Japanese Literature Essay

2052 words - 8 pages

Medieval Japan proceeded the Heian period and spanned the years of 1185 to 1600. In contrast to the relatively peaceful times in the Heian period, medieval Japan was marked by changes of the government system into feudal structures and warfare, although the capital and imperial court culture still continued to exist. Political factions, such as the feud between the Taira and Minamoto clans, and the emergence of the warrior class of the medieval period clashed with the elegant imperial court of the Heian period, resulting in the gradual transition of political power to the military and samurai classes. This era of great turmoil and change was reflected in the literature of the time. In prose, new subjects that were never mentioned before emerged, such as physical descriptions of bodies and grotesque, gory war scenes. In Heian literature, the closest physical descriptions were only of women’s long, black hair and fair skin tone; detailed characteristics, especially those of unappealing taste, did not show up. However, in the feudal medieval period, writers depict war scenes in which warriors get beheaded and people commit seppuku, painting images of vivid crimson gore for the reader. Such descriptions show up in works such as Heike monogatari and Kamo mo Chōmei’s Hōjōki. However, the world of poetry at this time showed many distinct and interesting changes and innovations as compared to those of earlier times, which can be analyzed in more detailed aspects. Poetry is how Japan initially gained recognition and respect in the literary world; it was and continued to be the central cornerstone of classical Japanese literature through many centuries, which is why the focus of this paper will be the poetic anthologies of Kokinshū of the Heian period and Shinkokinshū of the medieval period. These two anthologies will be compared in terms of changes and innovations within the poems. Kokinshū was chosen because it is said to have established waka as a valuable and legitimate art form and was seen as the gold standard for waka composition for centuries. It was groundbreaking in that it was the first anthology to be commissioned by an Emperor, making it the first imperial anthology in Japanese history. Shinkokinshū was chosen because it shows both changes and slow innovation in classical Japanese poetry based on the core Kokinshū originals. While both anthologies share many similarities, numerous changes and innovations arose in Shinkokinshū that were not seen in Kokinshū, such as the sources from which the poems were taken, topics of the poems, poetic devices, and evaluative notions.
In terms of sources from which the poetry was gleaned, the compilers of Kokinshū looked towards private collections of family letters and poems, which are called shikashū. Many poems in Kokinshū are from anonymous authors. It has been speculated that this was done purposefully to mask the identity of the author if he was of a really high social class or a...

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