Monday, July 21, 2014

Study Guide: Izumi Kyōka’s “The Saint of Mount Kōya” (Kōya hijiri; 1900)


Study Guide: Izumi Kyōka’s “The Saint of Mount Kōya” (Kōya hijiri; 1900)[1]

Izumi Kyōka 泉鏡花 (1873-1939): Novelist born in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture. A disciple of Ozaki Kōyō, Kyōka made his debut as a writer of the socially oriented “problem novels” (kannen shōsetsu) Gekashitsu (The Operating Room, 1895) and Yakō junsa (Night Patrolman, 1895), but his true forte was the creation of a romantic (and melodramatic) world of fantasy described in a densely imagistic style. Works in this vein include Teriha kyōgen (The Teriha Troupe, 1896), Kōya hijiri (The Kōya Saint, 1900), Uta andon (Song of the Troubadour, 1910), and Mayukakushi no rei (The Ghost with Hidden Eyebrows, 1924). (Source: (Click here for original texts.)

Study Questions

1. Discuss Narrator 1. What is his function in the narrative?

2. Discuss the itinerant priest Shūchō (the “saint of Mt. Kōya”). Where does Narrator 1 first meet him? Where do they stay together? How is he different from most priests?

3. Describe the frame-story structure. Note the frequent interruptions in the frame story.

4. Describe the seedy medicine peddler from Toyama. What provocative comment does he make to Shūchō? What fate does he ultimately meet?

5. Summarize Shūchō’s story (pp. 5-33: his encounter with seedy medicine peddler; his decision to follow him down dangerous narrow road; the insects/snakes/caterpillars/bird eggs/leeches he encounters along the way; the hut; woman; the bathing scene; the dinner scene; his feelings for the woman; his crisis of faith; etc.).

6. Discuss the idiot. Describe his relationship with the woman.

7. A weary traveler from the city descends into the provinces and stumbles upon a lone hut in the middle of a forest with a beautiful/mysterious/elegant woman in it—where have we seen this basic storyline before? How is this story similar/different from these other stories? Is this story also didactic? Why is this basic story structure so common?

8. Discuss the woman (her personality/cravings/situation/powers/etc.). What multiple female archetypes is she a combination of? Explain.

9. Discuss the nude bathing scene. Why do the animals (toads, bats, rodent-monkeys, etc.) gather around as she, naked, washes the naked Shūchō?

10. Discuss the representations of nature in the work. What kind of nature are we dealing with here? How is nature contrasted with culture? Which is privileged?

11. Discuss the bestiality scene. The horse—Old Blue—is the present manifestation of whom? How/why was he transformed into a horse?

12. Why do the animals (sheep, birds, squirrels, cows, etc.) gather at night once the woman, Shūchō, and the idiot go to bed? How does Shūchō quiet them down?

13. Discuss the old man. Summarize the story he tells Shūchō in Episode 26. Is his story about the woman believable?

14. Discuss the ending. Did Shūchō make the right choice? What effect does his story have on Narrator 1?

Place Names

Fill in as you read….

1. Hida 飛騨(国): Today northern Gifu prefecture.
2. Shinshū信州 (also 信濃国): Today Nagano prefecture; where the main road leads.
3. Tsuruga敦賀: city in Wakasa region, present-day Fukui prefecture; where Narrator 1 and Narrator 2 spend the night.
4. Kakegawa:               5. Shimbashi Station:
6. Eiheiji: Zen monastery in …
7. Wakasa Region: Present day Fukui prefecture; Narrator 1’s hometown.
8. Mount Kōya:              9. Shizugatake:             10. Lake Biwa:
11. Rikuminji Temple: Temple to which Shūcho belongs.
12. Tsuji: village in ….        13. Matsumoto: village in …. 
14. Rendaiji Temple in Mino:   16. [add to list as you read …]

[1] Translated by Stephen Kohl in The Saint of Mt. Koya and The Song of the Troubadour (Kanazawa, Takakuwa bijutsu insatsu, 1990). A more recent translation is by Charles Inouye, included in his Japanese Gothic Tales (University of Hawai’i Press, 1996).

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