Poetry's Role In The Heian Period

1571 words - 6 pages

In the history of Japanese poetry and early literature, the Heian period(794-1185) was one of the most important periods for poetry that was uniquely Japanese, as well as the beginnings of early Japanese literature. Prior to this movement, the majority of poems written in Japan were written not in Japanese(as there was no fully Japanese writing system), but in classical Chinese or kanji(Chinese characters). This fact led to criticism from Chinese poets, and so the Japanese sought to find a way to create a style of poetry that was uniquely theirs, starting with creating new alphabets.
These alphabets were Man'yōgana, a system created for transcribing the Japanese language with Chinese characters(both phonetic-based and meaning-based), from which the alphabet of katakana derived, and hiragana, which was created by women from the writing form of onnade, and was recognized as uniquely Japanese. These newly created alphabets helped the world distinguish between Japanese poetry and Chinese poetry, but although these alphabets were an important factor, they were not the last step in the process. After the creation of these early forms of Japanese writing, the last step was for the Japanese people to make a distinction between their poetry and classical Chinese poetry. Now that the Japanese had their own unique writing systems, books and anthologies of poetry were written.
The two most famous anthologies of poetry in early Japan were the Man'yōshū and the Kokinwakashū(Kokinshū for short). The Man'yōshū is the earliest written anthology of early Japan as well as the largest and oldest surviving anthology of Japanese lyric poetry believed to have been arranged around the 750s. Although the compilers are mostly unknown, it is believed that Ōtomo no Yakamochi had a major role in putting together this anthology. There are about 4,500 poems in the Man'yōshū, which are made up of about 4,200 waka(classical Japanese poems), around 260 chōka(long poems), and around 60 sedōka(a poem form with the syllable arrangment 5-7-7-5-7-7).
The poems included in the Man'yōshū were divided into categories based on subject: zōka(miscellaneous poems), which covered such topics as travel, banquets, and legends; sōmonka(love poems), which focus mostly on romantic love between a man and a woman, but also include poems about the poet's love for their children and their siblings; and lastly, banka(elegies). This anthology, perhaps fittingly, is written in Man'yōgana.
Kokinwakashū, known in abbreviated form as Kokinshū, is the second most famous Japanese anthology of poems, as well as second in chronological order. It was arranged by Ki no Tsurayuki and other poets in the year 905 on the orders of Emperor Daigo. Kokinshū is a collection of waka poetry and includes over 1,100 poems and 20 maki(scrolls, or 'books'). This anthology is also the oldest of the chokusenshū, waka anthologies arranged on request of the imperial family. The preface of Kokinshū was written by Ki no...

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