thick layer of dirt was already shining. Even tramps at the gate Rashomon did not put on such dirty clothes. What kind of people would he be mistaken for if he took the sword from his waist? His rice straw sandals and leather socks looked like he had stepped in a puddle or a rice field. His official hat, eboshi, which all samurai wore and whose black lacquer coating was already peeling off, sat crookedly on his head.

Kiyomori, by the way, was small and corpulently built. His head was disproportionately large compared to his height. His ears, nose, mouth - everything was carved large on him. These external features were what made his face special. Along his thick eyebrows, the corners of his eyes tapered rather narrowly and fell downward, making his facial expression slightly smirking. Thus, his face fortunately saved him from a cruelty-inducing impression of a strange-looking little man.

In contrast, his skin was pale. His large earlobes looked crimson and glowed like blood were dripping from them. These were among his beautiful physical features despite his different appearance.

Therefore, people wondered and asked, “To what family does this young gentleman belong?” “What office does he hold in the capital?” Kiyomori had a bad habit and often walked around in the street with his hands in his breast pocket. His behavior was not at all proper for a son from a good family. He never acted like that in front of his father, but outside his bad habit came out again. This wrong manner was undoubtedly due to the influence of the people who frequented Little Salt Lane.

“I won’t be stopping by Little Salt Lane today. I own a lot of money we regretfully borrowed for our household.”

He was afraid that he would lose his self-control. Kiyomori already suspected that the attraction that Little Salt Lane exerted on him began to appeal powerfully to his drive. His reason was thus displaced from deep within him by his desire. He knew that he naturally had a weak will and that his will would not conquer his vices.

But when he came to the corner of Little Salt Lane, he could not hold back. From the opening of a narrow little alley, the lukewarm fragrance that his sensory organs loved so much flowed over him, and he immediately laughed at his previously sworn restraint.

“Something is going on here, as usual!”

In Little Salt Lane, for example, an old woman was grilling and selling pheasant legs and skewers of small birds. Next to her, another man had a giant barrel of sake standing at the edge of the alley but was drinking along with himself, singing under the influence of alcohol, and still selling his sake well, which was his main business. Or a little girl sat motionless in the shade in the market, hugging a basket of citrus fruits on her knee. One continued to see a wooden sandal seller or father and son of a cobbler. People said that in this corner, there were over a hundred stalls with various goods on the shelves, where people offered dried fish, old clothes, and all sorts of trifles to sell them and earn little money for their poor households.

They were, without exception, people engaged in many kinds of gainful activities. These people were similar to weeds that grew under the soil of the upper class's ostentatious society by being kicked and discouraged by the ruling aristocracy and were, therefore, pitiful, miserable creatures. On the other hand, when one saw these individual human souls trying to take root, survive, and get along in this squalor, the terrible struggle for survival seemed to outsmart reason and decency. Smoke from a kitchen fire where people were grilling and cooking befogged the mysterious black crowd that lived in Little Salt Lane. From next door, the shouting of card players pierced Kiyomori's ears on the street. The giggles of indecent women, the cries of infants, the drumming of street dancers, and other inexplicable smells and sounds were everywhere. There was the only paradise that ordinary people proudly possessed according to their social rank, in contrast to the culture of the aristocratic class under the eternal domination of the tenno. The market was the flowery capital of the people and the underground people. It was only because of this that Kiyomori's father told him not to approach such places under any circumstances.

But Kiyomori wanted this place. He liked the people who came and went there. On the west side of the market, from time to time, under a big Japanese hackberry tree, there was a thieves’ market called “the market of weeds” or “the market of grass.” Even this market Kiyomori found amusing. He talked to himself:

“People shout that robbers or burglars are raging in the capital. But when the robbers have something to eat, they live peacefully with the citizens. Evil people are not here. Surely, the bad ones are in the world above the clouds. On the mount Hieizan, in the temple Onjoji, or Nara, many evil Buddhists wear their clothes with gold threads woven into them.” Kiyomori soon found himself swept along by the crowd. He peered in here, stood there, drifted about, forgetting the time until evening came.

At “the market of grass,” no one could be seen hawking their stuff that day. It was instead a going out day of the thieves. People see red lanterns and bouquets under the Japanese hackberry tree. The smoke of incense sticks rose in the dusk. Women who looked like dancers and lowly prostitutes gradually flocked to the Japanese hackberry tree to pray.

