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Benkei@ٌc
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Musashibou Benkei Vٌc, a semi-legendary warrior-monk of the 12c, who was associated with Minamoto no *Yoshitsune `o (1159-89) and a favorite subject in drama and art. A historical figure called Benkei appears briefly and insignificantly in AZUMA KAGAMI ȋ (The Mirror of The East), and other histories, but the warrior-priest who serves Yoshitsune in numerous stories--described as prodigiously strong, unswervingly brave, irrepressibly cunning, and invariably good-natured--is certainly a product of the imagination. Benkei plays major roles in GIKEIKI `oL (The Annals of Yoshitsune), *otogi zoushi 䉾q, BENKEI MONOGATARI ٌc (The Tales of Benkei), and in several *nou \, kouwakamai Kᕑ, and *kabuki ̕ dramas. Benkei's first meeting with Yoshitsune is related in an episode known as "Benkei at the Bridge" Hashi Benkei ٌc. The details of the incident vary depending on the version (GIKEIKI 3: McCullough, pp. 121-27; BENKEI MONOGATARI, otogi zoushi and nou HASHI BENKEI). In one version, Benkei--determined to collect one-thousand swords--way-lays passers-by until he attacks and is defeated by the young Yoshitsune. In the other version, it is the effeminate Yoshitsune, wearing a woman's cloak, who murders Taira warriors at the Gojou ܏ Bridge in order to collect one-thousand swords. In both cases, after a long duel, Yoshitsune defeats Benkei and makes the ruffian his servant. The next major episode concerning Benkei and Yoshitsune is "Benkei in the Boat" Funa Benkei Dٌc, based on an incident in GIKEIKI 4 (McCullough, pp. 153-65) and developed into the nou FUNA BENKEI , as well as the kouwakamai SHIKOKUOCHI l and OISAGASHI. When Yoshitsune and his men, fleeing the capital, set out for western Japan from Daimotsu no ura 啨Y (see *Senbonzakura {), the vengeful ghosts of the Taira warriors slain in the Genpei war (see * heike-e ƊG) threaten Yoshitsune and his ships. Benkei, either through prayers or arms (depending on the version), subdues the Taira spirits. Perhaps Benkei's most famous episode occurs during Yoshitsune's escape to Oushuu B (present-day Touhoku k region), when Benkei dupes the guards at the Ataka Barrier into letting pass the small band of fugitives disguised as priests. The incident, found in incipient form in GIKEIKI 7 (McCullough, pp. 251-55), was developed into the nou ATAKA, kouwakamai TOGASHI x~ and OISAGASHI, and achieved mass popularity in the kabuki *KANJINCHOU i. In addition to the episodes concerning his service to Yoshitsune, a variety of legends fill in the early years of Benkei's life. The son of a priest of Kumano F, he was called Oniwakamaru S as a youth. Abnormally large and strong, he is described as having shoulder-length hair and a complexion supposedly scarred by smallpox. Best known of the legends of Benkei's childhood is his prodigious struggle with a giant carp under a waterfall. Eventually Benkei entered the western compound of the temple on Mt. Hiei b. From Benkei's days as a priest comes the episode of his stealing the bell of the rival temple Miidera O䎛 and carrying it up the steep slopes of Mt. Hiei. According to one version, the bell would not ring, so Benkei threw it down the mountain and it rolled back to Miidera. In another telling, the abbot of Mt. Hiei ordered Benkei to carry it back to Miidera. Also famous is his violent attack on priests at Mt. Shosha in which Benkei avenges an insult by throwing one monk onto the roof of the Lecture Hall *koudou u, and then burning the entire compound (GIKEIKI 3, McCullough, pp. 115-21), made into the act SHOSHAZAN ʎR from the kabuki KIICHI HOUGEN SANRYAKU NO MAKI S@O. As an adult, Benkei is usually depicted as a large, powerful itinerant monk, yamabushi R, wearing black robes, a small cap on his shaved head, and a conch shell around his neck. Typically his expression is fierce and his eyes bloodshot. Benkei is frequently shown in popular art of the Edo period, with depictions ranging from *ootsu-e ÊG (primarily, illustration of the Miidera incident) to sword guards, tsuba . He also appears frequently in *ukiyo-e G including warrior prints *musha-e ҊG; actor prints *yakusha-e ҊG; and *mitate-e G, most notably in works by Utagawa Kuniyoshi ̐썑F (1797-1861).
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