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Mediating Disaster and Memoryscapes in the Tale of Heike: Narrated Space and Heritage of the Great Fire of Angen (1177)

Sat, June 25, 10:30am to 12:20pm, Shikokan (SK), Floor: 1F, 106


Since its establishment, the old capital of Japan, Heian-kyō (present-day Kyōto), endured countless calamities. Wars, fires, epidemics, floods, droughts and earthquakes periodically devastated the city. Heian-kyō’s status as a symbol of Japanese cultural identity was revived and reinforced through efforts to restore the damaged capital after each disaster. In addition to feats of engineering and religious and political ceremonies crucial to restoration, other key cultural practices included narrating disasters as a form of literature in monogatari, which served to mediate and construct social memory and identity. Among the incessant calamities depicted in the Heike monogatari, the great fire of Angen (1177), which burned down a third of the capital, including the Great Imperial Audience Hall, courtier mansions, and other well-known buildings and gardens, stands out as the conclusion of the first chapter of the tale, heralding the end of the court aristocracy. Drawing on the depiction of the same fire as it is narrated in several variants of Heike monogatari, I argue that the differences in the damaged mansions and sites between the variants and historical records signal important memory and narrative making processes. Exploring the literary significance of historical and commemorative spaces reveals the celebrated and haunted past of Heian-kyō. These remembered spaces and their narrative differences embody fluctuating mosaics of moments of memory, metaphor, and experiences that generate and mediate social spaces. The disasters narrated in Heike monogatari thus serve as a medium to produce memoryscapes that overlay the topography and architecture of the capital.