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Kayo first appeared as a literary category in the early twentieth century and was used to describe the songs of the Kojiki and the Nihon shoki to emphasize the view that they were oral songs dating from a period prior to the use of Chinese writing. The common poetic theme in both the Kojiki and the Nihon shoki is that of the ruler's marriage, which accounts for half of the songs in the Kojiki and one-third of the songs in the Nihon shoki. The Kojiki in fact has no songs at all after the sixth century and 88 songs out of its total of 112 appear in only six reigns, those of Jinmu, Yamato Takeru's father Keiko, Ojin, Nintoku, Ingyo, and Yuryaku. The Kojiki and the Nihon shoki are mytho-historical narratives of the formation of the imperial realm of Yamato, told from an impersonal perspective that is located outside the world of the text.
Kokinshu represents the major phase in the evolution of Japanese poetry after the late eighth-century Manyoshu, one whose articulation of self and world would influence Japanese culture for a millennium. Much of the unprecedented nature of Heian waka can be traced back to Uda, whose entourage first developed utaawase and byobu uta, both staples of later court poetry. The authority of the Kokinshu and its poetics was unquestioned in the two imperial anthologies, Gosen wakashu and Shui wakashu, that followed it. Of the anthology's two prefaces, the more commented-on is the Kana Preface and composed by the anthology's chief editor Ki no Tsurayuki. The Mana Preface, which is named after the literary Chinese it was written in by Tsurayuki's scholarly clan-mate Ki no Yoshimochi, was intended for the sovereign. Kinto became the premier arbiter of poetic taste under the patronage of Fujiwara no Michinaga, who encouraged the composition of waka as part of banquets.
In the early Heian Academy, talented scholars were sometimes able to rise to posts on the Council of State itself, but the hegemony of the Fujiwara Regents' House effectively ended literati political influence. During the mid to late Heian period, the collection Godansho contains many anecdotes illustrating the friction between hereditary scholars and unaffiliated students, as in this conversation about Sugawara no Fumitoki, scion of the Sugawara lineage, and Minamoto no Shitago, a less prestigious student from the same Letters curriculum. Another burst of glory for the traditional scholarly families was Oe no Masafusa, a child prodigy who tutored and advised three emperors, and was the first of his lineage to sit on the Council in over a century. Near the end of his life, Masafusa's student Fujiwara no Sanekane, began keeping a record of his conversations with his teacher, Godansho, an important influence on later setsuwa literature.
Hyakunin isshu, a collection of one hundred poems by one hundred poets who lived from the seventh century to the thirteen century, was compiled by Fujiwara no Teika. It contains forty-three love poems, nearly half of the collection and an extremely high percentage compared to that in imperial waka anthologies. In the Edo period the Hyakunin isshu came to represent the entire tradition of Heian court poetry, and it saw a sudden increase in readership, particularly due to the new print culture, which enabled people from all classes to educate themselves. The Hyakunin isshu has taken many forms. During the Pacific War a collection called Aikoku hyakunin isshu or The Patriotic Hyakunin isshu appeared, praising the emperor and encouraging loyalty to the nation and the throne. Today Hyakunin isshu is one of the most familiar pieces of classical literature in Japan and without a doubt will reappear in the future in many new forms.
The Cambridge History of Japanese Literature provides, for the first time, a history of Japanese literature with comprehensive coverage of the premodern and modern eras in a single volume. The book is arranged topically in a series of short, accessible chapters for easy access and reference, giving insight into both canonical texts and many lesser known, popular genres, from centuries-old folk literature to the detective fiction of modern times. The various period introductions provide an overview of recurrent issues that span many decades, if not centuries. The book also places Japanese literature in a wider East Asian tradition of Sinitic writing and provides comprehensive coverage of women's literature as well as new popular literary forms, including manga (comic books). An extensive bibliography of works in English enables readers to continue to explore this rich tradition through translations and secondary reading.
The first extant setsuwa collection is the aforementioned Nihon ryoiki, a Buddhist collection edited and compiled in the early Heian period. Godansho is a setsuwa collection that records stories narrated by Oe no Masafusa, one of the leading scholars and poets of the time. The systematic attempt to provide knowledge of the past, particularly of the aristocratic past, is evident in Kokon chomonju, which was edited around 1254 by Tachibana Narisue, a low-ranking aristocrat and literatus who received the secret transmission on playing the lute. Since one of the objectives of setsuwa collections such as the late Heian period Konjaku monogatari shu, edited by Gento, was to provide an encyclopedic worldview, centered on India, China, and Japan, these collections included stories from these three countries. The Kara monogatari, a late-Heian period setsuwa anthology perhaps edited by Fujiwara Shigenori, is a collection of poem-tale style adaptations from Chinese texts.