Nijo Yoshimoto 1320-1388
Japanese poet and critic.
Yoshimoto, one of the most important poets of his time, was instrumental in advancing the practice of renga, or linked-verse, through the example of his own compositions and by refining the rules of the genre. He contributed to many renga collections and these, along with his sense of the proper esthetics of renga form, nurtured the popularity of linked-verse in Japan.
Yoshimoto was born into an aristocratic family and maintained high positions in the imperial court for much of his life. His father, Michihara, was a tutor and close friend of the emperor. At age seven Yoshimoto was given charge of the Left Palace Guard, and at age nine he became a counsellor. As an adult he held the posts of Minister and Chancellor. Although many of these titles were essentially honorary, they did command respect and thus some influence. Yoshimoto used his political acumen and great poetic skill to bolster renga, treating it seriously where other poets had overlooked it. He continued writing to the end of his life; his final work, Nijo Oshikoji kamonteisenki (1388), was written the day before he died.
A renga poem is typically one hundred stanzas in length, created by a team of poets taking turns composing individual verses which are linked in some fashion, either through repetition, mood, logic, play on words, or some other method. Responsible for a tremendously large body of work, Yoshimoto helped compile the first anthology of renga, Tsukubashu (1356); the work was honored by the court. In Tsukuba mondo (1372), he outlines his theories regarding renga composition. He further delineated his views on proper renga principles, developed over time, in Kyushu mondo (1376), Renga juyo (1379), and Jumon saihisho (1383). His poetry is well represented in the collaborations Bunna Senku (1355) and Ishiyama hyakuin (1385). Yoshimoto Shua hyakuban renga-awase is a renga competition with the poet Shua, of uncertain date.
Critics including Makoto Ueda, Donald Keene, and Steven D. Carter have praised Yoshimoto for his keen insight into what constitutes good renga, as well as for his arguments that the purpose of poetry is to give pleasure. He also is recognized for allowing the use of nonstandard vocabulary in poetry and for focusing on the present instead of solely on the past, which had been traditional practice in Japanese poetry. A great deal of scholarly interest is devoted to properly placing Yoshimoto in the history of the development of Japanese poetry. Such critics as David Pollack, Jin'ichi Konishi, and H. Mack Horton have written about Yoshimoto's place in the context of his times. Although his waka poetry is disparaged by critics, they acknowledge Yoshimoto's importance to linked-verse. Keene speaks for many scholars when he explains that it was Yoshimoto who elevated renga from a game or pastime into an important art.
Hekirensho (criticism) 1345; revised as Renri hisho,1349
∗Bunna Senku (poetry) 1355
∗Tsukubashu (poetry) 1356
Tsukuba mondo (criticism) 1372
∗Man' yoshi (poetry) 1375
Kyushu mondo (criticism) 1376
Renga juyo (criticism) 1379
Jumon saihisho (poetry) 1383
∗Ishiyama hyakuin (poetry) 1385
Nijo Oshikoji kamonteisenki (poetry) 1388
∗Yoshimoto Shua hyakuban renga-awase (poetry) 14th century
The New Rules of Linked Verse, with Kanera's New Ideas on the New Rules and Additional Comments by Shohaku (translated by Steven D. Carter) 1987
The Clear Mirror: A Chronicle of the Japanese Court during the Kamakura Period (1185-1313) (translated by George W. Perkins) 1998
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SOURCE: Ueda, Makoto. “Yoshimoto on the Art of Linked Verse: Verse-Writing as a Game.” In Literary and Art Theories in Japan, pp. 37-54. Cleveland, Oh.: The Press of Western Reserve University, 1967.
[In the following excerpt, Ueda discusses Yoshimoto's views on particular aspects of linked verse, including how it should be judged, its social and personal usefulness, and how to seek elegance in its composition.]
Japanese linked verse is a rare verse form in which a poem is the product of a combined effort by a team of poets. Most commonly, the poem consists of one hundred stanzas with, alternately, seventeen (5-7-5) and fourteen (7-7) syllables each. A small number of poets, directed by a leader, compose one hundred stanzas usually at one sitting; they may take turns to contribute a stanza, or they may wait for a volunteer, stanza by stanza. It is much like a group game; in fact it was a game in the early stages of its development, and lyric poets played it in their more relaxed moments. Slowly, however, linked verse came to take on a more sober color, and eventually in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries it occupied the most prominent place in all the genres of Japanese literature. The poet who helped most in elevating linked verse to the level of a serious art form was Nijō Yoshimoto (1320-88), an eminent courtier and statesman who compiled the earliest anthology of linked verse in history. He...
(The entire section is 6384 words.)
