Japanese Literature Essay, Research Paper
Japan has provided the world with some of the greatest novelists, poets and essayists ever known. Starting with the writings of the Nara period during the mid-eighth century and continuing until today, great writers have blossomed from the islands of this small eastern nation. Although influenced heavily by China, where the Japanese are believed to have migrated from approximately 3000 years ago, Japanese writers have come to develop a truly unique style (Albert 504).
Otomo Yakamochi is credited with compiling the finest collection of poems ever in Japan. The Manyoshu, which was composed in the late eighth century, is translated into English as Collection of 10,000 Leaves. The most famous poet who contributed to this work was Kakinomoto Hitomaro (Japan 793). According to the Encyclopedia Americana, “his finest elegies have a sweep and power that few if any later poets equaled” (794). He used a longer form of poetry that was rare in his time; yet he did it successfully (Japan 794). Hitmaro was peerless when straying from the crowd could be tremendously harmful and while doing so gained eternal prestige.
Approximately 990 another writer came onto the scene in Japan. This time it was a female named Sei Shonagon. The Pillow Book, the work that made her famous, was not even meant to be public. In actuality it was her private journal. This work is so great because of its vivid sketches and the image it presents of Shonagon’s personality (Albert 590). In this writing she expresses her longing for privacy, and she even goes into the details of how she hides the journal. Ironically it was found and published (Albert 579).
Kawabata Yasunari is considered most successful short story writer to the Japanese. Even though he wrote novels, including Snow Country and A Thousand Cranes, he considered them to merely be series’ of short stories (Kato 244). A Japanese writer had never won the Nobel Prize for Literature until he did for The Old Capitol in 1968 (Keene 786). Kawabata found prosperity by bounding the scope of his writing mainly to females, and the feminine qualities of everything (Kato 243). On April 16, 1972 he committed suicide by inhaling gas for unknown reasons. Even though he wrote several notable works, his most prestigious distinction may not be the winning of the Noble Prize. It may be the talents he found and refined in a young Mishima Yukio (Keene 839).
It was best said by Professor Donald Keene, “Mishima was the most gifted and achieved the most of all the writers who appeared after the war. If we feel on surveying the massive literary production he left behind that he still did not attain the ranks of the undisputed masters of the century, he probably came as close as any Japanese” (Keene 1216). He gained much knowledge from his mentor Kawabata Yasunari, and in the eyes of many even surpassed Kawabata’s talents. Among his novels are Confessions of a Mask (1949) and The Temple of the Golden Pavilion (1956). His four-volume epic The Sea of Fertility (1970) is about the transformation of Japan into a modern but sterile society. However, much of the attention left his writing on November 25, 1970 with his sensational death. After he led a group of armed radicals into the commanding general’s headquarters; he publicly committed a classical Japanese style suicide. His death was regarded as his final protest against modern Japanese weakness (Keene 1171-1178).
Japanese Literature was looked upon with mainly with ignorance by most of the world until the suicides of the nation’s two leading writers brought it interest. This merely opened the door for the overlooked writers of this neglected nation. Japanese literature today is enjoying an increasing number of readers outside of Japan, not merely for its exotic charm, but because of its universal merits. The writers of Japan have contributed and will continue to contribute to the literature of the world for years to come.
Albert, Susan. World Literature. Austin: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1998.
“Japan.” Encyclopedia Americana. 1994 ed.
Kato, Shuichi. A History of Japanese Literature. Tokyo: Kodanasha
Keene, Donald. Dawn to the West. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston,