Organized Panel Session
Status at the Heian court depended in no small part on performance. Rites and rituals, administrative duties, poetry, music, calligraphy, and games of comparison are a few of the areas in which courtiers were expected to excel. Scholars have long researched the social and symbolic aspects of literary production at the court, but less attention has been paid to the numerous embodied practices that also conferred prestige and facilitated sociality. This paper responds by delving into the early history of kemari, a game in which participants stood between four trees in a courtyard and kicked a deerskin ball up into the air, the goal being to prevent it from landing on the ground. By the twelfth century kemari had attained a privileged status in aristocratic circles—codified and practiced regularly, it was furthermore accompanied by the appearance of a quasi-magical discourse that rendered it otherworldly. Fujiwara no Narimichi (b. 1097), a foremost kemari enthusiast who logged 7,000 days of play, left behind a diary detailing various aspects of the game, from clothing, posture, and pacing to a description of his ethereal dialogue with the three “ball spirits” who oversaw the game. The text hence not only transmits a repertoire of embodied practices, but also elevates kemari as a symbolic pursuit. My paper situates this double valence within the wider early-medieval cultural milieu, wherein performance texts occupied an increasingly central position.