Saturday 21 January 2012

Taira no Kiyomori

Those of you who know me will know that I'm not to be disturbed on Sunday evenings. Three years ago I got hooked on the NHK historical drama which starts in January and lasts for a whole year (50 episodes). That year it was 'Atsuhime', the story of a young girl (brilliantly played by Miyazaki Aoi) from Satusma in the far south of the country, who was married off to Iesada (third from last Shogun) and who singlehandedly (well it was a drama) engineered the bloodless return of power to the Emperor in 1868 paving the way for modern Japan.

Next it was the story of Sakamoto Ryoma, who according to the drama, saw with his own eyes Perry's 'black ships' in 1853 (Mississipi style paddle steamers belching black smoke) and persuaded  arch enemies Choshu and Satsuma to put their quarrels aside and unite against the outside enemy, catch up with the West and create a strong modern Japan. Known as a peacemaker and assassinated at the young age of 31 in 1867, singer and heart-throb Fukuyama Masaharu played the title role with passion and to die-for good looks.

Last year it was the story of three sisters whose lives spanned the period in the late 16th century when Japan was transformed from a country of warring tribes to a peaceful nation by three consecutive leaders: Oda Nobunaga, cruel but with a penchant for wine and Western dress (think Sir Walter Raleigh); Toyotomi Hideyoshi, wheedling, cunning, nouveau riche love of gold; and Tokugawa Ieyasu who bided his time but won in the end creating the Tokugawa Shogun dynasty that ruled Japan for 250 years. The acting was awful and in places beggared belief. Our heroine Goh, the youngest of the three sisters,  looked the same age at the beginning as at the end even though she'd been married three times and had seven children. And would she really have called Hideyoshi 'monkey' to his face? However the story was compelling. The girls are nieces of Nobunaga. After his assassination they are taken in by Hideyoshi. Goh's elder sister Cha-cha becomes Hideyoshi's mistress (even though he was responsible for the death of their parents) and bears his child. Goh is married off to Ieyasu's son, Hidetada (second Tokugawa shogun). Later as Yodo-dono, Cha-cha chooses to die in Osaka castle rather than give herself up (the same fate their mother chose). The Tokugawas are the victors. Goh has lost a sister but sets to creating the female domain in Edo castle, Oh-Oku, which by the time Atsuhime inherited it was made up of over 1,000 women and a net of intrigue. Yes, it's fascinating stuff.

This year it's the story of Taira no Kiyomori (1118-1181). The Heian court is failing, the warrior class are the 'dogs' of the ruling classes doing their dirty work, killing robbers and pirates. Taira no Kiyomori is billed as the first samurai, the man who paved the way of the warrior: honor, duty to one's master, and loyalty unto death. Too much blood and guts for my taste but it promises to be a good story.

Another spin off from the series is the boost to local tourism. So this year Hiroshima is expected to do well and the famous shrine in Miyajima was constructed by Taira no Kiyomori no less. Next year's drama is the story of Niijima Yae, a young girl from Aizu in our very own Fukushima prefecture (NHK doing their bit to help the recovery here).  Aizu was the last stand of the shogunate and in 1868 she defended Aizu Castle, in the front line shooting with a rifle. After the defeat people from Aizu were persona non grata.  Paradoxically, many, who traditionally were very conservative, had to forge new lives and ended up as key players in the new international Japan. Iijima went to Kyoto, married in one of the first Christian marriages in Japan and with her husband founded Doshisha University, today one of the top universities in the country.

You have to watch each series from the start. In the course of a year there are so many characters and numerous sub-plots it's hard to pick up half way through. The second episode is repeated tomorrow (Saturday 21st) lunchtime, then edisode 3 is on Sunday. I watch it on digital TV and can get Japanese subtitles which for me is a great help. NHK doesn't offer anything in English (though I've suggested it, I think it would be a good export) but if you look on the internet there are lots of afficionados out there translating away. Here's a short trailer that's been subbed.
Good night from a cold and snow-bound Koriyama.
I wonder what's on the telly?

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