Nijo Yoshimoto Critical Essays


(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

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.

Biographical Information

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.

Major Works

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.

Critical Reception

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.