Japanese Literature


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  • Among the most important figures in Japanese history, Prince Shotoku (r. 593-622) adopted Chinese and Korean policies and doctrines for Japan, and instigated major cultural, religious, economic, and political reforms. He introduced Buddhism, a foreign religion that successfully coexisted with native Shinto beliefs. He Japanized foreign systems and beliefs, in the process clarifying a notion of Japaneseness. For this, Shotoku was venerated as a national hero during his lifetime, and deified after his death. The cult of Shotoku resulted in the proliferation of his images, which were placed in temples as well as domestic shrines.
  • The period from 592 to 710 is called the Asuka Era, because the capital was in the Asuka district during this time. It was the beginnings of the Imperial dynasty in establishing its sovereignty. Buddhism was brought from China: 538Buddhism was not only a religion but also a vast tome of deep knowledge about everything in those days. Japanese learned various knowledge from Chinese Buddhist priests. Buddhism was also a powerful weapon for court politics. In the days of the house Soga, many people were converted to Buddhism. Taika no Kaishin: 645 In the early 6th century, a noble house Soga raised its power. They held important posts in the government. Eventually, they began to intervene in the Imperial succession. They assassinated Prince Yamashiro-no-Oe in 645. During this crisis, Prince Naka-no-Oe allied with another noble, Nakatomi-no-Kamatari, and broke a coupe d'etat in 645. They assassinated Soga-no-Iruka, the leader of house Soga, at a banquet. They prepared the coupe d'etat plan very well, and all members of the house Soga were soon deported. Today, the coupe d'etat is called "Taika-no-Kaishin". Prince Naka-no-Oe ruled the government, and became the next Emperor Tenji in 668. Natatomi-no-Kamatari renamed himself Fujiwara-no-Kamatari. His house, Fujiwara, came to have major power in the government, and finally ruled the government in the Heian Era. The Battle of Jinshin : 672 When Emperor Tenji died in 671, he had two apparent successors. One was his eldest son, Prince Otomo. The other was his elder brother, Prince Oama. Tenji had named Prince Otomo as his successor two years before. So Prince Oama retired from the government and become a Buddhist priest. If he had remained in government, he would likely have been killed by some supporter of Prince Otomo. So he had escaped to a temple in the Yoshino mountains. When Emperor Tenji died, the two Princes began a battle for the throne. Prince Oama finally won, and Prince Otomo comitted suicide. Prince Oama became the new Emperor Tenmu. This battle is called "the Battle of Jinshin".
  • The Kojiki is considered the earliest historical record of Japan.  It was completed in 712 but purportedly records the events dating back to 660 bce and the creation of the Japanese Imperial line.  The writing of the Kojiki was a particularly tricky task because the Japanese language did not have a written script.  Yasumaro, the scribe charged with recording what had heretofore been committed to memory by Hieda no Are and other kataribe, describes the challenges of trying to find a way to use Chinese characters to represent Japanese words.  Refer to pages 12-13 of The Sources of Japanese Tradition, Vol. 1 (Columbia University Press, 1958).  As a result, the Kojiki is written in a strange mixture of Chinese used both ideographically, phonetically, and otherwise to create Japanese.  There was little apparent logic to Yasumaro's selection, and the Kojiki was soon to be illegible until Nativist Scholars unraveled the cumbersome readings in the later centuries.
    The Kojiki ("Record of Ancient Matters") is considered the earliest remaining record written by the Japanese. It is an account of Japanese history as viewed by seventh and eighth century Yamato aristocracy. The early accounts are considered a myth, while later accounts hold some historical accuracy.
    The compilation of the Kojiki was first commissioned by emperor Tenmu (reigned 673-686), but it was completed only twenty five years and three emperors later in the year 712, during the reign of Empress Genmei. The completion of the Kojiki a year after the establishment of the capital in Nara indicates that the Yamato court was making a significant step forward towards justifying its claim to supreme authority over the Japanese people.
    The writing in the Kojiki is based on Chinese characters and employs the kambun, the manyogana, and the hybrid kambun style. The kambun style is basically Chinese writing with a pure Chinese vocabulary and sentence structure. This type of writing comprises the preface of the Kojiki and is the style of the majority of extant early Japanese works. Manyogana consists of Chinese ideographs used phonetically, devoid of their original lexical meanings. The largest portion of the Kojiki however, is written in the hybrid kambun style where words are written phonetically or ideographically in Chinese writing, but read in Japanese. So, the Kojiki announced the adoption of a written form of the Japanese language.
