Modern Japanese Literature
Modern Japanese Literature
The modern period in Japanese literature dates from the Meiji Restoration of 1868 and encompasses the Meiji (1868-1912), Taisho (1912-1926), and Showa (1926-present) periods in Japanese political history.
During the Meiji era, such novelists as Futabatei Shimei and Shimazaki Toson sought to devise a new literature that rejected the traditional native forms and subjects in favor of ideas borrowed from contemporary Western literature. Among the most significant Western concepts to gain currency with Japanese writers of the period was the notion of individualism, which found uniquely Japanese expression in the confessional narratives of the shishosetsu, or I-novel. The loneliness of the self-aware individual became a sustained theme in novels of the period, notably in the works of Natsume Soseki. In addition, developments in fiction during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries included colloquial reform of highly-stylized literary language and the rise of Naturalism, bringing with it a focus on ordinary protagonists and situations drawn from everyday life. Together these changes served to elevate the position of fiction within Japanese literature from mere entertainment into an art form of critical merit and social relevance. Writers of the Taisho and Showa periods continued formal experimentation, and individual authors embraced a variety of currents in world literature, including Marxism, Modernism, and—following the nuclear devastation of World War II—nihilism.
Throughout the phenomenal prosperity that has brought Japan to the forefront of the world economy since the 1970s, the condition of the individual in contemporary society has remained a prominent literary theme, as evidenced by the works of Abe Kobo, Nakagami Kenji, and others. While the period since 1868 has been dominated by innovations in prose, Japanese drama and lyric poetry have seen parallel developments. In drama, the stylized traditional forms of no, kabuki, and bunraku were maintained by classicists, although translations of Western theatrical productions and the development of shingeki, or "new drama," have gained prominence since World War II. In poetry, the introduction of Western concepts of free verse and the transformation, by Kawahigashi Hekigodo and others, of the traditional haiku form into a mode of self-expression represent significant innovations of the period.
* Representative Works
Suna no onna [The Woman in the Dunes] (novel) 1962
Hako otoko [The Box Man] (novel) 1973
Ma no isan [Devil's Heritage] (novel) 1952
Rashomon, and Other Stories (short stories) 1952
Exotic Japanese Stories (short stories) 1964
Aru onna [A Certain Woman] (novel) 1919
Shayo [Setting Sun] (novel) 1947
Ningen shikkaku [No Longer Human] (novel) 1948
Onnazaka [The Waiting Years] (novel) 1957
Umi to dokuyaku [The Sea and Poison] (novel) 1958
Chimmoku [Silence] (novel) 1966
Kuchibue o fuku toki [When I Whistle] (novel) 1975
Sukyandaru [Scandal] (novel) 1986
Ukigumo [Drifting Clouds] (novel) 1887
Tsuki ni hoeru [Howling at the Moon] (poetry) 1917
Ukigumo [The Floating Cloud] (novel) 1953
Matsuri no ba [Ritual of Death] (novella) 1975
Takekurabe [Growing Up] (novella) 1895
Kuroi ame [Black Rain] (novel) 1966
Ryoju [The Hunting Gun]...
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SOURCE: "The Creation of Modern Japanese Poetry," in Landscapes and Portraits: Appreciations of Japanese Culture, Kodansha International Ltd., 1971, pp. 131-56.
[In the following essay, Keene charts the transition of Japanese poetry during the Meiji era from traditional tanka and haiku forms to shintaishi, or "new-style poems," and also surveys later innovations in Japanese poetic techniques and themes.]
Modern Japanese poetry, like everything else modern in Japan, is generally traced back to the accession to undisputed authority of the Emperor Meiji in 1868. This political event did not immediately inspire floods of poetic composition; in fact, as far as I can determine, not a single poet sang the glories of the new reign, and no book of poetry of consequence was published for some years afterwards. But the new Emperor was to show himself conspicuously unlike many generations of his ancestors, rulers whose arrivals, activities and departures had been of little concern to poets. Though the Emperor's direct role in the movement of modernization was minor, he set the spirit of the new age in his oath taken in 1868, when he promised, among other things, to end old ignorance and to seek learning throughout the world. Poets were soon to call themselves proudly "Meiji men," meaning that they belonged to the new, enlightened generation.
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J. Thomas Rimer
SOURCE: "Japanese Theatre: Languages and Pilgrimage," in Pilgrimages: Aspects of Japanese Literature and Culture, University of Hawaii Press, 1988, pp. 71-90.
