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In Session: Textiles as Texts in Medieval and Early Modern Japanese Literature
1: Emerald Canopies and Seas of Cloth: The Transformative Power of Textiles in the Kaidoki
Friday, March 26, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States
The anonymous Kamakura period travel diary, Kaidōki 海道記 (Record of the Sea Road, 1223), though less well-known than Kamo no Chōmei’s Hōjōki, is roughly contemporaneous andemploys a unique metaphoric framework to develop similar concepts—the transience of dwellings, “recluse-aesthete” renunciation of the world, and the path to Buddhist enlightenment. It has often been remarked that Bashō’s Oku no hosomichi drew inspiration from the Kaidōki’s interweaving of ideas of the road, the journey, life, and the Buddhist path. In this paper, I argue that it is the textile imagery used to describe the scenery of the “Sea Road” which is transformative for both the poetic-speaker and the reader, providing an ascendant route beyond the floating world. The road’s greenery is spun into the emerald canopies of the boudoir (the ultimate transient dwelling); the choppy surface of the “Sea Road” is woven into purifying, white cloth; the cloudy bellyband of Mt. Fuji is both a barrier and a passageway on the heavenly ladder. The Kaidōki takes advantage of the spatially transfigurative functions of textile and costume to transport the reader from the misery of the floating world and its surrounding sea of sorrow onto an ascendant, purifying journey towards a lotus throne in paradise beyond. Much more than a poetic litany of famous place names, the text works on multiple levels to answer metaphysical questions about time, reality, life, death, and the possibility of escape from the very fabric of the world itself.