The Tale of the Heike

Translated, with an Introduction, by:
Helen Craig McCullough

Stanford University Press
Stanford, California

Text of Chapter Nine, Section Ten, entitled First and Second Attackers
     This section relates a story of Kumagae no Jir˘ Naozane.

Text of Chapter Nine, Section Sixteen, Entitled The Death of Atsumori

Atsumori Main  |  JPARC

First and Second Attackers

Kumagae no Jir˘ Naozane and Hirayama no Mushadokoro Sueshige stayed with the rear assault force until around midnight on the Sixth.  Then Naozane called over his son, Kojir˘ Naoie.  "Nobody will be able to take the lead when this force makes its descent.  Let's head for Toi's route, the Harima Road, and be the first to attack Ichi-no-tani," he said.

"A fine idea," Naoie said.  "I have been wanting to suggest that very thing.  Please start at once."

"Come to think of it, Hirayama is marching with this force.  He's a man who has no taste for fighting in a crowd."  To a subordinate, Naozane said, "See what Hirayama is doing and report back to me."

Just as Naozane had suspected, Sueshige was already preparing to leave.  "Others can do as they please," he was muttering.  "I am not going to fall one step behind.  I am not going to fall behind."  A subordinate, feeding his master's horse, gave the animal a blow.  "How much longer are you going to keep eating, you big slob?"  "Don't treat him like that," Sueshige said.  "You're seeing him for the last time tonight."  He rode off.

Naozane's man ran back and blurted out his news.  "Very well!"  Naozane also left at once.

Naozane was attired in a dark blue hitatare, a suit of armor with red leather lacing, and a red cape; he rode his famous steed Gondakurige [Chestnut Gonda].  Naoie was attired in a hitatare with a light water-plantain design and a suit of armor laced with blue-and-white rope-patterned leather; he rode a whitish horse named Seiro [West Tower].  The standard bearer was attired in an olive-gray hitatare and a suit of armor laced with redyed cherry-patterned leather; he rode a blond chestnut horse.  The three proceeded at a walk toward the right, observing on their left the gorge the others were to descend, and came out onto the Ichi-no-tani beach by way of an old path called Tai-no-hata, unused for many years.

Because it was still the middle of the night, Toi no Jir˘ Sanehira had halted with his seven thousand riders at Shioya, near Ichi-no-tani.  Naozane slipped past him in the dark, following the beach, and rode to the western gate of the Ichi-no-tani stronghold.  Not a sound was audible in the peaceful enemy camp at that hour, nor was a single Genji warrior following Kumagae's party.

Naozane called Naoie over.  "There must be many who hope to lead the attack; we should not leap to the conclusion that we are the only ones.  Others are probably already here, waiting somewhere in the vicinity for daybreak.  Let's announce our names."  He walked his horse to the shield barricade and announced their names in a mighty voice.  "The first men to attack Ichi-no-tani are Kumagae no Jir˘ Naozane of Musashi and his son Kotar˘ Naoie!"

The Heike made no response.  "Just keep quiet," they told one another.  "Let them wear out their horses.  Let them use up their arrows."

Meanwhile, a warrior came up behind Naozane.  "Who goes there?"  Naozane asked.

"Sueshige," the other answered.  "Who wants to know?"


"Kumagae, is it?  How long have you been here?"

"I arrived during the night."

"I ought to have been on your heels; I am late because Narida Gor˘ tricked me.  Narida said he wanted to die wherever I did, so I took him along, but then he tried to delay me after we started.  'Don't be in a hurry to attack first, Hirayama,' he said.  'Nobody will know how you acquitted yourself unless you have friends watching in the rear.  What would be the use of dashing to your death alone in the middle of an enemy host?'  I thought he was right, so I went ahead of him to the top of a little rise, turned my horse's head downhill, and waited for some of our men to appear.  When Narida came along behind me, I expected him to bring his horse up beside mine for some talk about the battle, but he galloped past with a hostile look in my direction.  'Aha!'  I thought.  'That fellow has used a trick to take the lead.'  He was about two hundred feet ahead of me.  I saw that his horse seemed weaker than mine, so I whipped after him.  I overtook him, shouted, 'How dare you trick a man like me?'  and came on alone to attack the enemy.  He must have fallen far behind; I'm sure he was not able to keep me in sight."

