Sutō Ayumi: The Retired Go-Shirakawa Tennô and Imayō— Imayō-matching Contests in the Kikki Journal, 1179

The Retired Go-Shirakawa Tennô and Imayō—
Imayō-matching Contests in the Kikki Journal, 1179 後白河院と今様合—『吉記』における承安四年「今様合」を中心に
SUDÔ Ayumi

In Jishō 3 (1179) a serious incident occurred. Taira no Kiyomori took Retired Monarch Go-Shirakawa, the de facto ruler at the time, to the Toba Detached Palace and put him under house arrest. The Engyōbon, one of the Heike monogatari variants, includes an episode entitled, “The Retired Monarch under House Arrest,” and it depicts the heartbroken Go-Shirakawa. In this episode, Go-Shirakawa compares his current miserable state with the blessed events that he had experienced in the past — sightseeing, pilgrimages, and celebratory ceremonies — and the retired monarch is overwhelmed with sorrow. Here, it is noteworthy that Go-Shirakawa chooses imayō-song-matching contests as a blessed occasion, indicating how such events symbolized his glorious and joyful past.

Imayō was a popular song style that became prevalent during the late Heian Period when retired monarchs led the court. Throughout his life Go-Shirakawa was fascinated by imayō. He sponsored an imayō-song-matching contest at his Hōjūji mansion that lasted for fifteen nights, beginning on the first day of the ninth month in Jōan 4 (1174). For this event he selected thirty senior nobles who were adept at imayō, divided them into two groups each night. He had them sing imayō while competing against each other. Then on the thirteenth day a musical performance was held after the contest. Contemporary sources — the courtier journals Kikki and Kujo Kanezane’s Gyokuyō, the female attendant’s memoir Tamakiwaru, and the didactic tale Yoshino Kissui-in gakusho — all provide detailed information. Among them, Kikki offers particularly valuable records about the thirty senior nobles as well as the outcome of their imayō matches.

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