Departmental Bulletin Paper <Research Notes>Meitokuki: Earthquakes and Literary Fabrication in the Gunki Monogatari


This is a short introduction to a problem that affects two areas of research:historical seismology and medieval literature. The Meitokuki (1392−96), agunki monogatari or battle narrative, reports an earthquake on the fifteenthday of the tenth month of the second year of Meitoku (1391). This reporthas been and is still accepted as legitimate. However, a full investigationof the sources adduced as proof of this earthquake’s historicity leads to theconclusion that no contemporary records confirm the Meitokuki report.Furthermore, an analysis of the Meitokuki text as a gunki monogatari, whichis a genre of historical fiction, demands a comparison of its earthquake reportwith those in other gunki monogatari. Such a comparison with those in theKakuichi variant of the Heike monogatari (before 1371) and the Taiheiki(about the same decade) reveals a specific form as well as a function of theearthquake report as an omen of impending disaster. This study proposesthat, of the three examples, only the Heike report is authentic and that thetwo others are fabrications based on it. This conclusion is important for tworeasons. First, it identifies the earthquake report in gunki monogatari as a typescene, a traditional narrative unit not unlike the Homeric scenes of arming,embarkation, and reception of the guest, or indeed the gunfight or chasescene in Westerns. Second, it demonstrates the importance of the type scenein the development of the gunki monogatari as a genre of fiction.

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