For citation:

Dyakonova E.M. The Саnon and the Commentary. Exegesis in Japanese Classical Poetry. Studia Litterarum, 2020, vol. 5, no 3, pp. 104–127. (In Russ.)


Author: E.M. Dyakonova
Information about the author:

Elena M. Dyakonova, PhD in Philology, Leading Research Fellow, A.M. Gorky Institute of World Literature of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Povarskaya 25a, 121069 Moscow, Russia ; Professor, HSE University, Staraya Basmannaya 21/4, 105066 Moscow, Russia.


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Received: June 24, 2019
Published: September 25, 2020
Issue: 2020 Vol. 5, №3
Department: World Literature
Pages: 104-127

UDK: 821.521.0
BBK: 83.3(5Япо)
Keywords: Japanese classical tradition, literary text, comments, Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves (Manyōsyū), Collection of Old and New Songs of Japan (Kokinwakasyū).


The study of classical religious and literary texts was the main trend of the Far Eastern traditional culture. Exegesis prompted a specific vision of philosophy, literature, and science. Examining the ties between classical texts and their commentaries is important for the better understanding of the development of the Far Eastern civilizations, including Japanese. Japanese commentaries developed, first, around central religious texts of Buddhism, Shinto, and writings by Confucius, and, second, around literary texts. This article mostly examines comments on poetic monuments of medieval Japan. These comments prompted canonization of the main literary works. Already in the early medieval time (Heian era 9–12 cc.), there appeared first comments on the classical texts of antiquity, for example, the comments to Manyōsyū (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves, 8 c.), the first poetic anthology of Japan. These comments were an early attempt to restore the image of the Japanese recorded in the eight century in Chinese hieroglyphs. In the tenth century, the classical poetry acquired a new form, being recorded in both hieroglyphs and Japanese syllabary (hiragana). There were several genres of literary criticism in Japan: treatises on literature, commentaries on classical texts, compilations of anthologies (e.g. selection of literary texts for intricately organized collections), and poetic contests. Commentators mostly concentrated on deciphering the meaning of select words and phrases while the overall meaning of the text remained behind-the-scenes. The ordinary compilers and commentators on medieval artistic texts became elevated to the level of poets whereas comments began to form part of the canon. The canon itself appears to have been closely connected with compiling, editing, and commenting on the text.


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