Re-evaluating Hentai Kanbun in Heian/Kamakura Japan


Ferris Women’s University, Yokohama, Japan

Hentai kanbun 変体漢文 (variant Sinitic prose or pseudo-Sinitic prose) can be defined as “the archaic Japanese writing style employed for recording Japanese in a way that outwardly resembles Chinese” (Aldridge, 2011). It is probably best known as the main notation of Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters). However, this notation was not only specific to Kojiki, but it was widely used for writing diaries, ceremonial books, and letters. These documents, seemingly lacking in artistic worth, have not been evaluated as highly as literature in the traditional sense, such as waka, monogatari, and Sinitic poetry. Yet it should be noted that these practical writings were created and read by the aristocracy as much as literary masterpieces.

This presentation will focus on how the Heian nobility manipulated hentai kanbun to verbalize their thoughts by taking as an example Gōdanshō 江談抄 (The Ōe Conversations), a collection of sayings and ideas attributed to Ōe no Masafusa (1041-1111), a renowned Confucian scholar of the late Heian period. Through close examination of Gōdanshō, this presentation will show how hentai kanbun was a practical style required for the educated society of the Heian period and beyond.


Han Song’s primary research interest is in Sinitic literature of Heian Japan, focusing on the stylistic development of poetry and prose written by Confucian scholars throughout the period. He is also interested in the style of China’s Six Dynasties poetry, especially on Ruan Ji and Zhang Hua’s works.


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