Friday, 2 November 2012

Review of Yoshikawa Eiji ‘s ‘Minamoto no Yoritomo’, Book One

The book cover by Wenart Gunadi
Thanks to an anonymous commentator almost two weeks ago, I’ve read Yoshikawa Eiji’s book (or Eiji Yoshikawa to Western readers) titled ‘Minamoto no Yoritomo’. Yoshikawa sensei was the author of some masterpieces, including ‘Musashi’ and ‘Taiko’. I read the Indonesian version of ‘Minamoto no Yoritomo’ (no English translation so far); the translation was quite well done. 

Obtaining the book was an adventure of its own too. The book was apparently published in May this year, when I didn’t even know about (and fell in love with) Okada Masaki (the actor who played Minamoto no Yoritomo in NHK’s 2012 ‘Taira no Kiyomori’). Hence, the book completely escaped my radar, despite me having read Musashi cover-to-cover twice, once in Indonesian and the next one in English. To make it more dramatic, the only bookshop in Denpasar that sold it was about 45 min drive with motorbike, into the most polluted, convoluted and jammed region in Kuta (and hence, in the whole island). But I got it safely and read it at the same night (jumping right into the later part where Yoritomo was already a 29 years old man, but then reversing back to read properly the next day). Below is the book’s review.

‘Minamoto no Yoritomo’ can be considered the continuation of 'The Heike Story' (Shin Heike Monogatari) written also by Yoshikawa Eiji, which told the story of Taira no Kiyomori. ‘Minamoto no Yoritomo’ was written in two volumes. The book I was reading was the first volume (Book One); the second volume is hopefully being translated now. The book tells many details that I missed from just guessing what have transpired in NHK’s Taira no Kiyomori. Yoshikawa-sensei also wrote it in a poetic manner, such that the narration is flowing nicely. I have a tad problem with the Indonesian translation done by Yoko Takebe. Being a native Japanese, Takebe did the job excellently, with flowing Indonesian terms. However, there are parts that needed editing to enhance the meanings. I won’t bother putting them here, because there were not many of them, and they were in Indonesian anyway. I do, however, find myself in want of the English translation, just to see how the novel could be interpreted in another language. They better use a translator on par with the English version of Musashi tho; Charles S. Terry did a very good job in translating it (I remember that I had no problem with the Indonesian translation of Musashi. I don’t know who the translator was, but he/she did a very good job at the masterpiece).

The way NHK’s ‘Taira no Kiyomori’ tells the story of Kiyomori and his Heike clan, with Yoritomo as the main ‘supporting cast’, ‘Minamoto no Yoritomo’ tells the story of Yoritomo and the Genji clan, with Kiyomori and the Heike as the main ‘supporting cast’. Book One started with the scene after the Heiji war, where Minamoto no Yoshitomo and his Genji clan lost against Taira no Kiyomori and his Heike clan. Yoshitomo was riding with only less than 10 people, including his two eldest sons: Akugenta Yoshihira (19 years old) and Tomonaga (16 years old). The entourage originally included Yoritomo (13 years old), Yoshitomo’s third son, and the most darling one at that. However, Yoritomo got lost in the snow blizzard. Masakiyo, one of Yoshitomo’s remaining retainers, offered to search for the young Genji prince. The request was granted. Yoshitomo went straight to Bandō to gain the remaining of his followers. Below is my summary of some major characters in the ‘Minamoto no Yoritomo’.


Despite his good intention, Masakiyo never found Yoritomo. After about a month wandering around, the young prince, whose complete name was Uhyoe no Suke Yoritomo, was taken into the care of a nun in Kodaira. The boy stayed in the nunnery for a month, listening everyday to the chanting of Buddhist sutra. He found that his fears slowly dissipated upon listening to the holy words. As spring came, the kind nun sent Yoritomo off back into the world. Yoritomo went to his father’s acquaintance in Aohaka, just in case his father was there or had visited the place.

'Minamoto no Yoritomo releasing cranes' by Yoshitoshi Tsukioka

Alas, from his friends Yoritomo learned that his father was captured in the vicinity of Nagoya and had his head beheaded by Osada Tadamune. Not stopping at that, the Heike warriors displayed his head at the eastern gate of the capital city Kyoto to scare off potential rebels. Yoritomo’s elder brothers also met sad endings. Tomonaga was badly injured and thus requested that his father took his life (instead of experiencing the embarrassment of being defeated by the Heike). Yoshitomo granted the request and beheaded his second son. As for the eldest, Yoshihira, upon learning the death of his father, he attacked the capital single-handedly. He was easily defeated and also beheaded.