A mistress of a great robber named Yasunosuke Hakamadare had previously lived there. At this place now stood this big Japanese hackberry tree, so they said. From this, the superstition arose at some point that a prostitute could transfer the dream of a secret love to her beloved man or that she could pray love rivals ill if she highly revered this hackberry tree. The women declared the seventh day of each month a day of going out because the great robber had died in prison on June 7, the second year of the Eien era (988). Many people, such as the young thieves of “the market of weeds” and various women, made pilgrimages there. Therefore, “the market of the grass” was always crowded.

The great robber had been born in a family of a fourth-rank civil servant and had committed the worst deeds, such as arsons, robberies, and murders. This man, feared by the world with the evil name of Hakamadare, had died a hundred years ago. Nevertheless, he had exemplified to the descendant world a kind of will of resistance of the people against the Fujiwara rule.

The disturbance caused by the great robber was a social event in those days when the most potent regent, Michinaga Fujiwara, also called Lord Hojoji, was still alive and when the despotism of the Fujiwara clan was at its peak. “This world, I think, is mine” was how this regent expressed his self-aggrandizement in a poem. The great robber embodied the people’s feelings towards the all-powerful regent in his person and won many resistance battles against the ruler. That is why the petty bourgeois of that time could praise him despite his crimes. And that is why somebody still lighted incense there as long as the power of the Fujiwara family lasted. One can also interpret the superstition of the weak as a modified form of their longing for justice. Kiyomori thought:

“I, too, have the same need for justice in me. It’s in my blood, similar to the great robber.”

The red lanterns under the hackberry tree seemed to Kiyomori like a hint of his future, and this thought gave him the creeps. Therefore, he was about to leave the hackberry tree, but suddenly, a voice came from somewhere:

“Hey, Heita from Ise province! What have you been looking at all this time? Have you been looking at the faces of the women who make pilgrimages to the hackberry tree?”

In the dusk, he could not see so well who it was. While he was still standing there startled, the other one stretched out his arms to Kiyomori. He grabbed Kiyomori’s shoulders and shook them so hard that his neck wobbled back and forth.

“Oh, you're Morito!”

“Of course. You can’t forget a Morito Endo. What’s the matter with you? You look like a maniac.”

“Really? Are my eyelids still swollen?”

“Did you flee your house again because your beautiful mother and one-eyed father fought?”

“No. My mother is sick and has to stay in bed.”

“She’s sick?” Morito smiled coolly.

The two were classmates at the Kangakuin Academy. Kiyomori was only a year younger, but Morito was far more mature than Kiyomori during the academy years. He could not come close to keeping up with Morito in his studies. Professor Dr. Monjo considered Morito to be an excellent mind and future talent.

“Hahaha. I may seem rude to you. But her illness is more likely a disease of whimsy or indulgence, wouldn’t you, Heita? Don’t be sad! Let’s go for a drink somewhere instead!”

“Something to drink?”

“Yes, of course! Lady Gion remains Lady Gion of old, even if she has become the mother of many children. It’s as simple as that.”

“Morito, who are you talking about? Who is this Lady Gion?”

“Don't you know what your mother was before?”

“No, I don't. You want to claim that you know?”

“Yes. If you want to hear about it, I’ll tell you. Anyway, come with me! The one-eyed gentleman’s fate is that he married your mother, but young Heita must not let his youth wither. For a long time, I have felt it was my concern. Don’t be a crybaby! Don’t let this woman get you down!”

Morito patted Kiyomori on the back once more, as if to frighten him, and preceded him into the dark alley.  


Kiyomori’s birth


The house where Kiyomori slept that night had no walls. Movable wooden boards separated the rooms, and old cloths hung as curtains at the entrances of some rooms. Instead of two-piece wooden doors usually seen in corner rooms in ordinary houses, there were only straw mats. Even a person with sound sleep could not continue to sleep peacefully in this house because of the noise from the next room. During a nightly celebration, people beat a hand drum and a clay pot, singing naughty songs loudly. The whole house would suddenly shake now and then as if someone's bum was falling to the floor. Somewhere in a room, one could hear men and women laughing loudly.

“Well, shame! What time is it?”

Kiyomori woke up late at night in a room of this house and was immediately very embarrassed. Next to him lay a woman. This house was a brothel in the Toin district on the Sixth Jo. He had gone there together with Morito.

