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Flowering Tales

Flowering Tales

Women Exorcising History in Heian Japan

Takeshi Watanabe

ISBN 9780674244405

Publication date: 01/07/2020

Telling stories: that sounds innocuous enough. But for the first chronicle in the Japanese vernacular, A Tale of Flowering Fortunes (Eiga monogatari), there was more to worry about than a good yarn. The health of the community was at stake. Flowering Tales is the first extensive literary study of this historical tale, which covers about 150 years of births, deaths, and happenings in late Heian society, a golden age of court literature in women’s hands. Takeshi Watanabe contends that the blossoming of tales, marked by the Tale of Genji, inspired Eiga’s new affective history: an exorcism of embittered spirits whose stories needed to be retold to ensure peace.

Tracing the narrative arcs of politically marginalized figures, Watanabe shows how Eiga’s female authors adapted the discourse and strategies of the Tale of Genji to rechannel wayward ghosts into the community through genealogies that relied not on blood but on literary resonances. These reverberations, highlighted through comparisons to contemporaneous accounts in courtiers’ journals, echo through shared details of funerary practices, political life, and characterization. Flowering Tales reanimates these eleventh-century voices to trouble conceptions of history: how it ought to be recounted, who got to record it, and why remembering mattered.


  • Superb…This study radiates an intense commitment to understanding Eiga on its own terms while at the same time striving to communicate its particular genius to an audience of a very different place and time…[O]ne can say that Watanabe has succeeded brilliantly in creating an empathetic study of an ‘affective history.’

    —Sonja Arntzen, Monumenta Nipponica


  • Takeshi Watanabe is Assistant Professor at the College of East Asian Studies, Wesleyan University.

Book Details

  • 322 pages
  • 6 x 9 inches
  • Harvard University Asia Center