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  • Butterfly (1889)
  • Yamada Bimyō
    Translated by Nicholas Albertson (bio)

I have written this short work of historical fiction in response to an invitation to contribute to a supplementary publication of The Nation's Friend. I can honestly say I did my best with this work, and it is not at all like my ordinary treacle. Without any excuse that it is just a story written in haste or some such thing, I can only say that it shows the limitations of my skill as a writer, and I shall fully accept whatever reviews it gets, good or bad. Besides, the two headliners Harunoya [Tsubouchi Shōyō] and [Morita] Shiken are waiting in the wings. It is often said, "Comparison is what brings out the value of things." Well, perhaps sampling a bit of this and that before a glorious feast will whet the appetite. Indeed, here you will find the truth of the saying—dreadful as it may be—that the first in gets the best seat in head-to-head composition.1

The drama takes place in the days following the fall of the Heike at Dan-no-ura. Now, there are many theories that Emperor Antoku did not really drown in the sea. In the third month of the fourteenth year of Bunka (1817), a peasant by the name of Tsuji Kanpei, from the hamlet of Izuno in the district of Nose in Settsu Province, presented an old document to the government. That old document turned out to be written by Lord Tsunefusa, a minister who had escaped with the young emperor. Lesser Captain Shirakawa inspected it, and even Major Counselor Hino in Kyoto asked to have a look at it, so you see, then, that it is no mean trifle. I took the plot of this story from Tsunefusa's document, without distorting a single fact, and also without relying on those theories that say they fled to Hyūga or Awa.2

The language of the characters, as in my story "The Musashi Plain," is naturally in the manner of their time.3 To insist on using language appropriate to the period for a historical drama is not worthy of any special praise. I just wanted to give it the appropriate tone.

Bimyō, October 1888 [End Page 320]


The brave Genji clan, the stirring beach breezes—oh, how cruel! oh, how hateful! Alas, the red Heike flags, which so recently vied in numbers with the white Genji flags, have nearly all been snapped and torn, their red now the color of blood. Those by the nearby royal boat only narrowly remain aloft, and—do I imagine it?—they appear to be on the point of falling. Warships make a floor across the surface of the sea, such that you would not think there was any water, were it not for the undulating waves off in the distance. Arrows poured down like rain when the battle was most intense (when fate still looked somewhat promising), but now both the rain of arrows and the rivals' battle songs have let up, and the close-range swordplay, hand-to-hand fighting, and cutting down of enemy warriors have begun to break out here and there. The water brims with broken arrows and the corpses of slain warriors who have fallen, crowding together by the hundreds and buffeted by the waves like the debris that piles up at a dam or a sluice gate.

It was just a moment ago that Noritsune with blood-red eyes leapt into the midst of the Genji banners. He kicked and pushed his way through the crowd, cutting a valiant profile from behind as he flung aside the enemies in his path. With arrows having been pulled out, the threads trailing from the gashes of his armored sleeves kicked wisps of waves up into the air, adding to the menace of his wild mane. Scarcely had he burst through when his enemies suddenly gave out a roar. Perhaps sensing that their leader Yoshitsune was in danger, some of the advancing soldiers even retreated behind the Genji banners, but they soon recovered and retaliated fiercely, and in the blink of an eye the enemy...


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pp. 320-333
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