Kanazawa Noriko: China in the Work of Sugawara Takasue’s Daughter

China in the Work of Sugawara Takasue’s Daughter

by KANAZAWA Noriko
Talk given at the Dec. 8-9, 2010 Conference

In Go-Reizei Tennō’s era (AD 1050s), Sugawara Takasue’s daughter wrote Hamamatsu Chūnagon monogatari. Although it is categorized as a love story like Genji monogatari, it is actually a story that is quite different from that in the Genji.

The hero is a son of a prince. His father died and the soul transmigrated to China, Morokoshi (唐土), where he became a royal prince. The hero decided to see his father again and went to Morokoshi. There he met the queen who was the prince’s mother, and he fell in love with her. But then he had to return to Kyoto in Japan because his mother was waiting for him there. Nonetheless he never forgot the queen, and the story suggests that the queen would someday transmigrate to Japan to meet the hero again because she loved him deeply. It is meaningful for the story that she lived in the land of China, but I think that the Morokoshi of Hamamatsu Chūnagon monogatari is actually an imaginary place.

Later Fujiwara Teika wrote a similar monogatari entitled Matsura no Miya monogatari (松浦宮物語)”) because he was so impressed with the earlier story. Moreover Mumyōzōshi (無名草子), an essay of literary criticism from Kamakura (1185-1333) times, also contains praise for Hamamatsu Chūnagon monogatari. But contemporary scholarship does not necessarily agree. Some scholars view Hamamatsu Chūnagon monogatari as a poor imitation of Genji monogatari, and they point out too that Sugawara Takasue’s daughter knew little of China and its literature while the author of Genji monogatari had knowledge of both.

I think that such views miss the point. The actual land of China was not important for the monogatari. I would argue that the author of Hamamatsu Chūnagon monogatari had much knowledge of the poetry in Chinese that Japanese poets had composed. That would help us to understand that the monogatari was never meant to be an imitation of Genji monogatari. Sugawara Takasue’s daughter was proud of her Sugawara blood because her family had played an important role in the study of the Chinese classics during the Heian epoch. Her monogatari proved that she was indeed a daughter of the Sugawara.

Handout PDF (in Japanese)