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CHAPTER 6 War Tales History, Imagination, andLiterature The rise of the warriors to dominance inJapan did provoke one interesting passage of direct political discussion. This occurred in the biography of a priest, Myde Shonin Denki (Biography of St. Myde), which is discussed in the next chapter. What is more remarkable is the fact that such a major development as the rise of the warriors, the establishment of the Bakufu, and the defeat and humiliation of the imperial house produced such little discussion. Japanese thinkers did not want to confront the political events oftheir time by direct analysis. Instead, we find a continuation of political discussion by means of historical narrative. Just as the rise ofthe Fujiwarawas reflected in the Historical Tales of the Heian period, the rise ofthe warriors inJapan was inevitably reflected in an appropriate historical literature. War Tales, a new form of writing, performed two manifestfunctions and one hidden function. First, they recorded the lives and deeds of the warriors, as they carried out their missions, fought, and died. Simply to narrate what happened is the primary function of all historical writing. The second manifest function of WarTales was to create a warrior ethos and provide entertainment. They presented the essential values of warrior life by recounting tales of both the valorous and the faint-hearted, the victorious and the defeated, keeping alive the ideals, inspiring and encouraging each new generation to live up to the heroes of the past. The warrior way of life also provided entertainment with an abundant store of episodes. Perhaps only a small minority of the population was being Notes to Chapter 6 are found on page 145. 67 68 POLITICAL THOUGHT IN JAPANESE HISTORICAL WRITING educated in the ethos of the warriors, but nearly everyone could benefit from the entertainment provided by the War Tales. Life was drab for most Japanese of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, a time of wars, plagues, economic crises, and famines, and War Tales transported them into a purer realm of high values and deep commitment. This second manifest function of education and entertainment was probably more important in the long run than the plain function of historical recording. This was because the imagination of writers and raconteurs was captured by the tales of magnificent heroes and tragic losers. With their enthusiasm fired by the subject, the nameless writers and story-tellers were inspired to innovation, resultingingreater literary accomplishment. Thus the better literature is found in the works that glorify their subjects, such as the Tale of the Heike, while the less romantic works such as Jokyuki (Chronicle of the Jokyu War) are classed among the minor works of Japanese tradition despite their greater historical veracity. In some cases, imagination soared very far, much beyond the invention of dialogue and the construction of details of place and appearance which were customary in all types of Japanese historical writing. For example, Hogen Monogatari (Tale of the Hogen War) is a conventional narrative of the events of the Hogen War of 1156. It describes historical events in a mostly factual manner, embellished with descriptions and dialogue that may well be imaginary but not misleading. The work favours the youngMinamoto Tametomo (1139-70), who was an uncle of Minamoto Yoritomo. It presents a romanticized viewof his qualities and exploits, and thus far it is both a useful and interesting account. At the end ofthe work, however, Minamoto Tametomo is described as going to an Island of Ogres, inhabited by hairy people more than three metres tall, who spoke a strange language and said they were the descendants of ogres. At the point of Tametomo's appearance, however, they said, "Our good fortune has been exhausted, our treasures are lost, and our form has become that of men."1 Tametomo took dominion over this island with no difficulty. The case of Minamoto Yoshitsune (1159-89), younger brother of Minamoto Yoritomo, is even more striking. Yoshitsune is one of the most popular heroes of all Japanese history, a brilliant and courageous soldier who distinguished himself in the Genpei War. Yet he ended his days as a fugitive in north Japan, fleeing from the pursuit of his remorseless brother Yoritomo. He committed suicide at the last, having been betrayed by those to whom he turned for help. Numerous legends of strength, bravery, and wit adhered to the character of Yoshitsune, finding their way into all manner of theatrical performances. In the fifteenth-century work Gikeiki (Chronicle of Yoshitsune), these legends are abundant. Among...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780889208742
Related ISBN
9780889209978
MARC Record
OCLC
243566096
Pages
174
Launched on MUSE
2012-06-26
Language
English
Open Access
No
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