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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

The Genji Monogatari by Murasaki Shikibu


*The Genji Monogatari by Murasaki Shikibu, and the Makura Soshi by Sei Shonagon.

**Japanese Literature, by W. G. Aston.

With the Heian epoch is connected the wide use of the phonetic script known as kana, which may be described as a syllabary of forty-seven symbols formed from abbreviated Chinese ideographs. There are two varieties of the kana--the kata-kana and the hiragana* The former is said to have been devised by Makibi, the latter by Kobo Daishi (Kukai), but doubts have been cast on the accuracy of that record, and nothing can be certainly affirmed except that both were known before the close of the ninth century, though they do not seem to have been largely used until the Heian epoch, and even then almost entirely by women.

*Katakana means "side kana" because its symbols are fragments (sides) of Chinese forms of whole ideographs.

ENGRAVING: MURASAKI SHIKIBU (COURT LADY AND POETESS)

"Much of the poetry of this time was the outcome of poetical tournaments at which themes were proposed to the competitors by judges who examined each phrase and word with the minutest critical care before pronouncing their verdict. As might be expected, the poetry produced in those circumstances is of a more or less artificial type, and is wanting in the spontaneous vigour of the earlier essays of the Japanese muse. Conceits, acrostics, and untranslatable word-plays hold much too prominent a place, but for perfection of form the poems of this time are unrivalled. It is no doubt to this quality that the great popularity of the Kokin-shu is due. Sei Shonagon, writing in the early years of the eleventh century, sums up a young lady's education as consisting of writing, music, and the twenty volumes of the Kokin-shu."*

*Japanese Literature, by W. G. Aston.

The first notable specimen of prose in Japanese style (wabun) was the preface to the Kokin-shu, written by Ki no Tsurayuki, who contended, and his own composition proved, that the introduction of Chinese words might well be dispensed with in writing Japanese. But what may be called the classical form of Japanese prose was fixed by the Taketori Monogatari,* an anonymous work which appeared at the beginning of the Engi era (901),** and was quickly followed by others. Still, the honour in which the ideograph was held never diminished. When Tsurayuki composed the Tosa Nikki (Tosa Diary), he gave it out as the work of a woman, so reluctant was he to identify himself with a book written in the kana syllabary; and the Emperor Saga, Kobo Daishi, and Tachibana Hayanari will be remembered forever in Japan as the "Three Calligraphists" (Sampitsu).

*The expression "monogatari" finds its nearest English equivalent in "narrative."

**An excellent translation of this has been made by Mr. F. V. Dickins in the "Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society," Jan., 1887.

In short, an extraordinary love of literature and of all that pertained to it swayed the minds of Japan throughout the Nara and the Heian epochs. The ninth and tenth centuries produced such poets as Ariwara no Yukihira and his younger brother, Narihira; Otomo no Kuronushi, Ochikochi no Mitsune, Sojo Henjo, and the poetess Ono no Komachi; gave us three anthologies (Sandai-shu), the Kokin-shu, the Gosen-shu, and the Shui-shu, as well as five of the Six National Histories (Roku Kokushi), the Zoku Nihonki, the Nihon Koki, the Zoku Nihon Koki, the Montoku Jitsuroku, and the Sandai Jitsuroku; and saw a bureau of poetry (W aka-dokoro) established in Kyoto. Fine art also was cultivated, and it is significant that calligraphy and painting were coupled together in the current expression (shogwa) for products of pictorial art. Kudara no Kawanari and Koze no Kanaoka, the first Japanese painters to achieve great renown, flourished in the ninth and tenth centuries, as did also a famous architect, Hida no Takumi.


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