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Essays in Idleness: The Tsurezuregusa of Kenkō

(ビギナーズ・クラシックス 日本の古典)

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  1,607 ratings  ·  161 reviews
Despite the turbulent times in which he lived, the Buddhist priest Kenkō met the world with a measured eye. As Emperor Go-Daigo fended off a challenge from the usurping Hojo family, and Japan stood at the brink of a dark political era, Kenkō held fast to his Buddhist beliefs and took refuge in the pleasures of solitude. Written between 1330 and 1332, Essays in Idleness ref ...more
Paperback, Second Paperback Edition, 235 pages
Published May 6th 1998 by Columbia University Press (first published 1332)
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The great Buddha in Kamakura

If man were never to fade away like the dews of Adashino, never to vanish like the smoke over Toribeyama, but lingered on forever in this world, how things would lose their power to move us! The most precious thing in life is its uncertainty.

When in 1333 the Emperor Go-Daigo returned triumphantly to Kyoto from exile to mark the end of the Kamakura Shogunate and the rule of the samurai, Yoshida Kenko (1283-1350) - a middle ranking court officer and Buddhist mon
Justin Evans
Nov 03, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays
I haven't read all that much east Asian prose, but I'm starting to suspect that I might over-identify with the overlooked-sensitive-and-ironic-scholar who is unable to find a position in the bureaucracy or hierarchy. Chomei's 'Hojoki' is a charming little piece about living the simple life and so on, but rather undermined by the fact that, in order to live the simple life, you have to be independently wealthy. Kenko's 'Essays,' on the other hand, are an absolute delight. There's nothing I like q ...more
What a strange demented feeling it gives me when I realize that I have spent whole days before this inkstone, with nothing better to do, jotting down at random whatever nonsensical thoughts have entered my head.


Are we to look at cherry blossoms only in full bloom, the moon only when it is cloudless? To long for the moon while looking on the rain, to lower the blinds and be unaware of the passing of the spring - these are even more deeply moving. Branches about to blossom or gardens strewn with
Jun 09, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: japan, 1960s, medieval
If I fail to say what lies on my mind it gives me a feeling of flatulence. – Kenkō (1285–1350)
Kenkō, a fourteenth-century Japanese monk, courtier, poet, and antiquarian, had a lot on his mind. Retired from the tumult of the imperial court, he spent whole days alone in his cottage in Kyoto, jotting random, nonsensical thoughts on slips of paper that he pasted to the walls. After his death, these scraps were peeled away, sorted, and copied into a volume now known as Essays in Idleness (1332).
I had read Hojoki before but I read it again anyway, it's really short and touching. Essays in Idleness was good, it was lighter than what I expected, amusing stories, conversations he had with people, buddhist stuff, etc. Two great works in one book, worth it. ...more
Akemi G.
Aug 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This collection of Kenko's essays is often compared with Hojoki: Visions of a Torn World by Chomei, but there is a vast difference. Kenko might sound like he is just rambling (and he takes that pose intentionally), but he is not. He is talking about the existential dilemma of human being. His awareness is very modern. He is keenly aware of the problems and also his powerlessness. He cannot solve the problems, so he writes them down, with a compassionate yet cool attitude. Great read.

(I read thi
Charles  Beauregard
Really enjoyable and pleasant. A few simple stories stuck with me and I think they are the most universal in humanity, rather than epic tales such as in religious books or fiction.

Chomei living in the woods and walking around with the woods wardens 10 year old son and though 50 years separates them, they are able to enjoy the same pleasures.

Kenko is just an overall doofus.
Sep 18, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: japan, essays
3.75 stars

These two-prose works “Essays in Idleness” by Yoshida Kenko and “Hojoki” (Record of a Ten-foot-Square Hut) by Kamo no Chomei would, I think, be a delight to those seeking solace or inspiration from their Mahayana Buddhist, hermit-like views in which they have long meant to share their initiatives, ideas and opinions as the voices from medieval Japan to his readers. Interestingly, “Hojoki” is the first work presented in the book followed by “Essays in Idleness” and I wonder if this new
Eustacia Tan
Apr 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I actually didn't know that I already reviewed this book once before here. I guess it makes sense, because I only heard about this book one, two years ago, when this blog was already up. But nevermind, I have new things to say!

