In 1194, the Japanese courtier and poet Fujiwara no Teika composed a sequence of eight poems (waka) on themes and passages in the Lotus Sutra, to be inscribed on frontispiece illustrations in a set of copies of the sutra offered as a memorial for his late mother. This lecture focuses on these poems as a site for considering practices of poetic composition occasioned by mourning and memorial rites and linked to the production of visual representations and reproductions of Buddhist scriptural texts. Teika’s offering can be read alongside and as part of a rich tradition of waka composition directly engaged with the Lotus Sutra itself. But his 1194 memorial also invites consideration as an example of the intimate and productive engagement of waka with material culture; and there may be good reasons to think of poems such as these as material culture, as things created and preserved among the artifacts of family remembrance for the dead.
Edward Kamens is the Sumitomo Professor of Japanese Studies at Yale University. Kamens’ teaching covers Japanese literature from the earliest periods into the 19th century. His research interests focus primarily on the poetry and prose genres of the Nara, Heian, and Kamakura periods.
Prior to joining the Yale faculty in 1986, he taught at the University of Washington from 1983-1985. Kamens studied for his doctorate in the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures at Yale during the same years as Andrew Markus. He earned his Ph.D there in 1982.