Kiyomori spoke to himself, “What should I do? Well, I have to go home first of all. How am I supposed to explain this at home? I can already see my father’s face. My mother’s scolding is already roaring in my ears. Luckily, I haven’t yet spent all the money we borrowed from my uncle yet. Yes, I’ll go straight home.” So, Kiyomori slowly stood up.

At this, he noticed that Morito was not to be seen and said, “But whether Morito will continue to celebrate?”

He climbed over the woman's chest next to him so as not to step on her black hair, which lay on the floor. Through a hole in a wooden board, through which a beam of light came in, he saw the noisy celebration from next door. In the room, whose floor the brothel owner covered with simple wooden boards and which was otherwise empty, a burning pine wood on a fire bowl shone as illumination. Three to four monks from some temple held some prostitutes on their knees or in their arms with grim faces. Several empty sake jugs lay overturned.

Kiyomori thought to himself, “Oh, he’s already gone. He left me here alone, that Morito.”

He hurried even more now, realizing that Morito had left him sitting alone. He put on the ragged clothes he had worn when he came here, quickly tucked his sword into the obi belt of the hitatare at his waist, and frantically searched for the exit of the house, feeling his way out in the darkness along the room’s partitions. It was dark, and he was embarrassed. He felt some object on the tip of his foot and left a metallic sound as he went out, but he did not look back and fled from the exit of the house.

Thereupon, the monks all shouted for Kiyomori, who had jumped up startled by the noise:

“Stop, stop!”

“What an impertinent fellow is he? He knocked over a stranger’s long halberd and walked out with broad shoulders. Hey, wait, that little guy!”

When he turned around, he heard not only loud insults. He also saw the flashing blades of the long halberds directly in front of him. They were probably well-trained, strong monks from Mount Hieizan or elsewhere, against whom one could not win. They were indescribably agile, like the hands of a death demon. Kiyomori’s intoxication with alcohol was immediately gone. He immediately shook off the pleasant memory of the evening's fun and the ruminations afterward and fled in the evening breeze.

He came to a dilapidated wall where the grass growing through had dried up and then to an eerie house gate whose supporting beams hung askew. Kiyomori realized he had arrived home and shuddered with fear.

“It’s an awkward situation. What do I say? What do I tell my father?”

Just that evening, he detested his mother more than his father, of whom he was afraid because of that evening. He was infinitely annoyed with his mother, so now he didn’t even like hearing her voice.

Usually, under such circumstances, he would ask his mother to join him in asking his father for forgiveness. But now, especially toward his mother, a feeling of defiance arose in him. He looked up at the crumbling wall and felt crushed with loneliness. He noticed that his sideburns were trembling unusually. Temperamental outbursts of emotion were his nature. Kiyomori felt that heated blood bubbling in his large brain was not easy to control.

“It might have been better not to know my mother’s background. I would have been better off not meeting Morito and not knowing the truth.”

The regret instilled him with remorse. But also, the memory of how he had partied drunk with Morito and the women came back in fragments. It was even more difficult to forget the woman he had left in the brothel room. She had worn her black hair unkempt and moved her four limbs at will according to his desire. It was not a question of whether she was beautiful or ugly. He wondered about the lovely ecstasy he had first encountered at age twenty. And he also asked about the rapture he had experienced for the first time in his life. “Does it mean that I have met the naked skin of a woman, as they so often say?” This sweet memory constantly captured his mind. Somehow, he felt refreshed and realized his body had become as light as burnt-out ashes.

Kiyomori was afraid “I wonder if my body still smells like women.”

He hesitated for a while to go into the house because of this fear. But soon, he jumped over the wall into the place. Kiyomori said, “Why am I torn with a feeling of guilt just this evening? After all, this is the familiar wall I always jump over after my evening exits.” As usual, his feet landed on the ground in the field behind the horse barn.

Then he heard a voice: “Oh, young master. Mr. Heita, isn't it?”

“Oh, my old man.”

Kiyomori unconsciously grabbed his hair and stood upright on the spot.

The old man Kiyomori called this was the senior servant, Mokunosuke Iesada. Other than his father, the only other person Kiyomori felt any reverence for was this loyal servant. He had served in this house since before Kiyomori was born and was so old that he had lost two or three front teeth. This man quite firmly maintained the household constitution of a samurai family, no matter how much anyone laughed at his lord for incompetence or for being the head of the poor Taira tribes. The old servant never violated the respect of the lord, never loosened the form of speech, let alone let his loyal deeds be lacking.

“How are you doing? The lights in the city don’t stay on until this late hour, do they?”