Not accepting defeat, Yoritomo departed to the Eastern Land (I think it referred to 東国 or the Tōgoku/The Eastern Provinces in Japan) to find his closest available family, the family of Lady Tokiwa, his stepmother. Yet, just off Kyoto, he was captured by Yahyōe Munekiyo, the Lord of Owari and also one of Kiyomori’s retainers. Munekiyo took Yoritomo back to Kyoto where the young prince awaited for his death.

However, it was the same Munekiyo who eventually saved Yoritomo’s life. Munekiyo saw how dedicated young Yoritomo was to Buddhism. Prince Suke (Yoritomo’s other name) often recited Sutras; he even asked Munekiyo if he could carve some statues of the Buddha to commemorate the death of his father. Munekiyo didn’t grant that request because a prisoner should not have a knife with him. However, Munekiyo gave Yoritomo many small Buddha statues, on which Yoritomo painted prayers later. Munekiyo would later talk to Taira no Shigemori (Kiyomori’s eldest son) and Ike no Zenni (Kiyomori’s stepmother who had become a nun) about the possibility of sparing Yoritomo’s life. It was the trio’s appeal that made Kiyomori cancelled his plan on terminating Yoritomo’s life. Instead, the Rokuhara lord sent the boy to Izu, a place which – for the Kyoto people in the 12th century – seemed to be an alien land. 

Manga Yoritomo (from Uchuu Ishiki ni Mezameta Yoshitsune). No idea how this version of Yoritomo is
Yoritomo lived in Izu for more than 17 years. He was exiled to Hiruga Kojima Island in Izu. MnY indicated that the ‘island’ was not really an island off the sea. Eiji Yoshikawa indicated that Hiruga Kojima was at the southern edge of Mt Hakone where Kano River flowed by. I tried to find the island on the map to no avail. Perhaps I should use Kanji in Google Map...

The earlier part of the book talked about how young Yoritomo was bestowed with his father’s sword Higekiri (Beard-Cutter), along with Genta ga Ubugi – the Genji precious body armour – before the Heiji Rebelion. When the young boy was captured, Higekiri was confiscated from him. Unlike in the Taiga drama, Yoshikawa Eiji didn’t indicate that Yoritomo was allowed to bring Higekiri to his exile place in Izu. Yoshikawa didn’t inform the whereabouts of Higekiri (at least until the end of Book One). However, according to this site, Yoritomo asked Tadamune (the guy who killed his father) to bestow the sword to Atsuta Shrine. Later, when he started his campaign to overthrow the Heike, Yoritomo would retrieve Higekiri from the shrine. 

MnY shows a slightly different Yoritomo than the one we see in NHK’s Taiga drama ‘Taiga no Kiyomori’. Both Yoritomos were shown to be devoted Buddhist. Yoshikawa’s Yoritomo always recited sutras in the morning before sunrise and prayed for the souls of his departed family and the soul of Ike no Zenni, his saviour who died a few years back. NHK’s Yoritomo (played beautifully by Okada Masaki) was usually shown doing calligraphy or playing sho in a meditative manner. However, NHK’s Yoritomo had a rather gentle nature (even becoming so depressed when his and Yaehime’s baby was murdered). On the contrary, Yoshikawa’s Yoritomo was already determined from the start (or at least since he achieved adolescence) to overthrow Kiyomori. Yoshikawa also depicted Yoritomo as having a slightly playboy nature. After dating Yaehime (and did not suffer depression the way Okada Masaki’s Yoritomo was after his baby was murdered and his lover was taken away from him), the book Yoritomo dated several women (the latest one was his own servant Kame no Mae) before settling down with Masako.

Book vs NHK? I prefer the NHK version of Yoritomo so far, but not by a long run.

Hōjō Masako

Masako (second right, brownish hair) in Harukanaru Toki no Naka de 3 (have no idea what that manga is about, but this Masako seems to suit this post)

Hōjō Masako was introduced in the second part of Book One. Unlike the NHK Masako (played excellently by Watanabe Anne), Yoshikawa’s Masako was a bit tame (for want of better word). This Masako was still determined, and definitely in love with Yoritomo. But we were not shown how the teenage Masako was, so I couldn’t see if she was as wild as NHK Masako or not. I have the sense that Yoshikawa’s Masako was prettier than Anne’s Masako. I am not saying that Anne isn’t pretty (she is a model, for God’s sake!). However, NHK purposely only put minimum (if any) make up on her. The NHK Masako was definitely shown as smart and determined tho (heck, she was the one who shook Yoritomo out of his dreamland!). On the other hand, Yoshikawa’s Masako was not only smart; she was also easily seen as pretty.

