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August 11, 2019

heikegani crab

Yoshitsune and Benkei defending themselves on their ship during a storm created by the ghosts of defeated Taira warriors. From Utagawa Kuniyoshi, 1853.

What is a Heikegani crab?

The story of the Heike clan of the 12th century is recreated to this day, telling how they were annihilated in a naval battle. One of the legends states that the spirit of the drowned people subsists in a local species of crab, the Heike. Heikegani. These crabs have curious shapes on their shells, resembling a human face with a hard gesture, reminiscent of those ancient warriors lying in the sea.

The tragic end of the Heike family

Yoshitsune and Benkei defending themselves on their ship during a storm created by the ghosts of defeated Taira warriors. From Utagawa Kuniyoshi, 1853.
Yoshitsune and Benkei defending themselves on their ship during a storm created by the ghosts of the defeated Taira warriors. From Utagawa Kuniyoshi, 1853.

It took place on April 25, 1185. The naval battle of Dan no Ura marked the end of the Heike. This sad story is recreated to the present day in legends and depictions of the Kabuki and gives rise to the myth of the Heikegani.

In the 12th century, after decades of conflict over imperial power in Japan, the tragic final meeting of the Minamoto clan (Genji) and the Taira clan (Heike) took place.

This moment marks the end of the classical period and the beginning of the feudal period in the country.

In this naval battle, the Genji clan, led by Minamoto no Yoshitsune, crushed the Heike. Sensing the end, the emperor's grandmother Antoku, then seven years old, took him in her arms and threw herself into the sea. The same fate befell other Taira warriors, including their leader Tomomori. All drowned for throwing themselves into the sea.

This final confrontation was the culmination of the Genpei wars, which lasted for five long years between the two clans. With the death of Emperor Antoku and the defeat of the Taira clan, a series of atrocities followed. All surviving Heike were hunted down and killed. Minamoto Yoritomo, older half-brother of Minamoto Yoshitsune became the first shogun of Kamakura.

Yoshitsune and Benkei defending themselves on their boat during a storm created by the ghosts of the defeated Taira warriors. From Utagawa Kuniyoshi, 1853.Yoshitsune and Benkei defending themselves on their ship during a storm created by the ghosts of the defeated Taira warriors. From Utagawa Kuniyoshi, 1853.

The legend of the Heikegani

According to the Heike monogatari (Heike's song), the spirits of warriors who drowned in an unfortunate naval battle still linger in the depths of the sea of Japan. This 13th century epic poem is a classic of Japanese literature and the source of many legends and characters.
One of these tales states that the Taira spectres were reincarnated in a local species of crab from the coast of Dan no Ura, precisely called de Heikegani (Heikeopsis Japonica).
These crabs have curious shell shapes, very similar to a human face gesticulating in the manner of a stoic Japanese warrior.

The moment of the transformation of the Heike into crabs and other stories related to this episode are portrayed in many illustrations, such as the engravings of the great Kuniyoshi, which you can see in this article. Hundreds of years later, these illustrations continue to serve as inspiration for tattoos and drawings all over the world.
heikegani - The ghost of Taira Tomomori and the anchor that went down with him, and. heikegani with the faces of fallen soldiers. By Utagawa Kuniyoshi, (1798-1861)

heikegani - The ghost of Taira Tomomori and the anchor that went down with him, and heikegani with the faces of fallen soldiers. From Utagawa Kuniyoshi, (1798-1861)
The ghost of Taira Tomomori, the anchor that went down with him, and heikegani with the faces of fallen soldiers. By Utagawa Kuniyoshi, (1798-1861)

Heikegani and Hoichi from Kobayashi's eye

Heikegani and Hoichi from Kobayashi's eye

It is worth noting here the fragment of an extraordinary 1964 film by director Masaki Kobayashi. The film is called kaidan - The Afterlife, and is based on the book Kwaidan by Lafcadio Hearn.

They are four stories of the Japanese oral tradition, and one of them illustrates perfectly what I tell in this article, is the story of Hoichi, the unearthly.

Here you have the legends of Hoichi and the Heikegani told with great art by this genius of Japanese cinema. It's worth watching, if you don't know it yet, don't miss it.

My references to draw Heikegani

You may click here to access the board "Heikegani- Japanese Mythology" from my Pinterest account.

The pins you will find are a selection of illustrations and tattoos from various artists, all quite representative in terms of defining a crab. heikegani.

I have created it to be able to easily access these images and use them as a reference when drawing or tattooing.

They are also useful to show my clients and other interested parties who want to see a small selection of interesting references from heikegani.

Knowing the classic representations of a character can help when it is time to specify the idea of a possible tattoo or drawing.

My Heikegani drawings

Here you will find designs from heikegani made by me. In them I try, in my own way, to capture the traditional aesthetics of the heikegani with all the characteristics described above.

They are drawings designed for tattooing, some of them already tattooed and others available. You can see more drawings like these in the Drawings section of the web, where I also present other characters of the Japanese iconography.

My Heikegani tattoos

You can see here some pictures of tattoos that I have made with Heikegani.

You may find more detailed material in the Tattoo Gallery of the web. There I dedicate a post for each tattoo and I usually upload several photos to better show the details and also tell something more about the work in question.


About this article

There is much more to tell about the heikegani. This post is open to updates. I will be adding useful information and if you want, you can also participate by leaving your comment!

I am the author of this article. I will be delighted if you disclose this text as long as you cite the source and authorship.

The sources of information used for the creation of this text correspond to the following books and pages cited.

Written by Caroli Dilli
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