AN ANTHOLOGY OF KANSHI (CHINESE VERSE) BY JAPANESE POETS OF THE EDO PERIOD (1603-1868): Translations of Selected Poems with an Introduction and Commentaries

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This anthology comprises annotated translations of four hundred kanshi (poems written in Chinese) by one hundred of the most renowned Japanese poets of the Edo Period (1603-1868). The largest ever such collection, this work also provides biographies for each of the poets as well as commentaries on the verses. The annotations are designed to illuminate the aesthetics and values of Edo society, enabling even the lay reader to appreciate the historical and philosophical milieu in which this genre flourised. The composition of Chinese poetry in Japan dates back to around the seventh century. During the Edo period in particular, it was central to the literary lives of Japanese from all sectors of society and remained popular until the early twentieth century. The Edo period, a time of enforced national isolation from the rest of the world, paradoxically represents the high-water mark for Chinese literary composition in Japan. Chinese studies flourished, and hundreds of thousands of kanshi were written and recorded during these centuries.

Edo popular culture has been studied extensively in the West and is well-known to us through the puppet theater, kabuki drama, haiku poetry, and other vernacular genres. However comparatively little research has been done on kanshi, even though the genre was extremely popular during the Edo period, particularly among Confucian scholar-officials, Buddhist priests, and educated members of the townsman class. It is hoped that this work will bring kanshi more into the mainstream of Japanese studies into the consciousness of modern readers in the Western world.


"Among the book's many strengths lie certain key features which set it apart from other works on kanshi. First is its written style, which is both erudite and accessible, authoritative yet eminently readable. . . . Second, the book boasts some of the most accurate, yet poetic, translations of Chinese verse yet seen in the English language. . . . and is one of very few books of translations to do justice to the beauty and cadence of Chinese verse. Equally important is that the book sheds light on a period of kanshi production which has been under-researched. . . . all the more useful for its inclusion of the copiously researched biographies of more than one hundred poets. The most important contribution. . . is the fact that it approaches kanshi written in Japan as Japanese literature, rather than as 'Chinese literature written by Japanese'. . . . In addition to its potential as an excellent reference tool, an informative and influential study, and evidence that a national literature need not by bound by its language, [this book] is simply a pleasure to read." Dr. Matthew Strecher

Faithful yet wonderfully readable, the translations hold appeal for both the interested amateur and the scholar in search of an accurate rendering. . . . Reading the anthology is a lesson in the historical development of the genre, showing how the first tentative, somewhat wooden experiments anticipated the glory of kanshi in its heyday in the late eighteenth century. . . . transcends the bounds of literary history and criticism: it bridges the gap between intellectual history and the study and appreciation of literature for its own sake. As such it should be read not only by lovers of literature, but by any and all who seek to gain a fuller and deeper understanding of the Japanese way" Dr. Alice Cheang.

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