Japanese literature

Japanese literature

Japanese literature spans a period of almost two millennia. Early works were heavily influenced by cultural contact with China and Chinese literature, often written in Classical Chinese. But Japanese literature developed into a separate style in its own right as Japanese writers began writing their own works about Japan, although the influence of Chinese literature and Classical Chinese remained until the end of Edo period. Since Japan reopened its ports to Western trading and diplomacy in the 19th century, Western and Eastern literature have strongly affected each other; this influence is still seen today.


Japanese Literature is generally divided into four main periods: ancient, classical, medieval, and modernFact|date=September 2007.

Until 794

With the introduction of kanji from China, the first writing in Japan became possible. Before this, there was no writing system. At first Chinese characters were used in Japanese syntactical formats, and the literary language was classical Chinese; the result is sentences that look like Chinese but are phonetically read as Japanese. Chinese characters were later adapted to write Japanese, creating what is known as the man'yōgana, the earliest form of kana, or syllabic writing. The earliest works were created in the Nara Period. These include "Kojiki" (712), a work recording Japanese mythology and legendary history; "Nihonshoki" (720), a chronicle with a slightly more solid foundation in historical records than "Kojiki"; and "Man'yōshū" (759), a poetry anthology.


Classical Japanese literature generally refers to literature produced during the Heian Period, what some would consider a golden era of art and literature. "The Tale of Genji" (early eleventh century) by Murasaki Shikibu is considered the pre-eminent masterpiece of Heian fiction and an early example of a work of fiction in the form of a novel. Other important works of this period include the "Kokin Wakashū" (905), a waka-poetry anthology, and "The Pillow Book" (990s), the latter written by Murasaki Shikibu's contemporary and rival, Sei Shōnagon, as an essay about the life, loves, and pastimes of nobles in the Emperor's court. The "iroha" poem, now one of two standard orderings for the Japanese syllabary, was also written during the early part of this period.

The 10th century Japanese narrative, "The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter", can be considered an early example of proto-science fiction. The protagonist of the story, Kaguya-hime, is a princess from the Moon who is sent to Earth for safety during a celestial war, and is found and raised by a bamboo cutter in Japan. She is later taken back to the Moon by her real extraterrestrial family. A manuscript illustration depicts a disc-shaped flying object similar to to a flying saucer.citation|title=The Halstead Treasury of Ancient Science Fiction|first=Matthew|last=Richardson|publisher=Halstead Press|publication-place=Rushcutters Bay, New South Wales|year=2001|isbn=1875684646 (cf. citation|title=Once Upon a Time|journal=Emerald City|issue=85|date=September 2002|url=http://www.emcit.com/emcit085.shtml#Once|accessdate=2008-09-17)]

In this time the imperial court patronized the poets, most of whom were courtiers or ladies-in-waiting. Editing anthologies of poetry was a national pastime. Reflecting the aristocratic atmosphere, the poetry was elegant and sophisticated and expressed emotions in a rhetorical style.


Medieval Japanese Literature is marked by the strong influence of Zen BuddhismFact|date=September 2007, where characters are priests, travellers, or ascetic poets. Also during this period, Japan experienced many civil wars which led to the development of a warrior class, and subsequent war tales, histories, and related stories. Work from this period is notable for its insights into life and death, simple lifestyles, and redemption through killing. A representative work is "The Tale of the Heike" (1371), an epic account of the struggle between the Minamoto and Taira clans for control of Japan at the end of the twelfth century. Other important tales of the period include Kamo no Chōmei's "Hōjōki" (1212) and Yoshida Kenko's "Tsurezuregusa" (1331).

Other notable genres in this period were "renga", or linked verse, and Noh theater. Both were rapidly developed in the middle of the 14th century, the early Muromachi period.


Literature during this time was written during the largely peaceful Tokugawa Period (commonly referred to as the Edo Period). Due in large part to the rise of the working and middle classes in the new capital of Edo (modern Tokyo), forms of popular drama developed which would later evolve into kabuki. The joruri and kabuki dramatist Chikamatsu Monzaemon became popular at the end of the 17th century. Matsuo Bashō wrote "Oku no Hosomichi" (奥の細道, 1702), a travel diary. Hokusai, perhaps Japan's most famous woodblock print artist, also illustrated fiction as well as his famous 36 Views of Mount Fuji.

