Warrior Ethics in Japanese War Tales

Today I get to talk about one of my favorite literary genres: the Japanese war tale!

War tales (gunki monogatari) are books of Japanese prose fiction about wars and other military conflicts, primarily written in the Kamakura and Muromachi periods (though some of those I’ll discuss are even older). Usually written by anonymous authors or compiled from oral tradition, war tales depict actual historical events and characters in a fictionalized way. Although they’re not always completely historically accurate, war tales are valuable resources for medieval Japanese ideas about specific historical events, the overall meaning of those events, and values about warfare and the people involved in warfare. Continue reading

Saibara: 12th Century “Folk” (Court) Music

Today’s big project was transcribing all of the music for the saibara lyrics I’ve translated.

This particular endeavor began this spring. We had decided to have a Gempei War-era theme for my vigil and elevation ceremony in April, and we needed some Japanese music. Unfortunately, it’s quite difficult to find notated copies of medieval Japanese music, at least here in the United States. (There are some recordings, but no sheet music that I could find.)

At last, thanks to the suggestion of a friend, I located a copy of Saibara: Japanese Court Songs of the Heian Period, a two-volume 1983 book by Elizabeth Markham, an important work in the study of Japanese music. Markham discusses the history and performance of saibara quite a bit, but the most useful and important part of the book is the complete transcription she includes for all fifty-five of the saibara songs in the Sango-yōroku and Jinchi-yōroku. These two 12th-century manuscripts are saibara song books with tablature, one each for koto and biwa. They were edited by Fujiwara no Moronaga after he stepped down as Chancellor.

(good job insei government at least you did one thing right)

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