    The Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters) is traditionally viewed as Japan's first book. It was written in 712 by the courtier O no Yasumaro (? - 723) at the behest of Empress Genmei (661-721) and is in three volumes. The Kojiki recounts the history of Japan from its mythological origins to the era of the Empress Suiko (554-628) in the Yamoto era and includes myths, legends, Imperial geneology, history, and poetry.
    O no Yasumaru's work was based on the oral recitations of Hieda no Are who had been commanded to memorize and maintain this body of work by Emperor Tenmu (622-686).
    This book is extremely significant because in its sections on the "Age of Gods" and the "Age of Emperors", it set the standard framework for the measurement of Japanese history and imperial power.
  • Waka were first composed, before the advent of writing in Japan, to celebrate victories in battle and love, or for religious reasons, and this tradition of poetry for public occasions carried through to the first great age of written waka in the seventh and eighth centuries, with highly wrought nagauta 'long poems', consisting of alternating 'lines' of five and seven syllables, being composed for performance on public occasions at the imperial court. At the same time, tanka 'short poems', consisting of five 'lines' in the pattern of 5-7-5-7-7 syllables, became a useful shorthand for private communication between friends and lovers, and the ability to compose a tanka on a given topic became an essential skill for any gentleman or lady at court. Over time, the tanka became the premier poetic form for the Japanese aristocracy and nobles competed to produce ever better examples of the art in poetry competitions, while critics formulated elaborate critiques and definitions of what was 'acceptable' poetry.
    Eventually, the tanka of the court became ossified, and the vitality of waka was transferred to a new form, renga 'linked verse' which pairs or groups of poets would compose jointly, with one poet supplying the initial 5-7-5 of a verse and another the concluding 7-7, often building up to hundred verse sequences. Finally, the initial 5-7-5 of a renga became a poetic form on its own, the haiku, and great poets came to be found among the samurai warriors and the townsfolk of early modern Japan.
  • The Kokinshû also has two prefaces: a Japanese one written by Ki no Tsurayuki and a Chinese one by Ki no Yoshimochi. Tsurayuki's preface is regarded as being the first work of Japanese poetic criticism, setting out criteria for judging poems, giving terminology and making suggestions about poets who were to be regarded as superior. In particular, he mentions the 'Six Poetic Sages' (rokkasen): Archbishop Henjô, Ariwara no Narihira, Fun'ya no Yasuhide, The Monk Kisen, Ono no Komachi and Ôtomo no Kuronushi.
    The principal poets of the collection (those with more that 5 poems included) are: Tsurayuki (102), Mitsune (60), Tomonori (46), Tadamine (36), the Monk Sosei (36), Narihira (30), Ise (22), Fujiwara no Tomoyuki (19), Komachi (18), Henjô (17), Kiyowara no Fukayabu (17), Fujiwara no Okikaze (17), Ariwara no Motokata (14), Ôe no Chisato (10), Sakaoue no Korenori (8).
  • Today, 1200 years later, the Imperial household still uses the costumes of the Heian period for the formal occasions of coronations and weddings.
    During the Heian period, the japanese expressed their perception color and color changes of the four seasons through costume. Their deep love of artistic beauty and colors were reflected in the kimono of this period.
    To protect against high humidity, buildings had elevated floors made of tatami mats. The convention of sitting on the floor became an important part of the life style. Clothing became stiffer and more voluminous. Court women wore 10, 12, 15 or even 20 layers at a time. This layered dressing is called "juni-hito" which literally means "12 layers." The layered color pattern reflected many things including seasons, directions, virtues, and elements of the earth as they related to spirits of nature. The multiple layers also helped in staying warm in winter.
  • It wasn't until the Heian period (794-1185) that the visual arts began to change. Paramount among these changes was the development of yamato-e, or Japanese painting. The yamato-e depicted Japanese subjects and scenes from Japanese life. Once this genre of painting was created it also created retrospectively the genre of kara-e, or "Chinese painting." While yamato-e would not have the same prestige as kara-e, the depiction of Japanese scenes required a different visual imagination. This development in the Japanese visual imagination was a highly gendered one. In the Heian court culture, women's communities were the most significant culturally creative centers of Japanese society. In addition to literature, women also influenced the nature of painting until two distinct painting styles were recognized: otoko-e, or "men's paintings," and onna-e, or "women's paintings
  • Onna-e was characterized by rich colors and subtle outlines. The onna-e was the medium for communicating, or courtliness, appropriate to the literature of miyabi, such as The Tale of Genji. The most interesting aspect of onna-e is the "cutaway" painting, in which interior scenes are painted by "cutting away" the roof. The viewer seems to be looking down into a house or room from which the roof has been removed. This unique illustrative device points out the dominant aspect of onna-e: it is primarily concerned with the Japanese life that goes on inside the court or house, while the otoko-e is primarily concerned with the public life outside the court or house. Both of these painting styles emerged as a means to represent specifically Japanese subjects and the cultural ideas represented in these subjects.