Many genres of literature made their début during the Edo Period, helped by a rising literacy rate among the growing population of townspeople, as well as the development of lending libraries. Although there was a minor Western influence trickling into the country from the Dutch settlement at Nagasaki, it was the importation of Chinese vernacular fiction that proved the greatest outside influence on the development of Early Modern Japanese fiction. Ihara Saikaku might be said to have given birth to the modern consciousness of the novel in Japan, mixing vernacular dialogue into his humorous and cautionary tales of the pleasure quarters. Jippensha Ikku wrote "Tōkaidōchū Hizakurige", which is a mix of travelogue and comedy. Tsuga Teisho, Takebe Ayatari, and Okajima Kanzan were instrumental in developing the "yomihon", which were historical romances almost entirely in prose, influenced by Chinese vernacular novels such as Three Kingdoms and "Shui hu zhuan". Two "yomihon" masterpieces were written by Ueda Akinari: "Ugetsu monogatari" and "Harusame monogatari". Kyokutei Bakin wrote the extremely popular fantasy/historical romance "Nansō Satomi Hakkenden" (南総里見八犬伝) in addition to other yomihon. Santō Kyōden wrote yomihon mostly set in the gay quarters until the Kansei edicts banned such works, and he turned to comedic "kibyōshi". Genres included horror, crime stories, morality stories, comedy, and pornography—often accompanied by colorful woodcut prints.


The Meiji era marks the re-opening of Japan to the West, and a period of rapid industrialization. The introduction of brought free verse into the poetic repertoire; it became widely used for longer works embodying new intellectual themes. Young Japanese prose writers and dramatists struggled with a whole galaxy of new ideas and artistic schools, but novelists were the first to successfully assimilate some of these concepts.

In the early Meiji era (1868–1880s), Fukuzawa Yukichi and Nakae Chomin authored Enlightenment literature, while pre-modern popular books depicted the quickly changing country. Then Realism was brought in by Tsubouchi Shoyo and Futabatei Shimei in the mid-Meiji (late 1880s–early 1890s) while the Classicism of Ozaki Koyo, Yamada Bimyo and Kōda Rohan gained popularity. Ichiyō Higuchi, a rare woman writer in this era, wrote short stories on powerless women of this age in a simple style in between literary and colloquial. Kyoka Izumi, a favored disciple of Ozaki, pursued a flowing and elegant style and wrote early novels such as "The Operating Room" (1895) in literary style and later ones including "The Holy Man of Mount Koya" (1900) in colloquial.

Romanticism was brought in by Mori Ōgai with his anthology of translated poems (1889) and carried to its height by Tōson Shimazaki etc. and magazines "Myōjō" and "Bungaku-kai" in early 1900s. Mori also wrote some modern novels including "The Dancing Girl" (1890), "Wild Geese" (1911), then later wrote historical novels. Natsume Sōseki, who is often compared with Mori Ōgai, wrote "I Am a Cat" (1905) with humor and satire, then depicted fresh and pure youth in "Botchan" (1906) and "Sanshirô" (1908). He eventually pursued transcendence of human emotions and egoism in his later works including "Kokoro" (1914) his last and unfinished novel "Light and darkness" (1916).

Shimazaki shifted from Romanticism to Naturalism which was established with his "The Broken Commandment" (1906) and Katai Tayama's "Futon" (1907). Naturalism hatched "I Novel" (Watakushi-shôsetu) that describes about the authors themselves and depicts their own mental states. Neo-romanticism came out of anti-naturalism and was led by Kafū Nagai, Jun'ichirō Tanizaki, Kotaro Takamura, Hakushū Kitahara and so on in the early 1910s. Saneatsu Mushanokōji, Naoya Shiga and others founded a magazine "Shirakaba" in 1910. They shared a common characteristic, Humanism. Shiga's style was autobiographical and depicted states of his mind and sometimes classified as "I Novel" in this sense. Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, who was highly praised by Soseki, wrote short stories including "Rashōmon" (1915) with an intellectual and analytic attitude, and represented Neo-realism in the mid 1910s.