Book vs NHK? I prefer the NHK version of Masako so far, but not by a long run. 

The band of brothers

One of the strongest indicators that Yoshikawa’s Yoritomo was already determined to overthrow Rokuhara was that a band of brothers existed to help him in this quest. Interestingly, Hōjō Munetoki (Masako’s brother) was part of the group; which would shed more light on the Yoritomo-Masako relationship (see below). Morinaga Tō Kuro was also part of the group. Tō Kuro was also one of Yoritomo’s personal aide here.   However, instead of being actively described in the book as Yoritomo’s daily aide, Tō Kuro was only mentioned in a paragraph or two. His position as Yoritomo’s loyal assistant was replaced by the Sasaki brothers, particularly Moritsuna who were particularly fond of Yoritomo.

Masako and her father Hōjō Tokimasa were the only two members of the Hōjō clan shown in the NHK drama (apart from her mother, who was shown for a few seconds before Masako left for Yamaki’s place). On the other hand, Hōjō Munetoki (Masako’s eldest brother) was also active in the book in at least two things: 1) the band of brothers who helped Yoritomo advancing towards overthrowing Kiyomori; and 2) Masako’s escaping her arranged marriage. I think the main reason for Munetoki et al to help Yoritomo getting Masako wasn’t because Yoritomo’s love for her (although he did love her). The main reason was simply by having Yoritomo marrying the daughter of a powerful clan like the Hōjō, the band of brothers’ aim to overthrow the Heike will be easier to achieve. 

Book vs NHK? I prefer the book version so far. It would be nice to have the NHK Yoritomo to have more friends and allies than just Tō Kuro. However, it can't be helped, I guess, for the NHK version was very seclusive and rather depressed compared to the book version.

Yoritomo and Masako

‘Minamoto no Yoritomo’ showed that Yoritomo and Masako had been in a secret relationship for a few months before Masako was forced to accept Yamaki’s offer. The affair started when Yoritomo had to repurchase his darling horse (the handsome horse was given by Masako for practicality, and then Yoritomo’s stall boy sold the horse for gambling money). Since he practically had no money, Yoritomo requested Masako to help him in repurchasing the horse. Somehow, the request (made via snail mail) developed into another conversation, and another, and another; such that they often had secret rendezvous.

When Masako was offered Yamaki Kanetaka’s hand, she didn’t refuse because she was afraid it would affect her father’s position. However, she planned to escape the ceremony just after she arrived at Yamaki’s house (therefore lifting the responsibility from her father’s shoulders). And that was what happened. Just after she entered the Yamaki house, one of Yoritomo’s friends started a fire and thus created havoc around the compound. Masako used the chaos to slip off the house with the help of Yoritomo’s friends. She then hid inside the Hakone Gongen monastery for about six months before Yoritomo made the move to ask her hand in marriage. 

By the way, it's interesting to learn that both the book and the NHK versions depicted Masako's wedding as being rainy (see the summary of TNK ep 42 here). Did the NHK guys read Yoshikawa's book first before making the Taira no Kiyomori script?

Book vs NHK? I prefer the NHK version, rather by a long shot. The book didn't show the process Yoritomo and Masako undergo to fall in love. They just rather abruptly did. The NHK version showed slowly how Masako fell for Yoritomo, and how slowly Yoritomo came to trust and love her. 

Hōjō Tokimasa

In the book, Tokimasa was shown to be more ambitious than in the Taiga drama. I kinda like the NHK Tokimasa (played by Endo Kenichi), despite him marrying his daughter to Yamaki without love on Masako’s side. However, I have no sympathy to Yoshikawa’s Tokimasa. It is more believable to see Yoshikawa’s Tokimasa killing Yoritomo’s offspring in the future due to his calculating nature.

The book also showed the Hōjō clan has having more resources than the NHK Taiga Hōjō clan.  Masako was clearly depicted as living in a palace (a small castle perhaps, but a castle nonetheless), whereas in the drama, Masako and her family lived in a simple house (no more luxurious than Yoritomo’s exile house). Therefore, again, it is more believable to have Yoshikawa’s Hōjō clan to financially support Yoritomo in his quest than the Hōjō clan in the drama.

Book vs NHK? I prefer the NHK version, by a long shot!


