Japan Literature

Only what was perpetuated by the oral tradition and later entrusted to writing has been handed down from the original production. This is the case of the norito (spoken words), a sort of solemn speeches of a religious and magical-enchanting nature, linked to the formation of the Shinto religion and of the Japanese nation. The introduction of Buddhism and Chinese culture in general was followed by radical innovations in the socio-political structure of the country and its culture. To Taishi Shōtoku (573-621), the greatest statesman and scholar of ancient Japan, we owe the Code in seventeen articles, the first body of written laws based predominantly on Confucian thought. Shōtoku was also the propagator of Buddhism and the first commentator of the holy scriptures (sūtra). Starting from the first certain documents of the Nara era, Japanese literature is usually divided into the six great periods through which the history of the country took place: Nara, Heian, Kamakura, Muromachi and Momoyama, Edo (or Tokugawa), modern and contemporary.


In the Nara period (645-794), from the name of the first imperial residence, historiography was the greatest achievement. In 712 the Kojiki (Memoirs of Ancient Events) was compiled, in 720 the Nihongi (Annals of Japan). Written on Chinese historiographic models, they collect all the mythological and legendary heritage and outline the divine descent of the imperial dynasty, of which the first centuries of history are narrated. Of the sec. VIII are the fudoki, topographical reports that illustrated the characteristics of the individual areas of the country. The only one preserved in its entirety is the Izumo Fudoki. The largest and oldest repertoire of poems in the Japanese language is the Man’yōshū (Collection of ten thousand leaves). The compiler is uncertain, but perhaps more rewriters have made successive extensions to a lost original edition. Among the 561 poets, mainly of the tanka genre, the so-called “big five” of Man’yōshū emerge : Hitomaro, Akahito, Okura, Tabito, Yakamochi. The work is considered the most precious page of Japanese lyric.


The Heian period (794-1185), named after the new capital, Heian-kyō (later Kyōto), was characterized by a refined culture imbued with Chinese taste. In the sec. X was ordered the Kokinshū (Collection of ancient and modern poems), of which the preface by Tsurayuki Ki no (872-ca. 950) is famous, which traces a brief history of Japanese poetry. The first diary of this first critic is also the Tosa Nikki (Tosa’s diary), a genre always widely cultivated, in which the three greatest writers of the time excelled: Shikibu Izumi (ca. 966-1030), Shōnagon Sei (b.966 c.), Shikibu Murasaki (978-ca. 1015). The latter, however, is much more famous for the work that is considered one of the masterpieces of world literature: the Genji Monogatari. It constitutes the most mature literary expression of the narrative genre called monogatari of which the anonymous fairy tale, Taketori Monogatari (The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter), constitutes the first surviving example. Another famous poet, Emon Akazome no (976-1041), is credited with the Eiga Monogatari (Story of splendors), which is the first example of historical monogatari. The body of the Shi Kagami is also historical (Four mirrors), which introduce the historical fact as a topic of dialogue between several people. Visit rrrjewelry.com for mountaineering in Asia.


With the Kamakura period (1185-1333), named after the city seat of the first military government or shogunate, court historiography lost prestige in favor of the shogunal one. The Azuma Kagami (Mirrors of the Eastern Provinces) traces the history of the country from 1180 to 1266. In fiction there was the development of the gunki monogatari (war story), of an epic tone, inspired by the recent struggles between the great feudal families. Famous: the Hōgen Monogatari (History of the Hōgen era), the Heiji Monogatari (History of the Heiji era), the Heike Monogatari (History of the Heike) and the Genpei Seisuiki (Prosperity and decay of the Taira and Minamoto). More late the Taiheiki (Chronicle of the great peace), which narrates the fall of the Kamakura shogunate and the establishment of that of the Ashikaga. Two works of the zuihitsu genre (scattered notes) are famous: the Hōjōki (Memories of my hut) by Chōmei Kamo no (1154-1216) and the Tsurezuregusa (Variety of idle moments) by Hōshi Kenkō (1283-1350). A nice travel diary is the Izayoi Nikki (Diary of the sixteenth night) of the nun Abutsu-ni (1209-1283). Another long diary is the Meigetsuki (Notes written in the moonlight) by Teika Fujiwara (1162-1241), one of the compilers of the Shinkokinshū and other official anthologies, but above all famous for a lucky choice of tanka of the sec. VI-XIII, the Hyakunin Isshu (One hundred poems of one hundred poets).


During the Muromachi and Momoyama periods (1392-1603), from the establishment of the Ashikaga shogunate after long struggles (which included the short period of Nanboku-chō, 1333-92), Kyōto was restored as an effective capital. A new poetic form, the renga (chain poetry), was born from the artifice of poetic tournaments and fashion composition games at court. Famous author of renga was Sōgi Iio (1421-1502), who dictated the principles of composition in Azuma Mondō. His disciple was Botanka Shōhaku (1443-1527). Later the initial part of the renga broke off in a tiny three-line poem of mostly humorous content, called haiku and widely cultivated in the following centuries. But the great achievement of the period was the noh theater.

Japan Literature