Special issue: Vernacular Buddhism and Medieval Japanese Literature. D. Max Moerman is associate professor in the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures at Barnard College, Columbia University.
The demonic female, an object of male anxiety and desire, has long been a stock character in Japanese Buddhist literature. This article examines two female realms in the Japanese literary and visual imagination: Rasetsukoku, a dreaded island of female cannibals, and Nyōgogashima, a fabled isle of erotic fantasy. I trace the persistence and transformation of these sites in tale literature, sutra illustration, popular fiction, and Japanese cartography from the twelfth through the nineteenth century to show how the construction of Japanese identity relies on the mapping of the marginal. In doing so, I argue for the centrality of Buddhism to Japan’s cartographic tradition and the importance of cartography in Japanese Buddhist literary and visual culture.