The Tales of the Heike is one of the most influential works in Japanese literature and culture, remaining even today a crucial source for fiction, drama, and popular media. Originally written in the mid-thirteenth century, it features a cast of vivid characters and chronicles the epic Genpei war, a civil conflict that marked the end of the power of the Heike and changed the course of Japanese history. The Tales of the Heike focuses on the lives of both the samurai warriors who fought for two powerful twelfth-century Japanese clans-the Heike (Taira) and the Genji (Minamoto)-and the women with whom they were intimately connected.
The Tales of the Heike provides a dramatic window onto the emerging world of the medieval samurai and recounts in absorbing detail the chaos of the battlefield, the intrigue of the imperial court, and the gradual loss of a courtly tradition. The book is also highly religious and Buddhist in its orientation, taking up such issues as impermanence, karmic retribution, attachment, and renunciation, which dominated the Japanese imagination in the medieval period.
In this new, abridged translation, Burton Watson offers a gripping rendering of the work's most memorable episodes. Particular to this translation are the introduction by Haruo Shirane, the woodblock illustrations, a glossary of characters, and an extended bibliography.
"Terrifically exciting and spiritually rich." — Kirkus Reviews
"Watson's is... the best of the translations." — Donald Richie, The Japan Times
"One of the great literary classics." — Keith Garebian, The Globe and Mail
"An excellent translation and a welcome contribution to the field" — Matthew Stavros, Japanese Studies
"Burton Watson is one of the premier translators of both Chinese and Japanese literature and history. His rendering into English of selected passages from The Tales of the Heike is a great boon for those of us in medieval Japanese studies. The translation provides an exciting new look at this famous tale of warrior and courtier life in late-twelfth-century Japan." — Paul Varley, professor emeritus, Columbia University and Sen Soshitsu XV Professor Emeritus, University of Hawaii
"Burton Watson has, at last, given us an English version of this stirring tale of glory gained and lost that is both accurate and reader-friendly. In turn poignant, elegant, or brisk, his translation strikes the appropriate note in each of the varied anecdotes that compose the work. The abridgement retains all the most memorable scenes and the complicated subplots, and the glossary of characters is an extremely thorough and welcome reference tool. The result is that great clarity has been brought to a text of daunting complexity." — Margaret H. Childs, associate professor of East Asian language and cultures, University of Kansas
"This new abridged translation of The Tales of the Heike is one of the most approachable versions of this classic war tale; it retains the sense of sweep and grandeur of the original and includes extensive and valuable reference materials." — H. Mack Horton, professor of East Asian languages and cultures, University of California, Berkeley
Preface and Acknowledgments
The Initiates' Book
Glossary of Characters