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A celebrated incident of his career is that one winter's
night he took off his wadded silk garment to evince sympathy with the
poor who possessed no such protection against the cold. Partly
because of his debonair manner and charitable impulses he is
popularly remembered as "the wise Emperor of the Engi era." But close
readers of the annals do not fully endorse that tribute. They note
that Daigo's treatment of his father, Uda, on the celebrated occasion
of the latter's visit to the palace to intercede for Michizane, was
markedly unfilial; that his Majesty believed and acted upon slanders
which touched the honour of his father no less than that of his
well-proved servant, and that he made no resolute effort to correct
the abuses of his time, even when they had been clearly pointed out
by Miyoshi Kiyotsura. The usurpations of the Fujiwara; the
prostitution of Buddhism to evil ends; the growth of luxurious and
dissipated habits, and the subordination of practical ability to
pedantic scholarship--these four malignant growths upon the national
life found no healing treatment at Daigo's hands.

THE CLASSICAL AGE OF LITERATURE

The Engi era and the intervals of three or four decades before and
after it may be regarded as the classical age of literature in Japan.
Prose composition of a certain class was wholly in Chinese. All works
of a historical, scientific, legal, or theological nature were in
that language, and it cannot be said that they reached a very high
level. Yet their authors had much honour. During the reigns of Uda
and Daigo (888-930), Sugawara Michizane, Miyoshi Kiyotsura, Ki no
Haseo, and Koze no Fumio, formed a quartet of famous masters of
Chinese literature. From one point of view, Michizane's overthrow by
Fujiwara Tokihira may be regarded as a collision between the
Confucian doctrines which informed the polity of the Daika epoch and
the power of aristocratic heredity. Kibi no Makibi and Sugawara no
Michizane were the only two Japanese subjects that attained to be
ministers of State solely in recognition of their learning, but
several littérateurs reached high office, as chief chamberlain,
councillor of State, minister of Education, and so forth. Miyoshi
Kiyotsura ranks next to Michizane among the scholars of that age. He
was profoundly versed in jurisprudence, mathematics (such as they
were at the time), the Chinese classics, and history. But whereas
Michizane bequeathed to posterity ten volumes of poems and two
hundred volumes of a valuable historical work, no production of
Kiyotsura's pen has survived except his celebrated memorial referred
to above. He received the post of minister of the Household in 917
and died in the following year.

It must be understood that the work of these scholars appealed to
only a very limited number of their countrymen. The ako incident (pp.
239-240) illustrates this; the rescript penned by Tachibana no Hiromi
was not clearly comprehended outside a narrow circle of scholars.
Official notices and enactments were intelligible by few men of the
trading classes and by no women. But a different record is found in
the realm of high literature. Here there is much wealth. The Nara
epoch gave to Japan the famous Manyo-shu (Myriad Leaves), and the
Engi era gave her the scarcely less celebrated Kokin-shu, an
anthology of over eleven hundred poems, ancient and modern. As
between the two books, the advantage is with the former, though not
by any means in a marked degree, but in the abundance and excellence
of its prose writings--pure Japanese writings apart from the Chinese
works referred to above--"the Heian epoch leaves the Nara far behind.
The language had now attained to its full development. With its rich
system of terminations and particles it was a pliant instrument in
the writer's hands, and the vocabulary was varied and copious to a
degree which is astonishing when we remember that it was drawn almost
exclusively from native sources. The few words of Chinese origin
which it contains seem to have found their way in through the spoken
language and are not taken straight from Chinese books, as at a later
stage when Japanese authors loaded their periods with alien
vocables."

This Heian literature "reflects the pleasure-loving and effeminate,
but cultured and refined, character of the class of Japanese who
produced it. It has no serious masculine qualities and may be
described in one word as belles-lettres--poetry, fiction, diaries,
and essays of a desultory kind. The lower classes of the people had
no share in the literary activity of the time. Culture had not as yet
penetrated beyond a very narrow circle. Both writers and readers
belonged exclusively to the official caste. It is remarkable that a
very large and important part of the best literature which Japan has
produced was written by women. A good share of the Nara poetry is of
feminine authorship, and, in the Heian period, women took a still
more conspicuous part in maintaining the honour of the native
literature. The two greatest works which have come down from Heian
time are both by women.* This was no doubt partly due to the
absorption of the masculine intellect in Chinese studies. But there
was a still more effective cause. The position of women in ancient
Japan was very different from what it afterwards became when Chinese
ideals were in the ascendant. The Japanese of this early period did
not share the feeling common to most Eastern countries that women
should be kept in subjection and as far as possible in seclusion.
Though the morality which the Heian literature reveals is anything
but strait-laced, the language is uniformly refined and decent, in
this respect resembling the best literature of China."**

*The Genji Monogatari by Murasaki Shikibu, and the Makura Soshi by
Sei Shonagon.