Naozane, Sueshige, and the others waited, a party of five.  When the first light of dawn appeared at last, Naozane walked his horse to the shield barricade again and called out in a mighty voice.  (He had already announced his name, but he may have wanted Sueshige to hear.)  "Kumagae no Jir˘ Naozane of Musashi and his son Kojir˘ Naoie, the men who announced their names earlier, are the first to attack Ichi-no-tani.  If any Heike samurai consider themselves my equals, let them confront me!  Let them confront me!"

"Come on!  Let's go pull those two off their horses.  They've been yelling their names all night long."  Who were the Heike samurai who came forward with those words?  They were Etchű no Jir˘by˘e Moritsugi, Kazusa no Gor˘by˘e Tadamitsu, Akushichiby˘e Kagekiyo, Got˘nai Sadatsune, and other leading warriors.  More than twenty riders in all, they opened the gate and galloped out.

Sueshige was attired in a white-spotted tie-dyed hitatare, a suit of armor with flame-red lacing, and a cape with a two-bar design; he rode his famous steed Mekasuge [Gray-Ringed Eyes].  His standard bearer was attired in a suit of armor with black leather lacing and a helmet with the neck-guard well down; he rode a rust-brown horse.

Sueshige announced his name.  "I am Hirayama no Mushadokoro Sueshige, the Musashi resident who led the attacks in H˘gen and Heiji!"  Then he galloped forward, shouting, side by side with the standard bearer.

Where Naozane galloped, Sueshige followed; where Sueshige galloped, Naozane followed.  Neither willing to be outdone, they dashed in by turns, whipping their horses and attacking until the sparks flew.  The hard-pressed Heike samurai may have considered themselves overmatched, for they hurried back into the stronghold to fight from its protection.

Naozane's horse reared, shot in the belly, and Naozane swung his leg over its back and dismounted. Kojir˘ Naoie leaped down and stood beside him, wounded in the bow arm, after he had announced his age as sixteen and had fought until his horse's nose touched the shield barricade.

"Are you wounded, Kojir˘?"


"Keep pushing your armor up.  Don't let an arrow through.  See that your neck-guard is low.  Don't get shot in the face."

Naozane pulled out the arrows that were lodged in his own armor, tossed them aside, faced the stronghold with a scowl, and shouted in a mighty voice, "I am Naozane, the man who left Kamakura last winter determined to give his life for Lord Yoritomo and bleach his bones at Ichi-no-tani.  Where is Etchű no Jir˘by˘e, who boasts of his exploits at Muroyama and Mizushima?  Where are Kazusa no Gor˘by˘e and Akushichiby˘e?  Isn't Lord Noritsune there?  Fame depends on the adversary.  It does not come from meeting just any fellow who happens along.  Confront me!  Confront me!"

Etchű no Jir˘by˘e Moritsugi was attired in his favorite garb, a blue-and white hitatare and a suit of armor laced with red leather.  He advanced slowly astride a whitish roan, his eyes fixed on Naozane.  Naozane and his son did not retreat a step.   Instead, they raised their swords to their foreheads and advanced at a steady walk, staying side by side to avoid being separated.  Perhaps Moritsugi considered himself overmatched, for he turned back.

"Isn't that Etchű no Jir˘by˘e?" said Naozane.  "What's wrong with me as an adversary?  Come on!  Grapple with me!"

"No, thank you!"  Moritsugi withdrew.

"You coward!" said Kagekiyo.  He started to gallop out, intent on grappling with Naozane, but Moritsugi seized the sleeve of his armor to stop him.  "This battle is not the only one Lord Noritsune has to think about.  Don't throw your life away here."

Later, Naozane obtained a remount and galloped forward with a shout, followed by Sueshige, who had been resting his horse while Naozane and Naoie engaged the foe.  Not many of the Heike warriors were mounted.  The men on the archery platforms aligned their arrows and released showers of missiles, but because the Genji numbers were fewer by far, Naozane and the others escaped harm, lost in the melee.  "Ride alongside and grapple with them!  Grapple!"  came the orders from the platforms.  But the Heike horses were exhausted from having been overriden, underfed, and forced to stand in boats for long periods of time.  One collision with Naozane's or Sueshige's big, well-nourished beast would have been enough to knock any of them flat, and thus there was not a single attempt to grapple with either warrior.

