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Japanese term for archaic and classical Japanese writing used from the Nara Era (710-784) all the way to the Edo era (1603-1867). These classical works are called koten. The most famous haiku, tanka, and other literary works for over a thousand year period in ancient Japan were mostly written in kobun.

Kobun is usually a mixture of Japanese characters, hiragana, and Chinese characters. Works written completely in Chinese characters are called kanbun.

kobun and the modern Japanese language are completely different. For example:

  1. grammar such as verb conjugation is completely different
  2. words have changed meanings over the ages or went out of use and modern words have also developed
  3. kanas usage and pronounciation have changed over the ages. This is differenciated as historical kana usage and modern kana usage.
The differences between kobun and modern Japanese are so great that Murasaki Shikibu would not be able to understand a modern Japanese newspaper and most all living Japanese cannot read and understand her works.

Some examples of koten, or kobun literay works are :

Tale of Genji (Genji monogatari)
The Tale of the Heike (Heike Monogatari)
Tsure-zure-gusa ("Essays in Idleness")

Kobun is written in Japanese fonts at the top of this writeup so you might experience mojibake.


Kobun (648-672), the 39th Emperor of Japan, ruled for less than a year. The eldest son of Emperor Tenji, Kobun ascended to the throne in 671. However, Tenji had previously promised the throne to his brother, Prince Oama. The snubbed Oama rose up in the four-month Jinshin War of 672, defeated Kobun (who committed suicide), and became Emperor Temmu.

<< Tenji - Emperors of Japan - Temmu >>

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