Basically, after my first review, I lost the book. I don't know how, I don't know when but it was lost for a period of time. And then I found out I was going to Japan. So before I went, I was at Kinokuniya using up all those vouchers people gave me; and quite naturally, I
Jul 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Essay 75
"I wonder what feelings inspire a man to complain of "having nothing to do." I am happiest when I have nothing to distract me and I am completely alone.

If a man conforms to society, his mind will be captured by the filth of the outside world, and he is easily led astray; if he mingles in society, he must be careful that his words do not offend others, and what he says will not at all be what he feels in his heart. He will joke with others only to quarrel with them, now resentful, now h
On the same shelf with Heraclitus and Montaigne...
Daniel Simmons
Aug 23, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"It is most wonderful comfort to sit alone beneath a lamp, book spread before you, and commune with someone from the past whom you have never met." This is a book of indelible expressions and images to savor, sip by sip, over the course of several days. Delightful. ...more
Aug 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Writing this, I realize that all this has already been spoken of long ago in The tale of Genji and The Pillow Book — but that is no reason not to say it again. After all, things thought but left unsaid only fester inside you. So I let my brush run on like this for my own foolish solace; these pages deserve to be torn up and discarded, after all, and are not something others will ever see. —Kenkō, Essay 19

...but it is above all the sensitivity to beauty and refinement of the old culture that embo
May 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays, japan
Second Review

Having read his trilogy-like, informative and well-written books entitled A History of Japan to 1334, A History of Japan 1334-1615, A History of Japan 1615-1867 (Stanford University Press 1996, 1994, 1993) since months ago, I resolved to revisit this booklet since I first read it with my vague familiarity in terms of his fame and Japanese authority, wondering if I would enjoy reading his 243-dan translations penned by a famous Buddhist monk Yoshida Kenko (c. 1283-c. 1352 AD); in fac
Jul 28, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: japan, essays, essay
Two books combined so two short reviews: Both are interesting because they provide the perspective of medieval Japan, both written by Buddhist monks, both different in viewpoint since Hojoki is about withdrawing from society, while Essays in Idleness is more about what's going on in society, both often focusing on the impermanence of life - death is always there:

Be they young, be they strong, the time of death comes upon all unawares. It is an extraordinary miracle that we have escaped it until
Russell Fox
In the reading group I have been part of this school year, I've been confronted with several classic works by ancient thinkers and authors that I'd never read before--Zhuang Zhi, for example, for Plotinus. But none have I enjoyed as much as these sets of essays by two Buddhist monks from 12th and 13th-century Japan. Rather than works of scholarships, these works reflect the studied--sometimes sober, sometimes wise, sometimes rueful or laugh-at-loud funny--observations of two very different men, ...more
This is a miscellany. It is a collection of various thoughts and things and events that the author finds interesting. A journal basically, or a diary. Some of it was uninteresting to me though, and did not translate at all. Proper etiquette is discussed. What constitutes refined behavior, and other matters. He talks a lot about how this tradition has been performed during the time of this or that emperor.

Where the book shines is with regards to aesthetics. Yoshida shows a taste on things which
Jul 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars. This was the full version of "A Cup of Sake Beneath the Cherry Trees" by Kenko and contained a few more observations of humans and nature, it was still enjoyable the second time around. Hojoki was a very short text by Chomei about living a secluded life and reevaluating your standards. It seemed like he was okay with that way of living until the very end when he kind of wondered why he did this to himself. I felt bad for him in the end. ...more
Mar 31, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
it is lovely to find yourself agreeing with someone who wrote in about 1330. I love how he says drinking is the worst vice of all and then goes on to describe how lovely it is to share sake with a good friend by moonlight.
Daniel Gill
Dec 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
If you're interested in historic Japanese Buddhist views on aesthetics, propriety, and the ideal life, you'll probably find this book worth looking at. I discovered Kenkō when I read The Art of the Personal Essay, which features a few excerpts from this work. I would suspect Essays in Idleness is a mixed bag for typical western readers. You have some passages that are categorically profound:

