Yoshida Kenko (1283- c. 1350/52) was a mediocre poet but a brilliant essayist, the outstanding Japanese literary figure of his time.
His collection of brief essays, Tsurezuregusa (Essays in Idleness), became, especially after the 17th century, a basic part of Japanese education, and his views have had a prominent place in subsequent Japanese life and culture.
His name was originally Urabe Kaneyoshi and he early served at court and then received ordination as a Buddhist monk following the death of the emperor Go-Uda in 1324. Becoming a monk did not cause him to withdraw from society. On the contrary, he continued to take active interest in all forms of activities, as his essays indicate.
He witnessed the collapse of the Kamakura Bakufu and the transfer of power to the Ashikaga family and the attempted restoration by Emperor Go-Daigo and the confusion of the Northern and Southern Courts. His lamentations over the passing of old customs express his conviction that culture had deteriorated from its former glory.
However, for Yoshida beauty always implied impermanence; the shorter-lived a moment or object of beauty, the more precious he considered it.
His poetry is only conventional, but the essays of Tsurezuregusa display a perceptiveness, charm, and wit that have delighted readers since the 14th century.