Accepted paper:

Daihiji: Greater Secret Pieces of the Heike biwa tradition and the performance of history


Elizabeth Oyler (University of Pittsburgh)

Paper short abstract:

This presentation focuses on the "Initiates' Chapter," one of three secret pieces of the Heike biwa repertoire. It discusses both thematic and structural elements of the piece within the context of secrecy and custodianship of historical memory.

Paper long abstract:

The "Initiates' Chapter," or Kanjō no maki, famously creates a specifically Buddhist ending to the most famous variant of the Tale of the Heike (Heike monogatari), the Kakuichibon. Recounting the story of Kenreimon'in, the most important Taira survivor of the Genpei War, its focus on her unique status as a nun who has achieved enlightenment, it situates the entire narrative of the Heike within Buddhist space and time outside the arc of historical time. A secret piece in the recited tradition of performance of the Tale of the Heike, it is one of a very small number of pieces sharing this rank, conferred on them because of their articulation of a set of thematic concerns conveyed both in their narratives and their complex musical structure. This presentation explores the Kanjō no maki's thematic connections to the three "Greater Secret Pieces" of the Heike tradition: the Chapter of the Swords, the Chapter of the Mirrors, and the Doctrinal Debate, all of which, like Kanjō no maki, represent conclusions to the greater narrative, and which also, Oyler argues, do so through creating very similar narrative trajectories, despite their differing subjects and world views. Oyler explores connections of these pieces to each other, and their relationships with both the Kakuichibon and other Heike variants. What does it mean for these works to be secret pieces in the recitational tradition, and how might the existence of such a hierarchy of pieces shape the Heike's role as a placatory text?

panel S4b_03
Performance of History and Memory: Extratextual Dimensions of the Tale of the Heike, Japan's Iconic War Tale