SOURCE: Keene, Donald. “The Comic Tradition in Renga.” In Japan in the Muromachi Age, edited by John W. Hall and Toyoda Takeshi, pp. 241-77. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977.
[In the following essay, Keene provides a history of Japanese linked verse, credits Yoshimoto with expanding the range of allowable words in poetry, and commends his keen appreciation of the present.]
Renga (linked verse) was the most typical literary art of the Muromachi period. The many court poets of the traditional waka undoubtedly believed that their chosen form of poetry possessed greater dignity, and even the renga masters would probably have concurred in this opinion, not only because of the great antiquity of the waka but because of the miraculous powers with which it was credited, even to moving the gods and demons. However, it is surely significant that the twenty-first and last imperial anthology, the Shin zoku kokin shū (1439), now totally forgotten, appeared between two important collections of renga that were accorded the unprecedented privilege of being ranked “immediately after” (jun) the imperial anthologies. A few waka poets of the Muromachi period still command our attention, notably Shōtetsu (1381-1459), who excelled also as a critic of poetry. Some poets like Nijō Yoshimoto (1320-1388) or Shinkei (1406-1475), though accomplished in both waka and renga, are...
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SOURCE: Miner, Earl. “Some Principal Renga Poets.” In Japanese Linked Poetry: An Account with Translations of Renga and Haikai Sequences, pp. 19-57. Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1979.
[In the following excerpt, Miner contrasts Yoshimoto's conservative views regarding what is appropriate for waka with his liberal attitudes concerning renga.]
“Renga is not exhausted by the meaning of the stanza that precedes or of the stanza that follows.”
The history of the development of renga from its short version in antiquity to its successors in haikai and haiku is also necessarily the history of a line of poets. Their ideals and their practice have given us our subject, which is still far from having been thoroughly studied. Fortunately, more and more becomes clear not only about the individual poets but also of how they thought.
It makes good sense to begin with the opinions of the greatest of the renga masters, Sōgi (1421-1502), who distinguished three periods. The early one culminated in Nijō Yoshimoto (1320-1388). There followed an intermediate period, and the modern one began with Sōgi's elder contemporary, Sōzei (d. 1455, apparently over seventy). The modern period included not just Sōgi but also those who received training from him. When this period began to close some...
(The entire section is 1564 words.)
SOURCE: Carter, Steven D. “Rules, Rules, and More Rules: Shōhaku's Renga Rulebook of 1501.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 43, no. 2 (December 1983): 581-642.
[In the following excerpt, Carter analyzes the evolution of rules for linked verse.]
Every literary work is composed according to genre conventions of one sort or another. Usually these conventions operate at the unconscious level of artistic creation, guiding the writer in the choices he must make. But occasionally the “rules” of literary art achieve a more explicit formulation in the literary record, as in the Italian sonnet, or even in the modern gothic romance. Such is also the case with the rules (shikimoku) of Japanese linked verse (renga), which comprise what is perhaps the most detailed set of genre conventions in world literature.
The first important statement of principles for linked-verse composition is contained in Yakumo mishō (1221), a poetic treatise written by Emperor Juntoku (r. 1210-1221) at the height of the Shinkokin era, when court poets were beginning to show serious interest in the renga as an art form. Although most of the “rules” contained in Juntoku's work have little application to the genre in its maturity, even from this early articulation a few general ideas emerge with clarity. The first is that each verse in a sequence should be independent, both...
(The entire section is 3754 words.)
SOURCE: Pollack, David. “Wakan and the Development of Renga Theory in the Late Fourteenth Century: Gidō Shūshin and Nijō Yoshimoto.” In The Fracture of Meaning: Japan's Synthesis of China from the Eighth through the Eighteenth Centuries, pp. 134-57. Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1986.
[In the following excerpt, Pollack explores Yoshimoto's involvement in promoting the use of Chinese elements in Japanese poetry.]
The minor art of poetry isn't worth a copper— Best just to sit silently in Zen meditation: “Wild words and ornate speech” don't cease to violate Buddha's Law Just because he died two thousand years ago.(1)
So Gidō Shūshin (1325-1388) wrote near the end of his life to the well-known renga theorist Nijō Yoshimoto (1320-1388), suggesting, “humorously” as the title of the poem informs us, that in the two millennia that had elapsed since the death of the Buddha, poets were continuing to find sophisticated and elaborate rationalizations for their pursuit of poetry, contrary to the warnings of the Buddha himself. There is some irony in Gidō's words: of the many famous men of letters who followed in the Zen line of Musō Soseki, Gidō himself, renowned in his own day as a poet, was among the most prominent.
From the time he began religious studies, Gidō had been aware that the young monks of the Gozan often spent more time composing...
(The entire section is 11043 words.)
