Review: The Tale of the Heike, 2014

The tail of the Heike is an epic war tale that describes the battles of two clans in the late 12th century in Japan. At this time, two opposing families were fighting for power. The first was Genji, and the name of the second was Heike, after whom the fairy tale is named. This story tells about losses, loyalty, and love during an unprecedented war. The focus is on the brutal ruler Heike and his actions to maintain his position. Moreover, the story tells about what happened between the two great warring clans and the relationship between people during the battles.

The tail of the Heike demonstrates the Japanese people in this story as cruel ones in the face of Heike. Tyler reports that the author of this story “tells of a tyrant’s cruelty and overweening pride, his death, and the ultimate destruction of his house” (19).1 The people faced both tragic historical events and brilliant victories. The Japanese were intense people who lived in despair because of the bloodshed. Moreover, the people, according to Tyler, experienced “the exiled Shunkan’s despair, the burning of the great temples of Nara, Yoshitsune’s dazzling victory at Ichi-no-tani, and Nasu no Yoichi’s exploit at Yashima” (19).2 The Japanese obeyed the authorities’ demands and their rulers without question; they were loyal and believed in the justice of their superiors. Furthermore, Tyler reports that “For centuries they had supported the central government militarily” (24).3 This attitude was reflected in all areas of their lives, and loyalty is also shown in their social structure. That is very similar to the present time, where coolness and diligence still overwhelm the Japanese people.

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The phrase that the prosperous inevitably falls into decline illuminates one of the central themes of this narrative. It carries with it the idea that nothing lasts forever, just like kingship and power in the same hands. Therefore, the rulers in history are still changing; despite all the cruelty, they clung to power. The modern Japanese view of such impermanence in the world helps them perceive the changes taking place around them more calmly. Similarly, this topic is one of the morals that teach people to accept the changes around them in cold blood. That is a very important moral that I want to adopt in life actively.

With the introduction of the main characters, the story humanizes the war, not glorifies it. Thus, readers see the suffering of those persons who are close to them in spirit or to whom they sympathize. For example, in one part of the story, Tyler writes, “Avoid crossing him, and be kind to all.” (79).4 Simultaneously, drawing a comparison with the literature describing the history of the Vikings or Arabian shows that their exploits are praised much more than the sensitive human image. Interestingly, the language in which the story was written was a mixture of Japanese and Chinese, which educated monks only spoke in those days. As Tyler states, this tale is “a popular retelling of the tale” (19).5 This work is a long-term retelling of people’s events that occurred during the 12th century.

This story is a description of the events of a time when cruelty could be praised. It does not carry the meaning of changes in society but rather a description of what should never be repeated in the future. The most interesting thing in this story is how the relations of people and different generations are reflected, the relations between adults and children, between the aristocracy and their vassals. This book has a tremendous educational value for students, as it hides the meaning that cruelty will not be able to protect or save from the changes taking place in the world. Moreover, its entertainment value and clarity will help students become even more interested in the history of Japan, and writing style will involve them even more in understanding the culture.

Reference

Tyler, Royall. 2014. The Tale of the Heike. New York: Penguin Books.

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Footnotes

  1. Royall Tyler, The Tale of the Heike (New York: Penguin Books, 2014), 19.
  2. Royall Tyler, The Tale of the Heike (New York: Penguin Books, 2014), 19.
  3. Royall Tyler, The Tale of the Heike (New York: Penguin Books, 2014), 24.
  4. Royall Tyler, The Tale of the Heike (New York: Penguin Books, 2014), 79.
  5. Royall Tyler, The Tale of the Heike (New York: Penguin Books, 2014), 19.

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