An arrow pierced Sueshige's standard bearer, a man he valued as he did his life.  Sueshige burst through the enemy ranks, took the slayer's head swiftly, and came out again.  Naozane also amassed many trophies.

Naozane, the first to arrive on the scene, had been kept outside because the gate was closed; Sueshige, the second, had been able to gallop inside because the gate was open.  So each of the two claimed to have led the attack.

The Death of Atsumori

Kumagae no Jir˘ Naozane walked his horse toward the beach after the defeat of the Heike.  "The Taira nobles will be fleeing to the water's edge in the hope of boarding rescue vessels," he thought.  "Ah, how I would like to grapple with a high-ranking Commander-in-Chief!"  Just then, he saw a lone rider splash into the sea, headed toward a vessel in the offing. The other was attired in a crane-embroidered nerinuki silk hitatare, a suit of armor with shaded green lacing, and a horned helmet.  At his waist, he wore a sword with gilt bronze fittings; on his back, there rode a quiver containing arrows fledged with black-banded white eagle feathers.  He grasped a rattan-wrapped bow and bestrode a white-dappled reddish horse with a gold-edged saddle.  When his mount had swum out about a hundred and fifty or two hundred feet, Naozane beckoned him with his fan.

"I see that you are a Commander-in-Chief.  It is dishonorable to show your back to an enemy.  Return!"

The warrior came back.  As he was leaving the water, Naozane rode up alongside him, gripped him with all his strength, crashed with him to the ground, held him motionless, and pushed aside his helmet to cut off his head.  He was sixteen or seventeen years old, with a lightly powdered face and blackened teeth — a boy just the age of Naozane's own son Kojir˘ Naoie, and so handsome that Naozane could not find a place to strike.

"Who are you?  Announce your name.  I will spare you," Naozane said.

"Who are you?" the youth asked.

"Nobody of any importance: Kumagae no Jir˘ Naozane, a resident of Musashi Province."

"Then it is unnecessary to give you my name.  I am a desirable opponent for you.  Ask about me after you take my head.  Someone will recognize me, even if I don't tell you."

"Indeed, he must be a Commander-in-Chief," Naozane thought.   "Killing this one person will not change defeat into victory, nor will sparing him change victory into defeat.  When I think of how I grieved when Kojir˘ suffered a minor wound, it is easy to imagine the sorrow of this young lord's father if he were to hear that the boy had been slain.  Ah, I would like to spare him!"  Casting a swift glance to the rear, he discovered Sanehira and Kagetoki coming along behind him with fifty riders.

"I would like to spare you," he said, restraining his tears, "but there are Genji warriors everywhere.  You cannot possibly escape.  It will be better if I kill you than if someone else does it, because I will offer prayers on your behalf."

"Just take my head and be quick about it."

Overwhelmed by compassion, Naozane could not find a place to strike.   His senses reeled, his wits forsook him, and he was scarcely conscious of his surroundings.  But matters could not go on like that forever: in tears, he took the head.

"Alas!  No lot is as hard as a warrior's.  I would never have suffered such a dreadful experience if I had not been born into a military house.   How cruel I was to kill him!"  He pressed his sleeve to his face and shed floods of tears.

Presently, since matters could not go on like that forever, he started to remove the youth's armor hitatare so that he might wrap it around the head.   A brocade bag containing a flute was tucked in at the waist.  "Ah, how pitiful!  He must have been one of the people I heard making music inside the stronghold just before dawn.  There are tens of thousands of riders in our eastern armies, but I am sure none of them has brought a flute to the battlefield.  Those court nobles are refined men!"

When Naozane's trophies were presented for Yoshitsune's inspection, they drew tears from the eyes of all the beholders.  It was learned later that the slain youth was Tayű Atsumori, aged seventeen, a son of Tsunemori, the Master of the Palace Repairs Offfice.

After that, Naozane thought increasingly of becoming a monk.

The flute in question is said to have been given by Retired Emperor Toba to Atsumori's grandfather Tadamori, who was a skilled musician.  I believe I have heard that Tsunemori, who inherited it, turned it over to Atsumori because of his son's proficiency as a flautist.  Saeda [Little Branch] was its name.  It is deeply moving that music, a profane entertainment, should have led a warrior to the religious life.