Seventh Asian Studies Conference Japan
    Saturday, June 21-Sunday 22, 2003
    Ichigaya Campus of Sophia University



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Contact the organizers: Asian Studies Conference (ASCJ) c/o Institute of Asian Cultural Studies, International Christian University 3-10-2 Osawa, Mitaka-shi, Tokyo 181


Session 19
Poems and Characters: Nukata no Ôkimi, Saigyô, and Abutsu-ni
Organizer/Chair: Torquil Duthie, Columbia University

This panel examines the relationship between the reading of poetry and the construction of the poet's character and biography. The presenters focus on three different cases of biographical criticism. Torquil Duthie discusses the status of the Man'yoshu poet Nukata no Ôkimi as an object of both literary and historical study. Jack Stoneman analyzes the relationship between medieval narratives about Saigyô and the modern criticism of his poetry. Christina Laffin looks at how the reading and appraisal of Abutsu-ni's works has been affected by the typification of her character. The panel explores the extent to which it is justifiable or desirable to read poetry biographically, and the possibilities that biographical readings open up or preclude.

1) Torquil Duthie, Columbia University. "Nukata no Ôkimi: Poetry, Romance, and History"

This paper examines the ways in which modern critics have reconstructed the life of the Man'yoshu poet Nukata no Ôkimi from her poems. Nukata's dates are unknown, but judging from the dates of her grandson Kadono no Ôkimi (668-705) her birth is often estimated around the year 638, and according to a poetic exchange with Prince Yuge (MYS II: 111-112) she appears to have been alive during Sovereign Jito's reign (690-697). There are two main interrelated images of Nukata no Ôkimi. The first is Nukata as the heroine of a tragic love triangle with two brothers, the Sovereigns Tenchi (r. 662-671) and Tenmu (r. 672-686). The second is Nukata as a priestess or shaman who acted as a 'medium' in her poetry for Sovereign Saimei (r. 655-661).

As I will show, these two images are based on a number of pre-war studies, which Tani Kaoru critiqued more than 40 years ago as having more to do with the imagination of pre-war scholars than with Nukata's poems. However, while more recent studies have tended to shy away from using Nukata's poetry to construct a romanticized biography, even the most restrained approaches still involve a large amount of speculation about her life. I will examine how this is in part due to Nukata no Okimi's status as both a literary and a historical figure, but also to the fact that there appears to be a 'Nukata no Ôkimi tale' being constructed in the text of the Man'yoshû itself.

2) Jack Stoneman, Columbia University. "Saigyo: Reading the Poems, not the Poet"

This paper proposes the need for a re-reading of the poetry of Saigyô (1118-90). Since the thirteenth century, Saigyô's poetry has been read biographically, as a glimpse into his activities as well as his religiosity. The development of his legend in such works as Senjushô, Saigyô monogatari emaki, Saigyô monogatari, noh plays, folk tales, and later poetry reconfirmed the biographical reception of his poetry. Scholars of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries relied upon this long received image of Saigyô when analyzing his poetry, which only perpetuated a semi-fictional Saigyô, and prevented a more rigorous assessment of the poems themselves.

Since the 1970s, scholars from the fields of waka, history, and folk studies have approached Saigyô and his poetry from many vantage points. Though the works of scholars such as Mezaki Tokue, Hanabe Hideo, Yamaki Koichi, and Gorai Shigeru have expanded our knowledge of Saigyô, his poetry, and the growth of his legend, their treatment of his poetry is flawed. A conglomerate rhetoric, based upon the legendary image of Saigyô, surrounds his poetry, often preventing new and different readings and contexts from escaping. My purpose is to peel away the layers of biography and legend that obscure the poems themselves, and analyze the poems in a more objective manner. This re-reading will then allow a more balanced and clear assessment of the poetic world that Saigyô himself created and how that world influenced the varied images of Saigyô that were shaped by later generations of poets, artists, monks, playwrights, and scholars.

3) Christina Laffin, Columbia University. "Abutsu-ni: Wise Mother, Faithful Wife, and Heroine"

Nun Abutsu (1222-1283), author of Utatane (1240?), Izayoi nikki (1283), Yoru no tsuru, and Niwa no oshie (also called Menoto no fumi) has been characterized by scholars as a wise mother intent on securing a financial and literary future for her children, a faithful wife protecting the interests of her deceased husband, and even as an ardent or heroic woman (retsujo). More recent studies by historians have begun to consider the political motivations behind Abutsu's journey to Kamakura in 1280 to appeal a land inheritance on behalf of her eldest son, Tamesuke (1263-1328).

This presentation will examine how Abutsu has been typified within scholarship on Izayoi nikki, and how this has resulted in the categorization of the work as a literary failure, as well as the compartmentalization of Izayoi nikki into sections that resemble either diaries (nikki), travel literature (kikô, or a poetry primer (waka mihon).

I will argue that reading Izayoi nikki within its socioliterary context instead of focusing on the work's "literary value" will help us understand Abutsu's motivation for writing Izayoi nikki and how the work developed. In particular, I will focus on the waka included in the work and how the travel sections (often dismissed as dull and stereotypical) can be read as supporting her poetic appeal for the position of her sons within the Mikohidari lineage.

Finally, I will consider how the image of Abutsu that emerges from this reading of Izayoi nikki can be reconciled with the differing portrayals of her that appear in Utatane and other works.

Discussant: Gaye Rowley, Waseda University


list of panels