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Tale of the Heike

Learn about the famous samurai story, the Tale of the Heike and hear an excerpt from the tale. This video include artworks from the Asian Art Museum's collection. Learn more about the Tale of the Heike..

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Video transcript

the tale of the hay que is among Japan's most celebrated epochs loosely based on the game pay Wars of 1182 1185 it concerns the intrigue and battles of an era when military clans fought for control of the imperial government at the heart of the story is the competition between the two most powerful military clans of the time the Taira and the Minamoto before the 14th or 15th century roaming storytellers would recount popular scenes from this epoch such as the famous depth of Otsu mori of the Taira clan at this point in the story the Taira are losing the war a teaching Otani the Minamoto charged over the cliffs and launched a surprise attack on the Taira many Tyrel were killed those Tyra's still standing were retreating towards the sea Otsu Mori a quart Noble is almost safely to the boats Otsu Mori plays the flute a symbol of refinement and purity during the dark days of battle the powerful Minamoto general Kumagai now Sanae spots at samuri retreating and demands he turn around and fight to honor his clan now imagine that you're listening to a storyteller in an outdoor market or in the village square you might have heard something like this - powerful warrior clans the Taira and the Minamoto fight for control of Japan the Taira may powerful by the old Emperor through blood ties and favored one the first battles but by the fourth year of the war the Minamoto had kicked the Taira out of the capital city and we're chasing them to the sea it was time to retreat the Taira women grabbed up the six-year-old Emperor and with full sleeves flying ran for the waiting ships samurai were cut down some drowned as boats overturned and the water was red with the die of the downed red banners and bodies of the Taira nails on I was having a good battle the Taira were on the run and he spotted a lone rider with a billowing red cape and rich armor splashing through the water heading to a ship that must be a commander and he snapped out his war fan and said you stop and fight me and the rider as one did when challenged turned his horse around in charge nails on it but the experienced warrior soon had the rider unhorsed nails on he left down put his knee on the chest of the Fallen samurai lifted his sword with one hand and ripped off the helmet with another and then he saw the face of a 17 year old youth it was a good-looking young man but it was the glow of youth that he shared with nails on his own son that stopped a man youth put up his chin and said I will not give you my name but if you do cut off my head show it to anyone and they will tell you who I am nails on a had his rich prize but the sudden image of the wound on his son's arm stalked him and he said young one I would spare you but you can hear my riders are coming and you should not be taken alive I will say prayers for you then take my head and do it quickly nails on I blinked hard looking for the right place to take it cleanly it was one blow where nails on a unloose the boy's armor so that he could wrap the head respectfully in the cloth undercoat a flute fell out into his hand we know the rest two more battles and the Taira are vanquished after the ritual suicides after the executions after the extermination of the children the Taira are no more the tale of the hey cane has been told for almost a thousand years it is a story of courage and crimes artistry and spirit and some say it is also a prayer for the dead this tragic confrontation with the young flute player left the general nazan a devastated he eventually gave up his life as a powerful warrior to become a Buddhist monk this message of the impermanence of life and futility of war is woven throughout the tale of the hay que which is told from the perspective of the Taira who ultimately lost the Minamoto clan went on to rule and founded the Kamakura Shogunate hundreds of years later during the peaceful Edo period the story became a popular subject in art for samurai patrons this screen at the Asian Art Museum shows a typical representation of the tale of the hey Kay I think there's a in pulse to take it as a fairly factual historical record because it was written down so close to the actual events but there are definitely exaggerations in the tale itself and I think one of the biggest ones that a lot of historians would point out is this idea of of the gem pay Wars as the sort of huge clash between these two Titanic parties overall of Japan I think there's definitely a current of people now who would say that the game pay wars were not actually Wars so much as a series of skirmishes and their effect they did set into motion changes that were consequential but their immediate effect was actually not that large the tale of the hay que has proven to be timeless and continues to be a source of inspiration for various art forms including manga television and movies you you you you you