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Essays in Idleness

by Kenko, Donald Keene, Kenko Yoshida

Buy the book: Kenko. Essays in Idleness

Release Date: 15 April, 1998

Edition: Paperback

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Buy the book: Kenko. Essays in Idleness


A delicious little book

The Wordsworth Classics here presents a nice translation by G.B. Sansom of a classic, the Tsurezuregusa of Yoshida Kenko, written around 1330 by a Japanese monk. The format of the work is reminiscent of the Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon - short observations, bits of memoir, commentary on the manners and morals of people around him.

There's a minimum of footnoting and the translator's style is smooth and readable. It's a dipping book which will appeal to modern Buddhists and pensive readers alike. As Kenko himself says:

"To sit alone in the lamplight with a book spread out before you, and hold intimate converse with men of unseen generations - such is a pleasure beyond compare."

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Spanning the ages

Good literature is sometimes called "news that stays news" (originally refering to art). Kenko's work is very much that, as it is simply the random, frank thoughts of a man who lived through a time of great upheval and was involved with many tiers of society. The candor expressed by Kenko regarding life and living rings true with many people in many nations in many times.

Although a certain amount of life experience is certainly necessary before a full aprectiation of Kenko's words can be had, this work still has something for most anyone. It can also serve as an introduction to medieval Japan and Japanese thought. While certainly Kenko's views on things were not the only ones of the time, they represent an ethic and aesthetic that saw its formation around this time and serves as an important guide to understanding the philosophies which developed in Japan.

Keene's translation is one of the few around, and probably the most accurate and easily readable. Though too "literary" at times (the original being "literary", but still strait forward in expression), with a few mistranlsations here and there (though perhaps intentionally so, given the gap in the languages), it still offeres enough to get the feel of the original.

For all you students, this will be a good start into one aspect of Japanese literature, but use this as a stepping stone in to reading original text. The original is not that hard, and a fairly direct translation will help.

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