Japanese Literature

Ancient, Medieval and Modern Periods

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. 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.

Ancient Literature
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

Classical literature (The Heian Period)

Golden era of Japanese 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 at that time: Kokin Wakashū (905) and The Pillow Book (990s), the latter written by Murasaki Shikibu's contemporary and rival, Sei Shonagon, as an essay about the life, loves, and pastimes of nobles in the Emperor's court. Iroha Poem One of two standard orderings for the Japanese syllabary.

Classical literature (The Heian Period)

In this time the imperial court patronized the

poets, most of whom were courtiers or ladiesin-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 literature
Medieval Japanese Literature is marked by the

strong influence of Zen Buddhism, where characters are priests, travelers, or ascetic poets.
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.

Works from this period is notable for its insights

into life and death, simple lifestyles, and redemption through killing.

Medieval literature
Important works at that time:
 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.

 Kamo no Chōmei's Hōjōki (1212)  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.

Early-Modern Literature
 Literature during this time was written during the largely

peaceful Tokugawa Period (commonly referred to as the Edo Period). classes in the new capital of Edo (modern Tokyo), forms of popular drama developed which would later evolve into kabuki. became popular at the end of the 17th century. 1702), a travel diary.

 Due in large part to the rise of the working and middle

 The joruri and kabuki dramatist Chikamatsu Monzaemon

 Matsuo Bashō wrote Oku no Hosomichi ( 奥の細道 ,

 Hokusai, perhaps Japan's most famous woodblock print

artist, also illustrated fiction as well as his famous 36 Views of Mount Fuji.

Early-Modern Literature
 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.

 Important works:

Early-Modern Literature
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. Kyokutei Bakin wrote the extremely popular fantasy/historical romance Nansō Satomi Hakkenden 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.

Meiji, Taisho, and Early Showa Literature 

The Meiji era marks the re-opening of Japan to the West, and a period of rapid industrialization. The introduction of European literature 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.

Meiji, Taisho, and Early Showa Literature Meiji era (1868-1880s), Fukuzawa In the early
Yukichi and Nakae Chomin authored Enlightenment literature, while pre-modern popular books depicted the quickly changing country. Realism was brought in by Tsubouchi Shoyo and Futabatei Shimei in the mid-Meiji (late 1880s - early 1890s) while Classicism of Ozaki Koyo, Yamada Bimyo and Koda Rohan gained popularity. Higuchi Ichiyo, 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.

Post World 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.  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, Oe Kenzaburo wrote his best-known work, A Personal Matter in 1964 and became Japan's second winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.  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

Post World War Literature
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.


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