While Mokunosuke returned to Kiyomori’s hands the latter’s old eboshi, which had fallen to the ground and rolled away, the old man looked carefully at the young master's appearance as if sniffing him.

Mokunosuke said, “Although the great lord sent me to bed, I could not fall asleep because I was infinitely worried about you. Whether, for God’s sake, you would not have gotten into a fight. That’s why I’m rejoicing. Welcome home, welcome home!”

Mokunosuke seemed to have regained his composure and rejoiced in Kiyomori's return. He showed his narrow, relieved eyes.

“I wonder if my father is already asleep or still awake. What is my mother doing?” Kiyomori’s concern focused only on that. Mokunosuke, on the other hand, reassured him without waiting for his question.

“Come on! Don’t worry about your father! Go to bed without being noticed! Go quietly to your bedroom!”

Kiyomori was still unsure, “Doesn’t it matter, dude, if I don’t report back to my father in the living room?”

The servant comforted him, “Tomorrow morning, I will check on his mood, and if the opportunity is favorable, I will join you in asking his forgiveness.”

Kiyomori added, “Still. He must have been angry because I'm coming home late, right?”

Mokunosuke confessed, “Certainly, he seemed upset tonight. Towards evening, he called me in a terrible mood: ‘Stupid guy. Where’s he hanging around? Look for him in Little Salt Lane!’ So, he ordered me to do so. Then I found a clever excuse for you.”

Kiyomori was relieved, “Great! What did you tell him?”

“Please put yourself in my embarrassing position that I, Mokunosuke, had to lie to the great lord. I told your father that you had gone to lie down at your uncle’s house in Horikawa because of the stomachache. If your stomachache subsided, you would come home immediately after dawn. That’s how I answered him.”

Kiyomori was grateful to the old servant for this, “I’m sorry. Forgive me, my old man!”

The white plum tree blossoms next to the horse stable showed indistinct outlines under the night sky and looked like ice drops. Kiyomori contracted his face, stimulated by a cold, spicy plum blossom scent. Then his tears dripped onto the old servant’s shoulder. Unwittingly, Kiyomori hugged the old man. The senior servant had grown stiff with awe and anxiety. Soon, violent waves of excitement beat in his ribs, which resembled scrawny trees. The hot emotional outbursts of Kiyomori, who by nature howled easily and was full of temper, and the feeling of the old servant, who had always carried something hot in his inner heart but remarkably restrained emotional outbursts, acquired a consonance. The two now lost self-control and suddenly began to cry together. Finally, embracing each other and crying loudly as one body, they sat down on the earth.

Mokunosuke was still excited, “My young master. You, you trust this old man so much and think I would support you.” 

Kiyomori told him from his heart: “It is warm, my old man Moku. Your body is the only thing that is warm for me now. I am a lonely winter raven. My mother does not like her children, and my father is another. I am not a biological child of Mr. Tadamori Taira, they say.”

The old servant was horrified, “Wh…what? My young master, from whom did you hear such a thing?”

“I learned for the first time the secrets about my biological father. I heard them tonight from Morito Endo.”

Mokunosuke still couldn’t believe, “Th...that Morito?”

“Morito told me, ‘Listen, Heita of Ise! Your birth father is not the one-eyed lord. None other than the former emperor Shirakawa is your biological father. What a state of affairs it is that you walk around with an empty stomach in such clothes and torn rice straw sandals, even though you were born the son of the tenno!’”

Mokunosuke interrupted him immediately, “Please don’t say that!” He shook his hands, the open palms of which he pointed at Kiyomori’s face as if to cover his mouth. Kiyomori grabbed his wrist, pulled it away from his face, and continued talking:

“There is something else. That’s not all, my old man. You ought to know. Why have you kept this from me until today?”

Kiyomori stared piercingly at the old servant with wide eyes. The old servant was shaking to the bone because his wrist, which Kiyomori was holding, hurt, and he was afraid of Kiyomori’s shining eyes. But Mokunosuke also tried his best:

“Please, please, calm down! I, Mokunosuke, must calmly explain this to you. I don’t know what that Morito from the samurai department told you.”

“Well, Morito also said, ‘If you are not a child of the former emperor Shirakawa, you are probably a child of a certain evil monk of Yasaka. Either a child of the emperor or an evil monk. In any case, it is clear that you are not a biological son of Mr. Tadamori.’”