  • ." Otoko-e was characterized by strong calligraphic outlines on figures with washed colors so that these strong lines would not be overwhelmed by the color—the illustration below, from the illustrated manuscript Shigisan engi emaki , beautifully represents the style of otoko-e. The otoko-e was the medium for action subjects involving war or conflict;
    The Japanese literary genre of engi is a narrative that chronicles the founding of a Buddhist establishment, in this case, Chogosonshiji, founded by Myoren. The painting style is in otoko-e , or "men's pictures." This style is characterized by active movement; the artist uses strong ink calligraphic lines and weak color pigments so that the colors don't overwhelm the black or gray lines. All the emakimono were classified as yamato-e , or "Japanese painting," in distinction to kara-e , or "Chinese painting." The main criterion for differentiation was the yamato-e concerned subjects drawn from Japanese culture and life while the kara-e were based on Chinese themes or subjects.
  • The greatest artistic medium of these new painting styles was the illustrated manuscript, or emakimono, developed in the late 900's. The emakimono ("painted scrolls") were really scrolls that one rolled out. Illustrations would occupy the full height of the scroll; beside the illustration would be the story. The greatest of these scrolls is the Genji monogatari emaki , an illustrated scroll of The Tale of Genji from the early 1100's.
  • Writing was introduced into Japan in the sixth and seventh centuries AD. Like so much else in early Japanese culture, it was a direct import from China. Since the Japanese had no native writing system, the introduction of literacy involved writing first in Chinese using Chinese characters. However, since knowledge of Chinese was limited, the Japanese soon adapted the Chinese style of writing to the Japanese language—by the seventh century AD, the Japanese were writing Japanese using the Chinese style of writing. Japanese, however, was an exponentially different language than Chinese —they are not even in the same language family—so the development of Japanese writing involved ingenious but complex reconfigurations of Chinese writing When the Japanese exported Chinese writing, they first exported Chinese writing phonetically. That is, if you needed to write the word, "onna," meaning woman, early Japanese writing would write first a Chinese character that in Chinese represents the word "on" or something close to it and then another Chinese ideogram that translates into the Chinese word "na." After a while, the Japanese began to use the characters ideogrammatically, that is, they'd use the character that corresponded not to the sound but to the meaning of the Chinese word with which it was associated. So, in later Japanese writing, when one wanted to write the word "onna," one would use the Chinese character for "woman." This style of writing, which characterized all Japanese writing until the late seventh century, is called kanji. By the seventh century, both methods were used whenever one wrote Japanese using Chinese characters In the seventh and eighth centuries, the Japanese invented another writing technology based on Chinese characters called kana , which means "borrowed words." There are two types of kana , hiragana (which the early Japanese called onna-de , or "women's writing"), and katakana . The most important innovation in Japanese writing occurred with the introduction of hiragana or completely syllabic writing in the Heian period. In Japanese historiography, hiragana was introduced by the Buddhist, Kobo Daishi, who had studied Sanskrit, a phonetic alphabet, in India. The alphabet that he invented was a syllabic alphabet—in part based on Chinese writing, hiragana is made of simple, cursive strokes in which each character represents a single syllable. Not only is hiragana easier and faster to write, it also doesn't require a knowledge of Chinese characters. In the Heian period, hiragana was called onna-de , or "women's writing" and made possible the great works of Japanese literature composed by women such as Murasaki Shikibu and Sei Shonagon. Through these works and the court culture produced by women's communities, hiragana eventually became the dominant writing system in Japan. A little later, Buddhists developed yet one more writing system, katakana . Like hiragana , katakana is a syllabic alphabet derived from Chinese characters. Hiragana , however, was produced by drawing Chinese characters in quick, cursive, fluid strokes—they are curvy and simple renditions of the Chinese characters from which they were derived. Katakana , however, takes Chinese characters and draws only one part of the character, a kind of shorthand.
  • Katsukawa Shunsho 18th c.
  • Japanese Literature

    1. 1. Japanese Literature
    2. 2. Brief History of Japan Heavy cultural influence from China and Korea (Buddhism, ways of farming, art, language / letters) 12th to 19th centuries: Samurai ruled (Shogun), emperor was only figure head.
    3. 3. 1853: American Commodore Matthew Perry (with four warships) “requested” Japan to begin trading. 1868: After civil war, Shogun resigns and Emperor restored to power; once again, he is truly in charge of Japan. Emperor begins modernization of country, abolishes samurai class and feudal system.
