EXCEPT for obvious differences in local color and religious background the Mediaeval romances of Japan are much like those of Europe. Brave knights perform incredible feats of valor, wicked tyrants are circumvented or overthrown, supernatural influences play their good or evil parts, and sometimes distressed damsels, as in the tragic little story here retold, give up the quest of worldly happiness and resign themselves to lives of prayer. The chief differences are these: the frequency of suicide, for in the Orient the Almighty did not fix His canon ’gainst self-slaughter; the position of women in a civilization that knew nothing of the Mariolatry of our Middle Ages; and a weakening of the motive of love between the sexes, which is counterbalanced by an increased emphasis on the loyalty between squire and knight, knight and overlord, and above all on the loyalty of wife to husband.
The Heike Monogatari, or Tales of the Heike Clan who were all-powerful until the vices of their leader Kiyomori assisted the brave young warriors of the Taira to overthrow them, were being sung to musical accompaniment by the middle of the 13th Century. There were numerous versions; and,
as in the case of the Homeric poems, later redactions probably show traces of composite origin. One version seems to be as complete and unified as Sir Thomas Mallory's Morte d’Arthur, and from this the episode of the two dancing girls, Gio Gozen and Hotoke Gozen, has been translated for separate publication by the Japan Society.
It might have been possible to reprint the story from the only complete version of the Heike Monogatari existing in English--that of Professor A. L. Sadler, published in the Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan Vol. XLVI, Part II; but it seemed to the Committee in charge that the use of this very scholarly translation, filled as it is with exact terms literally rendered, would make the pathos and the beauty of the tale, now first retold for itself alone, less easy of access to readers who care rather for literature and life than. for exactness of rendition; and under the expert guidance of Professor R. Tsunoda, Curator of the Japanese Library at Columbia University, an entirely new literal translation was prepared for us by Miss Helen B. Chapin whose work then. was given over to an alchemist and transmuted into the gold of simple English prose.
The illustration used as a frontispiece seems to have drawn its inspiration from a version of the story in which Gio sat
beside Kiyomori while Hotoke danced; and the costume of the dancer is not quite that described in our text. It is, however, the best known and perhaps the most beautiful pictorial representation of the episode; and that details of costume as well as of text may have changed in the course of centuries is not surprising. The actual scene depicted is supposed to have occurred in the latter part of the 12th Century. The print was issued for New Years of 1765 and contains calendar marks for that year. It is thought to have been designed by Harunobu, the most brilliant as well as the most exquisite Ukiyo-ye artist of that time, and the fact that it bears the signature and seal of Kyosen--the patron or central figure of a group of artists to which Harunobu belonged--does not necessarily invalidate that supposition.
The thanks of the Committee are due to Dr. Tsunoda, Miss Chapin and Mr. Torrence, and are given with sincere appreciation.
L. V. L.
New York, November 1934