The Tales of Ueda Akinari Background

The Tales of Ueda Akinari Background

There are two types of Japanese poetry. The first, composed by classical poets, is actually written in the Chinese language. The second, Waka, is a traditional poetry written in the Japanese language; it is the latter that Ueda Akinari is most famous for penning. As well as being a poet, Akinari was a scholar who wrote about esoteric thought, and also an author, writing at the end of the eighteenth century. His two best known works are Tales of Rain and Moon (Ugetsu Mongatari) and Tales of Spring Rain (Harusame Monogatari).Both are considered literary masterpieces.

Tales of Rain and Moon is a collection of nine tales of the supernatural. It takes its inspiration from ghost stories and legends of the Ming Dynasty. Although by definition ghost stories are empirical accounts told generally by the person who has experienced a supernatural event, Akinari writes as if they are historical, and therefore completely valid and accurate.

Tales of Spring Rain is a collection of ten stories, slightly less ghostly, but equally rich and ornate in their language. Most stories in the Japanese Yomihon genre were illustrated, so that little was left to the reader's own imagination, but Akinari's tales were not illustrated, relying instead on the rich artistry of language that enabled readers to paint their own pictures instead. They were very intellectualized stories, and so almost impossible for anyone other than the highly educated to understand.

Akinari was one of the Japanese literati's leading lights, but his early life did not suggest that such greatness would be achieved. His mother was a prostitute, and she gave him up before he was four years old; this turned out to be a wonderful gift to the infant, as he was adopted by a wealthy businessman and his family, who prized education and made sure that their little boy had unlimited access to it. He had a near-death experience during his childhood and felt very strongly that his life was saved by the God of the Kashima Inari Shrine; this event was the start of his lifelong fascination with the supernatural, and also his profound and resolute belief in it.

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