    4. 4. Oldest (formalized by 1400’s) Stories are spiritual in nature (ghosts, demons, possessions) Masks are worn Audience is aristocratic/upper class Elegant & refined Noh
    5. 5. Noh Simple sets, little or no props Stage has three sides for audience, connects to dressing room (separated by curtain) Accompanied by music / “chorus”
    7. 7. Developed around 1600’s Stories based on folklore, history Highly stylized make up Appeals to middle class audience that often yells during performance Bountiful and exaggerated Kabuki
    8. 8. K a b u k i Elaborate sets, often using special effects Extensive use of props, especially the fan Stage has one side Accompanied by music / “chorus” Omnagata: males performing as females
    9. 9. Contemporary Influence of Kabuki & Noh Japanese anime (cartoons) and manga (comic books) Costume / make up design for modern movies (such as Star Wars)
    10. 10. Haiku A form of minimalist Japanese poetry Theme: Nature or Seasons Attempts to be deep or compare two unlike things Consists of 3 lines and a certain number of syllables per line Haiku has 5-7-5 syllabic structure.
    11. 11. Japanese Haiku the first cold shower even the monkey seems to want a little coat of straw. old pond (fu/ru/i/ke ya) a frog jumps (ka/wa/zu to/bi/ko/mu) the sound of water (mi/zu no o/to) --both by Matsuo Basho (1644-1694)
    13. 13. Yamato/Kofun Period 300-710 Yamato : “Great Kings” Kofun: giant tomb mounds Military aristocracy Imported Chinese culture Via Korea: Writing Confucianism Buddhism
    14. 14. Prince Shotoku Kamukara Period 573-621 Prince Shotoku Prince Shotoku Kamakura period, early 14th century Kamakura period, early 14th century gild bronze gild bronze Regent during reign of Empress Suiko (r. 592628) Wrote the Seventeen Article Constitution, the earliest piece of Japanese writing and basis for Japanese government throughout history. Led Japanese court in adopting Chinese calendar and sponsoring Buddhism.
    15. 15. Asuka Period 645-710 Capital in the Asuka District Establishment of Imperial Power under Taika Reform Edict Temple building and sculpture introduced with Buddhism -heavily influenced by Korean and Chinese models Relief Tile with Buddhist Triad Relief Tile with Buddhist Triad Asuka period, 7th century Asuka period, 7th century Metropolitan Museum of Art Metropolitan Museum of Art
    16. 16. The Naiku The most respected of all shrines, the Naiku, is located at Ise. The Naiku preserves Amaterasu Omikami, the ancestral goddess of Japan's imperial house and the great ancestral holy being of the Japanese people.
    17. 17. Amaterasu Omikami Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865). Amaterasu Emerges from the Light. Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865). Amaterasu Emerges from the Light. (colored woodcut, no date). (colored woodcut, no date).
    18. 18. Nara Period: 710-794 First permanent capital established at Nara Emperors embraced Buddhism leading to its rapid and dramatic expansion Rise in political power of Buddhist monasteries led to capital being moved to Nagaoka.
    19. 19. Nara Fashion During the Nara and the previous Asuka periods, techniques for During the Nara and the previous Asuka periods, techniques for dyeing silk were developed. Clothing consisted of many pieces dyeing silk were developed. Clothing consisted of many pieces including upper and lower garments, jackets, aafront skirt, and aa including upper and lower garments, jackets, front skirt, and back skirt. back skirt.
    20. 20. Nara --Temple Horyu-ji Nara Temple Horyu-ji 7th century 7th century Nara --Temple Chugu-ji Nara Temple Chugu-ji 7th century 7th century Buddha Sculptures
    21. 21. Earliest Japanese Literature The Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters) -- an anthology of myths, legends, and other stories The Fudoki (Records of Wind and Earth), compiled by provincial officials describe the history, geography, products, and folklore of the various provinces. Nihon Shoki (Chronicle of Japan) -a chronological record of history.
