cover image Travelers of a Hundred Ages

Travelers of a Hundred Ages

Donald Keene, Author Henry Holt & Company $34.5 (468p) ISBN 978-0-8050-0751-0

``It brings no comfort, I know, to brood over things, but I have become accustomed on sleepless nights to leave my door ajar and wait for the moon to rise, hoping to make it my companion,'' wrote a teenaged Japanese nun in her diary in 1240. With conversational erudition, Keene ( Dawn to the West ) surveys a genre of unique importance in Japanese literature. Whether written in a consciously literary vein or mainly to record the facts of daily life, the diary ``is often a kind of confession, and no confession can be effective unless another person hears it.'' In Japan, diaries dating from the ninth century on have served as records of travels, court conduct and misconduct, warfare, nature observed, lust indulged and monastic life; taken form in prose, poetry or both, in Chinese or Japanese; and been kept by men and women, be they lay chroniclers, priests or revered poets (e.g., Basho). Keene, professor of Japanese literature at Columbia University, makes the enormous range of Japanese diaries accessible to the English-speaker, examining 60-odd specimens from among the earliest (circa 847) to the more recent (1854), eager always for ``the pleasure of discovering people'' who ``reach out to us over the centuries.'' (July)