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11. Edo Period - 1603-1867

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Edo - may also be seen as "Yedo". . .

 

This period marks the beginning and end of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

 

The capital was established in Yedo in 1603 by Tokugawa Iyeyasu. The office of Shogun was abolished in 1867 when the Mikados resumed sovereign authority. During this period, there was a great wave of Chinese influence in the country that affected all areas including government, laws, art, science, civilization, philosophy and literature. As  1867 approached, Europe became a greater influence upon  Japan and continues to this day. 

 

Iyeyasu was one of the greatest statesmen in Japanese history. He organized a stable feudal government system that kept peace and prosperity for two and a half centuries. Consequently, the new capital of Yedo rose rapidly in importance and the population rose to at least one million.

 

As the popularity of Yedo increased, so the literary center of the nation shifted from Kyoto and Osaka became the birthplace of a new kind of drama.

 

It was at this time that Japanese authors branched out by providing their work to those outside of court life. As education spread to a greater section of the populace, more people could appreciate the wonders of the art of literature.  Books were more attainable as printing presses became more common. 

 

Along with good often comes evil.

 

While many wonderful works became more available, a flood of pornographic fiction - unparalleled elsewhere poured out over the country.

 

So for the Buddhist religion, the Yedo period is viewed as a time of decadence. Though Buddhist temples continued to be erected, the general influence was waning. 

 

Yedo literature was great in number compared to the Heian or classical period. Subject matter abounded and included political and religious essays, history, biography, poetry, drama, essays, sermons, fiction, dictionaries, grammars, philological works, bibliographies, medical texts, botany, law, the art of war, commentaries on the Chinese classics, Buddhist doctrine, encyclopedias, metaphysical works and guide-books to name a few. 

 

Despite the greater richness of literature during this time, form deteriorated. The Japanese language was also going through considerable change. Chinese words were freely adopted so much the native origin was completely lost in some cases. 

 

One of the earliest works of the Yedo period was the Taikoki, a biography of the Taiko in eleven volumes. It's value is in its contents of contemporary documents of the period. It was written in 1625 by an unknown author.

 

Many scholars brought influence to Japan in the Yedo period.

 

One such scholar was Kaibara Yekken (1630-1714). He was instructed in Kyoto and held various honorable official posts under three successive Daimyos until 1700. He retired and spent the remainder of his days in Kyoto. His wife was said to be a well-accomplished woman. She accompanied him on his travels and assisted him in his literary work. 

 

Yekken wrote over a hundred different works, moral treatises, commentaries, dissertations, botanical works and books on travel. His primary goal in writing was to benefit others. His books are likely the easiest to understand of all Japanese writing in the period. Dojikun was a work on education and written when Yekken was eighty years of age. Here are a few excerpts:


The two great virtues of a woman, in Yekkan's opinion were amiability and obedience. Here he sums up good qualities of a woman--


"1st. A womanly disposition, as shown in modesty and submissiveness.


2nd. Womanly language. She should be careful in the choice of words, and avoid lying and unseemly expressions. She should speak when necessary, and be silent at other times. She should not be averse to listening to others.


3rd. Womanly apparel. She should be cleanly, avoid undue ornament, and have a proper regard to taste and refinement.


4th. Womanly arts. These include sewing, reeling silk, making clothes, and cooking.


Everything impure should be kept from a girl's ears. Popular songs and the popular drama are not for them. The Ise Monogatari and Genji Monogatari are objectionable on account of their immoral tendency."

 

Yekken was also a poet. He wrote the following Tanka as he aged and realized his time was drawing to a close.


"The past
Seems to me
Like a single night:
Ah! the dream
Of more than eighty years!"
 

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