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Facts of Japan - Books and Literature

Updated on June 8, 2011

Japan’s literature was quite extensively influenced by the Chinese Literature because of its closest cultural contacts with China and of course, Chinese literature which was mostly written in Chinese classic. Apart from that Japan had its share of influence of Indian literature as well through Buddhism.

But gradually Japan developed its own style and began writing their own books that were rich in culture. By the end of seclusion period, when Japan opened its doors to the world, the literature was also influenced by the western culture.

The literature of Japan was spanning over a long period that it can be divided into four major divisions or periods. They are Ancient literature, Classical literature, Medieval Literature and the Modern literature.

Fragment of Kojiki chronicles form 712 AD.
Fragment of Kojiki chronicles form 712 AD.
Scrap of Genji Monogatari scroll.
Scrap of Genji Monogatari scroll.

Ancient Literature

The ancient literature period extended up to 794 AD. During that period the Japanese, in reality, had no writing system. They only used Chinese characters in syntactical formats of Japan. So the writing and sentences looked like Chinese. But it was phonetically read as Japanese. The Chinese characters thus used were further adapted and Manyogana, the original form of Kana, or the syllabic writing was created. Using this, the first works were created during the Nara Period. They were called Kojiki and Nihon Shoki. Kojiki was a good work and it recorded the Japanese Mythology and its legendary history. It was written in 712 AD. Nihon Shoki was a chronicle. It recorded quite a solid foundation in Japan’s history. It was written in 720 AD. Then there was Manyoshu, which was written in 759 AD, was a poetic anthology.

Classic Literature

During heian period, the classic literature developed so much and flourished. Truly, the Heian period was the Golden period for Japan’s literature. During the early 11th century, a woman named Murasaki Shikibu wrote Genji Monogatari. It was written in the form of a novel and was considered a Masterpiece of the Heian Period. Kokin Wakashu, an anthology of Waka Poetry, Makura no Soshi, an essay about love, Life and pastimes of noble were the important works done in this period. The iroha poem was also created in this period only.

A science fiction, Taketori Monogatari was created during the 10th century. Another fictional piece of Japanese literature was called Konjaku Monogatarishu was really an amazing collection of more than a thousand stories extending to 31 volumes. They cover many of the tales from China, India and Japan.

Kaguya Hime (princess) - Taketori Monogatari.
Kaguya Hime (princess) - Taketori Monogatari.
Cover of romantic story (ninjobon) Tamenaga Shunsui (1790-1843).
Cover of romantic story (ninjobon) Tamenaga Shunsui (1790-1843).

Medieval Literature

It was a period of Civil wars in Japan and so the works also reflected the life, death and redemption through the killing. The Tale of the Heike, written in 1371, records an epic account of the war and struggles between the clans, Minamoto and Taira.

During the early Muramachi period, Renga and Noh were created.

Early Modern Literature

This period is commonly referred to as the Edo period which was mostly peaceful and so the Japanese culture and art and drama developed. Apart from Oko no Hosomichi, a travel diary by Matsuo Basho, the famous 36 views of Mount Fiji was presented by Hokusai in this period.

During the Tokugawa period, the great scholarly works were published in Chinese only.

Modern Literature

The Meiji Restoration marked the end of seclusion of Japan and the western culture and European Literature influenced the writing of this era. A form of colloquial literature developed in this period. Some writers presented enlightenment literature as well. With more writings on romanticism, satire the style slowly shifted to Naturalism later.

In 1920s and 1930s, some writers began radical literature that depicted the hard lives of peasants, women and workers. Tales of love and sensuality were written during the war times.

Post war Literature

After war, Japan’s defeat had its effect in its literature. Intellectual and moral issues sprung up. Social and political consciousness was the order of those writings. Avant-garde writers came into force. Popular fiction, children’s literature bloomed in Japan. Comic books like Manga spread through Japan.The Literature in Japan today is surely at its best.

Manga - the literature of modern Japan


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    • loonyBG profile image

      loonyBG 6 years ago

      Thanks raxit02 for Your opinion. And You have right, Kanji can be tough. I try to master it, but its really hard :)

    • raxit02 profile image

      raxit02 6 years ago from Amsterdam, The Netherlands

      wow,its about Japan! You know, it is hard to access the japan information as their language is different than English. The letters used in Japanese are of three types a. Higaraga b. Katakana c. Kaanji. The Kanjis are the toughest things to capture. These are the pictorial depiction of various expressions which a learner require to store in his memory. There are 3200 independent Kaanji latters.

      Thank you for this Japanese information.