Yoshitsune, manga/game version

Yoshitsune was an important character in ‘Minamoto no Yoritomo’. In fact, Yoshitsune and his mother occupied about half of Book One. Lady Tokiwa was shown as a strong and determined woman here. She wasn’t Masako; I don’t think she would fall into doing some tricks that the older Masako fell into later in her life. Here, Lady Tokiwa was the role model of obedient but determined woman. For the sake of her three little children (Imawaka, Otowaka and Ushiwaka – Yoshitsune’s child name), she walked amidst the blizzard. Also for them (and her old mother), she eventually surrendered herself, in return of her children’s safety. Tokiwa was captured and taken to Kiyomori in Kyoto. However, thanks to the intervention from Taira no Shigemori, Kiyomori pardoned Tokiwa’s three sons and sent them to exile. Kiyomori would later arrange a marriage between Tokiwa and Ichijo Tomonari (one of his retainers). Ushiwaka and his brothers were sent away to different Buddhist monasteries (Ushiwaka was sent to the Kurama Temple) to dampen their revenge.

However, Ushiwaka (or Shanaō as his Buddhist name went) never wanted to become a Buddhist monk. He escaped the monastery with the help of a rather two-faced trader called Kichiji. When he escaped, Rennin the head monk said, ‘Finally, he left,’ as if he was half expecting that the young Genji boy would do exactly that. Afterwards, Ushiwaka conducted a kanmuri (coming-of-age) ritual  with the help of monk Fujiwara no Suenori, who was also the father of Yoritomo's mother (hence half-related to Shanaō). During the kanmuri, Shanaō changed his name to Minamoto no Kurō Yoshitsune. Then, again with the help of Kichiji, Yoshitsune headed to Oshu, to the residence of Fujiwara Hidehira in Hiraizumi.

Benkei had not appeared in Book One (unless Kichiji morphed into Benkei later). The legendary fight between Benkei and Ushiwakamaru in Kyoto were not mentioned in Book One at all.

Book vs NHK? I like both versions; seems to be quite consistent with the popular portrayal of Yoshitsune. 

Yoritomo and Yoshitsune

The way the current NHK ‘Taira no Kiyomori’ story now (up to ep 42), Yoritomo and Yoshitsune had not met each other in Book One of ‘Minamoto no Yoritomo’. In the Taiga drama, both half-siblings weren’t even aware of each other’s presence. However, in the book, Ushiwaka already learned that his half-brother lived in Izu. At the end of his adventure in Book One (just as he departed to Ōshu to meet Fujiwara no Hidehira), he longingly looked at the Izu direction and wondered when he would be able to meet his dear half-brother and join forces to defeat the Heike.

It will break my heart to learn how the two brothers eventually came to a fall after they defeated the Heike. My question – after learning about their dispute – was always, what would Japan be like if Yoshitsune – instead of Yoritomo – ruled the country? Would he establish the Shogunate (bakufu) the way his brother did? Would he help promote Buddhism in Japan? Would he order the demise of his brother? Somehow I think the answer to the last question would be ‘no’. At the most, he would exile his brother. But we never know, because it wasn’t what happened. 

Cover to Book Two, by Wenart Gunadi
So for now, rather than having a heartbreak, I will just enjoy this innocent version of Yoritomo. I think the NHK drama will end before Yoritomo and Yoshitsune clashed, or so I hope; so it will also help me with my denial (they should have never chosen Okada Masaki to play Yoritomo, hehehe. Now I’m stuck with this controversial historical figure!). I don’t know how the book ends; I have to wait for Book Two for that.

Book One ends with Yoritomo’s and Masako’s simple wedding. I haven’t got a clue when Book Two is to be published, but I hope it is soon.


Anonymous said...

Hi, sepertinya aq yg nulis commen as Anonymous yg nyaranin buku ini, kenapa aq bilang sepertinya krn kejadiannya dah lama bgt, thn itu aq jarang bgt nulis commen n baru pertama kali nulis commen yg butuh approval n krn aq jg buka tab yg lain, aq jd lupa nulis commen d posting apa, msh newbie.
Bbrp hari lalu aq searching disini krn aq agak ngerasa pernah nulis commen di bloog ini, aq search pke keyword taira kiyomori, aq ketemu postingan anonymous yg nyaranin buku ini, ternyata bhs inggrisqu tdk peningkatan secara signifikan :p
Krn aq lupa ma commenqu, aq check bukuku, yup memang aq punya bukunya, dua2nya, tp udah lupa sebagian besar isinya. Yah begitulah kiranya.
Tahun lalu aq nonton Beyond Memories nya Okada Masaki, romantis bgt.

Icha said...

Oh gitu... Thanks kalo gitu ya ^_^

Aku Udah punya Buku Dua, tapi gw ga kelar2 bacanya. Jadi deh belon buat synopsis juga...

Aku Udah lama ga ntn filmnya Masaki...difficult to find the recent ones with English translation. Gw sempet ntn Beyond Memories krn Ada terjemahan Indonesia nya...tumben...di YouTube. Iya, romantis...