Arts and Culture
In Tokugawa Japan (1603-1868), when the country was finally reunited after decades of war and strife, a great many paintings were produced to depict wars and battles. Some were about recent battles that the commissioners and their fathers had won meritoriously. Many depicted, however, battles from the distant past, in particular, of the Genpei War, a war that was fought five centuries earlier between the Minamoto and Taira clans. This paper explicates this infatuation with Genpei battle paintings in early Tokugawa Japan. Previous scholarship has explained the commissioners’ intent with the fact that the Tokugawa, the new rulers of Japan, claimed to be descendants of the victors of the Genpei War, the Minamoto. As the explanation goes, the military and moral excellence of their ancestors was meant to legitimize the Tokugawa’s new government. Yet the legitimation via excellence would have been served equally, or perhaps even better, by producing more paintings of the Tokugawa’s own excellence. Nonetheless, why did the Tokugawa and their relatives commission many pictures of the Genpei War? I will argue that pictorializations of warrior chronicles, and of the Tale of the Heike in particular, were an integral part of the Tokugawa edition of official history of Japan. A particular focus will be on folding screens depicting the Genpei War and handscrolls illustrating the entire Heike from the seventeenth century.