SOURCE: Konishi, Jin'ichi. “The Maturation of Renga.” In A History of Japanese Literature, Volume Three: The High Middle Ages, translated by Aileen Gatten and Mark Harbison, edited by Earl Miner, pp. 425-70. Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1991.
[In the following excerpt, Konishi explains that Yoshimoto's style was influenced by two opposing groups—the Reizei and Nijo factions.]
YOSHIMOTO AND KYūSEI
Codified renga (hereafter simply renga) flourished from the middle of the thirteenth century. The creation of numerous canons and rules for composition must have been a major impetus to its development. According to Nijō Yoshimoto, during the reign of Gosaga (1242-1246), there were many skillful renga poets among the high nobility, and renga masters called Hananomoto (“Under the Cherry Blossoms”) among commoners, but there were no really outstanding poets (Tsukuba Mondō, 78). Yoshimoto's reference to the Hananomoto poets provides evidence concerning two important aspects of the period: first, professional writers had appeared among the common people; and second, renga was linked to something incantatory. Yoshimoto goes on to describe the Hananomoto renga masters in the following:
Dōshō, Jakunin, Mushō1 and others used to gather great numbers of people of various classes under the cherry blossoms at...
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SOURCE: Keene, Donald. “Renga.” In Seeds in the Heart: Japanese Literature from Earliest Times to the Late Sixteenth Century, pp. 926-70. New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 1993.
[In the following excerpt, Keene examines Yoshimoto's renga advice and criticism, as well as the poetry collections he compiled.]
… The chief figure in the elevation of renga from a game to a demanding and artistically important art was Nijō Yoshimoto, a noble of the highest rank who rose in 1346 to be kampaku and head of the Fujiwara clan.1 Yoshimoto was a waka poet of some distinction. His early training was in the conservative waka of the Nijō school, and at one time he studied under Ton'a, the leading Nijō poet of the day. Yoshimoto did not neglect waka composition, even after he became the preeminent theoretician of renga. More than sixty of his waka were included in imperial collections, and he also produced several treatises on the art of the waka. It is safe to say, however, that he would be forgotten as a poet if he had not also devoted himself to renga. He was a pupil of the renga master Kyūsei2 (1282?-1376?), a jige (commoner) poet, and under Kyūsei's tutelage he acquired authority as an expert on renga. Yoshimoto saw no contradiction in composing both waka and renga, believing that renga was a “miscellaneous” form of waka3 and not an unrelated genre....
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SOURCE: Horton, H. Mack. “Nijō Yoshimoto (1320-1388).” In Medieval Japanese Writers: Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume Two Hundred Three, edited by Steven D. Carter, pp. 200-16. Detroit: The Gale Group, 1999.
[In the following essay, Horton discusses Yoshimoto's personal and literary heritage and his formative years as a poet. He also analyzes the poet's works and evaluates his legacy.]
Nijō Yoshimoto was the most important court literatus of the violent and divisive era of the Northern and Southern Courts (Nanbokushō, 1336-1392). Born into the highest stratum of the aristocracy, he served the Northern Court four times as regent, dominating court politics either personally or through his sons for most of the last four decades of his life. His political position was buttressed by extensive literary activity; he became adept at uta and Chinese poetry, wrote voluminously about court ceremonies and protocol, and may have composed the famous historical tale Masukagami (The Clear Mirror, circa 1376). His most important contributions to literary history, however, lay in the field of renga (linked verse). Yoshimoto composed the first extant renga treatises, compiled the first extant anthology, and codified the renga rules. Through his efforts linked verse began to gain recognition as a high courtly art.
It was Yoshimoto's heritage to rule....
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Drake, Christopher. “The Collision of Traditions in Saikaku's Haikai.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 52, no. 1 (June 1992): 5-75.
Discusses Yoshimoto's involvement in the clash between two different traditions of verse-linking.
Higginson, William J. and Penny Harter. “Before Haiku.” In The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share, and Teach Haiku, pp. 181-207. New York: McGraw Hill Book Company, 1985.
Discusses some of the basic elements of renga composition with suggestions for would-be renga writers.
Horton, H. Mack. “Renga Unbound: Performative Aspects of Japanese Linked Verse.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 53, no. 2 (December 1993): 443-512.
Analyzes what can be determined of the oral aspects of linked verse.
Kato, Shuichi. “The Age of Nō and Kyōgen.” In A History of Japanese Literature: The First Thousand Years, translated by David Chibbett, pp. 267-313. Tokyo: Kodansha International Ltd, 1979.
Examines 14th century Japanese literature and the social importance of linked verse for the common people.
Additional coverage of Yoshimoto's life and career is contained in the following source published by the Gale Group: Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 203.
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