During the 1920s and early 1930s the proletarian literary movement, comprising such writers as Takiji Kobayashi, Denji Kuroshima, Yuriko Miyamoto, and Ineko Sata produced a politically radical literature depicting the harsh lives of workers, peasants, women, and other downtrodden members of society, and their struggles for change.

War-time Japan saw the début of several authors best known for the beauty of their language and their tales of love and sensuality, notably Jun'ichirō Tanizaki and Japan's first winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Yasunari Kawabata, a master of psychological fiction. Ashihei Hino wrote lyrical bestsellers glorifying the war, while Tatsuzo Ishikawa attempted to publish a disturbingly realistic account of the advance on Nanjing. Writers who opposed the war include Denji Kuroshima, Mitsuharu Kaneko, Hideo Oguma, and Jun Ishikawa.

Post-war literature

World War II, and Japan's defeat, influenced Japanese literature. Many authors wrote stories of disaffection, loss of purpose, and the coping with defeat. Osamu Dazai's novel "The Setting Sun" tells of a soldier returning from Manchukuo. Yukio Mishima, well known for both his nihilistic writing and his controversial suicide by seppuku, began writing in the post-war period. Nobuo Kojima's short story "The American School" portrays a group of Japanese teachers of English who, in the immediate aftermath of the war, deal with the American occupation in varying ways.

Prominent writers of the 1970s and 1980s were identified with intellectual and moral issues in their attempts to raise social and political consciousness. One of them, Kenzaburo Oe wrote his best-known work, "A Personal Matter" in 1964 and became Japan's second winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Mitsuaki Inoue had long been concerned with the atomic bomb and continued in the 1980s to write on problems of the nuclear age, while Shusaku Endo depicted the religious dilemma of the Kakure Kirishitan, Roman Catholics in feudal Japan, as a springboard to address spiritual problems. Yasushi Inoue also turned to the past in masterful historical novels of Inner Asia and ancient Japan, in order to portray present human fate.

Avant-garde writers, such as Kōbō Abe, who wrote fantastic novels such as "Woman in the Dunes" (1960), wanted to express the Japanese experience in modern terms without using either international styles or traditional conventions, developed new inner visions. Yoshikichi Furui tellingly related the lives of alienated urban dwellers coping with the minutiae of daily life, while the psychodramas within such daily life crises have been explored by a rising number of important women novelists. The 1988 Naoki Prize went to Shizuko Todo for "Ripening Summer", a story capturing the complex psychology of modern women. Other award-winning stories at the end of the decade dealt with current issues of the elderly in hospitals, the recent past (Pure- Hearted Shopping District in Kōenji, Tokyo), and the life of a Meiji period ukiyo-e artist. In international literature, Kazuo Ishiguro, a native of Japan, had taken up residence in Britain and won Britain's prestigious Booker Prize.

Haruki Murakami is one of the most popular and controversial of today's Japanese authors. His genre-defying, humorous and surreal works have sparked fierce debates in Japan over whether they are true "literature" or simple pop-fiction: Kenzaburo Oe has been one of his harshest critics. Some of his best-known works include "Norwegian Wood" (1987) and "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle" (1994–1995). Another best-selling contemporary author is Banana Yoshimoto.

Although modern Japanese writers covered a wide variety of subjects, one particularly Japanese approach stressed their subjects' inner lives, widening the earlier novel's preoccupation with the narrator's consciousness. In Japanese fiction, plot development and action have often been of secondary interest to emotional issues. In keeping with the general trend toward reaffirming national characteristics, many old themes re-emerged, and some authors turned consciously to the past. Strikingly, Buddhist attitudes about the importance of knowing oneself and the poignant impermanence of things formed an undercurrent to sharp social criticism of this material age. There was a growing emphasis on women's roles, the Japanese persona in the modern world, and the malaise of common people lost in the complexities of urban culture.

