Imagining Exile in Heian Japan: Banishment in Law, Literature, and Cult
192pp. February 2015
Imagining Exile in Heian Japan: Banishment in Law, Literature, and Cult
Author: Stockdale, Jonathan;
For over three hundred years during the Heian period (794–1185), execution was customarily abolished in favor of banishment. During the same period, exile emerged widely as a concern within literature and legend, in poetry and diaries, and in the cultic imagination, as expressed in oracles and revelations. While exile was thus one sanction available to the state, it was also something more: a powerful trope through which members of court society imagined the banishment of gods and heavenly beings, of legendary and literary characters, and of historical figures, some transformed into spirits.

This compelling and well-researched volume is the first in English to explore the rich resonance of exile in the cultural life of the Japanese court. Rejecting the notion that such narratives merely reflect a timeless literary archetype, Jonathan Stockdale shows instead that in every case narratives of exile emerged from particular historical circumstances—moments in which elites in the capital sought to reveal and to re-imagine their world and the circulation of power within it. By exploring the relationship of banishment to the structures of inclusion and exclusion upon which Heian court society rested, Stockdale moves beyond the historiographical discussion of "center and margin" to offer instead a theory of exile itself.

Stockdale's arguments are situated in astute and careful readings of Heian sources. His analysis of a literary narrative, the Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, for example, shows how Kaguyahime's exile from the "Capital of the Moon" to earth implicitly portrays the world of the Heian court as a polluted periphery. His exploration of one of the most well-known historical instances of banishment, that of Sugawara Michizane, illustrates how the political sanction of exile could be met with a religious rejoinder through which an exiled noble is reinstated in divine form, first as a vengeful spirit and then as a deity worshipped at the highest levels of court society.

Imagining Exile in Heian Japan is a model of interdisciplinary scholarship that will appeal to anyone interested in the interwoven connections among the literature, politics, law, and religion of early and classical Japan.
"In addition to appealing to specialists in Japanese religious history, it should be of interest to anyone working on religion and punishment, as well as religion and literature or East Asian cultural history. . . . By examining representations of exile in myth, literature, religious cult, and law, Stockdale pushes us to think more broadly about social dynamics, particularly the construction of centers and margins through the practice of banishment, and the ironic tendency of exile to feed from alienation into chaos, even as it is used to impose order. His work is both bold and admirable." –American Academy of Religion

“Stockdale in this work demonstrates a firm understanding and appreciation for Heian culture and his attention to the importance of the theme of banishment is very well placed. His thesis is clear and his use of examples from literature support his argument very well. The research is solid and the writing is clear. This is an enjoyable and quite fascinating read, and a highly original and important contribution to the study of Heian literature and culture.” –Asian Ethnology

“With Imagining Exile in Heian Japan, Jonathan Stockdale brings the periphery back to the center of attention. This is an original and important contribution to the study of the dialectic between the topos of exile in the social imaginary and the penal and cultic practices in Heian Japan. Stockdale skillfully weaves together tight analyses of relevant myths, fictional tales, law codes, historical accounts, and religious cults to produce a luminous refiguring of the poetics and politics of the Heian court. He powerfully argues that the trope of exile was used by different groups and individuals to reveal, reflect upon, and reimagine the social order. This insightful study will be of interest to students of Japanese literature, religion, history, politics, and law.” —Gary L. Ebersole, University of Missouri–Kansas City, author of Ritual Poetry and the Politics of Death in Early Japan
Author: Stockdale, Jonathan;
Jonathan Stockdale is associate professor of Japanese religion at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington.