Background Information

Full name: Egara no Heita Tanenaga of the Wada family
Formal name: Wada no Heita Tanenaga
Nicknames: Yegara, Egara
Alternative names: See Name Variation
Origin: Japanese Legend
Dragons Slain: Heita's Uwabami

Background: Egara no Heita Tanenaga (1182 - 1213 AD) of the Wada family was a warrior during the Kamakura period. [9] He was an historical figure with many legendary adventures during his life. [4]

As one of Japan's dragon slayers, artist often depicted Heita piercing a dragon with his sword. [13] He also received acclaim for his skill with archery. [9]

Heita was the son of Wada Yoshinaga [9] and the nephew of Wada Yoshimori, head of the Wada clan. [12] He served as a retainer for Minamoto no Yoriie. [6] Theatrical productions that include Heita Tanenaga as a character sometimes also include another character as his wife, Tsunade, or Heita tsuma Tsunade. [22]

Heita lived during a time of political tension and civil conflict. In 1213, open war began between the Hojo Regents and the Wada clan when Heita Tanenaga and his cousins, Yoshimori's two sons, were arrested. [12] Though both his cousins were freed, Heita was detained and exiled to Mutsu province. [12] He died in battle later that year at the age of thirty-one. [4,9]

Name Variation

The hero known as Wada Heita Tanenaga had many names, and variations on those names, ascribed to him. He was Heita Tanenaga or Heida Tanenaga of the Wada family.

His nickname was Egara Heida, which came from the location of his residence near Egara Tenjin Shrine in the Kamakura district. [8] The variations of this nickname include the following:

  • Egara Heida
  • Egara Heita Tanenaga
  • Egara no Heida
  • Egara no Heita Tanenaga
  • Heida Yegara
  • Yegara-no-heida
  • Yegaro-no-Heida

For this reason, he was sometimes called Yegaro-no-heida or Egara Heida instead of his formal name, Heita Tanenaga.

Wada Heita Tanenaga, the Dragon Slayer

Heita Tanenaga was counted with Susa-no-o and Kikuchi Jaka as Japanese dragon slayers. [13] As a popular figure of Japanese legend, there were many retellings and variations of Heita's triumph over the dragon.

These variations may indicate that Heita slew multiple dragons, but it is also likely that these versions recount different stories of the same event.

One basic agreement was that Wada no Heita Tanenaga killed an enormous serpent, or uwabami, either during the rule of Hojo Yoshitoki (ruled 1205-1225 AD) [5] or just prior to it. The uwabami was a predatory dragon that could capture a person in its huge jaws. [8]

The Uwabami of 1203

One account depicted Heita battling an uwabami at the age of twenty-one. When hunting with a fellow soldier in the mountains, Heita encountered a monstrous serpent and killed it deep inside a cave. [4]

The Uwabami of Itozaki in Izu Province in 1203

According to one account of the The Tale of the Fuji Cave (Fuji no hitoana soshi), in the sixth month of 1203, Minamoto no Yoriie sent Wada no Heita Tanenaga to explore a great cave in Izu province at a place called Itozaki. Heita returned that same day and explained that he had slain an uwabami that had tried to swallow him whole. [6]

The Uwabami of Izu Province in 1207

In June of 1207, Minamoto no Yoriie held a hunting party in Izu province with Heita in attendance. [1] They encountered an enormous uwabami, and Heita slew the serpent, either in a mountain cave, [9] or somewhere in the mountains. [1]

The Uwabami of Settsu Province

An enormous uwabami, capable of swallowing both steed and rider, plagued Settsu province. [7,14] The dragon preyed on the populace of the area [14] until Heita Tanenaga confronted the dragon and slew it by a waterfall. [2] The artist Katsugawa Shuntei commemorated the slaying of the uwabami in a woodblock print. [2,10]

The Uwabami that Swallowed Heita Whole

While this account shared similarities to the Uwabami of Izu Province in 1207, this version stood out.

