Faculty of Letters, the Department of Japanese Languages and Cultures, Shiba Laboratory

Experiencing the daily life and view of the world of long ago through research on medieval literature

Faculty of Letters, the Department of Japanese Languages and Cultures, Shiba Laboratory

- Division of Japanese Culture Studies -

Professor Kayono Shiba studies on restoration of sutra chanting of Buddhism scriptures by means of the literature and culture from the late-Heian to the Kamakura eras when Buddhism was connected to various performing arts.
We interviewed the professor regarding the attraction of research on medieval literature and the classes she is teaching currently.

Kayono Shiba

Completed the doctoral course (comparative culture studies) of the Graduate School of Humanities and Sciences, Ochanomizu University

Worked as a research fellow of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, and began working for Chiba University in 2001. Specializing in narrative literature and Buddhism literature.
Currently working on restoration of musical performance pieces of sutra chanting.

Please tell us about the research you are working on now.

My specialty is Japanese medieval literature, but it does not deal only with literary works. From the cloister government period of the late Heian era to the Kamakura era, music culture was developing with instrument playing and singing.
A variety of musical performances were inseparably related to Buddhism, so the act of simply chanting a sutra was expressed as a form of "performing art."
The theme of the way of sutra chanting is the center of my research of finding out how "Lotus Sutra" was chanted at Buddhism memorial services.

More specifically, what are you researching on the way of sutra chanting?

As I said earlier, different performing arts were closely linked with Buddhism in those days, and especially from the late 1100's to 1200's, the verses in the sutra began to be read musically.
Sutra chanting was somewhat musical from the beginning, but in that period, its rules and styles were outlined and developed into a "way."
The way of sutra chanting, however, gradually became obsolete, and today we don't have any complete form of it remaining.
Even at the Shoshazan Engyōji Temple in Himeji City, Hyogo, where I frequent as my fieldwork site, the sutra chanting music was terminated due to the anti-Buddhist movement in the early Meiji Era. My goal is to restore it based on the scarcely available materials and documents.
It was more than 10 years ago when I came across the theme of the way of sutra chanting, but the research is still in the beginning stage, so it will be my lifework, I can say.

What do you say is the attraction of research on literature and culture?

Especially in the study of classics, as you begin to understand the documents, you are able to feel the living environment of people in those days, what they were thinking and what view of the world they had in their life.
You can feel as if you are sitting next to an individual in literary history by properly combining various materials, developing isolated spots into a line, lines into a plane, and planes into a 3-dimensional image.
The event that moved me to take up research in the way of sutra chanting was also an encounter with a document, and I said to myself, "this is what I will study from now onwards."
I think the restoration of sutra chanting is really a project of starting from dots to eventually create a 3-dimensional object. In my lecture, I teach a diversity of classic literary works including medieval literature. I wish the students to experience the pleasure of research in these fields.
I also take part in a general education class for all students, "Creating Traditional Culture," in which we produce original Kyogen plays based on the folklore of the local Boso region, home to Chiba University, and perform them on stage with a help of Kyogen performers of Izumi School.
Performance of a production is an effective way to truly understand the folklore instead of simply investigating it.
I strongly recommend the students to take part in it.

Last of all, please give a message to the students.

I want them to build up a core foundation for their life whether it be their way of thinking or practical skills.
For example, through my research on classic literature, I keenly feel the importance of an ability to sift through information.
Among the available materials and traditions, some are trustworthy, but others are totally groundless, so you need discernment to distinguish them and imagination to put fragmented pieces together.
It is indispensable to refine such an ability in this modern world saturated with information.
It is also important to learn how to express what we have comprehended.
We can be useful in society consisting of a wide diversity of characters if we are able to identify the role that we individually can play.
I hope the students interact with various people and experience different things.

The general education class, "Creating Traditional Culture" produces a Kyogen play based on the Boso folklore every year.
The students perform their play at Chiba Prefectural Culture Hall and other venues.

Illustrated materials offered by the Shoshazan Engyōji Temple.
These are researched to clarify the life and culture in those days.

Professor Shiba's main work, "Dokyo-do no Kenkyu (Study of Way of Sutra Chanting)."
"When I found the way of sutra chanting, I got so excited that I couldn't sleep." - Professor Shiba