Introduction to the Hei-kyoku


  I suppose there are only few people who had heard about Heike-Biwa(in another name, Hei-kyoku), but many people may be fond of the masterpiece  Kwaidan by Lafcadio Hearn. Don't you know about one of the tales in Kwaidan, "The Story of Mimi-Nashi-Hoichi"? The music Hoichi played in front of Heike's ghosts in this tale is what we call the Hei-kyoku, a song of melody on words of "Heike-Monogatari" with accompany played by Biwa, a Japanese lute. The "Heike-Monogatari" written by Shinano Zenji Yukinaga is about the rise and fall of Heike family 800 years ago in late Heian period. The blind bonze recited the "Heike-Monogatari" on the tune of Tendai-sect's Buddhist music, and this is told to be the origin of Hei-kyoku. In those days citizens were illeterate unlike nowadays, so the story of Heike chanted by this blind bonze, the Biwa-Houshi, had amazed many people's heart. In Muromachi period Heikyoku was at the height of it's prosperity, and in those times a matchless master of Biwa-Houshi such as Kakutsu Akashi had emerged in the society. However, Hei-kyoku had declined at Meiji period, and when the World War II was about to end, Mr.Kougo Tateyama at Sendai city was left to be the only one who can chant all 200 pieces of Hei-kyoku. Then Mr. Tateyama instructed the traditional Hei-kyoku to Mr. Haruhiko Kindaichi, and Mr. Kindaichi became the one and only successor of traditional Hei-kyoku. My teacher, Mr. Seishu Suda became the disciple of Mr. Kindaichi and studied hard. Now, he had inherited the Heike-Biwa of the orthodox tune and is instructing me. The original from of the Heike-Monogatari as a reading book is in a narrative form, and the Hei-kyoku contains nearly 200 pieces in all. When you categorize them roughly, you can find there are four types of pieces; bravery pieces about the battles called the Hiroimono, tragedies called Fushimono, Hikyoku, and the volume of Kannjou. For further explanation of instrument, the lute played for Heike-Biwa is one size smaller than the lute of Gagaku, or the ancient court music of Japan. The history of Heike-Biwa's lute is older than the lute of Satsuma-Biwa, which we hear much often today, and it takes the part of accompaniment to the song.
  Hei-kyoku has one of the oldest history in Japanese traditional culture, and it had gave a great influence to Nogaku, Kyogen and other later Japanese culture. Hei-kyoku is the traditional culture that Japan proud to the world, and I hope many people will enjoy listening the Heike-Biwa or the Hei-kyoku. That will be a great pleasure for me.
                                          Translated by Haruka Ide

 The Last of Atsumori

  The Heike escaped to Dazaifu, Kyushu, and soon prepared their base at Yashima. Then they constructed a firm fortress at Ichi-no-Tani of Fukuwara, today's Kobe city, and gathered a vast army. On the next year 1184, Juei the 3rd, February, Genji started to attack Ichi-no-Tani. Although Heike had desparately fought in defense, Minamoto-no-Yoshitsune and his 3000 horsebacks were behind Heike's back, and because of the surprise attack of these horse riders from above the cliff of Hiyodorigoe, finally the base seemed to be impregnable had fall.
  Heike became routed and they were compelled to escape on the sea by ships. Atsumori, the youngest son of Taira-no-Tsunemori, was also about to escape to the ship that was already launching, but he was challenged by Kumagai-no-Naozane and had to return to the single combat. Of course, young Atsumori who was only 17 years old was a no match for the well-experienced warrior like Naozane. Naozane held him down and looked at his face to strike off his head. Then Kumagai realized that Atsumori was a youngster seemed to be only as old as his son Koujirou, so Kumagai pitied him and tried to let him go. However, Genji's troop had arrived just on that time, and therefore Kumagai had to behead Atsumori with tears. Afterwards, Kumagai found out the youngster he killed was an aristocrat of Heike from the flute Atsumori left. From this occurrence, Kumagai felt the vanity of the samurai, and he started to wear a will to become a bonze and renounce the world.
  The piece "The Last of Atsumori" is an exceedingly beautiful passage chanting Atsumori's aristocratic gracefulness and Kumagai's strength and tenderness of samurai and his conflict. It is the most popular story in the "Heike-Monogatari" moving many people to tears.
                                          Translated by Haruka Ide