Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Japanese literature for dummies Part 2

   Previously we took a closer look into hedonistic lives of high aristocracy of Heian who spent their lives devoted to pursuing pleasures and honing the literary skills (real or imagined). In other words - Part 1. The very same period gave us eternal Genji complex that every writer and work suffers from, and of course neverending battle between Spring and Autumn (I didn't mention it, Princess Nukada's poem in Man'you). Right now we will dissect more next periods in Japanese literature.

Before we plunge into moonlight and wild geese, few aesthetic terms that are needed to understand the unfathomable.
Makoto - the truth, what is truly JAPANESE (Motoori Norinaga will go back to this category as genuinely japanese, expressing pure and crystal japanese soul, without that evil foreign influence (Chinese and Buddhism).
Miyabi - court elegance. One solitary sakura tree in the garden.
Aware - "oh, ah, alas!", we are nothing but a dew on a grass!
Okashi - funny.
Yūgen - bottomless depth, murkiness, unclearness. Favorited especially by Noh drama. Moon covered by clouds, face hidden behind the fan, moonlight on the floor,
Wabi - solitude, poverty, resignation,
Sabi - solitude, sorrow, chill, old age, abandonment,

   Erhm, let's stop here. The next period, called after the place where shogunate was camped, that is Kamakura (1192-1333) was not a very prolific in terms of literature. We still had some novels, however those that were set among the aristocracy were of crappy quality and epigonic in nature. However, a brand new genre of novels started to appear, that is rekishi monogatari (with its sub-genre that is gunki monogatari). One of the factors that allowed the popularity was the kataribe - people who narrated the stories, especially the tragic and tears-inducing stories about the glory and fall of a formidable Taira clan. Some of the stories were chanted also by biwa h
ōshi - blind monks accompanying themselves with biwa. The most famous of all these - Heike Monogatari was born a bit later, in 1219, also we have Gigeiki (1411, however it's Muromachi period) and Soga Monogatari, assembled around 14th century.
Saigyō (1118 – 1190) a poet-monk writing about his solitude in the mountains.
kokoro naki mi ni mo aware wa shirarekeri shigi tatsu sawa no aki no yūgure
Even a person free of passion would be moved to sadness: autumn evening in a marsh where snipe fly up.
 Fujiwara no Shunzei (1114 – 1204) from the aristocratic family, wrote about that yugen.
Yū sareba
Nobe no akikaze
Mi ni shimite
Uzura naku nari
Fukakusa no sato.

As evening falls,
From along the moors the autumn wind
Blows chill into the heart;
And the quails raise their plaintive cry
In the deep grass of Fukakusa village
(wikipedia okors)

 Kamo no Chōmei (1153-1216) famous for Hōjōki (An Account of My Hut):
The flow of the river is ceaseless and its water is never the same. The bubbles that float in the pools, now vanishing, now forming, are not of long duration. So in the world are man and his dwellings. It might be imagined that the houses, great and small, which vie roof against proud roof in the capital remain unchanged from one generation to the next, but when we examine whether this is true, how few are the houses that were there of old. Some were burnt last year and only since rebuilt; great houses have crumbled into hovels and those who dwell in them have fallen no less. The city is the same, the people are as numerous as ever, but of those I used to know, a bare one or two in twenty remain. They die in the morning, they are born in the evening, like foam on the water.  

You can download Heike here legally and read, and weep when little Emperor Antoku perishes in the dark and cold waves of the bay or ponder over the shoja hissui concept - what that is blooming will fade eventually.  
Other notable genres:
Zuihitsu: Hōjōki, Kamo no Chōmeia (1212), Tsurezuregusa – monk Kenkō (1330-32)
Diaries: Towazugatari – Lady Nijō (1306-1313)
Setsuwa: Uji shūi monogatari (1218-21)
I like Stories from Uji, cause they're funny and creepy. Relying heavily on Konjaku, some stories are just exactly, only written in better language meaning - Uji have higher artistic value.

   Then nothing worthy of noticing happened because first Japanese theatre was born, that is Nō.
What can be treated as the base for No:
Kagura - lit. "joy for/of gods", formal dance performed at special rites, hieratic, solemn and elaborated.
Gigaku – music and dance of a Buddhist provenience (from Korea, famous dancer Mimashi/Mimaji)
Bugaku – dancing with imperial music ensemble (veeeeeery hieratic called gagaku of Korean, Southern Chinese provenience with special class of Shinto dances). Bugaku is actually the dance to the ensemble where there's no strings instruments and to make things funnier, all bugaku repertiore is of Goguryeo origin.
Sangaku: sarugaku/dengaku - monkey music/field music - mixture of singing, dancing, acrobatics, pantomime etc.
Shirabyōshi - dancers performing sacred kagura dance or actual shirabyoshi dance, gender-bender made in Japan, because dancers were wearing male outfits.

shite (main), tsure (companion), waki (supporting), kokata (children)
Chorus (jiutai): 4-8 people
Orchestra (hayashi)
Composition: jo-ha-kyū

About Gods
About Warriors
About Women
About Heroes, passions
About Demons
Okina - one play performed on New Year only.


 This is one fast dance since the protagonist, Lady Rokujo turns into a demon (a ghost, if we were to be purists and play gets it all wrong) over the sick and dying Aoi no Ue (that piece of cloth on stage) and later has to undergo the exorcism. After that we have kyogen - lighter, almost comical interlude (no masks).

More about the No

Then we had Onin War (1467-1477) that was the beginning of sengoku period ending in 1600 (or 1603, or 1639) so except for a tiny court of Emperor no one actually gave a about the literature.
In the next installment we will faint over the amorous women of Edo period.
Picture from here.