This book is one of the 5 Penguin Little Black Classics I choose to read as covered in March Book Bag Bundles. These books are brilliant handbag sized reads and a chance to read something different.
Yoshida Kenkō was a Japanese monk who wrote Essay in Idleness in the 14th century. A Cup of Sake Beneath the Cherry Tree is made up of extracts taken from it. This little book is Kenkō’s thoughts and observations and is a fascinating, interesting read. He really makes you think about life and despite this being written a long time ago some can still relate to today. It has lots of little tales and covers topics such as gossip, riches, happiness, drinking to excess, knowledge and marriage.
I’m not a very philosophical person but I loved this little book. There are some funny little tales but also some that make you really think about how you act in life. The tale about the Dainagon Abbot asking a boy if the man he was spending a lot of time was a layman or monk is funny and we have to draw our own conclusions from the boy’s answer and Kenkō’s comment at the end of the tale. I really liked the tale about the lady who was living in a tumbledown cottage as she retired from life. We never know the reason but the story is full of sadness. It brings to our imagination a sad fairytale in the middle of a forest like Snow White. When a man arrives to visit; things change, and Kenkō is clever in that he lets our imaginations create the story between them in why they know each other and stayed up all night, what did they talk about, why the servants said they would sleep easy and why the man left at sunrise. It is a pretty tale, heartfelt and full of intrigue.
From reading these short extracts we get a picture that Kenkō doesn’t really like excess or rich people, but is a man with friends, who is very observant and perceptive. After reading this book I think he sees beauty and ugliness in life and in his essay of thoughts is trying to teach the people to live better and each of his tales and thoughts have a moral lesson in them. Although I do find his comments on marriage and drinking Sake a little too much as it would mean no-one would ever get married!
Overall I thought this book was great and if you want a short book to read for spring I think this is perfect. Kenkō says that it is a wonderful comfort to site alone beneath a lamp, book spread before you, and commune with someone from the past whom you have never met and I have definitely enjoyed reading his work.