After being attacked by an uwabami, the dragon swallowed Heita whole. [19] The hero slashed his way out of the beast from the inside, [18] with assistance from two others who prevented the monster from escaping. [2] These two were sometimes unnamed, but in one print description, they were named as Izumi Kojiro Chikahira and Wada Kojiro Yoshishige. [18]

The variations of Heita slaying the uwabami include different dates, locations, and characters involved.

The majority of the legends take place in the mountains, either out in the open or deep within a cave. Even the uwabami of Settsu province died near a waterfall, which likely had surrounding mountain terrain.

The events of the battle also vary. In some legends, the monstrous uwabami preys upon humans by swallowing them whole, [7,14] but other accounts put the hero himself in the maw of the beast. While exploring a mysterious cave, an uwabami almost swallowed Heita, [6] and in a later account also set in Izu province, an uwabami swallowed him with one gulp, forcing him to destroy the monster from within to survive. [18,19] The dragon's dire strength remained the same in both version, but the later version forced Heita to face the same danger as those the uwabami preyed on before.

The legends also vary on those who were with Heita. Though not directly mentioned, servants would have attended Heita, who was both a warrior and a soldier. So when Minamoto no Yorii ordered Heita to explore a cave of mysteries, a porter likely went with him to bear and maintain the torches for light. [6] Similarly, at least one servant would have traveled with him to Settsu province. [14] In the legend with the earliest date, in 1203, Heita was with another soldier and possibly others. [4] Those accounts that set the legend during a hunting party include the names of fellow high-ranking soldiers [2,18] as well as leaders, [1] but those that attended members of the party were omitted.

These variations suggest that Heita may have slain more than one uwabami. However, it is also possible that his popularity alone caused the variety. His legend inspired artists of all mediums, including dramatists that wrote and later staged his battle with the dragon.

Heita Tanenaga and the Fuji Cave

There are two variations of Heita's story involving the Fuji Cave.

The first took place in 1201 A.D. On the third day of the fourth month of Shoji 3, Shogun Yoriie summoned his retainer Heita Tanenaga. He explained that many people spoke of the mysteries of Fuji cave, but no one had ever seen the place. So he ordered Heita to explore the cave and return with a report. [6]

Heita was known for his capability in dangerous situations, but this request was unlike any other. Fuji Cave had a reputation filled with supernatural events; still, Heita was bound to obey. So he went home to his uncle, Yoshimori, and explained everything. He said goodbye to his family, just in case, and dressed in his finest for his mission. [6]

He donned a small-sleeved robe and a mist-pattern hitatare, a matching shirt and pants worn under armor. He also wore a court cap and carried a gilded fan. He took two swords: the first was a foot and a half long with silver clasps and the second had adornments of gold and copper with a leather guard. [6]

A porter accompanied him, bearing a bundle of torches for light inside the cavern. Approximately one hundred yards (300 ft., 91 m) into the cave, Heita found a mass of snakes, each striped with a bright-red mouth. The squirming pile of serpents shifting in the darkness was terrifying, but he had no choice but to continue. So he leapt over the heads of the serpents, continuing deeper some five hundred yards (1500 ft., 457 m) before he saw anything else. [6]

A young woman, no more than eighteen years of age, sat at a silver loom. She was quite quite beautiful, well dressed, and had the voice of a heavenly bird. She asked him who he was to visit her here. When Heita explained, she told him that she would not allow him to pass and should he try, she would kill him. [6]

The woman told Heita that, as of this year, he was eighteen, but in his thirty-first year, he would die in battle. Her knowledge of him shook Heita, and her prediction suggested that she had some supernatural powers. Though he had planned to enter the inner parts of the cave, the woman's words showed him there was nothing he could do. Bitterly disappointed, he turned back to report to the Shogun. [6]

The second version took place in the sixth month of 1203. Yoriie asked his retainer, Heita Tenaga, to explore a mysterious cave in a place called Itozaki, which was in Izu province. Heita returned that same day, reporting that he escaped death by slaying a monstrous serpent, or uwabami, that tried to swallow him whole. [6]

Either version precedes the rest of the story of Fuij Cave, which features a different hero thereafter.

