Chinese Literary Studies & Waka Studies


A review of Ōe no Masafusa and the Convergence of the “Ways”: The Twilight of Early Chinese Literary Studies and the Rise of Waka Studies, by Saeko Shibayama.

During the insei 院政 period (1086-1221) of Japanese history, abdicated emperors established “cloistered governments” through which they pursued cultural, religious, and political projects intended to restore royal authority after a century of domination by the Fujiwara 藤原 regency. But as Saeko Shibayama notes in her groundbreaking study of the intellectual and literary history of the period, the “age of retired emperors” actually witnessed a further decline in the royal household’s political clout, with Buddhist institutions and warrior clans such as the Taira 平 and Minamoto 源 becoming ever more powerful. And yet, far from being overturned or eroded, the symbolic centrality of the royal household only intensified, resulting in an efflorescence of “fundamentally neoclassical” (p. xiii) literary production. Shibayama explains:

[T]his period witnessed the compilation of numerous literary anthologies, sequences to the existing religious and historical texts, and treatises and commentaries on poetry from the past and the present. For courtiers, participation in imperial cultural enterprises became the only way to secure their families’ survival… (p. xiii)

Although Japanese scholarship on insei culture has thrived over the past several decades, Shibayama’s dissertation is the first English-language study to present a comprehensive examination of the intellectual trends of the “long twelfth century,” as she calls it. With the notable exception of studies of setsuwa 説話 (“anecdotal tales” in Shibayama’s translation), English-language scholarship on the insei period has been slow to develop. G. Cameron Hurst III’s political history, Insei: Abdicated Sovereigns in the Politics of Late Heian Japan, 1086-1185 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1976), remains the standard work in English. But since the 1970s Japanese scholars from a variety of fields have developed new approaches to insei history, literature, politics, and religion. Noteworthy studies include Gomi Fumihiko’s 五味文彦 Inseiki shakai no kenkyū 院政期社会の研究 (Research on Insei-Period Society, Yamakawa Shuppansha, 1984); the interdisciplinary five-volume series Inseiki bunka ronshū 院政期文化論集 (Essays on Insei-Period Culture, Shinwasha, 2001-5); and Komine Kazuaki’s 小峰和明 monumental Inseiki bungakuron 院政期文学論 (A Theory of Insei-Period Literature, Kasama Shoin, 2006).

Drawing on this more recent scholarship, Shibayama has produced an ambitious examination of the “convergence” of two broad currents in the intellectual history of classical and early-medieval Japan: the rise and fall of kangaku 漢学 (Chinese literary studies), as practiced by Kidendō 紀伝道 (history and literature) scholars in the State Academy; and the emergence of kagaku 歌学 (waka studies).

The dissertation consists of three parts. Part 1 examines the Chinese and Japanese poetic traditions before the twelfth century. In Chapter 1, Shibayama makes use of the historical tale Imakagami 今鏡 (Mirror of the Present, ca. 1170) to treat the nostalgic reconstruction of two reigns (those of emperors GoSanjō 後三条天皇 and Shirakawa 白河天皇) in which kangaku experienced a revival. She then turns to readings of several episodes in Konjaku monogatari shū 今昔物語集 (A Collection of Tales New and Old, ca. 1120) to confirm that waka was at this point thought of as a “custom” (fūzoku 風俗) and not yet a “Way” (michi 道). Chapter 2 consists of readings of several pieces from the literary anthology Honchō monzui 本朝文粋 (Literary Masterpieces of Japan, ca. 1058-65), especially kanshi prefaces (shijo 詩序), letters of proposal (sōjō 奏状), and Buddhist supplications (ganmon 願文). Shibayama argues that the displacement of scholar-officials, whose literary activities were traditionally deemed indispensable to the functioning of the state (a concept known as bunshō keikoku 文章経国), by the Fujiwara regency resulted in a range of new approaches to kangaku, from increased professionalization to a new emphasis on poetic refinement. Chapter 3 transitions to a discussion of wakajo 和歌序, Sino-Japanese prefaces to waka anthologies, as found in a variety of texts from the eighth through twelfth centuries. Shibayama characterizes these discussions as “self-reflective” (p. 103), placing them on a continuum which culminated in the later emergence of waka studies.

