AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 703

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Session 703: Narrated Spaces, Spatial Texts: Literature, Art, and Gender in Japanese Culture

Organizer: Doris G. Bargen, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, USA

Chair: Janet Ikeda, Washington & Lee University, USA

Discussant: Sayumi Takahashi Harb, , USA

Japanese literature and art alike have used space to represent both past and modern experiences. This panel explores the relationships between space and gender by investigating how the fundamental orality that underpinned theories of space was translated over the course of the twelfth to twentieth century into and through Japanese literature and art. The papers address the impact of textual and pictorial arts on the imagination of narrating spaces and the creation of subject identities by focusing on two interrelated aspects of cultural tension: the redefinition of writing, reading and interpreting resulting from the canonization of vernacular texts, and the ideological meanings attached to space, gender, and aesthetics in Japanese culture. Bargen examines women’s spatial position in Ise monogatari and Genji monogatari and illustrates how carriages serve as vehicles for domesticating space and creating conditions of amorous encounters in Heian Japan. D’Etcheverry argues that the Sagoromo no sōshi transform and refashion everyday spaces of Heian fiction, humorously acknowledging the two worlds of Muromachi’s struggling aristocrats. Dix discusses the relationships between the codification of vernacular literature, the formulation of space, and the religious imaginary in the 16th-century Taima-dera jikkai-zu byōbu. Miller explores influences of gardens as gendered spaces in Genji monogatari on the expression of intimate feeling and relationship in 20th- century Japanese literature and film. Together the papers offer a new body of scholarship to enrich studies of literary, art historical, and cultural formation in both premodern and modern Japan.

Inside Out: Carriages as Vehicles for Domesticating Space in Heian Ritual Outings
Doris G. Bargen, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, USA

In Japanese myth and Taketori monogatari, the ancestor of all romances, the realms of the celestial and the earthly are distinguished from each other by specific rules and prohibitions that insure the autonomy of each sphere while allowing a dramatic encounter between representatives of these ultimately incompatible worlds. In classical literature, the spatial difference between the celestial and the earthly is replaced by a gendered division of space within which aristocratic women’s movements are typically more restricted than men’s. The women’s spatial position is primarily inside a residence, but when she leaves her fixed residence it is usually within the confines of a stately carriage. For the ritual outings described in Heian classical literature, travel in these ox-drawn carriages creates novel conditions for amorous encounters intriguingly different from those conventional patterns of courtship within static residential space. Carriage scenes from Ise monogatari, Yamato monogatari, Sumiyoshi monogatari, Makura no sōshi, and Genji monogatari will be examined in text and image in order to understand what happens when women’s space is inserted into and transported through men’s space.

The Sagoromo no Soushi and Weird Everyday Space
Charo B. D'Etcheverry, University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA

Coming from Heian court fiction, we often marvel at the broad vistas found in Muromachi tales, the range of people and landscapes we meet in such rapid succession in much shorter texts. Many of these sights, both natural and architectural, are exotic; in these cases, the tales convert us (like their heroes) into bemused spectators. In others, we witness the famous familiar (renowned temples or natural/ poetic locales); here readers and characters become more like cultural tourists. The Sagoromo no sōshi (Sagoromo stories), a cycle of Muromachi and early Edo manuscripts and printed books adapting a famous subplot from Heian’s Sagoromo monogatari, show us both views – and something else. In addition to the usual popular and freakish places, these texts spotlight ordinary enclosures – boats, gardens, carriages and the like – made strange through the gaze of fictional on-lookers and/or the presence of extraordinary occupants. In this way, the Sagoromo no sōshi invest the everyday spaces of Heian court fiction (and of Heian and medieval elite life) with new interest and often startling thematic significance. In this paper, I will discuss several particularly entertaining examples of these scenes from the sōshi, and consider how they might illuminate both that cycle and “Muromachi” tale fiction generally, including the concerns of its likely authors and audience.

Between Text and Image: Mapping Literature and Narrating Space in the Taima-dera jikkai-zu byōbu
Monika Dix, Saginaw Valley State University, USA

From the Heian period onward, literature and art have intersected one another in order to narrate, (re)create, and represent space. Exterior and interior spaces are often portrayed as sites of lived experience, but also as places that leave visible traces of the passing of time and onto which we project our own personal experiences and memories. But what is the relationship between text and image in regard to these spaces? This paper examines the multiple relationships between the codification of vernacular literature, the formation of space, and the religious imaginary in the 16th-century Taima-dera jikkai-zu byōbu – a set of six folding screens which depict the ten Buddhist realms of existence. Differentiating between two central questions – which features of literature may be considered as spatial and in what way literature as a social practice could become spatially relevant – I will contextualize the narrative’s plot motif within a medieval religious discourse of karmic causality and sacred landscape, drawing on canonical and vernacular Buddhist texts. A detailed analysis of the paintings, Buddhist treatises, and poetry in the Taima-dera jikkai-zu byōbu emphasizes them as integral aspects of a Japanese aesthetic culture in which the accumulation of literary memories enhances the appreciation of narrated space as reality.

Gardens in The Tale of Genji and the Gendering of Space, Relationship, and Feeling in 20th-Century Literature and Film
Mara Miller, Independent Scholar, USA

Early Japanese gardens were male-dominated spaces for socio-political ritual, the symbolic presentation of hegemonic religious and political myth, and formal social enactments. The Tale of Genji redefined gardens as spaces that (like verandahs) mediated between the outer world of men, official action, and human feeling writ large in nature, on the one hand, and the interior private world of women. Such gardens invited intimated romantic encounters and the expression/recognition of personal feelings and individual temperament, especially those of women. Like the novel, early pictorial representations used gardens to reveal characters’ complex nuanced feelings (although architecture or natural landscape captured encounters between men). Although we may see these readings of gardens as inevitable, they are the product of a specific time and place; over time, gardens in Genji illustrations were reduced to iconographic and decorative functions, while gardens themselves reverted to facilitating group social interaction and symbolizing religio-political myths. In the 20th-century, however, gardens’ capacity to express layered emotional response is adopted once again by novelists and filmmakers. Alluding explicitly to Genji, Tanizaki, Enchi, and Isao Takahata/Studio Ghibli used gardens to reveal intimate male-female relationships that cannot fully be explicated or understood by social rules (a young son, his deceased mother and a new stepmother; a young widow, her mother – and sister-in-law and the dead husband’s friends; an older brother without a family caring for a young sister after WWII fire bombing) and to adumbrate overwhelming feeling under trauma.