The phrase ten foot square hut refers to the

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Unformatted text preview: ent of Minamoto vassals as land stewards and constables to estates and provinces throughout the country. The fighting between Taira and Minamoto that led to defeat of the former and ushered in the medieval era (the first part of which, 1185– 1333, is also designated the Kamakura period) is most vividly retold in The Tale of the Heike. But there is another book, written in the early thirteenth century by Kamo no Chòmei (1153–1216), a former courtier turned religious recluse, that is also an important literary account of this pivotal epoch in Japanese history. Chòmei’s work, the Hòjòki (An Account 92 The Canons of Medieval Taste of a Ten-foot-square Hut), is a brief miscellany written in essentially the same style of classical Japanese as The Tale of the Heike. Like the Heike, it has a famous opening passage, which speaks about the insubstantiality of life and about a world that is ever in flux: 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.1 Yet, unlike the Heike, the Hòjòki makes no direct mention of the struggle between Taira and Minamoto waged in the early 1180s but instead describes the series of disasters—some natural, others induced by the war—that struck the capital during these years. (Among the disasters were fire, whirlwind, famine, and earthquake.) The Hòjòki also presents in Buddhist term...
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