**Japanese Literature, by W. G. Aston.

With the Heian epoch is connected the wide use of the phonetic script
known as kana, which may be described as a syllabary of forty-seven
symbols formed from abbreviated Chinese ideographs. There are two
varieties of the kana--the kata-kana and the hiragana* The former is
said to have been devised by Makibi, the latter by Kobo Daishi
(Kukai), but doubts have been cast on the accuracy of that record,
and nothing can be certainly affirmed except that both were known
before the close of the ninth century, though they do not seem to
have been largely used until the Heian epoch, and even then almost
entirely by women.

*Katakana means "side kana" because its symbols are fragments (sides)
of Chinese forms of whole ideographs.

ENGRAVING: MURASAKI SHIKIBU (COURT LADY AND POETESS)

"Much of the poetry of this time was the outcome of poetical
tournaments at which themes were proposed to the competitors by
judges who examined each phrase and word with the minutest critical
care before pronouncing their verdict. As might be expected, the
poetry produced in those circumstances is of a more or less
artificial type, and is wanting in the spontaneous vigour of the
earlier essays of the Japanese muse. Conceits, acrostics, and
untranslatable word-plays hold much too prominent a place, but for
perfection of form the poems of this time are unrivalled. It is no
doubt to this quality that the great popularity of the Kokin-shu is
due. Sei Shonagon, writing in the early years of the eleventh
century, sums up a young lady's education as consisting of writing,
music, and the twenty volumes of the Kokin-shu."*

*Japanese Literature, by W. G. Aston.

The first notable specimen of prose in Japanese style (wabun) was the
preface to the Kokin-shu, written by Ki no Tsurayuki, who contended,
and his own composition proved, that the introduction of Chinese
words might well be dispensed with in writing Japanese. But what may
be called the classical form of Japanese prose was fixed by the
Taketori Monogatari,* an anonymous work which appeared at the
beginning of the Engi era (901),** and was quickly followed by
others. Still, the honour in which the ideograph was held never
diminished. When Tsurayuki composed the Tosa Nikki (Tosa Diary), he
gave it out as the work of a woman, so reluctant was he to identify
himself with a book written in the kana syllabary; and the Emperor
Saga, Kobo Daishi, and Tachibana Hayanari will be remembered forever
in Japan as the "Three Calligraphists" (Sampitsu).

*The expression "monogatari" finds its nearest English equivalent in
"narrative."

**An excellent translation of this has been made by Mr. F. V. Dickins
in the "Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society," Jan., 1887.

In short, an extraordinary love of literature and of all that
pertained to it swayed the minds of Japan throughout the Nara and the
Heian epochs. The ninth and tenth centuries produced such poets as
Ariwara no Yukihira and his younger brother, Narihira; Otomo no
Kuronushi, Ochikochi no Mitsune, Sojo Henjo, and the poetess Ono no
Komachi; gave us three anthologies (Sandai-shu), the Kokin-shu, the
Gosen-shu, and the Shui-shu, as well as five of the Six National
Histories (Roku Kokushi), the Zoku Nihonki, the Nihon Koki, the Zoku
Nihon Koki, the Montoku Jitsuroku, and the Sandai Jitsuroku; and saw
a bureau of poetry (W aka-dokoro) established in Kyoto. Fine art also
was cultivated, and it is significant that calligraphy and painting
were coupled together in the current expression (shogwa) for products
of pictorial art. Kudara no Kawanari and Koze no Kanaoka, the first
Japanese painters to achieve great renown, flourished in the ninth
and tenth centuries, as did also a famous architect, Hida no Takumi.

INTERVAL BETWEEN THE CAPITAL AND THE PROVINCES

Thus, in the capital, Kyoto, where the Fujiwara family constituted
the power behind the Throne, refinements and luxury were constantly
developed, and men as well as women amused themselves composing
Chinese and Japanese poems, playing on musical instruments, dancing,
and making picnics to view the blossoms of the four seasons. But in
the provincial districts very different conditions existed. There,
men, being virtually without any knowledge of the ideographic script,
found the literature and the laws of the capital a sealed book to
them, and as for paying periodical visits to Kyoto, what that
involved may be gathered from the fact that the poet Tsurayuki's
return to the capital from the province of Tosa, where he had served
as acting governor, occupied one hundred days, as shown in his Tosa
Nikki (Diary of a Journey from Tosa), and that thirteen days were
needed to get from the mouth of the Yodo to the city.



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