Recently, while visiting NHK’s studio park recently, I was excited to see that they were making a new drama about the Genpei War, the famous war between the Genji and Heike clans. In Western textbooks, they’re usually called the Taira and Minamoto clans, but this isn’t quite right (it’s not quite wrong either ). Taira and Minamoto are the actual clan names, but in Japanese language they’re usually called Heike (平家, “Taira Clan”) or Genji (源氏, “Minamoto Clan”), based on the Chinese-style readings of the characters.
Anyhow, the reason I am so excited is that while Japan has a lot of historical dramas or jidaigeki they’re usually focused on the much later Sengoku Period or Edo Period, and the samurai of that era. That’s what most Westerners know of Japanese history as a result. But I have a big interest in the Heian Period, and the Genpei War which ended it. At the NHK studio, the characters were featured in costume, which was really interesting to see. I’ve talked about Heian Period fashion before (here too), but it’s interesting to see it on TV.
As a teaser for the drama, they’ve provided a look at some of the characters up close. For example, here’s the profile for Minamoto no Yoritomo and his wife Hōjō Masako. I thought Minamoto no Yoritomo’s style very interesting and very emblematic of elite members of the old Heian Court.
Also, for the page on the Cloistered Emperor, Go-Shirakawa, in his later years as a Buddhist monk. At this time, it was common for Emperors, trapped by the Fujiwara clan and other groups, to retire as Buddhist priests where they could exert influence, but without the traps at the Heian Court. These were called “cloistered emperors” or hōō (法皇). Go-Shirakawa was a good example of this, and it’s interesting to see the Buddhist robes of a nobleman. During the Heian Period, monks from noble families retained a lot of political clout and could rise to high administrative positions (abbots, dharma masters, etc) in elite Buddhist monasteries, while monks from more humble backgrounds may be relegated to more menial roles their whole life unless they were particularly talented.
Also on the same page as Emperor Go-Shirakawa is Lady Gion (gion no nyōgo 祇園女御), his mistress in his later years.1 Again, it’s really interesting to see costumers from that period, and how elegant ladies were at that time. For example, notice how the hairstyle is very different than that associated with Japanese women in later medieval periods, or with geisha.
Anyhow, the drama started broadcasting on the 8th, so it started already. I for one plan to watch an episode or two at least before heading back to the US. Hopefully I can continue watching it from there via TV Japan.
1 It was a poorly-kept secret that many such elite monks in the Buddhist community had secret wives, mistresses and such. This was indeed a sign of the monastic discipline at the time.