- Teika: The Life and Works of a Medieval Japanese Poet by Paul S. Atkins
Fujiwara no Teika (藤原定家, hereafter Teika; 1162–1241) is, undoubtedly, one of the most famous waka 和歌1 poets in Japanese history. In the past two decades, there have been substantial English-language studies of well-known literary projects that involve Teika. For instance, Laurel Rasplica Rodd has recently published a milestone translation of the complete Shinkokin wakashū 新古今和歌集 (1205; also known as Shinkokinshū 新古今集), the imperially commissioned anthology compiled under Teika's editorial leadership; Robert N. Huey studies this anthology contextually in much detail in his book The Making of Shinkokinshū.2 Another set of scholarship deals with the popular Ogura hyakunin isshu 小倉百人一首, a collection of one waka each by one hundred poets said to have been selected by Teika and later immortalized as a karuta かるた game with decorated cards; Pictures of the Heart: The Hyakunin isshu in Word and Image by Joshua Mostow is a representative example.3 Another productive approach, epitomized by Steven D. Carter's Householders: The Reizei Family in Japanese History, is to understand Teika's figure through his genealogical legacy.4
But as Atkins aptly notes, surprisingly, there has not been an in-depth English-language monograph dedicated entirely to the life and works of Teika. This monograph thus represents a much-needed, classic single-author study that fills this void thoroughly and with great care. As Atkins clearly spells out in the introduction, his main question is: "Why Teika?"—that is, What is Teika's significance within and beyond his lifetime, in literary realms as well as in the larger cultural arena? The answers to this question are provided from various angles in the chapters that follow. [End Page 269]
Chapter 1 provides Teika's broad biographical sketch, starting with his family background and noting key life moments, including the trajectory of his sometimes-fraught career, his famous literary accomplishments, his complicated relationships with powerful patrons, such as Kujō Yoshitsune 九条良経 (1169–1206) and Emperor Gotoba 後鳥羽 (1180–1239), and the impact of events, such as the Jishō-Juei Wars 治承寿永の乱 (1180–1185; more popularly known as the Genpei 源平 War) and the Jōkyū Rebellion 承久の乱 (1221). The next two chapters delineate the defining characteristics of Teika's poetry. Chapter 2 explores Teika's poetic style by outlining the specific strategies through which he and his allies distanced their work from the pejorative label daruma uta 達磨歌 (Bodhidharma verse)—verses that are too opaque to comprehend. Instead, they distinguished themselves as innovators who used canonical words in new ways (such as the use of inverted syntax or verses ending with a noun), guided by a steadfast sense of fuzei 風情 (discriminating taste) while aspiring to the ideal of yūgen 幽玄 (often defined as mystery and depth). Chapter 3 takes a closer look at Teika's stated poetics as gleaned from an array of his writings. This project involves first an assessment of the various texts that have been associated with Teika. Atkins provides a methodical taxonomy of these texts, listing them from the most to the least trustworthy in terms of authorial attribution. He then organizes Teika's scattered comments into a coherent poetics by relying solely on the most dependable sources. Atkins's analysis shows that Teika privileged poetry of antiquity (though not too antique) and encouraged both lexical conservatism and allusive poetic quotations (honkadori 本歌取り), but the poet also suggested that poetic words should express new sentiments and create an out-of-the-ordinary atmosphere. Chapter 4 turns to Teika's sinographic writings and works about China. After surveying a number of such texts, both prose and poetry, Atkins critiques past scholarly positionings of China vis-à-vis Japan, concluding that the cultural relationship was less fraught or rivalrous than previously claimed. Rather, he asserts, Teika operated smoothly across a range of hybrid literary languages within the Japanese and Chinese milieu. Chapter 5 traces the history of Teika's literary afterlife, starting with his contemporaries and ending with ours. This chapter provides a sweeping look at important moments...