Historical Figure
Nationality: Japan
Date of Birth: 1155
Date of Death: 1189
Cause of Death: Arrows to body
Religion: Buddhism
Occupation: Monk, soldier, outlaw
Fictional Appearances:
Metafictional Fantasy
Type of Appearance: Direct (technically)
Saitō Musashibō Benkei (西塔武蔵坊弁慶, 1155–1189), popularly known as simply Benkei, was a Japanese warrior monk (sōhei) who lived in the latter years of the Heian Period (794–1185). Benkei led a varied life, first becoming a monk, then a mountain ascetic, and then a rogue warrior. He later came to respect and serve the famous warrior Minamoto no Yoshitsune. He is commonly depicted as a man of great strength and loyalty, and a popular subject of Japanese folklore, showcased in many ancient and modern literature and productions.

Benkei's early life is the subject of a number of competing rumors. He is said to have become a Buddhist monk at a young age, at a time when such monks were also trained to be fierce warriors. As an adult, he is said to have wandered Kyoto with the goal of defeating one thousand warriors. At some point, Benkei became a retainer of Minamoto no Yoshitsune. Legend holds that Yoshitsune was Benkei's thousandth opponent, but Yoshitsune defeated Benkei twice, earning Benkei's absolute loyalty. Benkei fought beside Yoshitsune in the Genpei War, and then joined him as an outlaw in 1189 after Yoshitsune ran afoul his powerful half-brother, Minamoto no Yoritomo.

Yoshitsune and Benkei died near Koromogawa in 1189. Surrounded by thousands of warriors loyal to Yoritomo, Yoshitsune retired to a nearby castle to commit seppuku, while Benkei held off the attackers. He single-handed slew several before the attackers decided to use arrows to kill him. Benkei died standing up; it was only when a brave opponent approached the body that they confirmed he was dead. They then collected Yoshitsune's head and sent it Yoritomo.

Benkei in "Character"[]

Steve, a fictional character who understood he was fictional, was sent back in time to medieval Japan by his author. His mind inhabited the body of the legendary Benkei just prior to Benkei becoming Minamoto Yoshitsune's[1] retainer.

Steve/Benkei defeated Yoshitsune in their first battle, which also involved anachronistic dialogue. However, the author then did additional research and rewrote the scene with Yoshitsune more or less winning and Steve/Benkei pledging his loyalty. From then on, Steve more or less lived Benkei's recorded life and death. Unlike the historical Benkei, Steve became an omniscient observer upon his "death", and saw that Yoshitsune had not committed seppuku.[2]


  1. Turtledove does not use "no" as part of Yoshitune's name.
  2. Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March/April 2021