Japanese Language

Japanese literature. Moreover, you will find other useful resources about Japanese like words, schools, Japanese literature and more

Japanese Literature

Japanese literature spans a period of almost two millennia of writing. Early work was heavily influenced by Chinese literature, but Japan quickly developed a style and quality of its own. When Japan reopened its ports to Western trading and diplomacy in the 19th century, Western Literature had a strong effect on Japanese writers, and this influence is still seen today.

As with all literature, Japanese literature is best read in the original. Due to deep linguistic and cultural differences, many Japanese words and phrases are not easily translated. Although Japanese literature and Japanese authors are perhaps not as well known in the west as those in the European and American canons, Japan possesses an ancient and rich literary tradition that draws upon a millennium and a half of written records.

Nara Period (710-794)

Japanese literature traces its beginnings to oral traditions that were first recorded in written form in the early eighth century after a writing system was introduced from China. The Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters) and Nihon shoki (Chronicle of Japan) were completed in 712 and 720, respectively, as government projects. The most brilliant literary product of this period was the Man'yoshu (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves), an anthology of 4,500 poems composed by people ranging from unknown commoners to emperors and compiled around 759. Already emerging was a verse form comprising 31 syllables (5-7-5-7-7) known as tanka. In 905 the Kokin wakashu or Kokinshu (Collection of Poems from Ancient and Modern Times) was published as the first poetry anthology commissioned by an emperor; its preface paid high tribute to the vast possibilities of literature.

Heian Period (794-1185)

In the resplendent aristocratic culture that thrived early in the eleventh century, a time when the use of the hiragana alphabet derived from Chinese characters had become widespread, court ladies played the central role in developing literature. One of them, Murasaki Shikibu wrote the 54-chapter novel Genji monogatari (Tale of Genji) [in ealy 11 century, ca 1008?], while another, Sei Shonagon, wrote Makura no soshi (The Pillow Book), a diverse collection of jottings and essays [around 996]. Others also wrote diaries and stories, and their psychological portrayals remain fresh and vivid to present-day readers. The appearance of the Konjaku monogatari (Tales of a Time That Is Now Past) around 1120 added a new dimension to literature. This collection of more than 1,000 Buddhist and secular tales from India, China, and Japan is particularly notable for its rich descriptions of the lives of the nobility and common people in Japan at that time.

Kamakura-Muromachi Period (1185-1573)

In the latter half of the twelfth century warriors of the Taira clan (Heike) seized political power at the imperial court, virtually forming a new aristocracy. Heike mono-gatari (The Tale of the Heike), which depicts the rise and fall of the Taira with the spotlight on their wars with the Minamoto clan (Genji), was completed in the first half of the thirteenth century. This period also produced literature by recluses, typified by Kamo no Chomei's Hojoki (An Account of My Hut) [1212] , which reflects on the uncertainty of existence, and Yoshida Kenko's Tsurezuregusa (Essays in Idleness) [ca 1330] , a work marked by penetrating reflections on life. Both works raise the question of spiritual salvation.

Edo Period (1603-1868)

Two giants emerged in the field of prose: Ihara Saikaku, who realistically portrayed the life of Osaka merchants, and Chikamatsu Monzaemon, who wrote joruri, a form of storytelling involving chanted lines, and kabuki plays. These writers brought about a great flowering of literature. Later Yosa Buson composed superb haiku depicting nature, while fiction writer Ueda Akinari produced a collection of gothic stories called Ugetsu monogatari (Tales of Moonlight and Rain) [1776] .

Meiji Period to present

The Meiji period was when Japan, under Western influence, took the first steps toward developing a modern literature. In the Meiji era unification of the written and spoken language was advocated, and Futabatei Shimei's Ukigumo (Drifting Clouds) [1887] won acclaim as a new form of novel. In poetry circles the influence of translated foreign poems led to a "new style" poetry movement and the scope of literary forms continued to widen. Novelists Mori Ogai and Natsume Soseki studied in Germany and Britain, respectively, and their works reflect the influence of the literature of those countries. Soseki nurtured many talented literary figures. One of them, Akutagawa Ryunosuke, wrote many superb novelettes based on his detailed knowledge of the Japanese classics. His suicide in 1927 was seen as a symbol of the agony Japan was experiencing in the process of rapid modernization, a major theme of modern Japanese literature. In 1968 Kawabata Yasunari became the first Japanese to win the Nobel Prize for literature, and Oe Kenzaburo won it in 1994. They and other contemporary writers, such as Tanizaki Jun'ichiro, Mishima Yukio, Abe Kobo, and Inoue Yasushi, have been translated into other languages.