It is only a recent occurrence that the human race has become obsessed with preserving history. We tirelessly attempt to dig up any of trace of past civilizations to learn how they lived. But in the past, they weren’t as concerned with things such as time capsules, records and preservation—rather they just lived their lives accordingly and left traces of their existence. Although not all civilizations were complex enough to create their own writing systems, the ones that did developed it until it progressed from purely informational to the creative. It became a way to preserve oral histories, myths of the creation of the world and everything else in between.
The progression of writing and text can serve as a commentary of the happenings of the times in which they were written. In the Heian period, writing was predominantly poetry progressing into the earlier, cruder version of prose. Heian writing began using the Chinese kanji writing system that eventually morphed into the use of hiragana and katakana through the introduction of Man'yōgana. Hiragana allowed women to make their way into the world of literature, since kanji, the only form of writing for a long time, was mostly known to men only. Because of this, women were able to enter the world of literature and works such as Genji Monogatari by Murasaki Shikibu and Izumi Shikibu Nikki by Izumi Shikibu, and became some of the most influential writers of their time.
The medieval period of Japan took place during the Kamakura period in which the Kamakura shogunate maintained power over Japan. It was during this time that Buddhism began to spread throughout the country. Before the change between the Heian period and the Kamakura period, Buddhism was predominantly observed by monks, and then adopted by the samurai. Because of the control that the samurai maintained over the government and the Japanese people, their religion spread rapidly during the Kamakura period. The “zen” concept of Buddhism was especially appealing to the samurai because of its use of discipline and meditation to achieve enlightenment and connection to oneself. This new religion paved a path for new opportunities in literature.
Tsurezuregusa or “Essays in Idleness” is a collection of short stories with an overall theme of Buddhism. The stories are seemingly disjointed in its subject matter, but have an overarching theme of impermanence, or mujō, to tie them together. “Truly the beauty of life is its uncertainty. Of all living things none lives so long as man…Even a year of life lived peacefully seems long and happy beyond compare; but for such as never weary of this world and are loath to die, a thousand years would pass away like the dream of a single night.” (232, Keene) This essay is a perfect representation of the concept of impermanence that the Japanese find so fascinating. The perfection found in a sakura blossom that only blooms for a few weeks is more appealing that another blossom that remains for months at a...