Popular fiction, non-fiction, and children's literature all flourished in urban Japan in the 1980s. Many popular works fell between "pure literature" and pulp novels, including all sorts of historical serials, information-packed docudramas, science fiction, mysteries, detective fiction, business stories, war journals, and animal stories. Non-fiction covered everything from crime to politics. Although factual journalism predominated, many of these works were interpretive, reflecting a high degree of individualism. Children's works re-emerged in the 1950s, and the newer entrants into this field, many of them younger women, brought new vitality to it in the 1980s.

Manga (comic books) have penetrated almost every sector of the popular market. They include virtually every field of human interest, such as a multi volume high-school history of Japan and, for the adult market, a manga introduction to economics, and pornography. Manga represented between 20 and 30 percent of annual publications at the end of the 1980s, in sales of some ¥400 billion per year.

ignificant authors and works

Famous authors and literary works of significant stature are listed in chronological order below. For an exhaustive list of authors see List of Japanese authors:

Classical literature

* Ōtomo no Yakamochi (c.717–785): "Man'yōshū"
* Sei Shōnagon (c.~966–c.10??): "The Pillow Book"
* Murasaki Shikibu (c.973–c.1025): "The Tale of Genji"

Medieval literature

* Yoshida Kenkō (c.1283–1352): "Tsurezuregusa"
* "The Tale of the Heike" (1371)

Early-modern literature

* Ihara Saikaku (1642–1693)
* Matsuo Bashō (1644–1694)
* Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653–1725)
* Ueda Akinari (1734–1809)
* Santō Kyōden (1761–1816)
* Jippensha Ikku (1765–1831)
* Kyokutei Bakin (1767–1848)
* "Edo Meisho Zue" (travelogue, 1834)
* "Hokuetsu Seppu" (work of human geography, 1837)

Modern literature

* Mori Ōgai (1862–1922)
* Ozaki Koyo (1867–1903)
* Natsume Sōseki (1867–1916)
* Kyoka Izumi (1873–1939)
* Yonejiro Noguchi (1875-1947)
* Naoya Shiga (1883–1971)
* Takuboku Ishikawa (1886–1912)
* Jun'ichirō Tanizaki (1886–1965)
* Ryūnosuke Akutagawa (1892–1927)
* Eiji Yoshikawa (1892–1962)
* Mitsuharu Kaneko (1895–1975)
* Kenji Miyazawa (1896–1933)
* Denji Kuroshima (1898–1943)
* Shigeji Tsuboi (1898–1975)
* Jun Ishikawa (1899–1987)
* Yasunari Kawabata (1899–1972)
* Yuriko Miyamoto (1899–1951)
* Sakae Tsuboi (1900–1967)
* Hideo Oguma (1901–1940)
* Takiji Kobayashi (1903–1933)
* Tatsuzo Ishikawa (1905-1985)
* Osamu Dazai (1909–1948)
* Shusaku Endo (1923–1996)
* Kōbō Abe (1924–1993)
* Yukio Mishima (1925–1970)
* Hisashi Inoue (1933–)
* Kenzaburō Ōe (1935–)
* Michiko Yamamoto (1936–)
* Kenji Nakagami (1946–1992)
* Haruki Murakami (1949–)
* Ryu Murakami (1952–)
* Banana Yoshimoto (1964–)

Awards and contests


*Birnbaum, A., (ed.)." Monkey Brain Sushi: New Tastes in Japanese Fiction". Kodansha International (JPN).
*Donald Keene
**"Modern Japanese Literature", Grove Press, 1956. ISBN 0-384-17254-X
**"World Within Walls: Japanese Literature of The Pre-Modern Era 1600–1867", Columbia University Press © 1976 reprinted 1999 ISBN 0-231-11467-2
**"Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature in the Modern Era, Poetry, Drama, Criticism", Columbia University Press © 1984 reprinted 1998 ISBN 0-231-11435-4
**"Travellers of a Hundred Ages: The Japanese as Revealed Through 1,000 Years of Diaries", Columbia University Press © 1989 reprinted 1999 ISBN 0-231-11437-0
**"Seeds in the Heart: Japanese Literature from the Earliest Times to the Late Sixteenth Century", Columbia University Press © 1993 reprinted 1999 ISBN 0-231-11441-9
*McCullough, Helen Craig, "Classical Japanese prose : an anthology", Stanford, Calif. : Stanford University Press, 1990, ISBN 0804716285
*Miner, Earl Roy, Odagiri, Hiroko, and Morrell, Robert E., "The Princeton companion to classical Japanese literature", Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, 1985. ISBN 0691065993
* Ema Tsutomu, Taniyama Shigeru, Ino Kenji, "nihongo|Shinshū Kokugo Sōran|新修国語総覧|" Kyoto Shobō © 1977 revised 1981 reprinted 1982

