East Asia Student

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The Genpei War (micro article)

This is an ultra-short article that attempts to cover the Genpei War and what it has to do with the Tale of the Heike in less than 250 words.

An scene from the Genpei WarThe Genpei war was a five-year conflict in late 12th Century Japan between two powerful military clans, the Taira and the Minamoto. The latter were ultimately successful, establishing Minamoto no Yoritomo as the first Shogun to rule all of Japan.

The result of the conflict can be seen as a major turning point in Japanese history. As the war had many of its roots in the Imperial court, it was politics and governmental organisation that experienced some of the largest changes – Imperial rule came to an end in favour of direct military rule by the shogunate. However, the extent to which this shift can be attributed to the war is debatable – decades before the Genpei violence, military clans had become politically powerful by necessity in order to protect cloistered emperors under the Insei system. This was why the Taira clan had become prominent in the first place after the Hogen Rebellion. Thus it could be argued that a shift to military power had long been inevitable, and that the violent resolution that brought it about was not the key event.

The issue of inevitability is highlighted in the opening words of The Tale of the Heike, a heroic account of the Genpei War and demise of the Taira clan. Here the image of bells suggests a repetitive shift between impermanent states (an accurate comparison considering the later Meiji Restoration), and imperial decline is likened to the inevitable fading of sala flowers.