Book launch: Flowering Tales: Women Exorcising History in Heian Japan (Watanabe with Arntzen & Heldt)

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The Centre for Japanese Research at the University of British Columbia is delighted to announce a book launch of Dr. Takeshi Watanabe’s Flowering Tales: Women Exorcising History in Heian Japan, held in conversation with Dr. Sonja Arntzen and Dr. Gustav Heldt.


When: Thursday, February 4, 2021 6:00-7:15 pm PST


Platform: Zoom webinar (registrants do not appear on screen)


Registration required:



About the Presenters

Takeshi Watanabe is an Associate Professor in East Asian Studies at Wesleyan University. His next book project is on representations of food and consumption in pre-Edo Japan.

Sonja Arntzen is Professor Emerita of the University of Toronto. Retired 2005 to Gabriola Island, BC, she continues her research in pre-modern Japanese women’s literature and classical Chinese poetry by Japanese Zen monks. Her monographs include: Ikkyū and the Crazy Cloud Anthology (Tokyo University Press, 1986), The Kagerō Diary (University of Michigan, 1997), The Sarashina Diary: A Woman’s Life in Eleventh Century Japan, (Columbia University Press, 2014) and The Sarashina Diary:Reader’s Edition (Columbia University Press, 2018). Current projects include a translation of the Ochikubo Monogatari and an expanded and revised edition of Ikkyū and the Crazy Cloud Anthology for Quirin Press, Australia.

Gustav Heldt is an Associate Professor of Japanese literature in the Department of East Asian Languages, Literatures and Cultures at the University of Virginia.

About the Book

Flowering Tales: Women Exorcising History in Heian Japan

Takeshi Watanabe

Published by Harvard University Press

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.

Available for purchase from Harvard University Press.