History of Medieval Japanese Literature (日本の中世文学史)

The history of medieval Japanese literature covers the history of literary works written approximately from the Kamakura to the Azuchi-Momoyama Periods.

Kyoto continued to be the center of culture even after MINAMOTO no Yoritomo established the Kamakura bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) despite the center of politics having moved from Kyoto and its vicinity to the Kanto region. During the Kamakura period, the "Shin Kokin wakashu" (New Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry), which is characterized by the elaborate techniques used, was compiled by FUJIWARA no Sadaie and other poets. Also, a style of writing that mixed Japanese and Chinese words, which can be said to be the direct predecessor of the modern Japanese language, was born and many works were written using it. Examples of these works include the "Hojoki" (An Account of My Hut) by KAMO no Chomei and the "Tsurezure gusa" (Essays in Idleness) by Kenko YOSHIDA. The "Heike Monogatari" (The Tale of the Heike) was performed by biwa-playing minstrels, and in the Muromachi period, the "Taiheiki" (The Record of the Great Peace) was told by Taiheiki-yomi (Taiheiki storytellers). Other katarimono (a traditional style of narrative recitation) such as sekkyo-bushi (literally, "sermon ballads") were also substantial, which resulted in the prosperity of joruri (a type of dramatic recitation accompanied by a shamisen) in the early-modern period. Fictional stories such as the otogi zoshi were widely read among the general populace. Literary art was no longer exclusive to the intellectual class, but also spread among the general populace.

In the Muromachi period, studies of classical literature were conducted, led by the Kyoto Gozan (the five great Zen temples of Kyoto) and court nobles. Additionally, renga, a kind of waka poetry that alternates continuously between the upper and lower halves of three lines and two lines in turns, had become popular, since the Kamakura period, among aristocrats as well as the common people.

Fields Related to Literature
Meanwhile, other performance arts such as Noh plays were well received by many, and Zeami summarized its aesthetics in the "Fushikaden" (The Flowering Spirit). As for Buddhism, Dogen's "Shobogenzo" (Treasury of the Eye of True Teaching) and his pupil Koun Ejo's work, "Shobogenzo-zuimonki" were written in around the mid-thirteenth century. In addition to the above, a massive amount of prose and poetry written by Buddhist monks called 'gozan bungei' has also survived. In the genre of gunkimono (martial tales), the "Masukagami" (The Clear Mirror) was written.

[Original Japanese]