ee also

* List of Japanese authors
* List of Japanese classic texts
* Japanese poetry
* Aozora Bunko for a repository of Japanese literature

External links

Online text libraries

* [http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/japanese/ Japanese Text Initiative] , University of Virginia Library Electronic Text Center
* [http://www.meijigakuin.ac.jp/~pmjs/trans/index.html Premodern Japanese Texts and Translations] , Michael Watson, Meiji Gakuin University
* [http://www.nijl.ac.jp/index_e.html National Institute of Japanese Literature (国文学研究資料館)] and its [http://base3.nijl.ac.jp/Rcgi-bin/hon_home.cgi service for searching] the text of Iwanami Shoten’s 100-volume "Nihon koten bungaku taikei" (日本古典文學大系) anthology of classical Japanese texts ja icon
* [http://www.j-texts.com/ J-Texts (日本文学電子図書館)] Many text of Japanese classical literature ja icon
* [http://homepage1.nifty.com/mshibata/s100.htm The Shinchō Bunko “100 books” series, CD-ROM version] and a [http://homepage1.nifty.com/mshibata/etext-i.htm list of electronic texts] ja icon
* [ftp://ftp.cc.yamaguchi-u.ac.jp/pub/text/jallc/ Japan Association of Literary and Linguistic Computing (JALLC) FTP text archives] ja icon
* [http://www.japanpen.or.jp/e-bungeikan/x/xhome.html Japan P.E.N. Club digital library] ja icon
* [http://www.eonet.ne.jp/~log-inn/ 電子図書館 書籍デジタル化委員会] A digital library ja icon
* [http://www.ucalgary.ca/~xyang/05other.html A mini-collection of modern Japanese literature] , X. Jie Yang, University of Calgary


* [http://www.jlpp.jp/en/ Japanese Literature Publishing Project] , the Agency for Cultural Affairs of Japan
* [http://www.columbia.edu/cu/ealac/jpnlit/pdf/BibliographyforResearchinJapaneseLiterature.pdf Bibliography for Research in Japanese Literature] , Haruo Shirane, Columbia University
* [http://www.jlit.net/ The Japanese Literature Home Page] , Mark Jewel, Waseda University
* [http://mockingbird.creighton.edu/english/worldlit/wldocs/japan.htm Japanese Literature Resources Page] , Fidel Fajardo-Acosta, Creighton University
* [http://www.japan.culturalprofiles.net Japan Cultural Profile] : national portal for culture in Japan created by Visiting Arts, Japan Foundation
* [http://www.city.kamakura.kanagawa.jp/bunka/bunjinroku/index_e.html Literary figures associated with Kamakura] at [http://www.city.kamakura.kanagawa.jp/english/index.htm Kamakura GreenNet] , the City of Kamakura website
* [http://www.konan-wu.ac.jp/~kikuchi/link/linkd.html A list of text files of Japanese literature] ja icon
* [http://jcmac5.jc.meisei-u.ac.jp/etext-i.htm Another list of text files of Japanese literature from the Nara period to modern] ja icon
* [http://www.ne.jp/asahi/nihongo/okajima/bungaku.htm Yet another list of text files of Japanese literature] ja icon
* [http://www.columbia.edu/~hds2/BIB95/00e-texts_shimazaki.htm Electronic texts of pre-modern Japanese literature by Satoko Shimazaki]
* [http://www.jlit.net/awards/awards_a_to_m.html#top List of literary awards] for fiction and nonfiction.
* [http://www.shokoku.ac.jp/~nakazawa/bungaku.html List of museums in Japan dedicated to specific authors] ja icon

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