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The Songs of the Dead: Poetry, Drama, and Ancient Death Rituals of Japan

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 March 2011

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The author reconstructs the religious idea and ritual that lie behind the “Songs of the Dead.” The three songs attributed to Empress Saimei in the Nihonshoki (nos. 119–121) are interpreted as sung by a dead person's spirit sailing to the nether world. They must have been handed down by the Asobi-be—shamans who appeased dead emperors' spirits—because these and other funeral songs in the Kojiki use similar verse forms. The Ryō no Shūge says that the Asobi-be's services involved two persons called Negi and Yoshi. Negi appeased the spirit who possessed Yoshi; the empress's songs must originally have been sung by Yoshi. The ritual behind the “Songs of the Dead” also helps us to understand the origins of Nō, especially of mugen nō, and to perceive the connection between Nō and the development of Kabuki in the early seventeenth century.

Copyright © The Association for Asian Studies, Inc. 1982

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