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Japanese Literature: Forms Of Waka, Tosa Nikki And Oku No Hosomichi

1322 words - 5 pages

Literature, whether oral or written, reflects the society in which it is produced. The history of literature in Japan, in particular of poetry is quite extensive. If we begin with Manyoushuu, compiled in 770, until the present day, the history of waka is over one thousand two hundred years long. Such a vast collection of literature enables us to take a look Japanese history through its poetry and prose. The development of waka and the changes it underwent over time are not solely the reflection of an art form, but also of its authors. Their social status, values, subject choices, and spiritual beliefs all reflect upon the greater society of Japan at that time. The time from the beginning of the Heian period to the end of Edo Japan is approximately one thousand seventy years long and makes up the majority of recorded Japanese history. Within such an expanse of history and of literature, parallels between works are bound to occur as authors build upon one another. Ki no Tsurayuki’s Tosa Nikki and Matsuo Bashou’s Oku no Hosomichi are one such example. Tosa Nikki, written in 936, and Oku no Hosomichi, finished in 1694 are both examples of kikou, or travel diaries. (Keene p.82) (Encyclopedia of Japan)
Known more formally as kikou bungaku, or travel diary literature, kikou are compositions recording and describing a journey. The length of kikou vary considerably and can be episodic, but go nowhere near the length of a work like Genji Monogatari. The diary ‘entries’ also vary in form and can be organized by date, by event, or may simply be free flowing with no formatted division in the prose. The true stars of kikou such as Tosa Nikki and Oku no Hosomichi are the poems. The prose exists mainly to support the poetry and provide the circumstances in which the poetry is written. Tosa Nikki is the first work considered a true kikou bungaku and is extremely structured. Ki no Tsurayuki organizes his entries by date according to the lunar calendar and includes a total of fifty seven waka in the diary. Matsuo Bashou’s Oku no Hosomichi on the other hand comes across as a style more akin to modern prose literature and has poetry interspersed throughout the entirety of the work. (Keene p. 82-91) (Oku no Hosomichi) (Encyclopedia of Japan)
The approximately seven hundred years separating Tosa Nikki and Oku no Hosomichi denote the different worlds in which each author wrote his respective work. Japan changed significantly between the Heian and Edo jidai. The aristocratic court in Kyoto had been usurped during the Kamakura and Ashikaga periods by military governments. At the time of Bashou, the Tokugawa Shogunate in Edo controlled Japan, leaving the emperor and his court as figure heads much less power brokers as in Tsurayuki’s time. Japan had become more interconnected with roads and inns particularly in result of the Tokugawa Shogunate’s policy of sankin koutai and Edo’s population alone reached one million people, the largest city in...

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