Medieval World Reflected In Japanese Literature: Examples Of Changes And Innovations In Literature (Poetry And Prose)

1423 words - 6 pages

Even without knowledge of the history in Medieval Japan, one can easily learn that Kamakura era was right in the transition period of the government and that of worldviews among people. The warrior class was gradually and surely coming to power, only by looking into the literature works of the era. Perhaps Emperor Gotoba was one of the aristocrats who were threatened with declination of their status and culture, which could have been his motives to command of the anthology: Shinkokinshū. This power rotation was vividly described in Heike monogatari. Later in the era, well-known works, such as Hōjōki and Tsurezuregusa, were written by monks, who were weary of their social lives, in less formalistic manners. A comparison of the two setsuwa shū: Konjaku monogatari shū and Uji shūi monogatari, also tells different views of world, religion, and human lives, among Kamakura people from various backgrounds between 12th century and 13th century. In this paper, I will discuss historical events the Kamakura people went through, physically and spiritually, that are reflected in their literature works.

One of the cultural features expressed in literature during Kamakura era is that poems were still part of life for nobles and monks in early Kamakura era, confirmed by the fact that Shinkokinshū, having commissioned by retired Emperor Gotoba in 1201, was compiled by nobles and monks, and that several poetic devises, such as honkadori, taigendome, and X-no-Y-no-X, were invented in order to appreciate language, poetic sounds, and older poems. Especially honkadori symbolizes Kamakura poets’ admiration for those of previous times in terms of their poetic skills, aesthetic sense, and knowledge of language and its power; actually this devise had already been employed, although not yet recognized as a technique, before Kamakura period (Handout 10), but again the phenomenon may have been a reflection of poets’ high reverence for antique works, regardless of time. “Yume no ukihashi” in Fujiwara Teika’s poem is an example of honkadori, which is borrowed from Genji monogatari in order to express the ephemeral of one’s dream (Jikan). One of the poems, which Tadanori entrusts to Shunzei’s care and Sunzei “includes as the notation ‘author unknown’” in his anthology Senzaishū, also contains honkadori (Online).
Sazanami ya
Shiga no miyako wa
Areni shi o
Mukashi nagara no
Yamazakura ka na

The first line “Sazanami ya” previously appears in Kakinomoto no Hitomaro’s poem which he wrote during Jinshin no Ran: This civil war, similarly to the battles between the Genji and the Taira, destroyed a capital and bereaved the power of dynasty (Online). Surely the technique of honkadori cannot be done without knowledge of classic poems, historical events, and poets’ interpretations about those events. This shows how important and valued the Kamakura people considered education, which I think was the remains of the previous period when education had been taken for...

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