Theses Doctoral

Oe no Masafusa and the Convergence of the "Ways": The Twilight of Early Chinese Literary Studies and the Rise of Waka Studies in the Long Twelfth Century in Japan

Shibayama, Saeko

This dissertation examines two major parallel but intersecting trajectories: that of kangaku (Chinese studies), specifically the Kidendô (history and literature) curriculum that flourished at the State Academy in the Heian period (794-1185), and kagaku (waka studies), which emerged in the twelfth century. I trace the concept of "way" (michi) as it evolved from the Chinese studies curriculum to an aesthetic "way of life," characterized by a spontaneous and rigorous pursuit of literature and art. The emergence of the study of waka was significant not only because it functioned as a catalyst for the preservation and renewal of the ancient practice of waka, but also because numerous commentaries on the subject formed a canon that defined Japanese cultural identity in subsequent centuries.

As in the European Middle Ages, the long twelfth century (1086-1221) in Japan saw the revival of ancient customs and texts. In the West, the Greco-Roman Classics, particularly Aristotelian philosophy, were rediscovered, partly through Arabic translations. In Japan's case, the "twelfth century renaissance" of court culture was not ushered in through contact with new intellectual trends from overseas. Rather, after a century of regency rule by the non-imperial Fujiwara clan, the imperial rulers of the twelfth century were eager to legitimatize their regimes by applying the standards of newly reinterpreted precedents from the past. Called the "era of retired emperors" (insei-ki), Japanese society in the twelfth century was retrospective in character, and witnessed an effusion of cultural production, including the compilation of numerous literary anthologies, sequels to existing religious and historical texts, and treatises and commentaries on poems from the past. For courtiers, participation in imperial cultural enterprises was their sole means of assuring their families' survival, as warriors established their own government by the early 1190s.

Part One examines kanshi and waka traditions before the twelfth century through textual analyses of "prefaces" (jo), the majority of which appear in the literary anthology Honchô monzui (Literary Masterpieces of Japan, ca. 1058-65). This is followed by an examination of the role of the composition of Sino-Japanese poems in the lives of scholar-officials. I show how scholar-officials professionalized this practice as part of their household studies in the ninth through eleventh centuries. As part of my investigation of the literary genre of poetry prefaces, I also analyze the Chinese and Japanese prefaces to the Kokin wakashû (Collection of Japanese Poems from Ancient Times to the Present, 905), and the poet Nôin's preface to his private collection of waka.

Part Two turns to the life and works of Ôe no Masafusa (1041-1111), the foremost scholar of his time. I show how Masafusa responded to the changing realities of Kidendô scholars, while idealizing his learned ancestors, their fellow academicians, and their imperial patrons' "passions" (suki) for the composition of Sino-Japanese poems. By closely reading some of the writings attributed to Masafusa, such as the Zoku hochô ôjoden (Biographies of Those Reborn in Paradise in Japan II, ca. 1099-1104) and the Gôdanshô (Notes on Dialogues with Ôe no Masafusa, ca. 1107-11), I argue that Masafusa's nostalgic recollections of literati culture from the tenth and eleventh centuries ushered in the setsuwa (anecdotal tales) mode of narrative that epitomizes literary production in the twelfth century.

Part Three investigates the evolution of waka studies in the twelfth century. I first turn to Minamoto no Toshiyori's (1055?-1129?) waka treatise, Toshiyori zuinô (Toshiyori's Principles of Waka, ca. 1111-15) and discuss the peculiarly anecdotal ways in which Toshiyori glosses ancient poetic diction for a female reader. I then examine how the Rokujô school of waka incorporated some of the formal trappings of kangaku scholarship in its revival of waka, while the Mikohidari school of waka further consolidated hereditary studies of poetry by emphasizing the difficulty of mastering waka composition. In sum, by analyzing Chinese and Japanese writings from Japan's long twelfth century, I propose a new intellectual history of Japan in a crucial period of transition from the ancient to the medieval age.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
East Asian Languages and Cultures
Thesis Advisors
Shirane, Haruo
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 11, 2012