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Reviewed by:
  • The Book of the Dead by Orikuchi Shinobu
  • Chiara Ghidini (bio)
The Book of the Dead. By Orikuchi Shinobu; translated by Jeffrey Angles with a commentary by Andō Reiji. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2016. viii, 338 pages. $91.00, cloth; $25.95, paper.

Presented in history as the cofounder of Japanese folklore studies (minzokugaku), together with his colleague and mentor Yanagita Kunio, but also remembered as a poet, a scholar of ancient Japan, and, to perhaps a lesser extent until recent times, as a fiction writer, Orikuchi Shinobu (1887–1953) appears to have been rediscovered by both academia and the press in the last decade. This revival is clear in, for example, the republication of Orikuchi's works, such as his representative study Kodai kenkyū (Research on antiquity, 2016), released in celebration of the 130th anniversary of his birth.

Recent Japanese scholarly publications on Orikuchi have tended to shift the focus away from him as a folklorist almost inseparably tied with Yanagita toward analyzing his works within the intellectual domain of philosophy,1 or reading them in the wider context of what we understand as Japan's "modern literature."2 Other works have explored the links between Orikuchi's lifelong interest in ancient Japan (kodai) and his "fieldwork" in the Ryukyus, and discussed his conservativism from the perspective of the history of political thought.3 Beyond Japan, anthropologist Sonia Ryang has cleverly employed his theories, in combination with those of Takamure Itsue, in her book Love in Modern Japan, while Jonathan Stockdale has moved beyond Orikuchi's paradigm of the kishu ryūritan (exile of the young noble) in his recent Imagining Exile in Heian Japan.4 Interest in translating [End Page 465] Orikuchi's fiction into English also seems to have increased after the translation of his short story "Shintokumaru" (1917) by Evan Emswiler and David Gundry, award winners of the Shizuoka Third International Translation Competition in 2001.5

In the wave of this revival, Orikuchi's fictional work Shisha no sho (The book of the dead, serialized in 1939 and published as a stand-alone book in 1943) has gained popularity in Japan, not only through the publication of its first edition as a serialized novel and the essays of the art and literary critic Andō Reiji, but also thanks to its cinematographic rendition in stop-motion animation by the late Kawamoto Kihachirō in 2005 and the manga version authored by Kondō Yōko in 2015.

Shisha no sho is a type of monogatari-novel set in ancient Japan and organized around three main plotlines involving the seventh-century rebellious Prince Ōtsu (Shiga Tsuhiko), the eighth-century Chūjohime (a Southern Fujiwara "iratsume"), and Man'yō poet Ōtomo no Yakamochi. Following the work's increased popularity in Japan, it has now been translated into English by Jeffrey Angles,6 who provides a useful introduction in which he contextualizes Orikuchi and his work within the sociopolitical, intellectual, and literary landscape of interwar Japan and discusses the addition at the end of the translation of excerpts from Andō Reiji's Hikari no mandara: Nippon bungakuron (The mandala of light: Japanese literary theory),7 a collection of essays awarded the prestigious Ōe KenzaburM and Itō Sei prizes.

Without doubt, Andō is today one of the most popular interpreters of Orikuchi, and his essays on the subject have circulated widely within Japan and among "Orikuchi-ologists." In this sense, Andō's essays on the "transfigurations" of Shisha and Orikuchi's possible connections with New Buddhism, Christianity, mysticism, spirituality, and spiritualism are not out of place in The Book of the Dead, whether or not one agrees with Andō's erudite analysis and his emphatic appreciation of Orikuchi as a unique figure in world literature and global intellectual thought. Angles himself, however, seems to struggle with some of Andō's views, especially with regard to his discussion of Orikuchi's sexual attraction to men. That Angles, author of the engaging Writing the Love of Boys,8 should feel almost [End Page 466] obliged to distance himself from Andō's equation of homosexuality with an androgyny of the soul and his interpretation of Shisha as Orikuchi's attempt to find his...


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