SBP Blog

Stone Bridge Cafe: What Was Lost at Dan no Ura

Intern Intern - Thursday, May 03, 2018

Stone Bridge Cafe is a bi-weekly online series from Stone Bridge Press devoted to bringing readers short stories, poems, non-fiction pieces, photographs, and artwork from and/or about East Asia. For submission guidelines and info, follow the link at the bottom of this post.

This week we're serving up an eloquent haibun (a poetry-and- prose form from Japan) written by M.C. Danzinger that meditates on the classic Japanese war epic, The Tale of the Heike (Heike Monogatari, 平家物語)—a tale full of dramatic death and heartbreaking tragedy. Of the epic's many conflicts, Danzinger chose to focus on one particularly important battle: the battle of Dan no Ura. Besides being one of the battles that sealed the fate of the Taira (Heike) clan, it is also where one of the most tragic deaths of the entire story takes place. Enjoy! 


What Was Lost at Dan no Ura 
Imagine the ocean, deep, dark and angry. Imagine cruel conflict between two ancient families. Imagine being a six-year-old emperor, and sailing on those warring waters. The battle of Dan no Ura is where the forces of the warrior-clan Taira lost the Genpei war (1180-1185) to the opposing clan of Minamoto at the strait between Honshu the main island of Japan, and the southern island of Kyushu. In the dramatized epic The Tale of the Heike, the losses are described to us in poetic detail, and the words reach across centuries to touch us. None of these deaths is more tragic than the death of the young emperor Antoku.
young boy forced to take the throne,
royal in life, home,
blood, and bone.
The name Antoku is special; the Chinese character for “virtue” (toku 徳) is only included in the posthumous names of emperors who died far from the ancient capital of Kyoto. The other character (an 安) ironically means “peace” and “safety.” That, and his innocent attire described in the Heike add to the tragedy.
looped hair cradled by his shoulders,
robes of pleasant green and grey
belie the gravity of fate.

The main theme of the Heike is one of the Buddhist ideal of impermanence. The opening lines of the tale itself reflect this; “The Jetvana Temple bells / ring the passing of all things.” Buddhism, especially the Pure Land sect which believes in rebirth in the “Pure Land”, was practiced widely at this time. When Antoku’s grandmother Kenreimon’in realizes along with the rest of the Taira forces that their situation is hopeless, she decides that it would be more merciful to have Antoku drown in the turbulent waters of the Shimonoseki strait than fall victim to the opposing Minamoto.
in fervent prayer clasped tiny hands,
to the east and west,
for purer lands.
grandmother forced you to the sea,
“peaceful virtue”
in the capital below the waves.
Adolphson, Mikael S., and Anne Commons. Lovable Losers: the Heike in Action and Memory. 2015.
Tyler, Royall, translator. The Tale of the Heike. Viking, 2012.



M.C. Danzinger studies Japanese language and literature at the University of Alberta. He tutors high school English language arts and tries to inspire his students to enjoy poetry as much as he does.

If you would like to submit your own work to Stone Bridge Cafe, follow this link for submission info and guidelines:

Like our blog? Please share it!


Subscribe to the SBP Mailing List

New Releases

Amy’s Guide to Best Behavior in Japan

Going to Japan? This unfussy modern guide guarantees you keep it polite and get it right!

Easy and Fun Katakana

Learn the second key Japanese syllabary from every angle: reading, writing, and real-world examples.

Exploring Kyoto

This revised and updated edition of the Japan travel classic and cultural guide gets you wandering from downtown quarters to remote mountaintop temples and features expanded information on new museums and gardens now open year-round for viewing.

My Year of Dirt and Water

Married to a Zen monk in training, an American woman in Japan chronicles her own year of growth and discovery.

Tag Cloud

amy chavez japanese etiquette japan food hate World War Two The Colorado Review the millions Spirituality japanese classic japanese japanese cutlure Christianity japan travel evil Chinese Astrology Olympics journal of a zen monks wife in japan ningen shikkaku Korea osamu tezuka center of east asian studies new books leonard koren reviews Basho shamisen zazen review buddhist swastika haibun william f sibley Art/Design four immigrants memoir Okinawan literature min kahng classic japanese literature jared cook janet pocorobba tk nakagaki non-fiction tea graphic novels tourist blurb purification 2020 Olympics diary Language musical Poetry book review japanese travel nara otakuusa green tea japan restaurant Chinese culture japan custom japan memoir 1960s Korea Coming of Age Day journal of a zen monk's wife author signing Christianity in Japan literature author event zen monk suehiro maruo how to japan today disney Translation religion comics mark gibeau journal' monks wife japanese customs Second World War koun stone bridge press monk wife WWII tracy franz Japanese holidays lions roar tokyo japan guide manners kyoto chinese comics award peace book signing washington dc alan brill bookstore huffpost dark horse visitor eating in japan japan etiquette the japan times poetry of consciousness japanese people travel Japan fred schodt donald keene bowing in japan japanese drunk History Travel gratitude in japan photography china history tea garden 1960's Japan etiquette World War II publicity t.k. nakagaki Korea photography seppuku Shoah author behavior buddhist symbols osamu dazai Children's Literature book Japanese aesthetics pottery in the woods of memory understandind china through comics buddhist sensei kansuke naka what do in japan VIZ yukio mishima buddhism Spring Festival takuma sminkey journal Ukiyo-e literary review swastika literary prize japanese bath Asian Studies haiku Anime/Manga/Comics polite japanese book Chinese history ex pat literature announcement juddhism politics and prose Japan Basho's Narrow Road anime kyodo news osaka asian review of books ancient symbols my year of dirt and water Tokyo Olympics illustration book hoarding books the hidden writer danica davidson Children's Books rachel manley jing liu travel to japan book blurb japanese culture world literature today internment eastern and western philosophy the silver spoon suicide nazi Chinese New Year Japanese art holocaust wife Year of the Dog michael emmerich student teacher manga Nikolas Bunton no longer human PEN AWARD monks wife memoir, tracy franz, zen monk, buddhist amys guide to best behavior in japan UCLA ritual drinking in japan verticle Culture author tour huffington post monk damian flanagan university of chicago tricycle magazine AAS comic history shun medoruma publishing stone bridge cafe asia new york classic henry kiyama hooked cross nichi bei weekly, naomi hirarahara how to travel in japan expat hiroaki sato zen frederik schodt Interview how to order in japan China Alexandra Johnson the buddhist swastika book tour gaijinpot hitler a shameful life Japanese literature guide gaijin pot Chiune Sugihara the fourth string matcha giajin book publicity astrology