Sokendai Review of Cultural and Social Studies


The Repetition of a Theme: Source Material
and Technique in Honchō Suikoden


(The Graduate University for Advanced Studies,
School of Cultural and Social Studies, Department of Japanese Literature)

Key words:

Takebe Ayatari, Honchō Suikoden, Nihon ōdai ichiran, the novel in classical Japanese prose style (wabun), early yomihon

This paper explores the central theme of Takebe Ayatari’s Honchō Suikoden (first part published 1773 [An’ei 2]; unpublished sequel in manuscript form) through an analysis of the ways in which the work makes use of popular beliefs, and through a comparison of its treatment of history with contemporary historical consciousness.

Honchō Suikoden tells the story of the tyrannical Dōkyō, an archbishop favored by Emperor Kōken, and the revolt against him led by Emi no Oshikatsu. The work’s portrayal of the character of Dōkyo places a greater emphasis on his role as an “upstart” than previous popular war tales, while Emi no Oshikatsu and his party are depicted as destitute nobles. This establishes a neat contrast between the two sides. Studies of Honchō Suikoden have typically regarded the work as a novel of “rebellion,” and as such a relative rarity among early modern novels. However, according to my analysis, the work presents a critique of the “upstart,” a view in fact quite agreeable to the Tokugawa feudal order.

The paper proposes an alternative to the established view that Honchō Suikoden was based on Zenzen Taiheiki (1715 [Shōtoku 5]), using a comparison of language to show instead that Nihon ōdai ichiran (1663 [Kanbun 3]) is the source material. Lastly, it is suggested that among early yomihon, Honchō Suikoden’s use of the repetition of a theme constituted a unique method for the writing of an extended novel.