Academic journal article Japanese Journal of Religious Studies

Hachikazuki: Revealing Kannon's Crowning Compassion in Muromachi Fiction

Academic journal article Japanese Journal of Religious Studies

Hachikazuki: Revealing Kannon's Crowning Compassion in Muromachi Fiction

Article excerpt

The corpus of late-medieval Japanese fiction contains various stories about the benefits and favors obtained through devotion to the bodhisattva Kannon. One of these stories is Hachikazuki, which features a young heroine who, following her parents' prayers, is conceived through the divine intervention of Kannon. The girl loses her mother at an early age, is stigmatized by a bowl that her mother has placed inverted upon her head, and undergoes a series of hardships and sufferings. Eventually, the bowl miraculously falls off, and the story culminates in the heroine's happy marriage and the universal recognition of her virtues. I discuss the significance of the bowl as a narrative trope in Hachikazuki in order to illuminate its function as a physical symbol of Kannon's active compassion and divine protection. Kannon seems to be largely absent throughout the narrative, especially in the episodes where the heroine overcomes her suffering thanks to the saving power of the bowl. I argue that the bowl indicates Kannon's benevolent presence throughout the entire story. Therefore, the bowl not only serves as a regenerative space where Hachikazuki can overcome the trauma of her early childhood loss, but it also bridges the gap between orthodox doctrinal and popular vernacular representations of Kannon.

KEYWORDS: otogizoshi-Hachikazuki-mamako mono-setsuwa-Kannon-bowl- compassion-divine protection

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The story Hachikazuki ... (The bowl bearer) is the tale of a young girl who suffers various hardships because she is stigmatized by a bowl that has become firmly attached to her head.1 In the end, however, it is through the bowl that she achieves fame, fortune, and aristocratic status. Hachikazuki is one of some four hundred works of short Muromachi fiction that together constitute the literary genre known today as otogizoshi ..., or "companion booklets."2 According to Ichiko Teiji's classification of otogizoshi by subject matter and theme, Hachikazuki falls into the category of kuge mono ... (aristocratic tales) under the subdivision of mamako mono ... (step-child tales), because the narrative deals with the ill fortune, suffering, and happy ending in the life of a stepchild (Ichiko 1968, 17). This subject has a long tradition which dates back to thirteenth-century collections of setsuwa ... such as Uji shui monogatari ... (Collection of tales of Uji), and to late tenthcentury romances such as Ochikubo monogatari ... (Tale of the sunken room), Utsuho monogatari ... (Tale of the hollow tree), and Sumiyoshi monogatari ... (Tale of Sumiyoshi). In these stories, a stepmother torments the stepdaughter out of jealousy and expels her from home. As a result, the stepdaughter experiences hardship and suffering, but in the end, through the divine intervention of a deity, she marries a noble suitor and lives happily ever after.

In addition, Hachikazuki is also classified under shomin mono ... (tales of commoners) because it resembles many of the success stories in volume sixteen of the twelfth-century setsuwa collection Konjaku monogatari shu ... (Collection of tales of times now past), particularly those associated with the mercy of the bodhisattva Kannon (Kanda and Nishizawa 2002, 865).3 Konjaku monogatari shu is believed to have been compiled by a Buddhist lay monk of aristocratic rank who was familiar with the classic literary tradition and the life of commoners. Although we do not know much about the size, type, or location of the audience for these tales, the reappearance of themes from Konjaku monogatari shu in collections from subsequent eras- such as the miracle tales of the Hasedera Kannon'in. Muromachi-period otogizoshi like Hachikazuki-attests to their popularity and transmission to later generations (Shimura 1974, 42).

Hachikazuki begins by introducing the heroine's parents,who, after ardent prayers to the Hasedera Kannon, miraculously conceive a daughter. …

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