Society for the Anthropology of Lowland South America

Gustav Heldt

Associate Professor of Japanese Literature


PhD Columbia (2000), MPhil Columbia (1996), MA Columbia (1994)


My area of specialization is in the language, literature, and cultural history of Japan prior to contact with the West with related interests in gender, poetics, ritual practices, comparative historiography, and myth.  At the University of Virginia I have regularly teach courses such as JPTR 3010 (Survey of Japanese Literature), JAPN 4710 (Introduction to Literary Japanese), EAST 1010 (East Asian Canons and Cultures), as well as seminars on more specialized topics such as Japanese myth, the Tale of Genji, and Japanese court women's literature.  My first book The Pursuit of Harmony: Poetry and Power in Early Heian Japan explored the links between classical Japanese court poetry and the ritual enactment of authority by powerful members of the Heian court. Since then I have written a translation of Japan's earliest surviving narrative, the Kojiki, and co-edited a volume on cultural exchanges across Eurasia in the middle ages. My current book project is an in-depth study of Tosa nikki, Japan's earliest surviving vernacular diary. 


Early and medieval Japanese literature and culture


The Kojiki

The Kojiki book cover

An Account of Ancient Matters

Columbia University Press

August, 2014

Japan's oldest surviving narrative, the eighth-century Kojiki, chronicles the mythical origins of its islands and their ruling dynasty through a diverse array of genealogies, tales, and songs that have helped to shape the modern nation's views of its ancient past. Gustav Heldt's engaging new translation of this revered classic aims to make the Kojiki accessible to contemporary readers while staying true to the distinctively dramatic and evocative appeal of the original's language. It conveys the rhythms that structure the Kojiki's animated style of storytelling and translates the names of its many people and places to clarify their significance within the narrative. An introduction, glossaries, maps, and bibliographies offer a wealth of additional information about Japan's earliest extant record of its history, literature, and religion.

The Pursuit of Harmony

The Pursuit of Harmony book cover

Poetry and Power in Early Heian Japan

Cornell East Asia Series

February, 2009

The Heian court of the ninth and tenth centuries was characterized by pronounced political fragmentation and unprecedented poetic fertility. Gustav Heldt argues that the two were often linked by the act of "harmonizing in verse," a public mode of composition in which the words of a superior were cited in order to establish social hierarchies, affirm communal identities, and accommodate conflicting visions of political authority. Focusing on the period's new forms of poetry--the Kokinshu anthology, poetry matches, and screen poetry--as well as the practices surrounding their production, The Pursuit of Harmony marshals a wide range of historical sources to explore such topics as the interplay between the palace calendar and seasonal cycles, representations of social difference, ritual performances of royal virtue at banquets, and later scholastic interpretations of the Heian poetic legacy. In the process, this book provides new insights into a pivotal era in Japanese literature and culture.