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The Columbia Anthology of Japanese Essays: Zuihitsu from the Tenth to the Twenty-First Century

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A court lady of the Heian era, an early modern philologist, a Meiji-period novelist, and a physicist at Tokyo University. What do they have in common, besides being Japanese? They all wrote " zuihitsu" -- a uniquely Japanese literary genre encompassing features of the nonfiction or personal essay and miscellaneous musings. For sheer range of subject matter and breadth of p A court lady of the Heian era, an early modern philologist, a Meiji-period novelist, and a physicist at Tokyo University. What do they have in common, besides being Japanese? They all wrote " zuihitsu" -- a uniquely Japanese literary genre encompassing features of the nonfiction or personal essay and miscellaneous musings. For sheer range of subject matter and breadth of perspective, the "zuihitsu" is unrivaled in the Japanese literary tradition, which may explain why few examples have been translated into English. Springing from a variety of social, artistic, political, and professional discourses, "zuihitsu" is an undeniably important literary form practiced by all types of people who reveal much about themselves, their identities, and the times in which they lived. "Zuihitsu" also contain a good deal of humor, which is often underrepresented in translations of "serious" Japanese writing. This anthology presents a representative selection of more than one hundred "zuihitsu" from a range of historical periods written by close to fifty authors -- from well-known figures, such as Matsuo Basho, Natsume Soseki, and Koda Aya, to such writers as Tachibana Nankei and Dekune Tatsuro, whose names appear here for the first time in English.Writers speak on the experience of coming down with a cold, the aesthetics of tea, the physiology and psychology of laughter, the demands of old age, standards of morality, childrearing, the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, sleeplessness, undergoing surgery, and training a parrot to say "thank you." Varying in length from paragraphs to pages, these works also provide moving descriptions of snowy landscapes, foggy London, Ueno Park's famous cherry blossoms, and the appeal of rainy vistas, and relate the joys and troubles of everyone from desperate samurai to filial children and ailing cats.


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A court lady of the Heian era, an early modern philologist, a Meiji-period novelist, and a physicist at Tokyo University. What do they have in common, besides being Japanese? They all wrote " zuihitsu" -- a uniquely Japanese literary genre encompassing features of the nonfiction or personal essay and miscellaneous musings. For sheer range of subject matter and breadth of p A court lady of the Heian era, an early modern philologist, a Meiji-period novelist, and a physicist at Tokyo University. What do they have in common, besides being Japanese? They all wrote " zuihitsu" -- a uniquely Japanese literary genre encompassing features of the nonfiction or personal essay and miscellaneous musings. For sheer range of subject matter and breadth of perspective, the "zuihitsu" is unrivaled in the Japanese literary tradition, which may explain why few examples have been translated into English. Springing from a variety of social, artistic, political, and professional discourses, "zuihitsu" is an undeniably important literary form practiced by all types of people who reveal much about themselves, their identities, and the times in which they lived. "Zuihitsu" also contain a good deal of humor, which is often underrepresented in translations of "serious" Japanese writing. This anthology presents a representative selection of more than one hundred "zuihitsu" from a range of historical periods written by close to fifty authors -- from well-known figures, such as Matsuo Basho, Natsume Soseki, and Koda Aya, to such writers as Tachibana Nankei and Dekune Tatsuro, whose names appear here for the first time in English.Writers speak on the experience of coming down with a cold, the aesthetics of tea, the physiology and psychology of laughter, the demands of old age, standards of morality, childrearing, the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, sleeplessness, undergoing surgery, and training a parrot to say "thank you." Varying in length from paragraphs to pages, these works also provide moving descriptions of snowy landscapes, foggy London, Ueno Park's famous cherry blossoms, and the appeal of rainy vistas, and relate the joys and troubles of everyone from desperate samurai to filial children and ailing cats.

32 review for The Columbia Anthology of Japanese Essays: Zuihitsu from the Tenth to the Twenty-First Century

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jee Koh

    A stimulating selection of zuihitsu, the Japanese essay form that is, as aptly characterized by the editor Steven D. Carter, the anti-method method. Deploying a broad definition of zuihitsu, Carter includes not only the canonical such as The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon and Yoshida No Kenko's Essays in Idleness, but also haikai prose by Matsuo Basho and Natsume Seibi, and some tales of the unusual. Four qualities unite this diverse collection of prose: the writing is personal and casual, instead A stimulating selection of zuihitsu, the Japanese essay form that is, as aptly characterized by the editor Steven D. Carter, the anti-method method. Deploying a broad definition of zuihitsu, Carter includes not only the canonical such as The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon and Yoshida No Kenko's Essays in Idleness, but also haikai prose by Matsuo Basho and Natsume Seibi, and some tales of the unusual. Four qualities unite this diverse collection of prose: the writing is personal and casual, instead of formal and scholarly; the subject matter is not restricted but includes anything that occurs to the writer; the writing aims to entertain and impress; the purely fictional is excluded. The selection of works is generous also in terms of the time period covered, from the Heian period to the twentieth century. I'm particularly pleased to make the acquaintance of Motoori Norinaga (1730-1801) in "Jeweled Comb Basket"; Tachibana Nankei (1753-1805) in "Idle Chats Beneath a Northern Window"; Matsudaira Sadanobu (1758-1829) in "Blossoms and the Moon"; Uchida Hyakken (1889-1971) in "Idle Fantasies," "Bumpy Road" and "A Long Fence" written under the pseudonym of Master Hyakken; Osaragi Jiro (1897-1973) in "Sleepless Nights" and "A Bed for My Books"; Shono Junzo (1921-2009) in "The Road"; and Sakai Junko (1966- ) in "On Zuihitsu."

