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  • At the House of Gathered Leaves: Short Biographical and Autobiographical Narratives from Japanese Court Literature
  • Lynne K. Miyake
At the House of Gathered Leaves: Short Biographical and Autobiographical Narratives from Japanese Court Literature. By Joshua S. Mostow. 212 pages. University of Hawai'i Press, 2004. Hardcover $44.00.

A slim volume of some two hundred pages, At the House of Gathered Leaves provides an informative introduction and highly accessible translations of five lesser-known Heian texts, three appearing in English for the first time. Needless to say, Joshua Mostow is to be commended for his pioneering work: the so-called canonical texts of the Heian period have been translated, but much remains to be done, and this study makes an invaluable contribution to the field. Mostow cautions us that the Heian reading experience can never be replicated, but he gives us a "feel" for the texts by maintaining an alternation between past and present tenses (as past perfect and present tenses in English), for one, and by carefully selecting resonating terms for position titles, material culture, etc., for another. The translated text appears on the right-hand page, with annotations (including most alternative interpretive readings of problematic passages) given on the facing left-hand page.

As careful and important as are the texts/translations, it is Mostow's introduction that properly foregrounds their significance. Constituting about a fourth of the volume, it provides, in the words of an authority cited on the book jacket, a "radical and thought-provoking" interpretive frame for the five texts. Mostow describes his [End Page 275] purpose as three-fold: 1) to show that the development of diary literature (nikki bungaku) between Tosa and Kagerō was not "barren," but populated with texts by members of the Fujiwara sekkan-ke, or Regents' House; 2) to parse out the political and historical conditions on which autobiographical writing was predicated; and 3) to argue against the modern perception that women's nikki in the tenth to twelfth centuries were "solely 'confessional' and apolitical" (p. 1).

Expanding upon Japanese scholarship, Mostow convincingly supports his first claim. A chart on page 4 traces the lineage of the Fujiwara Northern House from Yoshifusa (804-872) through Tadahira's (880-949) descendants, listing their textual production. Three of Tadahira's sons, Morosuke, Morouji, and Saneyori, are credited with personal poetry collections, while four of his grandsons have literary texts to their name. Mostow's study includes translations of three of the latter—Koremasa's Tales of Toyokage, Kanemichi's Collected Poems of Hon'in no Jijū, and Takamitsu's The Takamitsu Journal. These, in conjunction with The Kagerō Diary (associated with grandson Kaneie), The Diary of Murasaki Shikibu, Sei Shōnagon's Pillow Book, and The Diary of Lady Ise (from Collected Poems of Lady Ise), constitute what Mostow terms the "'records' of the Regents' House" (p. 3; Mostow acknowledges that the fifth text, Tales of Takamura, does not fit into this paradigm.)

The book jacket's explanation that the sekkan-ke texts were designed to present Fujiwara men as "accomplished lovers and skilled poets, the kind of cultural capital essential for a successful politician of the day," succinctly summarizes the thrust of Mostow's second point. In fact, Mostow contends that several of the texts were commissioned expressly for this purpose. Toyokage is presented as such—providing testimony that living dangerously outside the parameters of the Fujiwara hegemony (like the anti-Fujiwara hero Ariwara no Narihira of Tales of Ise fame) was not the only way to become a ladies' man. Mostow holds that both The Takamitsu Journal and Collected Poems of Hon'in no Jijū were commissioned for similar purposes, but can Kanemichi be called an accomplished lover when Collected Poems of Hon'in no Jijū depicts, albeit sympathetically, him losing his lady to his brother? The Diary of Lady Ise, the first narrative section of Collected Poems of Lady Ise, was not commissioned, but Mostow persuasively argues that it should be considered still a sekkan-ke text, because, among other things, the non-Ise poems in the narrative were all associated with the Fujiwara and nary a one with the anti-Fujiwara Emperor Uda. To his credit...


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