AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 570

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Session 570: Chinese Poetics and Japanese Places

Organizer: Gustav Heldt, University of Virginia, USA

Discussant: H. Mack Horton, University of California, Berkeley, USA

The evocative power of places and movement to and through them has long been a mainstay of East Asian poetry. In Japanese culture, ideas about place, particularly poetically and politically meaningful ones, have been in dialogue with continental traditions and geographies since earliest times. This ongoing conversation has given shape to complex interpretations and reinterpretations of the archipelago’s own topography and its socio-political meanings both domestically and within the larger East Asian context. This panel addresses Japanese writers’ engagements with continental representations of geography over the course of pre- through early-modernity in an effort to locate points of commonality or resonance over Japan’s first millennium. The first two papers address the Nara and Heian periods, when poetic genres first inscribed continental sites and their poetic meanings on the Japanese landscape, and also defined a Japanese poetic geography that was distinct from that of the continent. Moving forward in time, the final two papers examine works from the medieval and early-modern periods in which new or newly-meaningful spaces are articulated within the multiple registers of this interpretive mode – the first eastern warrior capital and the licensed pleasure quarter of Yoshiwara. At the core of our discussion are themes that transcend temporal specificity: where are cultural zones of contact, and how do they give shape to local identity? What does it mean when these are metaphorical rather than, or in addition to, being geographical? What can multilingualism mean in this context, and how can it create new meanings poetically and politically?

The Four Seas near Luoyang: Chinese Place Names on the Map of Early Japanese Poetry
Wiebke Denecke, Boston University, USA

Famous places imbued with historical significance or numinous scenic beauty have played a prominent role in the poetic production of East Asia. When Japanese started to record poetry in the seventh and eighth centuries they had their own map of significant places that called for celebration in verse, but they also inherited a foreign map of poetically pregnant places from the corpus of almost two millennia of Chinese literature. This paper explores why, when and how Japanese poets resorted to Chinese place names and how it helped them articulate key concerns of Heian court life and their roles in it. It discusses these questions on the example of what scholars have called “Kayo literature,” poems written at Emperor Saga’s Detached Palace outside Kyoto when the emperor visited for imperial hunts during the first decades of the ninth century. Kayo (or Kaya), located North of the majestic Yodo River with a breath-taking view towards the Inland sea at Osaka Bay, was named after the Chinese prefecture Heyang, North of the Yellow River outside the old capital of Luoyang. In Chinese poetic lore, Heyang was associated with the Western Jin poet Pan Yue and the peach trees he planted there during his tenure as governor. In the hands of Heian courtiers it developed a political and scenic geography of its own. On the example of Kayo literature the paper aims to develop a broader model for thinking about the rhetoric of place names in the Japanese kanshi and waka traditions.

Nakamaro and the Poetic Placement of Japan
Gustav Heldt, University of Virginia, USA

My paper will take up the early poetic legacy of Japan’s most renowned resident abroad, Abe no Nakamaro (698-770), focusing on two groups of texts that share a heightened awareness of the politics attendant on locating his homeland in space (as a set of physical orientations) and through place (as a set of collective and/or individual memories embedded in named locales). The first of these textual clusters is an exchange of shi poems between Nakamaro and former colleagues in the Tang capital at a banquet seeing off the diplomatic party he would accompany in an abortive return journey to Japan. The second consists of early traditions surrounding an uta that Nakamaro allegedly recited at a similar banquet just before setting sail, which are employed in a famous essay on comparative poetics by Ki no Tsurayuki (d. 945) in his Tosa nikki. Although these textual clusters coincide with historical moments that traditionally mark the respective apex and nadir of the Japanese court’s official involvement in foreign affairs, Tsurayuki’s experience hosting banquets for diplomats from Northeast Asia suggests a continuing concern with the political ramifications attendant on placing Japan poetically in an international context. My paper will explore these ramifications through attention to the ways in which representations of space and place are tied to a cross-cultural politics of translation that either marginalizes one party or situates both in a border zone of mutual unintelligibility.

“Like a dream of days gone by”: Imagining Kamakura in the Medieval Travelogue Kaidoki
Elizabeth Oyler, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA

The establishment of a warrior capital in Kamakura during the Genpei War (1180-1185) profoundly altered the political geography of the Japanese realm, not only by attenuating aristocratic control of the provinces, but also by providing a blueprint for the development of the city of Edo. The meaning of an alternative center under the control of the warrior class meant that conventional paradigms of center and peripheries were challenged in new ways, an issue addressed in the numerous travel narratives about movement between the capitals authored during the first decades of the Kamakura period. One of the earliest extant travelogues to register this change and attempt to record the newly meaningful eastern capital was Kaidoki (1223), an anonymous work narrated by an aging Buddhist novice as he travels to see the sites of Kamakuara. This presentation will examine the way the Kaidoki narrator uses continental geography, diction, and allusion to describe newly-important sites he encounters on his pilgrimage to Kamakura, undertaken just two years after the Jokyu no ran. In particular, I will discuss several poems he cites or composes comparing sites in the east country (Azuma) to a continental location. How do these establish a complex image of difference and contiguity between Japan and the continent as the narrator explores the newness of the warrior capital and the socio-political gravity of the military conflicts that shaped his world?

Planting Bamboo in Yoshiwara: Locating the Licensed District in Edo Period Kanshibun
Matthew Fraleigh, Brandeis University, USA

It was not until the late eighteenth century that the mid-Tang genre of “bamboo branch lyrics” (Ch. zhuzhici; J. chikushishi) took root in Japan, but once it did, the form proliferated with spectacular rapidity, attracting the interest of urban and rural poets alike, and enjoying sustained popularity well into the twentieth century. Distinguished by depiction of regional customs, the inclusion of local color, and often a dash of eroticism, “bamboo branch” quatrains were lauded by contemporary commentators as manifestations of the latest poetic theories: the Xingling aesthetics that eschewed imitativeness of classical High Tang models in favor of attention to the immediate and individual. With its combination of unique cultural practices and an inherently erotic setting, Edo’s licensed quarter proved a particularly fertile site for the Japanese “bamboo branch” poet to cultivate. This paper focuses on the construction of Yoshiwara in Ichikawa Kansai’s 1782 “Hokurika” (Songs of the Northern Quarter). In addition to creating images of the quarter that would inspire numerous contemporaries and successors to produce their own collections of “bamboo branch lyrics” on Yoshiwara and other Japanese entertainment districts, another significant accomplishment of Kansai’s text was to establish Yoshiwara as a legitimate subject for kanshi composition. This paper considers the rich set of literary affiliations Kansai claimed toward this end and discusses the occasional tension that developed between his text’s localization of Yoshiwara and its legitimization of Yoshiwara through the invocation of Chinese cultural and generic precedents in paratextual frames, fashioning of proper names, and selection of allusions.