The Genpei War (1180–1185) figured prominently in the historical consciousness of warriors, courtiers, and commoners alike throughout the medieval and early modern periods in Japan. For warriors it was celebrated as the rise of the Minamoto clan and the transition to warrior government; for courtiers it was lamented as a sign of social and political degradation; and for commoners it became a golden age of heroes and tales that formed the backbone of a collective cultural identity. And within these memories of the Genpei War and the narratives they gave birth to, no one attained more renown and popular appeal than Minamoto no Yoshitsune (1159–1189). In life, Yoshitsune was a victorious general who achieved notoriety when he was accused of treason against his half-brother, the future Kamakura Shogun. In death, Yoshitsune became immortal: a vivacious, tragic figure that inspired laughter, tears, and sympathy. In the Muromachi period alone, he is the protagonist of over 60 warrior tales (gunkimono ), Noh plays, ballad librettos (mai no hon) and short narratives (otogizôshi), to say nothing of minor references in other stories and records. In the Tokugawa period he appears in hundreds, if not thousands, of titles.
This dissertation examines how the various "memories" of Yoshitsune were manifested in narrative from the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries. The objectives of this examination are as follows: To survey how and why representations and characterizations of Yoshitsune changed over time and across texts; to use these observations to develop a more nuanced understanding of late medieval genres; and to use the tales of Yoshitsune as a window through which to consider how the production and consumption of narratives changed as a result of warrior hegemony, urbanization, increased literacy, and the formation of a publishing industry. All of the above help to shed light on the process by which medieval paradigms of storytelling were slowly replaced by the narrative marketplaces of early modern Japan.
Chapter One introduces the Yoshitsune legend and traces in general terms its development in history and literature from the twelfth century to the eighteenth century. The focus here is not on the content of individual tales, but rather on the changing interpretations of his character—in other words, what he is celebrated and remembered for. Chapter Two focuses on the appearance of the motif of 'slander' (zangen) in the fourteenth century variants of "Heike monogatari" (The Tale of the Heike) and ties the increasing victimization of Yoshitsune character to the concept of warrior kingship that matured under the Ashikaga shoguns. Moving forward several centuries, the subject of Chapter Three is the Gikeiki (The Record of Yoshitsune) and the kôwakamai libretto Koshigoe . This chapter compares the moral tone of these texts with the new body of warrior ideals that emerged in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as visible in house codes (kakun) and writing primers ( ôraimono). Chapter Four examines the thematic prominence of learning and knowledge in an otogizôshi, Hangan miyako hanashi (Yoshitsune Goes to the Capital), and contrasts it with the changing paradigms of narrative production and consumption visible in the seventeenth century.
The end-goal of this dissertation is two-fold: first, to contribute to the understanding of how and why the legend of Yoshitsune grew and adapted to the extent that it did throughout the medieval and early modern periods; and, second, to enlarge and complicate the study of narrative traditions in Japan between the fourteenth and the seventeenth centuries.