Japanese Literature

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The Japanese medieval age consists of the Kamakura and Muromachi periods (from approximately 1185 to 1600). During this time, the political power was switching from the imperial family to a militaristic government. In addition, civil wars (from 1156 to 1568) were increasing throughout Japan. This change of centrality in society’s focus from court to warriors shifted the perception and style of Japanese literature.

As we learned during the first half of the course, the Heian period focused their attentions on elegance, aesthetics (of actions or objects), and relationships (specifically the feelings of love, longing, and waiting). This is reflected that period’s literature. In “Genji Monogatari,” the characters continuously behaved elegantly and gracefully spoke in poems. “Makura no Sōshi” acted as a reference and guide for appropriately refined court behavior. While various nikki, such as “Izumi Shikibu Nikki” and “Kagerō Nikki,” gave readers insight into the lives and relationships of people in the Heian period court.

In comparison, tone of medieval age Japanese literature becomes more intense, realistic, and darker in scope as focus shifts more to the lives and interests of people outside of court. In particular, the warrior class contributed a lot to Japanese literature during the Kamakura and Muromachi periods, because of the increase in civil wars and shift in political power. This is clearly evident in the works of gunki monogatari, especially “Heike Monogatari,” because the tales depict inelegant things that were not to be mentioned in Heian period literature, such as blood and gore.

The illustration of the atrocities of war shows the increase in battles and wars of the period. This coincides with the European m...

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...rical poetry,” aside from tanka, chōka, and haikai (McCullough 558).

Although the political power shifted and dominant warrior class did not put as much emphasis on the arts as members of the court, Japanese literature was still preserved because the people held it in value and continued to view it as a denotation of refinement. As a result, there were various changes and innovations to Japanese literature when entering into the medieval period. This included literature written from new perspectives, the spread of religion, and new poetic devices (including one new form of poetry) were created.

Works Cited

LaFleur, William R. The Karma of Words: Buddhism and the Literary Arts in Medieval Japan. 1983: University of California Press, Berkeley.

McCullough, Helen Craig. Classical Japanese Prose: An Anthology. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990.
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