Compare the famous excerpt of the Battle at Yashima (1185) from The Tale of the Heike with the painting of the Battles at Ichi-no-tani and Yashima, from The Tale of the Heike to analyze how artists and writers have portrayed the life and experiences of a samurai warrior.
Grade 7 Common Core and Content Standards: HSS 7.5.3 Describe the values, social customs, and traditions prescribed by the lord-vassal system consisting of shogun, daimyo, and samurai and the lasting influence of the warrior code in the twentieth century. HI: Students explain the central issues and problems from the past, placing people and events in a matrix of time and place. RH.6-8.2. Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions. RH.6-8.7. Integrate visual information with other information in print and digital texts.
Excerpt of the Battle at Yashima (1185) from The Tale of the Heike (Helen McCullough); Screen painting of the Battles at Ichi-no-tani and Yashima, from The Tale of the Heike; Pencils and paper
- Create a Venn diagram. Title: Imagining the Samurai Warrior. Labels: Painting and Story.
- Look closely at the different scenes shown in the screen The Battles at Ichi-no-tani and Yashima. Then, have students each choose one figure in the painting and write a thought bubble or quote to express what he or she might be thinking. Share.
- Discuss: How does the artist portray the life and experiences of a samurai warrior?
- Read the excerpt from the epic The Tale of the Heike. How does the story portray the life and experiences of a samurai warrior?
- Complete the Venn Diagram.
- Would you argue that painting or story is closer to the real-life experience of a warrior? Why?
Excerpt: The Tale of the Heike
“Naozane beckoned to him with his fan. Thus challenged, the warrior turned his horse around.… As Naozane...removed his helmet to cut off his head, he saw before him the...face of a boy no more than sixteen or seventeen. Looking at this face, he recalled his son, Naoie.... Naozane…thought to himself: “...Even when I saw that my son, Naoie, was slightly wounded, I could not help feeling misery. How much more painful it would be if this young warrior’s father heard that he had been killed. I must spare him!”
Looking over his shoulder, he saw a group of his comrades galloping toward them...“Though I wish to spare your life, a band of my fellow warriors is approaching...” To this, the young warrior replied simply: “Then take off my head at once!” So pitiable an act was it that Naozane could not wield his blade...His heart sank. However, unable to keep the boy in this state any longer, he struck off his head.
Frenzied with grief, Naozane wept until the tears rushed down his cheeks. “Nothing is so bitter as to be born into a military family! Were I not a warrior, I should not have such sorrow! What a cruel act this is!” He covered his face with the sleeves of his armor and wept...Then,...he found a flute in a brocade bag tucked into a sash around the boy’s waist. … Naozane, grieved by the death of this young lord and moved by the memory of the gentle flute music, decided to give up his life as a warrior and lead a religious life, following the way of the Buddha.”1
1 Helen Craig McCullough, trans., The Tale of the Heike (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1994), 316-317.