Japanese Literature Part 1

Japanese literature, changing development against the background of geographical and at times political isolation.

Phases of eager reception and adaptation of foreign influences (from the 6th to the second half of the 19th century mainly of Chinese, then modern Euro-American literatures) alternate with phases of isolation, which favored independent, particularistic traits of literary creation: the preference for short forms (especially in lyric poetry), the dominance of loose, open structures (in epic and dramatic genres), the preference for expressive-affective over intellectual-abstract modes of expression, a tendency towards melancholy and fatalism. Weltschmerz and an increased sensitivity for the fleeting (the daily or annual rhythm, the transience of all being) remain formative in the modern age.

Early antiquity (until the end of the 8th century)

According to ehistorylib, the earliest literary works of the Japanese language were recorded in Chinese script (initially with some phonetic use of the characters). Poetry and prose preserved strong traces of highly developed oral transmission techniques. A corpus of heterogeneous myths and legends (partly Asian-continental, partly Austro-Pacific origin) as well as popular and courtly poetry went into the earliest historical works, initiated by imperial orders, Kojiki (712; “Report on old incidents”), Nihongi (720, ” Annals of Japan “) as well as in topographies (Fudoki, from 713; notes on customs and country). Ritual prayers (Norito, fixed in writing 928) indicate the spread of word magic practices. The imperial edicts (Semmyō, included since the end of the 8th century) are considered a separate genre.

In addition to poems written in Chinese – such as the 120 poems in the anthology “Kaifūsō” (751, “Sea grasses of nostalgia”) by 64 authors – the first Japanese poetry collection Manyōshū (compiled after 750; “Ten Thousand Leaf Collection”) testifies to a high level developed indigenous poetry with courtly as well as rural forms: rhyming, with its own meter (mostly alternations of 5 or 7 syllables) and specific tropes (introductory formulas; Makurakotoba). The long poem (Nagauta or Chōka) takes a back seat to the tanka, a short form with 5-7-5; 7-7 syllables. Outstanding in this earliest anthology is the sensual, direct, life-affirming love poetry, which, in a dialogical structure, refers to the archaic practice of village »Utagaki« (»song hedges«, i.e. dialogically designed sequences of songs).

Classical antiquity (9th-12th centuries)

In the classical epoch of the Heian period (794–1185), the bearers of literature were almost exclusively members of the imperial court or belonged to its circle; literature was thus a part of court life. Its flowering went hand in hand with the development of the phonetic syllabary writing (Kana, in two variants), which deepened the separation between Chinese literature (Chinese poems [Kanshi], collected in anthologies; diary literature; Buddhist short prose) and native genres (poetry, prose). The short poem (Tanka, Waka) became the main cultural medium and indispensable means of communication in everyday court life: in the etiquette of love relationships, but also as a formalized parlor game, in performative poetry contests (Utaawase). The heyday of the waka can be seen in the 21 official anthologies compiled on imperial orders: a. Kokinshū (905 by Ki no Tsurayuki [† 946] i.a. compiled; “Collection of Japanese poems from then and now”) to “Shinzoku Kokinshū” (1438; “New collection of Japanese poems from then and now”). The progressive refinement of poetic expression went hand in hand with the development of formal rules (laid down in poetological treatises), which increasingly limited poetic freedom. Recess, multiple allusions, sophisticated citation methods from older works as well as a strictly limited and controlled vocabulary characterize the formalization of emotional poetry. The waka reached a high point with the Shinkokinshū collection (1205; “New collection of Japanese poems, then and now”), in which a. Poetry by Saigyō-hōshi (* 1118, † 1190) appeared as well as by Fujiwara no Sadaie, who also wrote important poetological writings. – In contrast to the artificial, formally reserved court lyric poetry, there are the life-affirming, powerful folk songs (Imayō) of the “Ryōjin hishō” (“Dust on the roof beams, secretly collected”) collection from the 12th century, which was also created on imperial orders (fragmentary preserved).

Classical antiquity brought a variety of new types of prose emerged. About 5–10% of these works are still preserved today. The mood of the emotional poetry resulted in poetry narratives (Uta-monogatari), to which the “Ise-monogatari” (“Tales from Ise”) and the “Yamato-monogatari” (“Tales from Yamato”; both from the middle of the 10th century) counting. Fairy tales were written in a sophisticated style marked by Chinese rhetoric, such as the “Taketori-monogatari” (circa 9th / 10th century, “The story of the bamboo collector”). In addition, realistic, novella-like or novel-like long stories were published, the best-known being the »Ochikubo-monogatari« (»Story of the Miss in the Dungeon«, late 10th century) and the »Utsubo-monogatari« (»Story of the tree cave«, 9th century). / 10th century). The historical prose has one of its most famous works in the “Eiga-monogatari” (“Tale of splendor and glory”, 11th century). As an essayistic miscarriage work (Zuihitsu) was a. writes the Makura-no-sōshi (“pillow book”) of the lady-in-waiting Sei Shōnagon (* around 1000). Around 1010 the lady-in-waiting Murasaki Shikibu (* around 978, † around 1016) wrote the Genji-monogatari (“Tales from Prince Genji”). It is a high point of Heian literature and shaped the ideals of court society. It has served as a source of inspiration for many generations of writers to the present day. Later narratives of greater scope (“Hamamatsu-chūnagon-monogatari” [circa 12th century], “Sagoromo-monogatari” [10th / 11th century], “Tsutsumi-chūnagon-monogatari” [2nd half of the 11th century]) feature simpler narrative techniques and often repetitive realistic details. – One of the earliest surviving travel diaries (Kikō) is theTosa-nikki (“Tosa diary”) by Ki no Tsurayuki. It is followed by a rich, emotional memoir and diary literature (Nikki), which was mainly written by court ladies and contrasts with the mostly stiff and conventional Chinese-written diaries of male authors. – The short prose reached a high point in the Konjaku-monogatari collection (11th / 12th centuries, “Stories from now and then”), which combines realistic, Buddhist, mostly anecdotally pointed stories of various (also continental) origins.

Japanese Literature 1