What We Talk About When We Talk About Basara
Henderson, Ross Davies
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The word basara is frequently used in discussing Japan’s fourteenth century. Indeed, the period itself is often casually referred to as the “age of basara,” and the fourteenth century military chronicle Taiheiki is its primary text. Basara is often taken to mean excess in dress, behavior, and consumption. However, this loose understanding is not born out by the extant references in fourteenth-century documents. Recent scholarship has pointed to a more specific descriptive meaning in this period: movement like the fluttering of loose clothing. Yet, particularly in Taiheiki‘s Sasaki Dōyo, there is an active “maximalist” aesthetic at work. I hope to show basara’s precise meaning in context, and propose another term to describe the aesthetic phenomenon: “transgressive excess.” That is, excessive in the common sense, and “transgressing” in four categories: appropriate taste, class structure, public order, and political borders. This terminological realignment allows a clearer understanding of the aesthetics of excess.