Words to Live by

Words to Live by

Japanese Classics for Our Times

Nakano Koji
Translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter

Published by JPIC | Hardcover | ISBN 978-4-86658-024-1 | 236 pages | 210mm (h) x 148mm (w) | March 2018


中野 孝次 著
岩波書店 刊



About the Book

Nakano Kōji opens the door to the treasury of Japanese classics by introducing six writers who are his personal favorites. The writers under his lens span seven centuries, ranging from the twelfth century to the nineteenth. Three are poets; three wrote timeless prose. The hermit-monk Ryōkan, a poet who loved nothing more than bouncing balls with neighborhood children or just sitting sprawled in his hut listening to the sound of rain, teaches the value of living with a spirit of play. Kenkō offers trenchant comments on the aesthetics of life, grounded in an appreciation of the immediacy of death. Kamo no Chōmei, a journalist par excellence, found happiness late in life by flouting convention and “rejoicing in the absence of grief.” Dōgen, the founder of Sōtō Zen in Japan, takes us on a mind-bending trip to the Dharma—ultimate truth—that involves revolutionary ways of conceiving of time, life, and death. Saigyō, the beloved itinerant monk-poet, continually explores his own wayward heart and its vast, incorrigible love of beauty. Buson the haiku poet uses his painter’s eye to capture cosmic vistas as well as moments of poignancy in poems of seventeen syllables.

About the Author

Born in Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture, he studied on his own and entered the prestigious Fifth High School in Kumamoto. After a stint in the armed forces during the Pacific War, he graduated from the German Literature Department of the University of Tokyo. Starting in 1952, he taught for twenty-eight years at Kokugakuin University while translating the works of modern writers such as Franz Kafka, Erich Nossack, and Günter Grass. In 1966, he went to Europe for a year as a research scholar. On his return, he immersed himself in Japanese medieval literature and began writing literary criticism, novels, and essays. His first book, a study of Shogun Minamoto no Sanetomo, came out in 1972. His book Bruegel e no tabi (Journey to Bruegel), inspired by his encounters overseas with Western paintings, validates the first half of his life while creating a distinctive worldview. He wrote various award-winning books including the autobiographical novel Mugi ururu hi ni (When the Wheat Ripens); Harasu no ita hibi (Days with Haras), a memoir of his departed dog; and Seihin no shisô (The Concept of Honest Poverty). From 1993 he served as director of the Kanagawa Literature Association. His final book was Seneca: Gendaijin e no tegami (Seneca: Letters to People of Today). Throughout his prolific writing career, Nakano explored the nature of true happiness, offering words of warning and encouragement for modern Japanese.