This study of modern Japan engages the fields of art history, literature, and cultural studies, seeking to understand how the “beautiful woman” (bijin) emerged as a symbol of Japanese culture during the Meiji period (1868–1912). With origins in the formative period of modern Japanese art and aesthetics, the figure of the bijin appeared across a broad range of visual and textual media: photographs, illustrations, prints, and literary works, as well as fictional, critical, and journalistic writing. It eventually constituted a genre of painting called bijinga (paintings of beauties).Aesthetic Life examines the contributions of writers, artists, scholars, critics, journalists, and politicians to the discussion of the bijin and to the production of a national discourse on standards of Japanese beauty and art. As Japan worked to establish its place in the world, it actively presented itself as an artistic nation based on these ideals of feminine beauty. The book explores this exemplary figure for modern Japanese aesthetics and analyzes how the deceptively ordinary image of the beautiful Japanese woman—an iconic image that persists to this day—was cultivated as a “national treasure,” synonymous with Japanese culture.
One of the more intriguing developments within medieval Japanese literature is the incorporation into the teaching of waka poetry of the practices of initiation ceremonies and secret transmissions found in esoteric Buddhism. The main figure in this development was the obscure thirteenth-century poet Fujiwara Tameaki, grandson of the famous poet Fujiwara Teika and a priest in a tantric Buddhist sect. Tameaki's commentaries and teachings transformed secular texts such as the Tales of Ise and poetry anthologies such as the Kokin waka shu into complex allegories of Buddhist enlightenment. These commentaries were transmitted to his students during elaborate initiation ceremonies. In later periods, Tameaki's specific ideas fell out of vogue, but the habit of interpreting poetry allegorically continued.This book examines the contents of these commentaries as well as the qualities of the texts they addressed that lent themselves to an allegorical interpretation; the political, economic, and religious developments of the Kamakura period that encouraged the development of this method of interpretation; and the possible motives of the participants in this school of interpretation. Through analyses of six esoteric commentaries, Susan Blakeley Klein presents examples of this interpretive method and discusses its influence on subsequent texts, both elite and popular.
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