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01 - Introduction to Classical Japanese Literature, 2010


Introduction to Classical Japanese Literature

Associate Prof. Shikiko KAWAKAMI
The International Center

Course Structure:
One session / week
1.5 hours / session

Course Description

Whether it be the eloquent verse of an Ono no Komachi who pines for her lover, the amorous tales of a Hikaru Genji who in turn learns of his own wife’s seduction by another man, or the heroic account of a Yoshitsune who, despite achieving victories in battle, is ultimately pursued to the point of death by his own brother, classical Japanese prose and poetry pose important questions for us to consider.

What events, what things, what qualities provoked the artistic sensitivities of pre-modern Japanese writers and moved them to literary expression? What appealed to them and what did not? What were the objects of Japanese aesthetic appreciation? What ideas and values have gained acceptance in present-day Japan, and how have others been altered to suit modern tastes?

In the course of our study, we will attempt to answer these and other questions based on a careful reading of selected works. We will explore themes such as mononoahare, wokashi, irogonomi, mujo, yugen, hana, fuga, wabi/sabi, sui/iki/tsu, giri/ninjo, kanzenchoaku, etc., as seen in representative works from the Nara Period through Edo times. In many cases the themes are recurrent, drawing upon the literature of preceding eras or profoundly influencing that of later periods, and they offer valuable insight into Japanese ideals and ways of thinking. We will also discuss examples, as seen in the literature, of pre-modern Japanese conventions, cultural practices and social values ― tsumadohi, inton (tonsei), masurawo vs. tawoyame, hoganbiiki, to name a few.