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Swords, Oaths, and Prophetic Visions

Swords, Oaths, and Prophetic Visions: Authoring Warrior Rule in Medieval Japan

Elizabeth Oyler
Copyright Date: 2006
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    Swords, Oaths, and Prophetic Visions
    Book Description:

    Swords, Oaths, and Prophetic Visions investigates some of the most historically important political and social issues raised by the Genpei War (1180-1185). This epic civil conflict, which ushered in Japan’s age of the warriors, is most famously articulated in the monumental narrative Heike monogatari (The Tale of the Heike). Elizabeth Oyler’s ambitious work lays out the complex interconnections between the numerous variant texts of the Heike and the historical events they describe. But Oyler’s innovative methodology also brings other texts and genres—the Gikeiki, the Soga monogatari, the Azuma kagami, and pieces from the kōwakamai (ballad-dramas) repertoire—into her analysis. Rather than concentrating on individual texts, Oyler focuses on the inter-textual relationships within this larger body of narrative and drama and the collective role of these works in creating and disseminating stories about some of the Genpei War’s most contentious events. In so doing, she works toward a new understanding of the underlying cultural problems of which these tales are symptomatic and which they attempt to address.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6453-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Note on Conventions and Sources
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Chapter One The Heike monogatari and Narrating the Genpei War
    (pp. 1-28)

    The Genpei War of 1180 to 1185 stands as one of the most prominent markers on the landscape of Japanese historical memory. Conventionally viewed as the turning point at which cultural, political, and economic power passed from the central aristocracy to provincially based military houses,¹ it has been acclaimed variously as a manifestation of the end of classical culture, the rise of feudalism,² and the world’s entry into the latter days of the Buddhist law.³ Although historians point out that social and institutional change was not nearly so radical or sudden as such characterizations suggest,⁴ it is nevertheless indisputable that...

  6. Chapter Two Minamoto Yoritomo: Dreams from Exile
    (pp. 29-59)

    The idea of shōgun has long captured the imaginations of both the Japanese and the rest of the world.¹ The concept is a central tenet of cultural discourses defining that nation: the shōgun is a great military leader, a lord over vassals, a man whose stoic masculinity epitomizes certain fundamental cultural beliefs and practices that define “Japaneseness.” Minamoto Yoritomo holds the honor of being the first of these men.² Appointed shōgun in 1192 after defeating the Taira in the Genpei War, he became the prototype for this military office that would reshape the meaning of “military leader” and, in so...

  7. Chapter Three Kiso Yoshinaka: Petitioning Hachiman
    (pp. 60-85)

    Although Yoritomo became thede factohegemon of warrior affairs as a result of the Genpei War, the position was very much in contention during the conflict itself. His most serious rivals were members of his kin group, and two of them posed critical challenges to his claim to both clan and warrior headship. The first of these was his cousin, Kiso Yoshinaka (1154–1184), an ambitious provincial warrior who had been raised in Shinano by a hereditary retainer after his father’s death in 1155. Although Yoshinaka’s mobilization of troops began, like Yoritomo’s, in response to Prince Mochihito’s call to...

  8. Chapter Four Yoshitsune at Koshigoe: Fealty Oaths, Fall from Grace
    (pp. 86-114)

    Minamoto Yoshitsune is indisputably Japan’s favorite cultural hero. The lead general in the Genpei War, he played a decisive role in the destruction of Yoritomo’s enemies and enjoyed renown among warriors and capital-dwellers alike. He was a fearless leader, guiding his men into battle against what seemed like impossible odds, ¤rst at Ichi-no-tani and then at Yashima and Dan-no-ura. In each campaign, he emerged victorious. His devotion to his men rivaled that of his ancestor Yoshiie, and he inspired equal reverence from them. His legendary valor and popularity worked to his disadvantage in the end, however. Almost immediately after his...

  9. Chapter Five The Soga Brothers: Swords and Lineage
    (pp. 115-137)

    On the twenty-eighth day of the fifth month of 1193, two brothers, Soga Jūrō and Soga Gorō, stole into a hunt hosted by the Kamakura Lord, Minamoto Yoritomo, and killed their kinsman, Kudō Suketsune.¹ The brothers thus fulfilled a seventeen-year-long vow to avenge the death of their father, Kawazu Sukeyasu, who had been murdered in an ambush by Suketsune’s men on a hunt hosted by Sukeyasu’s father, Sukechika.² Jūrō was slain in the ensuing melee, and Gorō was captured as he attempted to enter Yoritomo’s tent and murder him. He was executed a day later.³ The brothers’ long-standing dedication to...

  10. Conclusion Warrior Rule in Medieval Japan
    (pp. 138-150)

    The Genpei War was clearly a monumental event in the shared memory of medieval Japan. Although later conflicts like the Mongol invasions and the Ōnin War contributed more dramatically to the shaping of warrior society, no other medieval military event has received anything resembling the narrative attention paid the clash between the Taira and the Minamoto. And none has remained as salient in the national cultural consciousness.¹

    This volume has examined places in the larger narrative of the war and its aftermath where actual fractiousness within the Minamoto line conflicted with the general narrative trajectory of the closure brought by...

  11. Appendix A The Hōgen and Heiji Uprisings
    (pp. 151-152)
  12. Appendix B Genealogical Charts of the Seiwa Genji and the Itō
    (pp. 153-155)
  13. Appendix C Texts and Genres
    (pp. 156-158)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 159-200)
  15. Glossary
    (pp. 201-204)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 205-212)
  17. Index
    (pp. 213-218)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 219-220)