Angelika Koch
Leiden University. University Lecturer Premodern Japanese History and Culture

Blood, Tears and Samurai Love: A Tragic Tale from Eighteenth-Century Japan and its Digital Future

This talk aims to introduce a joint Leiden-Yale digital research project centred on a unique early eighteenth-century Japanese manuscript acquired by Yale’s Beinecke Rare Books Library in 2017 (working title: Shudō tsuya monogatari). Set in 1714 in northwestern Japan, the anonymous work describes a samurai same-sex love affair and its tragic consequences. As such, it provides a rare example of an early modern 'true-record-book' (jitsuroku-bon)  – a book of rumours surrounding actual events and scandals, illicitly circulating in handwritten manuscript form – on the subject of male same-sex love.

In world history, Edo-period Japan (1600-1868) has been particularly noted for its flourishing culture of male same-sex love. However, because existing research has overwhelmingly focused on the fiction, art, theatre and printed guides on the subject that emanated from early modern Japan’s large urban centres, local practices have remained elusive. Manuscript itself has often been a neglected medium in early modern Japan’s so-called ‘age of print’, partly due to the expertise in premodern cursive scripts required to decipher such handwritten texts, despite the fact that the scribal world had complementary functions and provided a haven for works deemed unsuited for print, as Peter Kornicki has previously argued. In this sense, the project manuscript provides a particularly valuable resource for exploring alternative visions of same-sex love beyond the culturally dominant centre and its print culture, taking the reader inside real-life events that unfolded in a close-knit community of mid-ranking warriors in a far-flung, northern locale.

The project seeks to unlock the manuscript for students, scholars, educators and the general public by providing a fully annotated and translated digital edition of the original, alongside short introductory essays on the text and pedagogical resources to enable this primary source to be used in the classroom.

血と涙と武士の愛: 18世紀日本の悲劇的な物語とそのデジタルの未来へ