  2. 4 out of 5

    R K

    There wasn't anything wrong with this book or the "essays" within it, but it was the word "essay" that irritated me. An essay, in my opinion, needs to have a purpose, a point. The author usually has some message they want to tell the world. It doesn't matter how it's told, but there is some argument. But if the essay turns out to be some sort of diary entry/memory/reflection, I get annoyed. Mostly because there is not purpose to this style of writing, at least not for something so short. And usu There wasn't anything wrong with this book or the "essays" within it, but it was the word "essay" that irritated me. An essay, in my opinion, needs to have a purpose, a point. The author usually has some message they want to tell the world. It doesn't matter how it's told, but there is some argument. But if the essay turns out to be some sort of diary entry/memory/reflection, I get annoyed. Mostly because there is not purpose to this style of writing, at least not for something so short. And usually, such styles have the reader wanting more. Ironically, most of these "essays" were pulled from a novel that the author wrote. It's just a pet peeve of mine when it comes to literature. But I still would recommend this book to anyone who's interested.

  3. 5 out of 5

    G.G.

    I took my time over this, reading it in fits and spurts over a period of several years. One imagines the translator, too, taking his time—the best part of a lifetime, surely—to discover and read, translate and annotate this marvelous collection of zuihitsu, essays that “follow the brush.” The collection begins with selections from classics that anyone who knows Japanese literature will be familiar with: The Pillow Book by Sei Shōnagon, and Essays in Idleness by Kenkō. The austere sensibility of t I took my time over this, reading it in fits and spurts over a period of several years. One imagines the translator, too, taking his time—the best part of a lifetime, surely—to discover and read, translate and annotate this marvelous collection of zuihitsu, essays that “follow the brush.” The collection begins with selections from classics that anyone who knows Japanese literature will be familiar with: The Pillow Book by Sei Shōnagon, and Essays in Idleness by Kenkō. The austere sensibility of the latter can perhaps be gleaned from these quotations: All desire must be denied. There is nothing worth talking about; there is nothing worth wanting. He who puts all his effort into worldly gain and makes no attempt to pursue higher understanding is really no different from the beasts. --which seems a little unfair to beasts. A wise man will not leave any treasures behind after his death. If he has saved things of no worth, he will seem ridiculous, and if he has stored things of value, he will appear to have been vain and silly. Phenomenon and essence are not two things, but one. If we are true to outward form, the inner reality cannot fail to mature. Thus it is wrong to declare such things empty formalities; they deserve praise and respect. The musings of several medieval poets follow: Shōtetsu (1381-1459), Ichijō Kaneyoshi (1402-1481), Shōhaku (1443-1527). The section devoted to essays written during the Edo period (1600-1868) was full of surprises: I’d never heard of Amenomori Hōshū (1668-1755), who spent his career as a government official on the island of Tsushima, traveled frequently to Korea, and in his essays quoted not only the Chinese classics that were the stuff of his life, but also stories that he heard from Chinese he met in the course of his work. Motoori Norinaga’s sardonic take on affectations was refreshing: If one has the sensitivity to appreciate the moon and blossoms, surely the beauty of a fine woman should impress one’s eyes all the more. To say that one appreciates the moon and blossoms and not even notice the beauty of a woman amounts to being wanting in human feeling and is the worst sort of lie. There are stories about unusual men and women—the man who died as he was copying out The Tale of Genji for the twenty-fourth time, for example; the widow who offered herself as a sacrifice to the dragon god, so that new fields bordering on the sea might successfully be tilled; the shape-shifters in Tadano Makuzu’s Hoary Stories. The section devoted to the modern period features essays by well-known novelists such as Higuchi Ichiyō, Natsume Soseki, and Nagai Kafū, as well as a number of lesser-known women writers: Koda Aya and Kōno Taeko, Mukōda Kuniko, Takenishi Hiroko, Hiraiwa Yumie, and Kizaki Satoko. The final essay in the collection, The Pillow Book Remix by Sakai Junko, takes us back to the beginning of the Japanese essay-writing tradition and shows how alive the form remains today.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Wonderful selection by a master translation.

  5. 5 out of 5

    R

  6. 4 out of 5

    Aurelio

  7. 5 out of 5

    Arnav Shah

  8. 4 out of 5

    Connie

  9. 4 out of 5

    Raven

  10. 5 out of 5

    Adam

  11. 4 out of 5

    Eadweard

  12. 4 out of 5

    S

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jenna (Falling Letters)

  14. 5 out of 5

    Peter

  15. 5 out of 5

    Paul

  16. 5 out of 5

    Anders S.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Anderson

  18. 5 out of 5

    David

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rahil Patel

  20. 4 out of 5

    Steve

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kalliopi Pasia

  22. 5 out of 5

    Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac)

  23. 4 out of 5

    Miguel Angel

  24. 5 out of 5

    Livia Williams

  25. 5 out of 5

    Katie Lambert

  26. 4 out of 5

    Brad

  27. 4 out of 5

    Igrowastreesgrow

  28. 5 out of 5

    Melon109

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kaela McNeil

  30. 4 out of 5

    Chilicocoa

  31. 5 out of 5

    Dieso

  32. 5 out of 5

    Theo Brooks

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