Heiji Monogatari E

Heiji Monogatari E – Maruzen-Yushodo Co. Ltd. – Tokyo National Museum (Tokyo, Japan) / Seikado Bunko Art Museum (Tokyo, Japan) / Museum of Fine Arts (Boston, USA)

Japan — 13th century

The failed coup attempt of the Heiji Rebellion (1159-1160) in Japan: incomprehensible horrors of war, violence, and destruction in three dimensions conceptualized in an artistically masterful framework

  1. In the 12th century, the power of the old aristocracy was being challenged by a new warrior elite

  2. The Tale of Heiji details the rivalries at different levels of society that boil over into open war

  3. Masterful miniatures depict crowded battle scenes with many figures in an orderly manner

Heiji Monogatari E

  1. Description
  2. Facsimile Editions (1)
Heiji Monogatari E

The Heiji Monogatari or Tale of Heiji is a masterpiece of Japanese court art from the mid-13th century and relates the events of the Heiji Rebellion (1159-60) in wonderful miniatures that manage to depict chaotic battles scenes with many figures in a clear and artful manner. It is a tale of overlapping rivalries and a conflict between the established aristocracy and a new class of warrior clan leaders. The miniatures of these three scrolls not only detail the contemporary gear of war but offer insights into everyday life in medieval Japan through their depiction of common objects, architecture, and fashion.

Heiji Monogatari E

Translating to The Tale of Heiji in English, this mid-13th century Japanese war epic details the events of the Heiji Rebellion of 1159-60 in 36 chapters with the help of splendid miniature paintings depicting the conflict between the Taira and Minamoto clans. Three of the five original scrolls are presented here including Night Attack on the Sanjō Palace with its bellowing red flames and black smoke, which is the most famous and artistically impressive in addition to portraying the primary battle of the Heiji Rebellion. Sometimes attributed to Hamuro Tokinaga, the text was designed to be performed publicly and chanted as a continuation of the Tale of Hōgen.

A Gorgeous War Epic

This manuscript belongs to the genre of gunki monogatari or “war tales” that were produced from the 12th to the 16th centuries. Despite depicting crowded battle scenes with many figures, the paintings are orderly and clear with a distinct sense of movement. These dynamic images were created by using the tsukurie technique: a line drawing is first made in ink and then filled in with layers of paints made from crushed minerals before the details are enhanced by lines in ink. Aside from accurately depicting arms, armor, horses, oxen, and wagons used in war, it gives a glimpse into the everyday objects, architecture, and fashion of medieval Japan. Armies march through dreamy landscapes with rocky hills and various kinds of trees on their way Kyoto, where the rebellious Minamoto were ultimately defeated. This manuscript is a gorgeous testimonial to the conflict that laid the foundations of the Genpei War (1180-85).

Conflict between Old and New

The Tale of Heiji revolves around the rise of a new class of military elites that threaten the power of the old aristocracy as multi-level and interrelated rivalries escalate into war. The main characters are presented in the story according to their status, thus Emperors come first, followed by Fujiwara ministers with military clan leaders coming third. The top-tiered rivalry is between the cloistered Emperor Go-Shirakawa and the reigning Emperor Nijo. The second-tiered rivalry is between two kuge – aristocrats who dominated the Imperial Court in Kyoto – named Fujiwara no Michinori and Fujiwara no Nobuyori. The third-tier rivalry is between the head of the Taira clan, Taira no Kiyomori, and the head of the Minamoto clan, Minamoto no Yoshitomo. In the end, the Heiji Rebellion was an unsuccessful coup that only served to exasperate tensions between the two most powerful clans in Japan, which would soon be torn apart by a wider civil war that would end with the decisive defeat of the Taira clan and the establishment of the Kamakura shogunate and the beginning of feudalism in Japan.


Alternative Titles
Heiji monogatari emakimono
Heiji monogatari ekotoba
Size / Format
3 scrolls / 42.2 × 952.9 cm 42.7 × 1012.8 cm 41.3 × 699.5 cm
13th century
The tale of Heiji:
Rokuhara Gyokou or The Imperial Visit to Rokuhara (scroll at the Tokyo National Museum)
Shinzei (scroll at the Seikado Art Museum)
Night Attack on the Sanjo Palace (scroll at the Museum of Fine Arts)
Artist / School
Previous Owners
Honda family
Ernest Francisco Fenollosa
Charles Goddard (Sanjyo Dono Youchi no Maki)

Available facsimile editions:
Heiji Monogatari E – Maruzen-Yushodo Co. Ltd. – Tokyo National Museum (Tokyo, Japan) / Seikado Bunko Art Museum (Tokyo, Japan) / Museum of Fine Arts (Boston, USA)
Maruzen-Yushodo Co. Ltd. – Tokyo, 2002
Limited Edition: Not limited
Facsimile Editions

#1 Heiji Monogatari E

Maruzen-Yushodo Co. Ltd. – Tokyo, 2002

Publisher: Maruzen-Yushodo Co. Ltd. – Tokyo, 2002
Limited Edition: Not limited
Binding: Wooden Box
Commentary: 1 volume by Anne N. Morse, Yuko Kobayashi, and Shinobu Ikeda
Language: Japanese
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the three remaining scrolls, which are preserved at the Tokyo National Museum (42.2×952.9 cm), the Seikado Art Museum (42.7×1012.8 cm), and the Museum of Fine Arts (41.3×699.5 cm), as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €€€
(3,000€ - 7,000€)
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