Kaoru Hayashi

Assistant Professor of Premodern Japanese Literature, University of Arizona
Faculty Advisers: Richard Okada and Brian Steininger

Narrating Vengeful Spirits and Genealogies in Premodern Japanese Literature


This dissertation explores the invocation of the angry dead as both a social practice of genealogical imagination repeatedly thematized within Heian literary texts and as itself a narrative act whose structure generated a particular voice integral to the development of classical Japanese fiction. I argue that in the eleventh to the fourteenth centuries, the process of becoming a powerful vengeful spirit, or even suffering as a victim of such a spirit, provided political, religious, and familial legitimacy in elite aristocratic culture. By closely investigating narrative techniques in a wide range of texts—from canonical literature, such as The Tale of Genji and Tale of Hōgen, to official historical chronicles, poems, and religious treatises—I trace a larger literary practice of invoking vengeful spirits as rhetorical devices in order to narrate the unspeakable, challenge stable meanings, and provide powerful genealogical links to the past, present, and future. Chapter One delves into one of the most famous of all premodern narratives, The Tale of Genji. By closely examining the multiple roles of female narrators, I argue that women not only mediate the voices of vengeful spirits but that the emergence of these vengeful spirits facilitates the development of the narrative itself. Chapter Two continues to explore The Tale of Genji by illustrating the significance of kinship in the process of becoming a vengeful spirit and how connections to such spirits reinforce genealogical legitimacy. Chapter Three evaluates the writings of Jien, an archbishop from premodern Japan’s most powerful aristocratic family, the Fujiwara, further examining the interdependency between genealogical legitimacy, Buddhist rhetoric, and vengeful spirits by focusing on Jien’s written prayers and his historical account, Gukanshō. Chapter Four reconsiders writings related to one of the most feared vengeful spirits in Japanese history, Retired Emperor Sutoku, who publicly declared his intention to become a vengeful spirit and cursed his own descendants. In total, this dissertation constitutes the first comprehensive literary and historical analysis of vengeful spirits in premodern Japan and argues for understanding these spirits through the intertwined relationship between narration and genealogies