ASCJ 2009
SATURDAY AFTERNOON SESSIONS: 1:15 P.M. – 3:15 P.M.
Session 16: Room 11-505

Intersections of religion and literature in pre-modern Japan

Organizer/Chair: Molly Vallor, Stanford University/Rikkyo University

1) Ignacio Quiros, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes/Rikkyo University

Sympathetic magic in early Japan: the different modalities of the so-called “spirit of the words”

2) Molly Vallor, Stanford University/Rikkyo University

Between Conversations: Zen and setsuwa in Musō Soseki’s Muchū Mondōshū

3) Sayoko Sakakibara, Stanford University

Localized Motif, Totalized Space: The Shōtoku Cult in Early Modern Japanese Maps

4) David Gundry, Stanford University/Waseda University

When Enlightenment Kills: Ihara Saikaku’s “Heartstrings Plucked on Lake Biwa” as Chigomonogatari

Discussant: Jason Josephson, Williams College

Intersections of religion and literature in pre-modern Japan

Organizer/Chair: Molly Vallor, Stanford University/Rikkyo University

Our panel explores the intersection of literature and religion in texts spanning a thousand years of Japanese cultural history, employing complementary approaches specific to our chosen disciplines: anthropology, religious studies, geography, history and Japanese literature. Ignacio Quiros will attempt to reconstruct the early meaning of kotodama (the spirit of words) by considering use of this term and related words in the ancient period. Molly Vallor will examine how Musō Soseki fuses traditional Zen literature with setsuwa in Muchū Mondōshū. Sayoko Sakakibara will use Edo-period narratives of Prince Shōtoku to map the geographical development of the Shōtoku cult. David Gundry will analyze a samurai vendetta tale from Ihara Saikaku’s Budō denraiki as a distorted iteration of the chigomonogatari, a genre of Buddhist enlightenment tales centered on pederastic relationships that end tragically.

1) Ignacio Quiros, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes/Rikkyo University

Sympathetic magic in early Japan: the different modalities of the so-called “spirit of the words”

Even a superficial analysis of the earliest mythological and poetic texts of Japan will testify to a strong, if rather ill-defined belief, in the hidden power of the uttered word. This old belief was posited on a causal relationship between the utterance and its manifestation in reality. The Japanese term for such a relationship is the compound “kotodama,” which can be roughly translated as “spirit of the words.” Anthropologically speaking, kotodama is just a sub-variety of Frazer’s sympathetic magic, which is predicated on the idea that two entities can be related by means of contiguity, and that it is possible to control the first entity by manipulating the second. Most of Frazer’s examples suggest that sympathetic magic is a common feature of primitive tribes and early societies, and thus not something unique to ancient Japan. Still, kotodama is defined in the present day by notions of uniqueness, both religious and political. I will try here to free the term from such later ethnocentric-related notions as much as possible, first by limiting my scope of research to the Nara and early Heian periods. Because the number of appearances of the term “kotodama” is deceptively small while the belief itself is quite broad, I will analyse and compare some of its various modalities, namely kotoage (lifting the words), kotomuke (words of pacification), kotoyosashi (words of command), and imina (noms tabou). This will hopefully shed some light on the use of the term in its ancient context.

2) Molly Vallor, Stanford University/Rikkyo University

Between Conversations: Zen and setsuwa in Musō Soseki’s Muchū Mondōshū

Conversations in a Dream (Muchū Mondōshū 夢中問答集, 1342) is a sermon in kana based on a series of conversations between Musō Soseki 夢窓疎石 (1275 – 1351) and General Ashikaga Tadayoshi足利直義 (1306 – 1352). This text illuminates Musō’s role as a spiritual guide to the Ashikaga, detailing his efforts to integrate Zen with the scriptures (kyōzen icchi 教禅一致) and his teachings on the nature of the secular, political and religious realms. To popularize his style of Rinzai Zen during the rise of the Five Mountains (gozan 五山) system, Musō employs a didactic style that is heavily indebted to the tradition of Japanese Buddhist tale literature, or setsuwa 説話. Conversations draws from a variety of sources, including secular Chinese writings, Buddhist parables, Zen stories, Japanese and Chinese poetry, and accounts of gardening and tea-drinking. I will examine several representative anecdotes from Conversations as I explore how their style and content reflect Musō’s dialectical presentation of the scriptures and Zen. To this end, I will pay special attention to how Conversations borrows, juxtaposes and fuses stylistic elements found in setsuwa with traditional Zen literature. Finally, I will demonstrate how, in seeking to justify and advance Rinzai Zen practice from within the epistemological world of the other schools, Conversations occupies a unique position that is at once inside, outside and between these two literary traditions.

3) Sayoko Sakakibara, Stanford University

Localized Motif, Totalized Space: The Shōtoku Cult in Early Modern Japanese Maps

My paper is based on the geographical information in a popular Buddhist text of the seventeenth century and a national map of Japan compiled in the same period. Since its emergence in the seventh century, the cult of Prince Shōtoku (573? – 622) evolved in response to the political, religious, and cultural changes of each age, mirroring the changing demands of the changing society. As is the case of earlier Shōtoku narratives, the biography re-compiled in the seventeenth century reflects the religious and political trends of that same period and led to further developments of the cult in society. The most striking point is the geographical expansion of Shōtoku’s activities in this text, particularly when compared to the earlier narratives. The text reflects and supports three major trends in the seventeenth century: 1) nationwide development of the Shōtoku cult, 2) the enthusiasm for pilgrimage and 3) the geographical understanding of the state through the enterprise of mapmaking. In this paper, I will pay close attention to the third trend – the political background of the geographical development of the Shōtoku cult – by examining maps made in the early Edo period. By mapping the geographical information in the Shōtoku texts, I will address the following questions: How were local sites associated with the Shōtoku cult? In what way did the cult contribute to the religious network in early Tokugawa Japan? How did the national project of the Shōhō (1644-1648) mapmaking influence the geographical understanding in the early Tokugawa Shōtoku narratives?

4) David Gundry, Stanford University/Waseda University

When Enlightenment Kills: Ihara Saikaku’s “Heartstrings Plucked on Lake Biwa” as Chigomonogatari

Ihara Saikaku’s collection of samurai vendetta tales Budō denraiki (Exemplary Tales of the Way of the Warrior, 1687) begins with a story in which questions of vengeance feature only in its tacked-on ending; the main body of “Shintei o hiku Biwa no umi” (Heartstrings Plucked on Lake Biwa) is a bizarre mutation of the chigomonogatari (“child story”), a genre of Buddhist didactic tale whose protagonists reach enlightenment after loving a boy and then losing him to an early death, an experience that brings home to them the ephemerality of all phenomena and the uselessness of emotional attachment. In “Heartstrings,” on the other hand, the protagonist enjoys the favors of not one but two youths, who uncannily resemble each other and sleep on either side of him, and his enlightenment precedes and ultimately leads to their deaths. In this presentation I will examine the ways in which Saikaku’s text turns the chigomonogatari on its head, much as other Saikaku narratives appropriate and distort materials drawn from various literary classics and from Confucian morality tales, a strategy apparently taken from haikai poetry, the genre in which Saikaku began his literary career, which borrows the tropes and forms of waka poetry while systematically violating the courtly rules of decorum governing that genre, by no means exclusively to comic effect.

Discussant: Jason Josephson, Williams College