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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Book Review: Visions of a Torn World

By Kamo-no-Chomei
ISBN: 1-880656-22-1
91 pp (paperback)

hojokiStone Bridge Press’s Rock Spring collection brings together modern translations of both the luminaries and lesser-known writers of Japanese literature. Hojoki is unfamiliar to the vast majority of non-Japanese, but it has a significant place in Japanese cultural history as at once a vivid depiction of 12th-century Japan and a personal journal of a man all too aware of his mortality. The author Kamo-no-Chomei was a monk who renounced life in the then-capital Kyoto and lived his last years in simple huts in the countryside. The first half of Hojoki chronicles the many disasters—among them fire, earthquake and famine—that ravaged the city, as well as its ill-fated and abandoned relocation. The second half recounts Kamo-no-Chomei’s hermitic existence. Yasuhiko Moriguchi and David Jenkins convincingly capture the terseness and poignancy of the original Japanese verses in this very readable English version, which is further enhanced by Michael Hofmann’s evocative ink-brush illustrations and an enlightening introduction and notes section. Hojoki is an accessible and surprisingly intimate window on ancient Japanese society and one extraordinary individual’s rich inner life.

Richard Donovan

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