The Role Of Poetry In Narrative Prose During The Heian Period

1192 words - 5 pages

Nearly a thousand years ago, the country we now know as Japan was in the early stages of development. During that time China was considered the “center of the world,” therefore many other countries, including Japan, envied China’s power and wanted to borrow elements of their culture to become more like China. One of the many things that Japan “borrowed” from China was the high art of poetry. In this paper I will discuss elements in two major Japanese works of poetry: Man’yōshū and Kokinshū. By examining literary components of both anthologies I plan to make educated inferences about the roles they played in the time period they were compiled.

Man’yōshū is thought to be compiled by Otomo ...view middle of the document...

Because it was considered one of the first major works of Japanese literature, many believe that Man’yōshū was a sign of Japan becoming its own entity, but the realty behind that is that mainland Asian countries still heavily influenced Japan and traces of those initial influences still exist to this day. For example, in many of the poems in Man’yōshū used a technique called “parallelism,” a Chinese technique. Man’yōgana, the main language used in Man’yōshū, is essentially Chinese characters, but the phonetics are Japanese. Also, some poems and many of the non-poem portions of Man’yōshū were actually written in Chinese. Nevertheless, Man’yōshū did become a step in the direction of Japan becoming something other than a carbon copy of China.

Completed in 905, Kokinshū was complied by four court poets: Ki no Tsurayuki, Ki no Tomonori, Oshikochi no Mitsune, and Mibu no Tadamine. Kokinshū is the first confirmed imperial ordered (by the Emperor Daigo) anthology (Handout 4). Like Man’yōshū, Kokinshū also happens to be organized into twenty books of poems by topic. These topics included seasons, felicitation, parting, travel, wordplay, love, grief, court, and miscellaneous. But, unlike Man’yōshū, Kokinshū was primarily made of the poetic form tanka, meaning a short poem, while Man’yōshū used multiple forms. Some may have seen these changes as Japanese poetry becoming more organized as an art with standards.

Written by Ki no Tsurayuki, “Kanajo” is the first preface to critique Japanese literature. Kanajo addresses six major poets, the “Rokkasen,” who contributed to Kokinshū, which basically sets a standard for waka or Japanese poetry by criticizing each of their styles while providing commentary on how their writing should be corrected. Before Kokinshū waka was practiced, but after the completion of Kokinshū and its preface waka had evidence to prove that it was an art just a worthy as Chinese literature. Also, Kokinshū was written entirely in Japanese (with the exception of Manajo, the Chinese preface), which could be a sign that Japan was starting embody this art as their own and claiming ownership of waka.

Although by the time that Kokinshū was compiled, the influence mainland countries had on Japan became substantially less than when Man’yōshū was compiled, Japan was still considered a rather minor country in comparison to other Asian countries such as China and Korea. The Japanese did borrow quite extensively from other cultures, but this did not mean that the Japanese were merely throwing...

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