Yoshida Kenk¯o was born into a family of Japanese
Shinto priests around the year 1283. He distinguished
himself at a young age through his literary
abilities and served in the Japanese court under
the emperor Go-Uda.While his early poetry is traditional
and conservative, he was regarded as a fine
poet during his lifetime.
In 1324, Yoshida became a Buddhist priest. His
most famous work, Tsurezuregusa (Essays in Idleness,
1330), a series of 243 short chapters or essays,
reflects the Buddhist view of the world, especially
the transience of all things and the cycle of life,
growth, death, and rebirth. The essays are unified
by Yoshida’s belief that the world and everything in
it was steadily declining, but this was not a negative
view. As Yoshida says in “Essay 7,” “If man were
never to fade away . . . but lingered on forever in
the world, how things would lose their power to
While Essays in Idleness was not widely read
during Yoshida’s lifetime, it has become a standard
work in Japanese education. It has also posthumously
established Yoshida’s reputation as an insightful
and gifted essayist.
English Versions of Works by
Essays in Idleness. Translated by Donald Keene. New
York: Columbia University Press, 1967.
Miscellany of a Japanese Priest. Translated by William
H. Porter. Rutland, Vt.: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1973.
A Work about Yoshida Kenk¯o
Chance, Linda H. Formless in Form: Kenko, Tsurezuregusa
and the Rhetoric of Japanese Fragmentary
Prose. Palo Alto, Calif.: Stanford University Press,