The Japanese medieval age consists of the Kamakura and Muromachi periods (from approximately 1185 to 1600). During this time, the political power was switching from the imperial family to a militaristic government. In addition, civil wars (from 1156 to 1568) were increasing throughout Japan. This change of centrality in society’s focus from court to warriors shifted the perception and style of Japanese literature.
As we learned during the first half of the course, the Heian period focused their attentions on elegance, aesthetics (of actions or objects), and relationships (specifically the feelings of love, longing, and waiting). This is reflected that period’s literature. In “Genji Monogatari,” the characters continuously behaved elegantly and gracefully spoke in poems. “Makura no Sōshi” acted as a reference and guide for appropriately refined court behavior. While various nikki, such as “Izumi Shikibu Nikki” and “Kagerō Nikki,” gave readers insight into the lives and relationships of people in the Heian period court.
In comparison, tone of medieval age Japanese literature becomes more intense, realistic, and darker in scope as focus shifts more to the lives and interests of people outside of court. In particular, the warrior class contributed a lot to Japanese literature during the Kamakura and Muromachi periods, because of the increase in civil wars and shift in political power. This is clearly evident in the works of gunki monogatari, especially “Heike Monogatari,” because the tales depict inelegant things that were not to be mentioned in Heian period literature, such as blood and gore.
The illustration of the atrocities of war shows the increase in battles and wars of the period. This coincides with the European medieval era, in which battles were prolific and evident in literature, such as “Beowulf” and “The Song of Roland” – both are epics that follow a hero through war. There is another similarity that the Japanese and European literature share and that is in the inclusion of religion. So while Europe embraced Christianity, Japan culture flourished in the inclusion and practice of Buddhism (LaFleur 17). As such, literature (poetry and prose) with Buddhist themes and tones dramatically increased during the Japanese medieval era.
In the Heian period, Buddhism did exist in that time period’s literature, but it was not heavy included. In “Kagerō Nikki,” practice of this religion was evident, but its purpose or teachings are not explained or explored. The “Izumi Shikibu Nikki” was the first to show a heavy influence by Buddhism, but (from the section that we had obtained through the class) it did not seem to be overflowing with references to the religion in either the poetry or prose. The same can be said for “Genji Monogatari,” in which we see Buddhism as an escape from court or an undesirable societal position and the teachings or practices remain unexplored.
In the medieval era, this changes and it becomes clearly...