[In the following essay, Rimer provides a historical overview of Japanese theater, focusing on three representative works of classical and modern Japanese drama.]
When I first began to attend performances by Japanese contemporary theatre companies in the 1950s, I was puzzled by what I took to be a disparity between the power of the texts chosen for performance and the quality of the acting available to make those texts come alive on the stage. To see Pirandello, Molière, and Kinoshita on the stage in Japan was a rare opportunity, and yet the performances, for all their polish, seemed to lack any real natural elegance. The thoughts that follow here, in fact, have grown from that initial sense of surprise and, perhaps, of disappointment.
The first help I received came in the form of a few paragraphs in Peter Arnott's The Theatres of Japan. Arnott, an expert on the Greek classic theatre who visited Japan in 1966, revealed his conception of an important distinction he found between Japanese and Western performing technique.
The gulf between the Japanese theatre and its Western counterpart embraces more than different social standards and unfamiliar...
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Noriko Mizuta Lippit
SOURCE: "Ironic Perspective and Self-Dramatization in the Confessional I-Novel of Japan," in Reality and Fiction in Modern Japanese Literature, M. E. Sharpe, Inc., 1980, pp. 13-38.
[In the following essay, Lippit examines the types and major characteristics of the Japanese "I-novel. "]
The most peculiarly characteristic form of the modern Japanese novel is the I-novel, in which the author appears as the protagonist and describes his private affairs and experiences. Avoiding the use of fictional devices, the author presents his state of mind, ideas and realization almost directly. Not only is the subject matter narrowly confined to the author's personal life and experience, but the perspective is almost entirely limited to that of the author-protagonist, and the novel typically lacks such structural and fictional mediation as plot, story-development, dramatic tension and characterization. The author's inward-turning eye observes his inner self in minute detail, leading to a profound insight, a distilled and crystallized sensibility, and a heightened awareness of life which make this type of novel close to poetry, while the lack of fictional devices brings it close to the impressionistic essay and diary.
At the same time, writing about oneself is an act of exposing the hidden self and desire, and often constitutes a challenge to the norms of...
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Robert E. Morrell
SOURCE: "A Selection of New Style Verse (Shintaishisho, 1882)," in Literature East and West, Vol. XIX, Nos. 1-4, January-December, 1975, pp. 9-33.
[In the following essay, Morrell elucidates the influence on Japanese poetry of Shintaishio, an anthology of western poetry published in Japanese translation in 1882.]
In August, 1882, Maruzen Bookstore in Tokyo—still a favorite haunt for the foreign traveler in Japan—published a small booklet of nineteen poems, fourteen translations from English and five original pieces. The collection's three authors were all professors at Tokyo University; they were not professional poets. The youngest was Inoue Tetsujiro (1855-1944), 27 years old and just that year appointed as Assistant Professor. Two years later, in 1884, he would go to Germany for six years of study, returning to Japan in 1890 to become one of the most distinguished and influential philosophers of the age. Inoue died in 1944.
The other two authors, who contributed most of the poems to the anthology (9 each), had come to the United States together in 1870 for extended periods of study. Toyama Shoichi (1848-1900), after working for a short time at the Japanese legation in Washington, attended high school in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and went on for three years at the University of Michigan, where he became acquainted with the works...
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Hibbett, Howard, ed. Contemporary Japanese Literature: An Anthology of Fiction, Film, and Other Writing since 1945. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993, 468 p.
Includes works not previously translated into English by such writers as Kurahashi Yumiko, Abe Kobo, Mishima Yukio, Nagai Tatsuo, and Tanizaki Jun'ichiro.
Anderson, G. L. "Japan: Modern Literature." In Asian Literature in English: A Guide to Information Sources, pp. 139-69. Detroit: Gale Research, 1981.
Annotated guide to primary and secondary sources.
Marks, Alfred H. and Bort, Barry D. Guide to Japanese Prose. Boston: G. K. Hall & Company, 1984, 186 p.
Descriptive bibliography of poetry, drama, and fiction anthologies and secondary sources divided into two sections: "Pre-Meiji Literature (Beginnings to 1867)" and "Meiji Literature and After (1868 to Present)."
Modern Japanese Literature in Translation: A Bibliography. Tokyo, New York, and San Francisco: Kodansha International, 1979, 311 p.
Lists translations into English and European languages of Japanese literature published since 1868.
Rimer, J. Thomas, and Morrell, Robert, E. Guide to Japanese Poetry. Rev. Ed. Boston: G. K. Hall & Co., 1984, 189 p.
(The entire section is 776 words.)