Poetics of Acculturation: Early Pure Land Buddhism and the Topography of the Periphery in Orikuchi Shinobu’s The Book of the Dead





The article examines Orikuchi Shinobu’s novella, Shisha no sho [The Book of the Dead] (1939), as a discursively constructed amalgamation of multiple cultural and historical sources. Whereas Orikuchi tends to be considered the exponent of cultural nativism, the novella resists a nationalist impulse of extolling the legend of Taima Mandala and Princess Chūjō (Chūjōhime) as a paragon of the Japanese reception of Buddhism. According to the widely-known legend, Princess Chūjō, a member of the politically powerful Fujiwara clan in the Nara period, had woven in a day the mandala out of lotus threads shortly after completing one thousand copies of Shōsanjyōdo Busshōjukyō (the Amida sutra). Further the legend tells that she was welcomed to the Pure Land by Amida Buddha upon her death at the age of twenty nine. In The Book of the Dead her legendary labor opts out of simple appraisal for her devotional response to Buddhism, as though implicitly refuting the Yamato state’s political advocacy of the religion. In turn, Orikuchi’s modernist revisionism reanimates a spectacle of the antiquity, contextualizing the legend in the socio-political periphery of the Taima village. To this end, the novella calls forth a number of historical episodes, topographical images of the locality, and the transculturation of Buddhism in ancient Japan. Concretely, the narrative interweaves the tragedy of Prince Ōtsu who was executed for the treason plotted against the imperial government, a cult of Mount Futakami (today’s Nijōzan in Nara Prefecture), pre-Buddhist practice of worshipping the Sun, and the formation of Nissōkan in Japan’s early Buddhism. Through the dialogic unity of these motifs, Orikuchi deconstructs the legend of Princess Chūjō and the Taima Mandala, transforming it into a visionary narrative devoid of a single cultural and religious root.

Author Biography

Ikuho Amano, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Ikuho Amano is Associate Professor of Japanese at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she teaches literature, film, popular culture, and language. Her research has explored various themes salient in modern and contemporary Japanese literature, including ideas of decadence, reception of European literature, and issues of economy. Also, she has worked on popular cultural productions (anime, manga, and photography), and economic as well as industrial memories of the twentieth century.




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