The role of poetry in narrative prose of the Heian period was shaped through history under Chinese influence. This led to its importance in Japanese society and use not only as stand-alone works, but as significant parts of narrative prose, like monogatari and nikki. The poetry greatly reflected its use in societal activities, especially in the lives of the aristocrats. As the society developed, so did the style of Japanese narrative prose. In other words, poetry worked as a record of Japanese society that assimilated Chinese ideals about literature in creating their own form of narrative prose.
The development of Japanese poetry was heavily influenced by the Chinese (Shirane 182, 606). As the Japanese tended to emulate the mainland society, they adopted various aspects of Chinese culture. This imitation was not only reflected in their prose, but also in the developing societal norms – in particular, that poetry was to be highly regarded as a reflection of culture and status and that its significance was higher than prose (Keene 4-5). In time, waka became a part of everyday life for the aristocracy. It also played an important part in the interaction between the sexes by bridging physical separation and acting as the primary means for communication between the two parties (Shirane 113).
The important role of waka in the society is the basis for using poetry in narrative prose. In other words, as poetry was part of their daily lives, its importance and constant use in upper society cannot help, but to be reflected in narrative prose. This can be seen in the genres of monogatari and nikki. These stories and diaries create tales or retell incidents that reflect Japanese culture. They act as accounts of exchanges between lovers or even conversations among friends. In any case, they serve to mimic the society in writing.
This is not to say that the Japanese people actually lived as depicted in the literary prose –continuously talking through the use of poems and miraculously remaining elegant in all interactions they encountered (Keene 486). Rather, they used the narrative prose to create an image of elegance and beauty in their daily lives – an important aspect of upper society during the Heian period. In turn, this emphasis affected their writing style as the focus of their writing shifted.
Waka throughout time has used poetic associations to reference scenes, images, and situations. However, in order to see that there are differences of style and focus through time, we must compare Heian period poetry and narrative prose to earlier works (dating before 794) so that we can see the changes and consistencies in themes and writing style as the Japanese society developed.
Starting from the Kojiki and Nihon shoki, there is we read a lot about myths surrounding the creation of Japan, how the gods play a very important role in this process, and the celestial connection to the Japanese Imperial family. Writings from both of those...