Cutting-Edge Research
in Kyoto University


Should Tsurezuregusa be Classified as Edo Literature? New insight into Japanese cultural history.

Tsurezuregusa (Copyright 1998, Kyoto University Library)

In Japanese cultural history, it is generally considered that the literary classic Genji Monogatari (The Tale of Genji) was written in the Heian period (11th century), and that the essay Tsurezuregusa (Essays in Idleness) dates from the Kamakura period (14th century). Until the Edo period (17th century), however, their readership was largely limited to a small number of aristocrats and clergy, and they were not widely read or well known by the general public. As the lives of ordinary people in villages and towns stabilized, and the works became more widely read, rather than focus on the book’s passages about the impermanence of life, the readers of Tsurezuregusa tended to quote the monk Kenko’s admonitions to refrain from heavy drinking, choose the right friends, and disregard superstitions when lecturing their children. This is an example of the way in which readers interpret the contents of books from the perspective of their times, regardless of the intentions of the authors.

By utilizing books found in old storehouses in villages and towns, and investigating references to books in readers’ diaries, I am trying to reconstruct Japanese cultural history from the perspective of ordinary people, rather than the perspective of great authors and thinkers.

Fuyuhiko Yokota, PhD
Graduate School of Letters