Japanese Poem for Tattoo – Opening Line of The Tale of The Heike

This is probably the most famous and memorised poem/line among Japanese people.

祇園精舍の鐘の声、 諸行無常の響きあり。 娑羅双樹の花の色、 盛者必衰の理をあらはす。 奢れる人も久しからず、 ただ春の夜の夢のごとし。 猛き者もつひにはほろびぬ、 ひとへに風の前の塵に同じ。

The Jetavana Temple bells ring the passing of all things. Twinned sala trees, white in full flower, declare the great man’s certain fall. The arrogant do not long endure: They are like a dream one night in spring. The bold and brave perish in the end: They are as dust before the wind.

Translation by Royall Tyler


The sound of the Gion Shōja bells echoes the impermanence of all things; the color of the sāla flowers reveals the truth that the prosperous must decline. The proud do not endure, they are like a dream on a spring night; the mighty fall at last, they are as dust before the wind

Translation by Helen Craig McCullough

↓ How it is read out in Japanese

Author : unknown(many opinions)

You can download the file right after purchase and no need to wait.

Background and Meaning

The tale of Heike (平家物語:Heike Monogatari) is a war chronicle as well as an epic account compiled before 1330 depicting the fights between the Taira clan and Minamoto clan over the power to control the entire Japan at the end of the 12th century in the Genpei War (1180–1185) The main theme of the story is the Buddhist law of impermanence (諸行無常

After defeating the Minamoto Clan who had had the support from the Japanese imperial family in 1161, the Taira clan prospered and got so arrogant to the point where they even advocated that ‘If you are not one of us(not a Taira member), you are not a human’. That arrogance and vainglory led to the destruction of Taira clan in the end, defeated by the revitalised Minamoto clan.

The fact that their glory lasted only 20 years symbolise the theme of the story, Impermanence.

Yoshitsune(義経), a genius military commander from the Minamoto clan who won numerous battles against the Taira clan eventually got betrayed by his older brother, Yoritomo (頼朝)and fled to Hiraizumi for protection. Hiraizumi was the seat of the Northern branch of the Fujiwara family, another big clan who stayed neutral during the Genpei war,  and thus flourishing with their own culture and political system.

However, because of protecting Yoshitsune, the Fujiwara clan too got destroyed by the Minamoto clan in the end.

Matsuo Basho, the most famous poet in the Edo period, also wrote one of the most famous Haiku when visited Hiraizumi to express this impermanence.


Summer grass, all the warriors are, but the remains of dreams

If you are interested in visiting Japan for holiday, then learning its history will definitely make your trip more enjoyable, especially visiting Historical sites. The Tale of Heike is available in English and I highly recommend this masterpiece regardless of visiting Japan or not.

➡️ The Tale of the Heike

Trivia : Story behind the Japanese national flag

It is said that the current Japanese flag (a red circle on a white background) has been inherited from the Minamoto clan’s flag.

They used this design because their enemy’s (the Taira clan) flag had the same design but in a different colour (a white circle on a red background). Red colour being sacred (as you can see the colour is commonly used on the shrine gate, torii) is the symbol of the imperial court. The Taira clan used this colour as their background claiming that they are a government army.

Above is the folding screen picture depicting the famous episode during the Genpei war where Yoichi Nasuno who fought alongside with the Minamoto clan shooting off a fan in the distance.  This is because the Taira clan placed a fan atop on one of their ships and dared the Minamoto clans to shoot it off. As you can see, the design of the fan is a white circle on a red background.

What you will get

Each design comes with calligraphy style including line art (Stencil)

Stencil is what your tattoo artist must have to ink the tattoo, as it serves as the outline to trace the artwork onto your skin.

NOTE : the design DOSE NOT NEED TO BE MIRRORED, meaning it should appear on your skin/object just as it appears on the paper when you print it out.

Depending on your purpose,  pick either of these files

  • Medium Resolution jpeg
  • Illustrator Editable pdf

Click the links below to download the demo (examples) .

When you make a purchase, you will be redirected to the download page.

Download and print it out / send it to your favourite tattoo artist.

The design is 100% accurate and authentic. and your tattoo artist does not need to know Japanese.

Which format is right for me?

If you are looking to use the design just as it appears and not wanting to resize, then the “jpeg” should be fine.

But if you are looking to

  • use it on a large object and need to resize
  • change the layout / position
    (e.g, vertical▶️horizontal / angled,  etc)

then the “pdf” should be your choice as it will less work for your tattoo artist, meaning costs less.
(You need to check with your tattoo artist though)

Click the link below for more information.

▶️ pdf or jpg ? Which one is right for me?

Before making a purchase

PLEASE MAKE SURE YOU READ THE PAGE BELOW to avoid buying wrong items and get exactly what want.

▶️Purchasing process


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  • Last Updated

    September 21, 2020

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    September 19, 2020

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