Education About Asia: Online Archives

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Feature Article

The Tale of the Heike and Japan’s Cultural Pivot to the Art of War

There are two main reasons to teach The Tale of the Heike, one literary and the other historical. Its subject matter, the Genpei War (1180–1185 CE), marked a pivot in social, cultural, and political life in Japan. This civil war ended four centuries of the Heian period (794–1185), characterized by the cultivated life described so beautifully in Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji (c. 1000 CE). In Murasaki’s time, an aristocracy dominated society, linked by family ties with the emperor...

Book Review Essay, Columns, Resources

The Sarashina Diary: A Woman’s Life in Eleventh Century Japan

The Sarashina Diary: A Woman’s Life in Eleventh-Century Japan, translated with excellent notes and short essays by Sonja Arntzen and Itō Moriyuki, gives a perfect opportunity to consider the significance of Sugawara Takasue no Musume’s “personal story.” 1 From the generation after the great luminaries Murasaki Shikibu and Sei Shōnagon, the young Takasue no Musume prayed “with abandon” to be able to read more tales of the “Shining Genji.”2 Takasue no Musume had quite the chance ...

Feature Article

Visions of the Sea in Early Japanese Literature

The sea has exerted a profound effect on virtually all Japanese culture including its literature. The six vignettes that follow are sketches drawn from a variety of texts and sources. Hopefully, they offer instructors and students some sense of the multileveled and diverse historical, political, mythical, and aesthetic impact of the ocean on people from long ago who visited and lived in the archipelago. The historical chronicles also include myths, poetry, and intense feelings. Early Japanese re...

Online Supplement

Discussion Questions and Bibliography for “Visions of the Sea in Early Japanese Literature”

The following questions can lead students into discussion and deeper analysis if they are given primary texts, such as plays or chapters from The Tale of Genji and/or The Tale of the Heike. 1. Questions of genre: In the West, we associate prose with factual accounts and poetry with the imaginary. What is gained or lost when the narratives The Tale of Genji and The Tale of the Heike interweave prose and poetry? Related bibliographic note: Translators need to address questions of genre, even...

Book Review Essay, Resources

The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon: The Diary of a Courtesan in Tenth Century Japan

Reviewed by Fay Beauchamp Pleasant Things A slim book rests lightly in one’s hand The apricot curving lips of the dust jacket woman Tile-red rectangle with white lettering Red-tile endpapers’ pattern of faint white dots Soft leaves of text A few shiny pages with golden clouds, dark green tatami, and pines Things that are Fitting A 2011 edition of The Pillow Book pleasant to sight and touch A book whose origin is a “bundle of paper” given by an Empress to a Court La...

Essay, Resources

Using The Shambhala Anthology of Chinese Poetry in the Classroom

TRANSLATED ANDEDITED BY J. P. SEATON BOSTON: SHAMBHALA PUBLICATIONS, 2006 272 PAGES, ISBN: 978-1570628627, PAPERBACK Reviewed by Fay Beauchamp For The Shambhala Anthology of Chinese Poetry, Professor J.P. Seaton draws upon a lifetime of translating and teaching Chinese philosophical classics as well as off-beat poets who prefer as an artistic subject “a rat, with some scurry left in him” to “elegant dragons” (207). In his introduction and notes, Seaton’s high regard for teaching an...

Feature Article

Tang Dynasty Revolution and Poetry: Bai Juyi’s “Construction” of Yang Guifei

There are pivotal moments in world history when violence results in sweeping political and cultural change. For the West, two such moments are the fall of the Bastille and the fall of Troy. For East Asia, the destruction of the Chinese capital city, Chang’an, in 755 during the Tang Dynasty (618–907 CE), marked the end of a golden age. The causes of the French Revolution or the attack on Troy or this Chinese catastrophe are complex, and it may be human nature to understand the causes by creat...

Book Review Essay, Resources

Haiku Master Buson: Translations from the Writings of Yosa Buson—Poet and Artist— with Related Materials

YUKI SAWA AND EDITH MARCOMBE SHIFFERT, TRANSLATORS AND EDITORS BUFFALO, NEW yORK: WHITE PINE PRESS, 2007 256 PAGES, ISBN: 978-1893 996816, PAPERBACK Reviewed by Fay Beauchamp American fascination with haiku is primarily a post World War II phenomenon. In the 1950s, Beat poets, specifically Jack Kerouac, were drawn to haiku as an easy way to connect to a type of Zen Buddhism made popular through the writings of D. T. Suzuki and Alan Watts. While “on the road,” Kerouac would have liked Ha...

Book Review Essay, Columns

Charting the Ends of the “Modern” Period Contemporary Japanese Literature, An Anthology of Fiction, Film, and Other Writing Since 1945

Howard Hibbett’s Contemporary Japanese Literature, first published in 1977, was reissued in 2005, making this well-known anthology again readily available. Except for the preface, the book is unchanged and provides a time-capsule of Japanese writing in the post-war period between 1945 and 1975. College or high school world literature teachers should own this book because the selections are highly readable and represent many canonical Japanese writers of the twentieth century. But teachers look...

Feature Article

A Tribute to John Hersey’s Hiroshima

This will be the sixtieth-year anniversary of one of the most remarkable books of American history, John Hersey’s Hiroshima, first published on August 31, 1946, in The New Yorker. In March 1946, William Shawn, managing editor of The New Yorker, called for an article focused on the immediate devastation in Hiroshima rather than on statistics or politics. John Hersey interviewed survivors for three weeks in May and decided to focus on suffering human beings rather than on destroyed buildings. He...

Feature Article

From Creation Myths to Marriage Alliances: Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Murasaki’s Akashi Chapter

In suggesting ways that teachers might use cross-cultural comparisons between Shakespeare’s The Tempest (1611) and Murasaki’s Akashi chapter from The Tale of Genji (c. 1000), I am influenced by Wendy Doniger’s lively analyses of how Shakespeare diverts and inverts motifs found in narratives of ancient India. She is wonderfully dismissive of the attempts of Freud, Jung and Levi-Strauss to explain similarity by positing universal structures of mind, body and society. Instead, parallel plots ...

Book Review, Resources

Asia in the Undergraduate Curriculum: A Case for Asian Studies in Liberal Arts Education

Suzanne Wilson Barnett and Van Jay Symons, Editors ARMONK, NEW YORK: M. E. SHARPE IN CONJUCTION WITH ASIANETWORK, 2000 XIII + 170 PAGES Reviewed by Fay Beauchamp This is a book not for undergraduate students but for the readership of Education About Asia. EAA readers are often giving rationales for studying Asia. We are writing grants and justifying new courses, new curricula; we are trying to convince administrators, faculty and students to see the delight and usefulness of Asian material...

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