Part 2 examines the life and works of Ōe no Masafusa 大江匡房 (1041-1111), a prodigious scholar-official active at the beginning of the insei period. Chapter 4 provides an overview of English and Japanese scholarship on Masafusa’s life, as well as an analysis of his essay “Bonen no ki” 暮年記 (A Record of My Twilight Years, ca. 1099). Chapter 5 explores Masafusa’s diary (Gōki 江記) and his collection of biographies Zoku honchō ōjōden 続本朝往生伝 (More Biographies of Those Reborn in Paradise, ca. 1099-1104). Despite its ostensibly Buddhist orientation, in this latter text Masafusa glorifies the literary achievements of his ancestors and his patron, Emperor GoSanjō, and the work is interpreted by Shibayama as his “homage to the dying tradition of the household studies of the Ōe clan” (p. 244). Chapter 6 analyzes Gōdanshō 江談抄 (Notes on Dialogues with Masafusa, ca. 1107-11), a collection of setsuwa-esque “dialogues” between Masafusa and his disciple Fujiwara no Sanekane 藤原実兼. In addition to exploring several issues pertaining to its textual history, Shibayama also notes Masafusa’s repeated invocation of the Way of the Arts (suki no michi 数寄の道), a single-minded pursuit of artistic production that would become increasingly important in medieval society.

In Part 3, Shibayama develops novel arguments about shifts in waka studies that began in the early twelfth century. In Chapter 7 she examines Minamoto no Toshiyori’s 源俊頼 Toshiyori zuinō 俊頼髄脳 (Toshiyori’s Principles of Waka, ca. 1111-15), an enthusiastic and desultory text which explores numerous facets of waka history, lore, and practice. Toshiyori is one of the earliest figures to exhibit a passionate attachment (suki) to waka, in effect making “possible the evolution of waka from a casually practiced custom [fūzoku] to a profession, a respectable ‘Way’ [michi]” (p. 288). Chapter 8 explores this professionalization in greater depth, as embodied by the activities of poets belonging to the Rokujō 六条 and Mikohidari 御子左 houses. Whereas literary historians have traditionally dwelled on the competitive relationship between the two houses, Shibayama instead emphasizes “the significance of their common undertaking as leading ‘waka households’ (waka no ie [和歌の家])” (p. 331). She examines three stages in the institutionalization of these households: (1) the Rokujō house’s orchestration of the Hitomaro eigu 人麻呂影供 (Offerings to Hitomaro’s Portrait); (2) the Rokujō house’s collation of various canonical waka texts and Fujiwara no Kiyosuke’s 藤原清輔 creation of reference works on several aspects of waka; and (3) the eventual crystallization of an analytical kagaku discourse in Fujiwara no Shunzei’s 古来風体抄 (1197). Finally, Chapter 9 examines Koseki kasho mokuroku 古蹟歌書目録 (An Old Manuscript Catalogue of Books on Waka, late twelfth century), attributed to the princely monk Shukaku 守覚法親王. Shibayama interprets the existence of this meticulous catalogue of waka-related texts as further evidence that by the late twelfth century kagaku had become a “fully fledged, independent field of study” (p. 387). A translation of the catalogue, along with a series of modern references to it, is appended at the end of the dissertation.

Saeko Shibayama’s dissertation is a stimulating exploration of the intellectual and literary history of the insei period. Many of the texts she analyzes have received little attention in English-language scholarship, but her goal is not simply to introduce them to a new audience. Drawing on a range of contemporary Japanese scholarship, she fashions thoughtful and compelling arguments about the shifting status of kangaku and kagaku in early-medieval Japan. Although this dissertation will be of particular interest to scholars of premodern Japanese literature and intellectual history, especially those looking to better understand the transitional insei period, nonspecialists will also find much to admire in the way Shibayama constructs nuanced arguments from careful philological research.

Ashton Lazarus
East Asian Languages and Literatures
Yale University

Primary Sources

Konjaku monogatari shū 今昔物語集 (A Collection of Tales New and Old)
Jakuchō, Imakagami 今鏡 (Mirror of the Present)
Fujiwara no Akihira, ed., Honchō monzui 本朝文粋 (Literary Masterpieces of Japan)
Works by Ōe no Masafusa 大江匡房
Minamoto no Toshiyori, Toshiyori zuinō 俊頼髄脳 (Toshiyori’s Principles of Waka)

Dissertation Information

Columbia University. 2012. 510 pp. Primary Advisor: Haruo Shirane.


Image: Depiction of Ōe no Masafusa, from the Atomi University Library collection.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like