The old servant was even more horrified: “What? That is not something such an adolescent boy as Morito can know. Everyone says he is stuck-up despite his little scientific talent, that he condescends to everyone, and conversely behaves like a violent man. If you believe such a selfish fellow recklessly, you, my young master, are also reckless.”

Kiyomori was now curious to know more and said, “Well then, explain to me in order with evidence whether this Heita is a child of his majesty Shirakawa or a descendant of an evil monk. Which one is correct? Tell me!”

These were excited words that no longer allowed the old servant to escape with the innocence of an ignorant man. In fact, the face of the honest old servant clearly betrayed the truth that no other third party knew of this fact except him.


Lady Gion


Kiyomori Heita was born in the first year of the Genei era (1118). His father, Tadamori, was twenty-three years old at that time.

Recently, as Kiyomori approached his twentieth year, Tadamori was virtually ridiculed as a typical underground person, even laughed at as a “one-eyed gentleman” or “pathetic Mr. Taira,” and not taken seriously even by relatives of his own family. However, it was not like that in the past.

Tadamori’s father, Masamori, had served three emperors of Japan - Shirakawa, Horikawa, and Toba - and had been considered a samurai who was always aware of his duties and had proved helpful to the rulers. He had enjoyed the deep trust of the emperors. His son Tadamori grew up in splendid surroundings. After the defeat of Yoshiie Minamoto and the samurai of the Minamoto tribe, who were in great favor with the emperor at the time, the emperor gradually recruited the samurai of the Taira tribe into service in the center of Japan. They came to the capital from all over the country. The generations of Masamori and his son, Tadamori, worked out this boom. The former emperor Shirakawa used Masamori and Tadamori as a tool to depose the people of the Minamoto family, whom he disliked. Shirakawa used father and son as a counterweight against the influential monks and the internal struggle against the Fujiwara family. After the throne changed, Shirakawa retained political power and began the so-called “government by the former emperor.” But this malformed new system of politics in the court of the former emperor and the direct personnel decision by the former emperor Shirakawa immediately caused a dispute between the court of the emperor and the court of the former emperor. And these were the two causes of the polarization of the samurai. From then on, the power struggle between the Minamoto and Taira families gradually spread to the rural warrior families. The new political system formed two poles in the warrior class throughout the country: Minamoto and Taira. A fresh political wind was slowly circulating that one could only survive if one chose Minamoto or Taira.

“Do not exercise power lightly and without reason, invoking the Minamoto or the Taira family, for example!”

This instruction and similar prohibitions were given to a new warrior tribe if they wished to join the Minamoto or Taira tribal community. Still, this warning was usually in vain, and the new tribal members abused the power of the tribal leader in favor of their advantage.

After the death of Masamori Taira, his son Tadamori took over as head of the Taira family. The former emperor Shirakawa considered the loyal Tadamori even more important than his father.

For example, the following happened at that time:

A residence of Shirakawa stood at the corner of the Third Jo and West Toin Avenue. From there, the deposed tenno secretly crossed the river Kamogawa to the Gion district occasionally at night. He always had only two companions: Tadamori of the samurai department and his house servant, Mokunosuke Iesada. Of course, this secret walk led to a particular lady. At the same time, the former emperor had already almost reached the age of sixty. Only in the field of love, people said at that time, he was exceptionally spry. People admired his manhood, which functioned despite his old age, as a clear indication of his good health because he also turned to politics with his unsurpassable energy.

As for his love affair, his contemporaries found nothing unusual in the custom of the time for the father of the emperor Horikawa to maintain a mistress outside his palace and visit her occasionally. Men sneaking into women's bed chambers was a habit of life in the society of the time. All noblemen in the Nara and Heian eras did it. Princes, prime ministers, or ministers did not consider such a secret inhumane or dishonorable.

But this private excursion of Shirakawa had another reason for concealment from the public. This secret love was probably of low rank. His beloved was a dancer. This status designation had arisen only immediately before this time. Extraordinary women had always been invited to noblemen’s houses and performed dance music on plucked instruments for entertainment. Still, recently, it became a fashion for such women to wear white men's clothes, an eboshi samurai hat on their heads, a sword with its scabbard at their waist, and dance men’s dances while singing poetry. Thus, a new class in society emerged, whose members were called dancers as a kind of upper-class society ladies.

