Unformatted text preview: cularly the poems of the tenth-century anthology Kokinshû,
but were also influenced to a greater degree than before by the monumental Man’yòshû of the Nara period. We observed that the Man’yòshû,
written by means of a complex use of Chinese characters to reproduce
the sounds of Japanese, was excessively recondite for the Heian period
courtiers. It is estimated that before the medieval age only a few hundred of its more than 4,500 poems could be fully understood.5 But with
the renewal of scholarship in Japan in late Heian times, there was a
revival of interest in and study of the Man’yòshû; and during the thirteenth century, a Tendai priest named Senkaku (1203–?) produced the
first complete Man’yòshû commentary.
A principal compiler of the Shinkokinshû and, along with Saigyò, one
of the most distinguished poets of the age was Fujiwara Teika (1162–
1241). Of all the courtiers of the early Kamakura period, Teika is the
best known for his desire to escape from reality into the realm of art. The Canons of Medieval Taste 97 Upon hearing of Minamoto Yoritomo’s rising against the Taira in 1180,
for example, Teika noted in his diary that, although his ears were assailed
by news of military rebellion and chastisement, such events were of no
concern to him. The only thing he wished to do was to compose
supremely beautiful waka.
In at least one respect, Teika was a product of his age: he was an outstanding scholar as well as poet. Moreover, he was instrumental in setting forth and applying the aesthetic principles that were largely to dictate the tastes of the medieval era. We have just remarked the use of sabi.
Another major term of the new medieval aesthetics was yûgen, which
can be translated as “mystery and depth.” Let us first examine the
“depth” element of yûgen as it was conceived by Teika and the other Shinkokinshû poets.
One of the basic values in the Japanese aesthetic tradition—along with
such things as perishability, naturalness, and simplicity—is suggestion.
The Japanese have from earliest times shown a distinct preference for the
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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 UBC.
- Spring '13