Reading the Miraculous Powers of Japanese Poetry: Spells, Truth Acts, and a Medieval Buddhist Poetics of the Supernatural Journal Article uri icon



  • The supernatural powers of Japanese poetry are widely documented in the literature of Heian and medieval Japan. Twentieth-century scholars have tended to follow Orikuchi Shinobu in interpreting and discussing miraculous verses in terms of ancient (arguably pre-Buddhist and pre-historical) beliefs in kotodama 言霊, 'the magic spirit power of special words'' In this paper, I argue for the application of a more contemporaneous hermeneutical approach to the miraculous poem-stories of late-Heian and medieval Japan: thirteenthcentury Japanese 'dharani theory,' according to which Japanese poetry is capable of supernatural effects because, as the dharani of Japan, it contains 'reason' or 'truth' (kotowari) in a semantic superabundance. In the first section of this article I discuss 'dharani theory' as it is articulated in a number of Kamakura-and Muromachi-period sources; in the second, I apply that theory to several Heian and medieval rainmaking poem-tales; and in the third, I argue for a possible connection between the magico-religious technology of Indian 'Truth Acts' (saccakiriyā, satyakriyā), imported to Japan in various sutras and sutra commentaries, and some of the miraculous poems of the lateHeian and medieval periods.

publication date

  • January 1, 2005

Date in CU Experts

  • November 8, 2017 10:38 AM

Full Author List

  • Kimbrough RK

author count

  • 1

Other Profiles

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0304-1042

Additional Document Info

start page

  • 1

end page

  • 33


  • 32


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