Asian Ethnology Podcast

Hells, Punishments, and Medieval Japanese Media Violence

Interviewer: Ben Dorman, co-editor Asian Ethnology

Recorded 29 June 2017, Nagoya, Japan

This episode's guest is Keller Kimbrough, professor of Japanese at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Keller’s research interests include the literature and art of late-Heian, medieval, and early Edo-period Japan. He discusses his work published in Asian Folklore Studies and Asian Ethnology, in addition to translations and edited volumes he has worked on.

Episode Summary

Intro :47

Reasons for studying Japanese literature 2:55

Discussion on “Preaching the Animal Realm in Medieval Japan” (see Publications listing below); how images of hells were used for financial gain 6:49

Challenges in obtaining permissions to print images 9:11

Discussion on “Bloody Hell! Reading Boys’ Books in Seventeenth-Century Japan” (see Publications listing below); “extravagant representational violence,” obsession with “media violence” going back centuries 14:46

Personal interest in “graphic” tales with action; the pleasure of “finding stories”; interest in kabuki and setsuwa (“spoken story”: genre of folktales, myths, legends); the story of “Little Yoshitsune Slays a Thousand”; parallels in contemporary literature and media 18:38

Discussion of Wondrous Brutal Fictions (see Publications listing below); late medieval oral tradition (sekkyō) adapted to puppet theatre (bunraku); role as “textual archeologist” 22:35

Current project – “samurai fiction” (kōwakamai warrior fiction); “pulp fiction” and the heroics of sacrifice 27:18

Future work – Monsters, Animals, and Other Worlds (see Publications listing below) and other projects 29:20

Interest in textual tradition and the culture of publishing 30:18

Outro 30:45

Publications discussed in this episode


1. Preaching the Animal Realm in Medieval Japan Asian Folklore Studies 65-2 (2006). (Author: R. Keller Kimbrough)

2. Bloody Hell! Reading Boys’ Books in Seventeenth-Century Japan Asian Ethnology 74-1 (2015). (Author: R. Keller Kimbrough)


1. Wondrous Brutal Fictions: Eight Buddhist Tales from the Early Japanese Puppet Theater, Translated by R. Keller Kimbrough, Columbia University Press (March 2015)

2. Monsters, Animals, and Other Worlds: A Collection of Short Medieval Japanese Tales, Edited by R. Keller Kimbrough and Haruo Shirane, Columbia University Press (February 2018)

Music used with kind permission of the performer, shamisen master Koji Yamaguchi.
Copyright 2017 by Asian Ethnology Podcast