East Asian Literature Unit: Japanese Literature

During the 300s AD, the Japanese incorporated beliefs, including those about religion, politics, architecture, art, writing systems, and fashion into their culture from which country?

What are the four major periods of Japanese literature?
Ancient, Classical, Medieval, and Modern

During the Classical Period, Murasaki Shikibu wrote which work of literature?
The Tale of Genji, the tale of a minor prince who rises to become the emperor’s right-hand man

Choka poetry belongs to which of the four major periods of Japanese literature?
Ancient Literature

What is the syllable count for a choka?


What are envoys?
These often end choka; they are pithy summations. These envoys also have a strict structure.

Generally, the envoys elaborate on or summarize the theme, or central idea, of the main poem.

Why did choka disappear after the 8th century?
Characteristics of the Japanese language, Japanese preference for suggestion as opposed to straightforwardness, and the popularity of Chinese poetry

Kakinomoto Hitomaro held what position during his life?
Court poet

What do Kakinomoto Hitomaro’s poems convey about the relationship between humanity and nature?
There is unity between humanity and nature.

In “I loved her like the leaves,” why are leaves an appropriate image to use in this poem?
The life cycle of leaves parallels the human life cycle; the withering and disappearing of the leaves corresponds to the death of Hitomaro’s wife.

What is the significance of the landscape in the poem “In the Sea of Iwami”?
The visual landscape of the poem—the rocky, deep sea, the yellow leaves—the mountain—the moon– reflects the poet’s mental landscape, the inner landscape of his feelings.

What is the most prevalent verse form in Japanese poetry?

What is the syllabic pattern for a Tanka?

Tanka poetry expresses powerful feelings on which two topics?
Love and nature

What kinds of lovers does tanka describe?
Although many tanka deal with love relationships, they rarely describe situations in which two lovers are together.

Instead they tend to focus on times during which the lovers are apart.

How did tanka poems become associated with love?
Because poetry was used by men as a means of courting women, male poets continued to write love poems in Japanese so that the women they addressed could understand them as only men studied Chinese.

What does “The river blew so cold // the plovers were crying” mean in Ki No Tsurayuki’s tanka?
His willingness to endure the cold means he loves her very much

How does the woman feel about the man in the dream in Ono Komachi’s tanka?
She has warm feelings towards him; he seems to be her lover.

In Priest Jakuren’s tanka, the last two lines: “cypress mountain, Autumn evening” give the reader the impression of what feeling?

In Minamoto No Toshiyori’s tanka, why does the speaker appreciate the clouds?
They make the moon seem to shine all the brighter.

How are tanka poet’s Ono Komachi’s poems characterized?
By passion and energy

Which tanka poet wrote, “The poetry of Japan, as a seed, springs from the heart of man, creating countless leaves of language…”
Ki No Tsurayuki

Which tanka poet rebelled against traditional poetic approaches and helped bring about the acceptance of new descriptive styles?
Minamoto no Toshiyori

Which tanka poet was a Buddhist priest and a prominent tanka poet whose poems are filled with beautiful yet melancholy imagery.
Priest Jakuren

Sei Shonagon wrote during which time period?
The Heian Period (794-1185)

During Sei Shonagon’s time, Japan’s government was dominated by which family?
The Fujiwara family

Why did Japanese aristocracy place great importance on obtaining a government post?
Holders of rank were often given land or servants and were entitled to a variety of privileges.

Who was Sei Shonagon?
Sei Shonagon was a lady-in-waiting for the Empress Sadako during the last decade of the tenth century

What does “Shonagon” mean?
Minor counselor

What does The Pillow Book contain?
Character sketches, descriptions, anecdotes, lists, and witty insights

In The Pillow Book, how is the section “In spring it is the dawn” characterized?
It includes detailed, beautiful descriptions of nature

In The Pillow Book, what is a summary of “The cat who lived in the palace”?
The maid makes a dog chase the royal cat; the dog is beaten, and everyone marvels at his deep feelings and sympathies.

In the Pillow Book, how is the section “I remember a clear morning” characterized?
It is a last reflection on nature and literature.

In the Pillow Book, how is the section, “Things that make one’s heart beat faster” characterized?
These are a few tidbits about what Sei Shonagon likes.

When was Noh Theater established?
The 1300s

What two religions does Noh Theater incorporate?
Buddhism and Shintoism

What is the “shite” in Noh Theater?
This character, the protagonist, is usually the incarnation of a strong emotion, such as loneliness.

What is the “waki” in Noh Theater?
A minor character who possess neither names nor personalities and serves mainly to elicit the shite’s story and to observe the action.

Does Noh Theater deal with external or internal conflict?
Internal conflict

Why can any Noh actor play any role?
Because the actors often wear masks, it is possible for them to play any role–even an elderly man can play the role of a beautiful woman.

What is the first section of Noh Theater?
The first part is an introductory section called the jo, which is slow and deliberate in pace.

What is the second section of Noh Theater ?
Ha, a longer and faster-moving section in which the story is developed.

What is the third section of Noh Theater?
The third and final section is the kyu, which is very fast in pace and is about the same length as the introduction.

What does Zeami’s term “hana” mean in Noh Theater?
Hana refers to outer beauty

What does Zeami’s term “yugen” mean in Noh Theater?
The unspoken, inner beauty and mystery that exists beneath hana, outer beauty.