Principal Heian Literary Texts

Pre-Heian (Nara 710-785)

Kojiki                          712


Nihon shoki                720


Man’yoshu                  758                  Poetic Anthology "A Collection of 10,000 Leaves" and here. Emergence of Waka Poetry


Heian Era 785-1185

Kokinshu                    905          Poetic Anthology "A Collection of Ancient and Contemporary Poems;"

Through poems, courtiers "spoke to each other in a highly allusive, highly suggestive fashion...You never say anything directly. That would be being a brute basically." (Haruo Shirane)

Preface to the KKS by Ki-no-Tsurayuki

Our native poetry takes the human heart as its seed, and flourishes in the countless leaves of words. People, as they experience the various events of life, give expression to what their minds think, to the meditations of their hearts in terms of what their eyes see, what their ears hear--for all of these they must find words to express themselves. Listening to the nightingale singing amid the blossoms of spring, or to the murmur of frogs among the marshes in autumn--is their any living thing not given to song?

It is poetry which, without exertion, moves heaven and earth, stirs the feelings of gods and spirits invisible to the eye, softens the relations between men and women, calms the heart of fierce warriors, and helps keep order in the world.

Thus, the human heart finds expression in the various modes of speech for its joy in the beauty of flowers, its wonder at the song of birds, its tender welcome of the spring mists, its mournful sympathy with the evanescence of the morning dew.


Tosa Nikki                  935          Poetic Diary written in the voice of a woman but by Ki-no-Tsurayuki


Ise Monogatari            945         Mixed Prose and Poetry featuring "headnotes" or explanatory intros


Taketori Monogatari    950       Prose, “Tale of the Bamboo Cutter”


Kagero Nikki              974         "Gossamer Years," a Poetic Diary, by a woman known as the Mother of Michitsuna

Makura no Soshi              990         “The Pillow Book” of essays by Sei Shonagon


Izumi Shikibu Nikki    1004    Poetic Diary of a court lady, Izumi Shikibu


Genji Monogatari      1010    "Tale of Genji" consisting of 54 “maki” or scrolls by Murasaki  Shikibu

Sarashina Nikki          1020    Diary by a woman that mentions reading the Tale of Genji    

"I read a few volumes of Genji-monogatari and longed for the rest, but as I was still a stranger here I had no way of finding them. I was all impatience and yearning, and in my mind was always praying that I might read all the books of Genji-monogatari from the very first one."


Eiga Monogatari       1040    A historical account of the Heian Court written by a woman, Akazome Emon