A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE HEIJI DISTURBANCE
The Heiji disturbance, which occurred late in 1159, represents a
brief armed skirmish in the capital. The event itself was of
relatively minor importance. Supporters of Go-Shirakawa, who
possessed sovereign authority as a "retired emperor," vied for
influence with the sovereign. One faction, composed of Fujiwara
Shinzei and Taira Kiyomori, gained more influence over another group,
led my Fujiwara Nobuyori and Minamoto Yoshitomo. Nobuyori and
Yoshitomo advanced on the palace, captured the retired emperor,
placed him in a cart and set fire to the palace. This scene is
depicted here, and Nobuyori and Yoshitomo appear prominently as
they attack and burn the palace, kill partisans of the Taira, and
parade their decapitated heads.
Shinzei had attempted to hide, but was eventually captured and
beheaded. Ultimately, the retired emperor Go-Shirakawa, and the
reigning emperor, Rokujo, were able to escape by disguising
themselves. Taira Kiyomori thereupon launched an attack on the
plotters, Nobuyori was defeated, captured and later executed.
Yoshitomo fled but was killed while taking a bath.
After the Heiji disturbance, Taira Kiyomori gained influence as a
trusted advisor to Go-Shirakawa, and ultimately a high ranking noble.
He perished in 1181.
One of Yoshitomo's sons, Minamoto Yoritomo, was spared in 1160 and
exiled, and he later led a revolt which resulted in the death of
Taira Kiyomori's relatives in 1185. Even though Go-Shirakawa remained
retired emperor until 1192, the victory of Yoritomo came to be
thought of as being epochal, for it represents the establishment of a
warrior government, the Kamakura bakufu, in Eastern Japan.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE SCROLLS
The Heiji scrolls date from the thirteenth century. They can be documented as being viewed by courtiers in the fifteenth century, and represents a masterpiece of "Yamato" painting. The quality of the scrolls, and the accuracy of the images is unsurpassed. This scroll is particularly valuable in that it provides an early thirteenth-century depiction of Japanese warriors. The scene appearing here, which shows the burning of the Sanjo palace, is the property of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Two other scenes of the scrolls, depicting the death of Shinzei, and in fragmentary form, Taira Kiyomori's later attack still survive in Japan.
READING THE SCROLLS
This scene provides a great tutorial as to how to read picture
scrolls. The scrolls read from right to left, and the focus of
attention is invariably drawn to the left. First we see some people
hurrying to the left, and a few individuals become a confused mass of
nobles, warriors and a troupe of imperial police. Thereupon
attention shifts to the palace, where Fujiwara Nobuyori, is ordering
the retired emperor into the cart. Wisps of smoke appear, and as the
scroll further unfolds, one witnesses the burning of the palace, the
decapitation of Taira supporters, and women of the palace fleeing for
their lives. Gradually order is restored, and a troupe of warriors
surrounds Go-Shirakawa's cart. Fujiwara Nobuyori, now in court roads,
leads the cart, and Minamoto Yoshitomo is located immediately behind.
These scrolls also reveal how action unfolds temporally. The cart
that appears before the burning palace represents the same cart that
is surrounded by warriors later in the scrolls. Likewise, the men
shown being decapitated by the burning palace have their heads,
carefully dressed and made up, placed on pikes in the final
procession. Thus as one unfolds the scrolls, one advances in time.
These images are not meant to be seen in their entirety, but rather
in a discrete section that shows a progression of events.