Asian Folklore Studies
This article explores the use of literature as a source of historical and ethnographic data. It focuses on the writer Ema Shū and his massive historical novel Yama no tami, or “The Mountain Folk.” The novel describes a peasant rebellion that engulfed the remote Hida region in 1869, just as Japan began to modernize. Ema first conceived the novel during the increasing militarism of the 1930s, and was himself subjected to police surveillance for his political activities. In response, he recreated himself as a folklorist, combing the mountain villages of Hida for ethnographic data. This allowed him to interview older residents about their experiences during the rebellion, which he then incorporated directly into his narrative. Through a presentation and analysis of several key excerpts, I will demonstrate that Ema’s novel, though fictionalized, is nevertheless essential in recovering the lives and experiences of a remote mountain people and understanding their resistance to modernization reforms. I will also argue that Ema intended his novel not merely as an exercise in evoking the past, but as a veiled expression of dissent against the militarist Japanese government of his own era.
Hida region, mountain folk, historical narrative, fictionalized ethnography
Journal Article Version
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Published Article/Book Citation
Asian Folklore Studies, Vol 65:2 (2006), pp.269-321. https://www.jstor.org/stable/30030402
Copyright © 2006 The Nanzan Institute for Religion & Culture. Posted by permission.