Accepted paper:

Visualizing utamakura: Teaching Japanese Literary History with Digital Literary Maps


Judit Arokay (Heidelberg University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper will demonstrate a new way of familiarizing students with utamakura and meisho (poetic and famous places), a key aspect of classical literature, by use of a cartographical application, "Digital Literary Maps".

Paper long abstract:

Utamakura and meisho (poetic and famous places) belong to the most important poetic means not only of Japanese poetry but of pre-modern literature, in general. They serve as poetic markers with conventional connotations pinning them down in geographical space and, at the same time, evoking series of poems and texts that have contributed to creating a special atmosphere around these spots. As intertextual elements they are pervasive in pre-modern literature and they have become part of the pictorial tradition, as well, as they are often found in different genres of Japanese painting. Familiarity with these place names and their poetic meaning is to a certain degree a prerequisite for understanding Japanese classical literature and culture, but still, the teaching of utamakura / meisho is often neglected in literature classes. But how to attract the interest of students for these tiny and yet so important elements of literary history?

This presentation is going to introduce a digital application developed at Heidelberg University to visualize famous poetic spots on digital maps combining them with the relevant historical, literary, cultural information available about them. By backing up cartographic representation with information gained from poems and narratives, with contemporary or at least historic pictorial representations, and with old maps (as another kind of pictorial visualizing of space and geographical spots), a vivid picture of utamakura / meisho arises which may trigger the interest of students and non-specialists alike. Although literary tourism is to a certain degree popular in Japan, as one might infer from the mass of books being published on literary travel routes (the type of: Man'yōshū / Genji monogatari / Hyakunin isshu wo aruku), the potential of familiarizing students with literary history via utamakura / meisho is still to be explored.

panel S3b_13
Making literary classics accessible to a wider audience