Where Shirakawa had met this lady was not known. However, four or five of his closest associates in the court had known for a very long time that Shirakawa had built a pretty cottage surrounded by a board fence of Japanese cypress near the Yasaka district and that a beautiful lady from the dancer’s class lived there as His Majesty's secret love, known to the public as the daughter of the Nakamikado family.

Among these people, they gave the lady the temporary name of Lady Gion. Lady and lady-in-the-dress were official terms used for this kind of woman in the palace of the Japanese emperor. Hence, they intentionally attached a place name to it so that it sounded like a retired concubine of the emperor.

It was this Lady Gion. Exactly this lady later became Kiyomori’s mother. She had given birth to Kiyomori for sure. At least, that was indisputable.

But who was Kiyomori’s father? This question was the secret that only she could reveal.

Why did such a simple thing have to be considered a secret? Why did her son Kiyomori have to doubt his origin only twenty years after his birth? This fact itself was an even greater mystery.

However, the essential elements that caused such an uncanny tragedy were nevertheless in the society of that time. One can understand this from the view of modern times as a kind of mold which the beautiful shadow side of the court life had formed naturally. In contrast, the court life had developed into the culture of the Heian era with elegance and delicacy highly. Therefore, according to the tradition and sexual morality of the noble society that ruled for several centuries, this was nothing unusual.


There had been a night shower, which fell to earth together with the leaves of trees. The night rain pattered, shivering on puddles, streams, and forests. Also, on such an evening of an early winter day, Shirakawa came to the house of Lady Gion, accompanied by Tadamori and his servant Mokunosuke. Then, something eerie was brewing. They saw a fluttering red light and a human figure among the trees. The former emperor was startled, stopped on the spot, and screamed:

“Ah! A wicked devil!”

It looked as if a monster with a giant head, wearing a raincoat made of spikes, looked at him and opened its mouth maliciously.

“Tadamori, Tadamori, behead him!”

Shirakawa hurriedly ordered Tadamori with a fearful voice. First, Tadamori’s servant answered with an expelled “Oh!” Tadamori rushed there with his long halberd at his side. He discovered that what looked like a monster was a Yasaka Shrine monk wearing bundled barley straw on his head instead of an umbrella hat. He had just poured oil into the stone lantern and lit lights.

But these three gentlemen went straight into the lady’s house, laughing loudly.

It was still when the upper class and the ordinary people did not doubt the existence of an evil devil, sorceress woman, thunder, or wind god. In any case, the experience of that evening seemed so funny to Shirakawa that his majesty later kept telling his closest associates about the fright of that evening and the funny monk of that rainy night. Shirakawa praised Tadamori’s behavior that night to the utmost each time: “If Tadamori had been a coward, he would certainly have beheaded an innocent monk by mistake.” The deposed tenno related, “Bold and calm like Tadamori - that’s how a samurai must be.”

However, the nobles in the courtyard of the former tenno, who were usually bored, went about their favorite pastime, making speculations and telling stories behind the former emperor's back:

“Well, you can’t believe everything the former emperor says.”

The reasons for this reluctance were as follows: First, the former tenno suddenly stopped going to Lady Gion after that night. Second, Shirakawa gave her to Tadamori as his wife as a reward for his brave act that night, which did seem unusual. Third, Tadamori, who had reverently accepted the lady, had expressed as if he was displeased and not satisfied with it. And Tadamori himself did not say a word to anyone about the monk on the rainy night.

“You may be right,” everyone began to find it funny as they listened to the arguments for doubt. Moreover, there was another fact that justified the suspicion. It was a rumor that Lady Gion, whom Shirakawa had given away to Tadamori and who had entered his house in Imadegawa in a palanquin as a bride, as befitted a lady-in-waiting, had given birth to a boy even before she had been ten months in her new house. That is why the nobles said to themselves about the story with Lady Gion:

“The story about the monk on the rainy night is a tale of the former emperor, right? It's just an official language of those involved.”

“Then what happened?”

Even though the high state officials were so curious, their gazes did not penetrate the depths of the truth. However, they did not inquire further because of their goodwill toward Shirakawa but also out of fear for their position. They realized that the matter involved a severe problem. It was considered prudent among the court nobles that in such a case, the issue should be treated with a friendly smile and pointed eyes but otherwise ignored indifferently.

So, one never found out the truth about the birth of Kiyomori.

In the same samurai department where Tadamori and Kiyomori were employed, there was a man named Mitsuto Endo. He was the uncle of Morito Endo, who was a classmate of Kiyomori.

