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Taira no Kiyomori: Beyond the NHK "Taiga" Drama Series

Tsutomu Kusaka
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

1. Born with "Excellent Luck"

Kiyomori's birthday was January 18. The Kamakura period diary of a noble, "Gyokuzui" which mentions this, also lists Emperor Daigo, Emperor Sanjo, Emperor Toba and lastly Kiyomori as examples of how "those born at New Year are all born with excellent luck."

The atmosphere of the scene of Kiyomori's birth in the NHK "Taiga" Drama Series, "Taira no Kiyomori" did not seem to me to be one of January. Kiyomori's mother, the wife of Tadamori is described, this time in the "Chuyuki" diary by another noble, that she died suddenly in the evening and it is thought that she was "Senin no Atari," that is, that she was in the service of Former-Emperor Shirakawa. If this is the case, then she died when Kiyomori would already have been 2 years old. In the drama series, it was presented as if his mother had been killed almost as soon as he had been born.

In the version of the "Tale of Heike" that is ordinarily read today, Kiyomori's natural father is said to be Emperor Shirakawa and his natural mother is said to be Gion no Nyogo. But if one looks back at older texts, his natural mother is said to have been a woman in the service of Nyogo, and Nyogo is said to have been fond of Kiyomori after he was born. This is probably close to the truth and it looks as if the drama series adopted this view in its adaptation of the story. There is no way of knowing whether or not his natural father really was Emperor Shirakawa, and the view that he was an unrecognized child of Emperor Shirakawa remains strong even today. But if one thinks of the strength of the appetite of people in power towards exhibitionism in general, it does not seem impossible that he could have contrived the rumor of being Emperor Shirakawa's son himself. In his final years, there is a tale that a monk, probably in flattery, told Kiyomori that he was a reincarnation of Jikei Sojo, the "Chuko no So" (a heroic leader who brings stability after times of trouble) of Mount Hiei, and that Kiyomori was delighted, so one can imagine that he might well have fabricated the tale of the identity his real father.

2. Was He Short?

Kiyomori's nickname was said to have been "Takaheida": meaning the "oldest son of the Heike who wears tall geta shoes". From this nickname, we can imagine that because of his diminutive height, he used to walk around bolt upright, trying to look tall and proud. In the "Tale of the Heike," this is a description from the time when he was 14 or 15 years old. At that time, he had no idea of where to find a position in service, and he spent his time frequenting the large residence of the wealthy Fujiwara no Ienari. However, in fact, when he was in his 12th year, he was granted the fifth court rank by an order issued by the Emperor, and received his first commission as assistant to the "Hyoefu", or the "Sa-hyoe no Suke." This was an extremely fast career advancement for a samurai. In the drama series, it seems that they have replaced his first advance to this commission with his becoming a guard of the Former-Emperor's Palace, known as "Hokumen no Bushi" (literally: "Guards of the North side [of the Palace]").

Ienari does also show his face in the drama series, but his interaction with the Taira family would have probably begun sooner, due to his mother being the sister of the father of Tadamori's legal wife, Ike no Zenni (or Fujiwara no Muneko; in other words, Kiyomori's step-mother). His son, Narichika, went on to deepen the links with Kiyomori's family by marriage, but ultimately was assassinated by Kiyomori after inciting the Shishi no Tani incident, the first incident in the exclusion of the Taira family.

3. The "Shoen" Manor of Gion no Nyogo

"Nyogo" was an official name given to the Emperor's wife. In Gion no Nyogo's case, even though she was not of a status that could have this name endowed upon her, it is said that she was so much the object of the affection of Former-Emperor Shirakawa that people called her this nonetheless. It was her who brought up Taikeimonin, who was later to conceive Emperor Sutoku, said to have been the child of Emperor Shirakawa. Ike no Zenni later went on to become wet-nurse to Emperor Sutoku's son. I think the drama series also showed this, but both Tadamori and his father, Masamori, were in service to Nyogo. It must have been because of this relationship that Ike no Zenni was selected for the position of wet-nurse to the Emperor's son.

Tadamori controlled Nyogo's Manor "Shoen", and the right to control the manor was passed down to his son, Yorimori (Iemori's younger brother, whose mother was Ike no Zenni) who is now active in the drama series. It is now known that it was then passed on further to Yorimori's son, Mitsumori, and then down through the generations via his daughters. Nyogo's benevolence does not seem to have extended to Kiyomori's family line. If so, then although Nyogo may have been fond of him as a small child, this raises doubt on how good the relationship between Nyogo and Kiyomori was after he grew up. By the way, the relationship between Kiyomori and Yorimori was one of cats and dogs.

4. A Considerate Man

Kiyomori's achievements in the Hogen Rebellion and the Heiji Rebellion were tremendous and he was able to realize a dramatic rise after these rebellions. But at first, there was a foul atmosphere of a political power struggle for supremacy looming between Former-Emperor Go-Shirakawa and his son, Emperor Nijo. The "Gukansho" describes how Kiyomori did in one way or another to soothe and court both of them.

This also corresponds to an anecdote in the "Jikkinsho," describing how his personality was also one that did not fail to be considerate to his subordinates. He would laugh generously at their inappropriate drivel or jokes, not dwell on or persecute them for their mistakes, on cold winter's nights he would let young samurai servants sleep in the sleeves of his clothes, for as long as they wanted, and he would even make those on the very bottom ranks look good in front of their families, so that he was much loved by those around him.

However, in his final years, he incited a coup d'辿tat and replaced 39 Kugyo, incarcerated Former-Emperor Go-Shirakawa, moved the Capital from Kyoto to Fukuhara (now in Kobe City) on his own decision, and burnt down Nara's Todaiji and Kofukuji. It will be interesting to see how the drama series attempts to link these brutal acts and his considerate personality together.

Tsutomu Kusaka
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

Born in 1945.
Graduated from the Faculty of Letters, Waseda University.
Assistant, Lecturer and then Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education, Iwate University. Became Assistant Professor (from 1979) and then was appointed to his current position in 1984.

Major Publications:
His publications include: The Establishment and Developments of the Tale of the Heiji [Heiji Monogatari no Seiritsu to Tenkai] (Published by Kyuko Shoin); The Birth of the Tale of the Heiji [Heiji Monogatari no Tanjo] (Published by Iwanami Shoten); Iwanami Seminar Books: The Tale of the Heiji [Iwanami Seminabukkusu Heiji Monogatari] (As above); Reading the Key Parts of the Tale of the Heike [Heike Monogatari Tendoku] (Published by Kasama Shoin); The World of War Tales: Reading "Gunki" War Literature from the Middle Ages [Ikusa Monogatari no Sekai Chusei Gunki Bungaku wo Yomu] (Published by Iwanami Shinsho); An Encyclopedia of the Tale of the Heike [Heike Monogatari Daijiten] (Published by Tokyo Shoseki, co-authored), etc. as well as a new publication of Nun of the Middle Ages: The End of Love - The World of Towazugatari [Chusei Niso, Ai no Hate ni, Towazugatari no Sekai] (Published by Kadokawa Sensho.)