Corporeality in the Japanese Oral Tradition of Storytelling by Biwa-hôshi

By Yukihide Endo.

Published by The International Journal of Arts Theory and History

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper adopts a humanities-based interdisciplinary approach to the interaction between corporeality and art through the integration of the social and physical aspects of blindness. I will examine how physical blindness affected and even contributed to artistic production in blind 13th to 15th century Japanese traveling entertainers' chanting narratives of tragic heroes. These blind entertainers were equipped with lute-like instruments and clad in shabby monk’s robes. Because of this appearance, they were called “biwa-hôshi" (a monk with a lute). At that time, blindness had a significant impact on popular thinking. In ancient and medieval Japan, it was commonly believed that the blind were born with supernatural memory. The biwa-hôshi thus deserved attention from all classes. The biwa-hôshi’s oral tradition began developing a few decades after the mid-12th century when Japan saw warfare and chaos involving a three-sided struggle between the nobility and samurai clans. This was a time of hegemonic transition in which two emerging samurai clans, the Genji and the Heike, individually sought to subjugate the nobility and competed with each other for rulership over the central areas of Japan. The amalgamation of popular memories and written accounts of these turbulent years formed a series of oral tales depicting the rise and fall of the Heike clan that led to the opponent clan Genji’s national reign. During the relatively peaceful period between the early 13th century and the mid-15th century, individual biwa-hôshi successfully chanted pieces of these amalgamated narratives generically titled “The Tales of the Heike.” The mechanism of this artistic success, i.e. corporeality and art interaction, will be approached from non-exclusive literary, historical, and anthropological perspectives.

Keywords: Corporeality, Biwa-hôshi, “The Tales of the Heike”

The International Journal of Arts Theory and History, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp.39-50. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 438.512KB).

Dr. Yukihide Endo

Professor in English, Department of General Education, Hamamatsu University School of Medicine, Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Pref., Japan

I teach English at a Japanese medical school and complete theatre and film-related research, focusing on artistic and futuristic representations of the human body. The academic culture at my workplace has helped me to explore new perspectives on the body, and thus, I am interested not only in female impersonation in Kabuki but also in prostheticized bodies and cyborgs. I received a BA and MA in English literature from Japanese universities. I also earned a MA from Northwestern University (1996) and a PhD (2007) from UCLA, both in theatre studies. Recently, I've been an active participant in international conferences, making oral presentations on the body and publishing articles.