Universalization of classicism in late medieval Japan is attributed to "transmission" from the Capital, especially by itinerant renga masters. We reject a unidirectional model, arguing that records of rengashi activity display instead creative efforts by which a shared high culture was built anew.
The unprecedented universalization of court literary culture that we observe in late medieval Japan (15-16c) has usually been attributed to simple diffusion. With the breakdown of order in the Capital, its literati are said to have fanned out into the countryside, each of them a conduit for "spreading" the classicism of the court. Our panel questions such a unidirectional model of cultural "transmission." An examination of the textual record reveals it was often from just such local literary communities that cultural developments began. This is clearest seen in the case of medieval rengashi (masters of linked verse). From their activities they might appear to embody the "transmission" thesis. Indeed, beyond their duties at renga sessions, many rengashi made a profession of traveling up and down the archipelago as invited experts in traditional court poetics. Yet surviving records of the teachings they provided demonstrate something far more original than mere cultural transfer. The three papers in this panel explore how the varied documents of rengashi activity—lecture notes, treatises, and commentaries on classical literature—reflect a new, creative development in classical studies beyond the scholarship of the Capital. We begin with Yamaguchi Notes on the "Tales of Ise" (1489) by renga master Sōgi, a rare commentary written explicitly for novices on the literary periphery. Close examination reveals significant differences from others' lecture notes of Sōgi's teachings, demonstrating the originality and range of rengashi literary practices. Next we consider the interpretive consequences of such differences. Taking up rengashi exegeses of the Tale of Genji, particularly the character of Ukifune, we discover a growing concern for the "literary" quite distinct from traditionalist, scholastic approaches to classical texts. Indeed the function of "commentary" itself seems in flux. We conclude with an investigation of hybrid Genji studies like the Rōkashō (1504), which amalgamates various aristocratic and commoner theories of classical exegesis that coexisted at this turning point. The panelists each explore how, in the same period that saw the Muromachi state collapse into countless local conflicts, the rengashi not only facilitated, but actively built anew a high culture in which literary aspirants everywhere would share.