Common Songs: A Study of the Saibara Collection and Inquiry into “Fuzoku” Arts in the Heian Court


Premodern Japanese scholarship has focused on the major literary collections of the Nara and Heian periods. In the area of poetry, the Kojiki, Nihon shoki, Man’yōshū, Kokinshū, and Shinkokinshū have absorbed much of the attention of premodern scholars. In contrast to these, the archaic min’yō, or ‘folk song,’ collections offer a glaring contrast to these refined literary compilations. Among these early folk collections, initially recorded as part of the gagaku repertoire, Saibara represents one of the oldest and most well-attested collections. The songs of Saibara grant a unique glimpse into cultural practices of the world beyond the court, and give further insight into the ubiquity of these practices. Many of the songs push the boundaries of (assumed) cultural taboos, but their adoption and apparent pervasiveness in the court suggests a strong affinity for these aesthetically divergent songs. Despite its apparent merit, Saibara as well as archaic min’yō have received only moderate attention from Japanese scholars and have been all but completely absent in Western literary scholarship.

This paper looks at the significance of Saibara as a fuzoku collection, which reveals the conceptualization of ‘folk’ or ‘commoner’ within the Heian court. Specifically, the treatment of Saibara in Ichijō Kanera’s Ryōjin guanshō and the Fujiwara and Minamoto manuscript traditions reveal a distinctly different “handling” of the collection than that of the major literary works of the period. The adoption and presentation of these songs in the literature reflect the seemingly diametric position of fuzoku as both an exotic and arcane practice and as a primordial native art—vis-a-vis socio-cultural class distinctions of commoner and nobility. This paper thus ultimately seeks to establish Saibara at the intersection of court refinement and the raw, unpretentious essence of min’yō musical culture.

Author Information
James Scanlon-Canegata, University of Hawaii at Manoa, United States

Paper Information
Conference: ACAS2014
Stream: Asian Studies

This paper is part of the ACAS2014 Conference Proceedings (View)
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To cite this article:
Manoa J. (2014) Common Songs: A Study of the Saibara Collection and Inquiry into “Fuzoku” Arts in the Heian Court ISSN: 2187-4735 – The Asian Conference on Asian Studies 2014 – Official Conference Proceedings
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon