Shizuka Gozen
Shizuka Gozen (1165–1211), or Lady Shizuka, one of the most famous women in Japanese history and literature, was a shirabyōshi
were female dancers, prominent in the Japanese Imperial Court, who performed traditional Japanese dances dressed as men. The profession of shirabyōshi developed in the 12th century...

(court dancer) of the 12th century, and a mistress of Minamoto no Yoshitsune
Minamoto no Yoshitsune
was a general of the Minamoto clan of Japan in the late Heian and early Kamakura period. Yoshitsune was the ninth son of Minamoto no Yoshitomo, and the third and final son and child that Yoshitomo would father with Tokiwa Gozen. Yoshitsune's older brother Minamoto no Yoritomo founded the Kamakura...

. Since she, like many others, are featured largely in the Heike Monogatari (Tale of Heike), Gikeiki
The is a Japanese gunki monogatari that focuses on the legends of Minamoto no Yoshitsune and his followers. Considered to have been composed during the Nanboku-chō period, it has provided inspiration to numerous Noh, kabuki and bunraku plays...

(Chronicle of Yoshitsune), and a number of plays of various traditions, her story is quite well known, but it is difficult to separate fact from fiction within it.

Early life

Her mother, Iso no Zenji, was a shirabyōshi as well. According to the Gikeiki, Shizuka was invited at one point by Retired Emperor Go-Shirakawa
Emperor Go-Shirakawa
Emperor Go-Shirakawa was the 77th emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession...

, along with 99 other dancers, to dance for rain after the chanting of 100 Buddhist monks failed to bring that same result. Though the 99 dancers likewise failed to bring rain, Shizuka's arrival brought the desired effect. She was then praised by the Emperor, and it was at this time that she met Yoshitsune.

When Yoshitsune fled Kyoto in 1185, after the end of the Genpei War
Genpei War
The was a conflict between the Taira and Minamoto clans during the late-Heian period of Japan. It resulted in the fall of the Taira clan and the establishment of the Kamakura shogunate under Minamoto Yoritomo in 1192....

, and following a disagreement with his brother, Yoritomo
Minamoto no Yoritomo
was the founder and the first shogun of the Kamakura Shogunate of Japan. He ruled from 1192 until 1199.-Early life and exile :Yoritomo was the third son of Minamoto no Yoshitomo, heir of the Minamoto clan, and his official wife, a daughter of Fujiwara no Suenori, who was a member of the...

, the first Kamakura shogun
Kamakura shogunate
The Kamakura shogunate was a military dictatorship in Japan headed by the shoguns from 1185 to 1333. It was based in Kamakura. The Kamakura period draws its name from the capital of the shogunate...

, Shizuka was left behind in Yoshino
Yoshino, Nara
is a town located in Yoshino District, Nara Prefecture, Japan.As of September 1, 2007, the town had an estimated population of 9397 and a density of 97.93 persons per km². The total area was 95.65 km².-Geography:...

. The exact details of how far she traveled with Yoshitsune before being sent back, or whether she traveled further than Yoshino at all, differ from one literary work to the next, as do many of the other finer details of her tale. In any case, she was captured by Hōjō Tokimasa
Hojo Tokimasa
was the first Hōjō shikken of the Kamakura bakufu and head of the Hōjō clan. He was shikken from the death of Minamoto no Yoritomo in 1199 until his abdication in 1205.- Background: The Hōjō Clan :...

 and forces loyal to Yoritomo, and, according to some versions of the story, forced to dance for the new shogun at Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū. There, she sang songs of her longing for Yoshitsune, which angered Yoritomo; but Yoritomo's wife Hōjō Masako
Hojo Masako
was the eldest child of Hōjō Tokimasa by his wife Hōjō no Maki, the first shikken, or regent, of the Kamakura shogunate. She was the sister of Hōjō Yoshitoki, and was married to Minamoto no Yoritomo, the first shogun of the Kamakura period...

 was sympathetic, and helped to have her released. However, she was by this point pregnant with Yoshitsune's child; Yoritomo declared that if it were a daughter she could live on peacefully, but if it were a son, he would have the child killed. A short time later, when Shizuka was 19, she gave birth to a son; Adachi Kiyotsune tried to take the child, who was instead given to Shizuka's mother. She then traveled back to Kyoto, where she became a Buddhist nun. Shizuka was later killed, however, along with her and Yoshitsune's child, by the order of Yoritomo.

According to some versions of the story, she did not become a nun upon her return, nor was she killed. Alternatively, she returned to Kyoto and was welcomed by Hōjō Masako back into court life, where she remained for a time. She then left the capital once more, committing suicide by drowning herself in a river, though versions differ on where this occurred.


Shizuka features prominently in the Noh
, or - derived from the Sino-Japanese word for "skill" or "talent" - is a major form of classical Japanese musical drama that has been performed since the 14th century. Many characters are masked, with men playing male and female roles. Traditionally, a Noh "performance day" lasts all day and...

 play Funa Benkei
Funa benkei
Funa benkei is a Japanese Noh play written by Kanze Kojirô Nobumitsu, eventually adapted to Kabuki by Kawatake Mokuami in 1885. It was staged for the first time in November that year and starred Ichikawa Danjūrō IX.-Story:...

and the bunraku
, also known as Ningyō jōruri , is a form of traditional Japanese puppet theater, founded in Osaka in 1684.Three kinds of performers take part in a bunraku performance:* Ningyōtsukai or Ningyōzukai—puppeteers* Tayū—the chanters* Shamisen players...

 play Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura
Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura
Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura , or Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees, is a Japanese play, one of the three most popular and famous in the Kabuki repertoire...

, both of which were later adapted by kabuki
is classical Japanese dance-drama. Kabuki theatre is known for the stylization of its drama and for the elaborate make-up worn by some of its performers.The individual kanji characters, from left to right, mean sing , dance , and skill...

, and in a number of other works of literature and drama, both traditional and modern. She is also celebrated throughout the country in various festivals; many towns across Japan claim to be the location for her religious exile, her death, or other significant events of her life.

In popular culture

Shizuka is represented in the 2005 video game Genji: Dawn of the Samurai
Genji: Dawn of the Samurai
Genji: Dawn of the Samurai is a PlayStation 2 game released on September 20, 2005. It is loosely based on The Tale of the Heike.A sequel, Genji: Days of the Blade was released for PlayStation 3.-Storyline:...

, as "Gozen Shizuka" (Lady Shizuka), a character who aids the protagonist, Yoshitsune Minamoto
Minamoto no Yoshitsune
was a general of the Minamoto clan of Japan in the late Heian and early Kamakura period. Yoshitsune was the ninth son of Minamoto no Yoshitomo, and the third and final son and child that Yoshitomo would father with Tokiwa Gozen. Yoshitsune's older brother Minamoto no Yoritomo founded the Kamakura...

 and his ally (a former enemy) Saito Musashibo Benkei
Saito Musashibo Benkei
, popularly called Benkei, was a Japanese warrior monk who served Minamoto no Yoshitsune. He is commonly depicted as a man of great strength and loyalty, and a popular subject of Japanese folklore.-Biography:...

 during the course of the game. Gozen Shizuka is depicted as an exceptionally beautiful young woman with long silver hair. She is the survivor who possesses the power of Yosegane, and she returns in the 2006 PlayStation3 sequel, Genji: Days of the Blade
Genji: Days of the Blade
Genji: Days of the Blade, known in Japan as , is an action game that was released on the PlayStation 3 platform.Genji: Days of the Blade takes place three years after the end of Genji: Dawn of the Samurai...

as one of playable characters, where she is depicted similarly.
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