    22. 22. The Kojiki Japan's first book. It was written in 712 by the noble Ono Yasumaru (? - 723) at the order of Empress Gemmei (661-721) and is in three volumes. It recounts the history of Japan from its mythological origins to the era of the Empress Suiko (554-628). Kojiki (Record of Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters) –– Ancient Matters) album cover album cover
    23. 23. Izanami and Izanagi, Izanami and Izanagi, The Creator Kami The Creator Kami
    24. 24. The Manyoshu (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves) 759 Anthology of over 4500 poems Includes wide variety of poems: courtly, rustic, dialectical, military, travel Identified and anonymous poets Syllabic poetry: 5-7-5(Haiku) Choka: indeterminate number of lines culminating in a 7syllable (mora) couplet Tanka: 31 syllable poem: 5,7,5,7, 7
    25. 25. Heian Japan (794-1185) Capital at Heian: present-day Kyoto Highly formalized court culture Aristocratic monopoly of power Literary and artistic flowering Ended in civil wars and emergence of samurai culture
    26. 26. The Kokinshu (Collection of Ancient & Modern Times) Anthology commissioned by Emperor Daigo (897-930 ) 1111 Tanka poems in 20 books Books divided by subject: love, seasons, felicitations, parting, travel, names of things, etc. Renga(linked verse): pairs or groups of poets would compose jointly, with one poet supplying the initial 5-7-5 of a verse and another the concluding 7-7, A confused array A confused array of redleaves in the leaves often building up to hundred of redcurrent in the current of Tatsuta River. of Tatsuta River. verse sequences. Were I Ito cross, Were to cross, I Iwould break the fabric of would break the fabric of aarich brocade rich brocade
    27. 27. Kokinshu Poets
    28. 28. Lady Ise
    29. 29. Ono-no-Komachi
    30. 30. Fun'ya-no-Yasuhide
    31. 31. Ki-no-Tsurayuki
    32. 32. Ariwara-no-Narihira
    33. 33. Otomo-no-Kuronushi
    34. 34. Heian Fashion
    35. 35. Today, 1200 years later, the Imperial household still uses the costumes of the Heian period Today, 1200 years later, the Imperial household still uses the costumes of the Heian period for the formal occasions of coronations and weddings. To protect against high humidity, for the formal occasions of coronations and weddings. To protect against high humidity, buildings had elevated floors made of tatami mats. The convention of sitting on the floor buildings had elevated floors made of tatami mats. The convention of sitting on the floor became an important part of the life style. Clothing became stiffer and more voluminous. became an important part of the life style. Clothing became stiffer and more voluminous. This layered dressing is called "juni-hito" which literally means "12 layers." The layered This layered dressing is called "juni-hito" which literally means "12 layers." The layered color pattern reflected many things including seasons, directions, virtues, and elements of color pattern reflected many things including seasons, directions, virtues, and elements of the earth as they related to spirits of nature. the earth as they related to spirits of nature.
    36. 36. Heian Style A culture more independent of Chinese influence Emphasis on the exquisite and evanescent Literary: poems, letters, pillow books Extreme sensitivity to nature Nocturnal Importance of convention and fashion
    37. 37. Heian Painting: Yamato-e
    38. 38. Onna-e style from Genji-monogatari
    39. 39. Otoko-e style
    40. 40. Heian Literature Men continued to write Chinese-style poetry. Women began to write in Japanese prose. First novel: Genji Monogatari by Lady Murasaki Shikibu Diaries: The Pillowbook by Sei Shonagan As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams by Lady Sarashina
    41. 41. Adapted from Chinese calligraphy, but a totally different language. Kanji: ideogrammatic use of Chinese characters. Manyo-kana: ideogrammatic and syllabic Kana: syllabic Hiragana (women’s writing)- cursive, doesn’t require knowledge of Chinese Katakana- cursive, derived from Chinese Japanese Writing
    42. 42. Murasaki Shikibu From aaseries of the 36 From series of the 36 Immortal Poets Immortal Poets Katsukawa Shunsho 18ththc. Katsukawa Shunsho 18 c.
    43. 43. The Tale of Genji Lady Murasaki Picture of life at the 10th c. Heian court. Relates the lives and loves of Prince Genji and his children and grandchildren. Unesco Global Heritage Pavilion: The Tale of Genji
    44. 44. Artist Unknown, Chapter 12 Suma, Genji Monogatari (Tale of Genji). Artist Unknown, Chapter 12 Suma, Genji Monogatari (Tale of Genji). About mid-18th century, Color on Paper About mid-18th century, Color on Paper
    45. 45. The Tale of Genji The Tale of Genji has 54 chapters and over 1,000 pages of text in its English translation. The novel has three gradual stages: 1. The experience of a youth (Chapters 1-33): Love and romance 2. The glory and the sorrow (Chapters 34-41): A taste of power and the death of Genji’s beloved wife 3. The descendants (Chapters 42-54): After the death of Genji The Tale of Genji depicts a unique society of ultrarefined and elegant aristocrats whose vital accomplishments were skill in poetry, music, calligraphy, and courtship. The novel is permeated with a sensitivity to human emotions and the beauties of nature.
    46. 46. THANK YOU! 