Heita Tanenaga in Theatre and Performance

Heita Tanenaga appears in many forms of traditional Japanese performance, including Noh drama, Kabuki theatre, and Bunraku shows.

One play was inspired by Heita's encounter with a giant serpent in the mountains, which he slew deep in its own cave. The legend became popular and inspired a play, which itself became very popular. [4]

In Noh theatre, one of the character masks is Heida or Heita, which portrays a mature warrior. Egara Heita's face inspired the design of this mask, and it is used to represent many diffrent warrior characters in Noh productions. [21]

The playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon, sometimes referred to as the greatest Japanese dramatist, wrote a play entitled Egara-no-Heida (1692) in Joruri style, which today is known as Bunraku, a traditional form for the puppet shows of Japan. [9]

Heita Tanenaga is a character in Namiki Sosuke's Kabuki drama Wada Gassen Onna Maizuru, which can be translated to The Wada Conflict: A Female Maizuru or The Herculean Woman. The play also features a character named Tsunade, Heita's wife. [22] Like Egara-no-Heida, the plot of Wada Gassen Onna Maizuru focuses on the political tension leading up to the historical Wada Gassen, or Wada Rebellion of 1213, and Heita's role in the events. [3,9]

Heita Tanenaga in Art

Many visual artists draw inspiration from the semi-historical figures in legendary adventures. Heita Tanenaga is featured in a number of traditional works.

Works by Utagawa Kuniyoshi

The artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) created several nishiki-e, or woodblock prints, featuring Heita Tanenaga.

Year Description
1834-1835 Heita slaying uwabami with a sword [16]
1839-1841 Heita Tanenaga cuts his way out of a giant python [18,19]
1845 The hero Wada Heita Tanenaga battling an uwabami with his sword [15]
1854 A series of prints for the Twelve Signs of the Zodiac, each of which featured a Japanese hero. The print for the sign of the Snake featured Heita Tanenaga and his foe the uwabami. [20]


Works by Katsukawa Shuntei

The artist Katsukawa Shuntei (1770-1820) crafted woodblock prints featuring Heita Tanenaga.

Year Description
Unknown Heita slaying the Uwabami [10,11]
1806-1807 Heita battling the uwabami with the help of two others [2]


Works by Other Artists

The artist Utagawa Kuniteru I (1808-1876) created a woodblock print in 1848 of Heita slaying the uwabami by skewering it with a polearm. [17]

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892) created a series of prints between 1867 and 1868 entitled 'Tales of the Floating World on Eastern Brocade.' Each print presented a scene of drama from a popular story, and one featured Wada Heita Tanegara. [12]

As a popular figure in Japanese legend, Wada Heita Tanegara was portrayed in many traditional forms of visual art.

Quick Facts

  • His nickname was Egara Heida or Yegara Heida. [8]
  • He was known for his abilities as an archer. [9]
  • During the rule of Hojo Yoshitoki, which spanned from 1205 to 1225 AD, Heita slew an enormous serpent, or uwabami, that preyed upon human beings. [5]
  • There were many variations on Heita slaying an uwabami, including details such as date and location. It is possible that Heita slew more than one dragon.
  • In one account, an uwabami swallowed Heita, forcing him to cut his way out of the belly of the beast. [18]
  • In another version, Heita tracked the dragon down and slew him with his sword by a waterfall. [2,14]
  • As a popular legendary figure, Heita Tanenaga appears in many traditional and modern works of art.
  • Heita's face inspired one of the warrior masks used in Noh drama. [21]
  • The character of Heita appears in a Bunraku play named for him. [9] He also plays a role in Wada Gassen Onna Maizuru, a Kabuki play of the political tension leading up to the historical Wada Rebellion of 1213. [3,9]

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Term Reference

Minamoto no Yoriie
n. Minamoto no Yoriie (1182-1204) was the second Kamakura shogun, reigned 1202 to 1203.
Minamoto no Yoriie n. Minamoto no Yoriie (1182-1204) was the second Kamakura shogun, reigned 1202 to 1203.