It is estimated that before the medieval age only a

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Unformatted text preview: t the overly urban-centered culture of Heian times, and poets and other men of the arts like Saigyò, not content with just imagining what the famous sites looked like, set off on journeys to see them with their own eyes. It also became customary for people of this sort to take Buddhist vows and become priestlike inja or “those who have withdrawn from society.” In this way a tradition of travel became associated with the arts in medieval times. Poets like Saigyò and the fifteenth-century linked-verse master Sògi (1421–1502) became particularly renowned as travelers; but there were others, such as the painter Sesshû (1420–1506), a contemporary of Sògi, whose art was also greatly enriched by travel. To the medieval Japanese, traveling symbolized the Buddhist sense of impermanence (mujò) that was felt so deeply during this age; and travelers, conceived as men who leave society behind to wander to distant, lonely places, were thought to experience more fully the true nature of life itself. In the second of the two poems above by Saigyò, we are informed of the poignant fact that even a person “free of passions” (that is, one who has taken Buddhist vows and renounced worldly feelings) experiences sadness when he views a bleak autumn scene at evening as a solitary snipe rises from a marsh. The word translated as sadness is aware, which, as we saw in Chapter 3, connotes the capacity to be moved by things. In the period of the Shinkokinshû, when Saigyò lived, this sentiment was particularly linked with the aesthetic of sabi or “loneliness” (and, by association, sadness). The human condition was essentially one of loneliness; but, however painful the awareness of that might be, the medieval Japanese were able to realize some consolation in the beauty of sabi, which they found in such things as a desolate field or a monochromatic, withered marsh. The poets of the Kamakura period, as implied in the title New Kokinshû, were inclined more and more to look to the past for inspiration. They admired parti...
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This note was uploaded on 02/08/2013 for the course ANTH 142 taught by Professor Hans during the Spring '13 term at The University of British Columbia.

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