It was eighteen years after that event in Yasaka that Mitsuto asked his nephew Morito:

“The eldest son, Heita from Ise, is your classmate, isn’t he?”

He told Morito the secret one day:

“I wonder if even now Tadamori wholeheartedly believes his eldest son, Heita Kiyomori, to be the son of the esteemed former tenno Shirakawa. After all, Tadamori reverently took as his wife Lady Gion, whom his majesty Shirakawa loved. When Lady Gion gave birth to Kiyomori, she is said to have been in Imadegawa for less than ten months. If it is so, I feel sorry for him. I recently met a man who also had a clandestine relationship with Lady Gion. He seemed to be about fifty years old but still lives in an old temple in the Yasaka district. They say about this Kakunen of Yasaka - the man’s name - that he is a well-known evil monk. This monk himself says that he is the real father of Kiyomori.”

“What, is it true?” Morito inquired of his uncle with particular interest because Kiyomori was a good school friend of his and Kiyomori was said to be possibly a secret son of Shirakawa.

“Respected uncle, have you heard about this directly from the mouth of Kakunen?”

“Yes, we drank sake together at a certain place,” Morito’s uncle confirmed.

“I’m surprised at that. Really!”

His uncle added, “I was also shocked by this. Even an evil monk would not tell such a lie. His story sounded compelling.”

The story of the rainy night that the classmate’s uncle had heard from Monk Kakunen contained a few more details. The monk Kakunen would have described it to Mitsuto Endo as follows:

He, Kakunen of Yasaka, who once happened to catch sight of the lady of Gion through the fence, was seized by a strong desire to get to know her better, he told. However, he could not simply approach her because she was the mistress of the former tenno. In this house, surrounded by a cypress fence, his majesty Shirakawa had a love affair with a lowly woman. However, the monk, dreamed of a woman above his station and therefore pursued her from morning till night. Finally, his true nature as an evil monk overcame him, and he was able to satisfy his longing through violence. The former monarch rarely came there. The house was only a few steps away from Kakunen’s temple.

On top of that, the former emperor Shirakawa was soon sixty years old, while Kakunen was a monk in his thirties. Moreover, he was a good-looking man, he claimed himself. Kakunen thought it was evident in the case of Lady Gion which of the two she was more attracted to. He believed she spent her nights wandering back and forth between the two instincts of the physical drive and the heart. Then, that night came the shower. On such a rainy night, the former tenno would certainly not appear, Kakunen thought. He relaxed his usual caution, signaled at the front gate of Lady Gion, and was about to go to the house unnoticed. At that moment, his majesty Shirakawa who arrived unhappily discovered him. The evil monk was suspected of being an unwanted intruder in the house of Lady Gion but just saved himself from the samurai of his majesty and got out of this unique danger in his life with a black eye.

Mitsuto had heard the story about the monk from Yasaka.

If anyone didn’t pluck this claim of the mouth of the evil monk out of the air, the question arose whose son Kiyomori was, who was born afterward in Tadamori’s house, even before Lady Gion had been with Tadamori for ten months.

Mitsuto Endo did tell this story to his nephew Morito, but at the same time forbade him to be indiscreet, adding sternly:

“Don’t talk to anyone about this secret!”

Morito had not revealed this story to anyone until the time he met Kiyomori at Little Salt Lane. Only when he saw Heita Kiyomori in unsightly clothes walking on Little Salt Lane again by chance after a long time he forgot his uncle’s prohibition and could no longer keep the story to himself. In addition, there was a typical idea of Morito that he would like to encourage Heita Kiyomori. So, he had specially invited Kiyomori to a jug of sake and told him about this secret about his origin.


“My old man. Hey, Mokunosuke! I know everything now. It’s not worth hiding anything anymore. A long time ago - that is, twenty years ago - on that shower night, you must have seen it with your own eyes. Is the story of Morito false or true? Or whose son am I? Tell me, please! My old Mokunosuke! Please tell me, this Heita Kiyomori, the naked truth! If you answer me, I’ll have to think about my blood and the future of my life. Please, I beg you now. Here, I kneel on the ground.”


Someone had recently heard the voices of the two from the shadows of the horse stable. But when the voices stopped, all one could hear was the slurping sound of nasal snorts. Nobody heard any word of the old servant Already, one felt a breaking of the clouds in the east, while from the edge of the roof, there was a whiff of the peach blossom aroma. A brief moment of morning chill shook the bones of the two vigorously.