AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 660

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Session 660: Transcending Domestic Divides: Dead Spouses, Fractured Families, and Inter-worldly Marriages in Medieval Japanese Art and Literature

Organizer: Caroline Hirasawa, Sophia University, Japan

Chair: Hitomi Tonomura, University of Michigan, USA

Discussant: Hitomi Tonomura, University of Michigan, USA

Japan experienced great social upheaval and instability during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This highly interdisciplinary panel examines how such transitions affected the family by analyzing didactic narratives and illustrations that took shape during this period, including many that describe nuclear families who straddle or transcend different worlds. Keller Kimbrough considers a poignant domestic drama that takes up traditional models of monastic renunciation. The story concludes with an afterlife reunion with a spouse and children, instead of an assertion of the ideal of non-attachment. Tokuda Kazuo also treats a story of human marital ties that extend beyond this life. He further investigates how the inter-realm love story accounts for the origin of Buddhist deities and whether it may have been used in mortuary rites. Haruko Wakabayashi looks at three tales about the competing loyalties faced by idealized “foreign” wives from imaginary countries. She explores how they reflect the formation of the “ie” system and the social context in which such tales were produced. Caroline Hirasawa examines the prolongation of tribulations related to women’s reproductive responsibilities in painted imaginations of the afterlife, and suggests how those images aimed to reconcile audiences with redefined expectations of women. Among the overlapping themes in these papers we find an insistence that family ties endure, no matter the temporal or spatial obstacles. We hope to shed light on real-life quandaries through studying the fantastic dilemmas and solutions posited by the composers and adaptors of these works.

Dying to Be Together: Family and the Afterlife in Medieval Japanese Fiction
Randle K Kimbrough, University of Colorado, Boulder, USA

Traditional Buddhist sources tend to be clear in their condemnation of familial attachments as obstructions on the path to enlightenment. We are sometimes told that, like Shakyamuni, a man must be willing to renounce his wife and children for the sake of his future rebirth. Medieval Japanese authors and raconteurs seem to have been captivated by the narrative possibilities of such acts of radical renunciation, for their compositions are replete with melodramatic tales of husbands and fathers who choose to abandon their loved ones for the sake of the Way. But like the renunciants whom they describe, the narrators of these works tend to be highly morally conflicted, torn between sympathy and loathing for the cruelty of the characters they create. By focusing on the mortal desperation of the wives and children who are left behind—pathetic victims who are quite literally dying to be together with their absconded husbands and fathers—as well as the renunciants’ own acute mental anguish, the authors of these stories explore the nature of domestic attachment while questioning the very meaning of monastic renunciation. In my conference presentation, I will focus on several sixteenth- and seventeenth-century illustrated texts of the sermon-ballad Karukaya, each of which displays its own narratorial biases and perspectives, as a means of illuminating the contested philosophical terrain of family, renunciation, and post-mortem reunification in medieval Japan.

In Pursuit of Love Beyond the Grave: The Otogizôshi Bishamon no honji and Medieval Buddhist Preaching
Kazuo Tokuda, Independent Scholar, Japan

Among the many works of short Japanese fiction composed between the late fourteenth and mid-seventeenth centuries is Bishamon no honji, “The Tale of Bishamon in His Original Form.” The work survives in a large number of texts and illustrated formats, attesting to its popularity in the medieval and early Edo periods. As a kind of extended fantasy-adventure-love-story, it tells of how its male protagonist, the so-called “Golden Prince,” once traveled through the afterworld in search of his deceased wife. After an arduous journey depicted in an exceptionally rich and varied succession of images and textual passages, the prince finds her in the realm of Bondenkoku, where they are joyously reunited and later reborn as the Buddhist guardian deities Bishamon and Kichijôten. The story’s theme of everlasting love, transcending time and space, must have held a special appeal for readers of the time. In my presentation I will consider the nature of Bishamon no honji as a honji-mono-type narrative—an account of the human origins of a buddha or a deity—although not, in this case, associated with any particular temple or shrine (not until the story’s later association with the deities of Mount Hakusan in Kaga, that is). I will discuss the universal religious/mythological aspects of the Bishamon no honji tale-type, and I will speculate as to the ways in which the Bishamon no honji narrative was likely employed in picture-based preaching (etoki) at medieval Japanese memorial services for the dead.

From the Land Beyond Seas and Skies: Trans-Boundary Marriages in Medieval Otogi zôshi
Haruko Wakabayashi, Princeton University, USA

This paper will look at three otogi zôshi tales—Onzôshi shimawatari, Bondenkoku, and Urashima Taro—all of which deal with marriages between a Japanese protagonist and a woman from an alien land. In Onzôshi, Yoshitsune marries the daughter of the demonic King of Ezo Chishima; in Bondenkoku, the middle captain marries the daughter of King Bonden of Bonden-koku; and in Urashima Taro, the fisherman is taken to the Dragon King’s Palace, and there, marries a woman who turns out to be the turtle that he had earlier saved. In each of these tales, the protagonist visits his wife’s homeland and obtains a special treasure; he is then determined to return home, at times with his wife, but at other times, without. With the exception of Bondenkoku, the wife is torn between her husband and his home country and her own; she may even have to sacrifice her filial obligations for the sake of her husband. It is because of their foreign identity that the wives are met with challenges greater than in ordinary marriages, and are provided with opportunities where they must display their moral duties as wives. In the paper, I wish to examine how the “foreign” wives in these tales are depicted as the ultimate ideal wives in late medieval Japan. Furthermore, I wish to examine the historical context in which such tales were produced, and address issues such as the introduction of Confucian values, the development of the ie system, and “international” marriages in medieval Japan.

Undying Reproductive Responsibilities in Late Medieval and Early Modern Japan
Caroline Hirasawa, Sophia University, Japan

By Japan’s late medieval period, centuries of didactic illustrations, stories, and performances had established recognizable patterns for describing the punishment awaiting sinners in hell. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, however, a constellation of new hells took hold in the popular imagination. Drawing on older notions of afterlife retribution, these places of punishment extended female reproductive responsibilities into the next world. Although deriving from an assortment of independent texts and images, the new hells soon came routinely to appear together in paintings of the Ten Kings, Kumano kanjin jikkai-zu, and Tateyama mandara. Seen in combination, they exaggerate and prolong women’s bodily functions or failures to function, and highlight common social and personal difficulties. Women were, for example, doomed to purgatorial “hells” for menstruation, death in childbirth, barrenness, or jealousy. Moreover, when children died young, whether due to disease or acts of “family planning,” they suffered in the afterlife—prompting their mothers’ remorse. Images emphasized the futile attempts of dead infants to perform rites that would save their still-living parents from post-mortem hells. Jealous women transformed into horned serpents that tormented the men who incited their passions; love triangles of this world thereby metamorphosed into hellish entanglements in the next. Some of these illustrated visions may have encouraged avoidance or resolution of certain problems for the living; others seem to have fostered resignation or to have provided consolation. This paper raises questions about the social factors behind the crystallization of these new hells.