Kenko published some poetry but it has not survived and contemporaries thought it mediocre.Indeed, much of the is not memorable, being fleeting experiences and observations jotted down, often ephemeral gossip.
In this regard, The are considered a classic of Japanese literature, exhibiting the era's discursive and reflective style of writing and thought.
Kenko served in the imperial court and apparently composed the essays out of boredom, despite the turbulent events around him, including the overthrowal of the emperor whom he served, a year of usurpation, and the emperor's restoration.
Meredith Mc Kinney's excellent new translation also includes notes and an introduction exploring the spiritual and historical background of the works.
Chômei was born into a family of Shinto priests in around 1155, at at time when the stable world of the court was rapidly breaking up. He probably became a monk in his late twenties, and was also noted as a calligrapher.
Kenko, however, displays a fascination with more earthy matters in his collection of anecdotes, advice and observations.
From ribald stories of drunken monks to aching nostalgia for the fading traditions of the Japanese court, Essays in Idleness is a constantly surprising work that ranges across the spectrum of human experience.
He became an important though minor poet of his day, and at the age of fifty, withdrew from the world to become a tonsured monk. Today he is remembered for his wise and witty aphorisms, 'Essays in Idleness'.
Meredith Mc Kinney, who has also translated Sei Shonagon's The Pillow Book for Penguin Classics, is a translator of both contemporary and classical Japanese literature.
"Mine is a foolish diversion," he writes, "but these pages are meant to be torn up, and no one is likely to see them" (19).
In his introduction, he elaborates: I realize I have spent whole days before this inkstone with nothing better to do, jotting down at random whatever nonsensical thoughts have entered my head.