When I sit down in quiet meditation, the one emotion hardest to fight against is a longing in all things f
This collection includes the work of two medieval Japanese Buddhist monks, one a very short essay at the beginning, the latter a longer, diary-like account. The beginning essay, Hojoki, is a kind of Thoreau-like account of life in a small ten-foot-square hut the author built to live in peaceful and serene retreat from society. The Essays in Idleness that follow are an eclectic compilation of observations on Buddhism, nature, aesthetics, anecdotes about the lives of prominent people of the day, a ...more
Feb 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The name essays in idleness reminded me of Halls of Uselessness, and I dived in to find idle but illuminated thoughts on numerous topics. I was rewarded. Not only is this book a very good insight into traditional Japanese and Buddhist thinking, it recounts many idle tales, gives nuggets of wisdom, summarises books read by the author, compares ways of life and also points a way to what the writer think is the right way. A few phrases which struck me as particularly appealing:
“People seem to be dr
Mar 21, 2015 rated it it was ok
Oh, how I wanted to love this book! Existential, poetic musings by a 14th century Buddhist monk. What's not to like, right? Well, unfortunately this monk comes across a lot more like a curmudgeon who's hung up on tradition, formality and overall reserve. While I can see that it's a very historically important work, the parables, anecdotes and recommendations come across a bit flat, at least for this modern reader.

I think my favorite musing was the following, in which the humor was most likely a
Mar 24, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
How do you rate essays written by Buddhist monks from the 11th and 12th centuries? The first of these, "Hojoki" is a short meditative piece about the decision to become a monk and to live in seclusion, and the internal struggle of living within the Way. As an essay, it's much more successful than "Essays in Idleness" -- it's concise and moving. "Essays in Idleness" is a much more sprawling work, which covers living as a monk and living a secluded life, but also discusses everything from courtly ...more
Apr 23, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: japan, translation, 14-ce, zen
This has been a disappointment. I suppose I was looking for more Buddhist insight, but what one gets seems unfocussed and all over the map. Notes on historical importance of each section would have been helpful, instead of the too brief and diffuse Introduction.
Leanne Ritchie
Nov 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Yes, one way or another, this world is full of lies. The only safe approach is to react to everything you hear as completely normal and unremarkable." ...more
Arjun Ravichandran
Nov 06, 2019 rated it liked it
If Holden Caulfield was a 14th century Buddhist monk.
Granit Hysiqi
I like getting into a book without reading too much into its trivialities/background like date of publishing, country, publisher or whatever and focus more on the content that it's supposed to deliver so perhaps I'm also partly at fault here because I didn't really read the description as clearly but the title of this book just feels a bit like false advertisement to me. The first story is a short memoir by Chomei which is only like...10 pages long, while essays in idleness contains about 170 pa ...more
Jan 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Very interesting to read in combination with contemporary texts that follow a similar structure and method. Endless text, forever with its movable parts.
Mike Clinton
Jul 14, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A Buddhist monk, Yoshida Kenko wrote these essays - reflections, really - during the 14th century. "To while away the idle hours, seated the live-long day before the ink-slab, by jotting down without order or purpose whatever trifling thoughts pass through my mind, verily this is a queer and crazy thing to do!" his opening sentence reads. Many of the reflections have little relevance or context for the present-day reader, especially an American, at least as they're rendered in translation; these ...more
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Yoshida Kenkō (吉田 兼好, 1283? – 1350?) was a Japanese author and Buddhist monk. His most famous work is Tsurezuregusa (Essays in Idleness), one of the most studied works of medieval Japanese literature. Kenko wrote during the Muromachi and Kamakura periods.

Other books in the series

ビギナーズ・クラシックス 日本の古典 (1 - 10 of 33 books)
  • 和泉式部日記
  • 伊勢物語
  • 宇治拾遺物語
  • うつほ物語
  • 雨月物語
  • 大鏡
  • おくのほそ道(全)
  • 蜻蛉日記
  • 源氏物語
  • 古今和歌集

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“To sit alone in the lamplight with a book spread out before you and hold intimate converse with men of unseen generations - such is pleasure beyond compare.” 111 likes
“It is a great error to be superior to others....It is such pride as this that makes a man appear a fool, makes him abused by others, and invites disaster. A man who is truly versed in any art will of his own accord be clearly aware of his own deficiency; and therefore, his ambition being never satisfied, he ends by never being proud.” 22 likes
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