SOAS University of London

Japan & Korea Section, Department of East Asian Languages & Culture

Elesabeth Woolley

BA Hons (Birmingham), MA (SOAS)
  • Overview
  • Teaching
  • Research


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Elesabeth Woolley
Email address:
Thesis title:
Suspicious Steeds and Evil Deeds: Ambition and Misconduct in the Genpei Jōsuiki
Year of Study:
Internal Supervisors


I grew up in Shropshire, an area of the UK known for its history, and have always been fascinated by how different generations tell their story for posterity. My first degree dissertation focused on representations of Kingship in the Wars of the Roses.

I subsequently developed an interest in the literature and history of Pre-Modern Japan. My MA thesis focused on the representation of Taira no Munemori in the Kakuichi version of the Tale of the Heike (Heike Monogatari).

My current project centres particularly on the representation of warriors and their horses in the War Tales and the influence these depictions have on perceptions of historical events.

My PhD was supported by the Wolfson Scholarship for Languages (2015-8). It was submitted for Viva in February 2019.

PhD Research

Japan’s Genpei War (1180-1185) has inspired generations of storytellers, artists and playwrights, whose work has brought alive stories featuring the warrior families of Minamoto and Taira. Many of the best-known tales about Genpei War warriors exist because of a collection of War Tale (gunkimonogatari) texts known as the Heike Monogatari, which detail the highs and lows of the war, with embellishment and artistic licence.

While much scholarly attention has focused on one fourteenth century performance version of this text, other variants have not been so closely studied. One such is Genpei Jōsuiki, the longest variant text of the Heike Monogatari family. My research explores how Genpei Jōsuiki presents both stories and its characters, and the implications of these depictions on the dating and overall message of this variant. Using close textual analysis and inter-textual comparisons, I explore how Genpei Jōsuiki frames praiseworthy and aberrant behaviour, how these depictions influence the reputations of the key participants, and how these depictions are influenced in the narrative by use of the horse. I argue that horses are not just battle equipment in War Tale texts, but used in scene construction to foreshadow and influence the fates of its characters.


  • "Re-Representing the Genpei War" (British Association of Japanese Studies, Sheffield, September 2018)
  • "Takatsuna, the Horse Thief" (HUJI Asian Studies Conference, May 2018)
  • "Tracing Konoshita: The Horse that Caused the Genpei War" ("Storytelling" York Centre for Mediaeval Studies, June 2017)


  • European Association of Japanese Studies (Member)
  • British Association of Japanese Studies (Member)


  • H120 (Introduction to East Asia)
  • H283 (Modern Japan) 2018-1


  • Depictions of the Genpei War
  • History and warrior literature of Pre-modern Japan (with particular current focus on Genpei Jōsuiki)
  • War tales as propaganda
  • Horses as symbols in War Tales