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Literature and Writing

Japanese Literature

Tokugawa period, Muromachi period, Japanese novel, Meiji Restoration, Heian period

Deeper web pages:

>  Early Japanese Literature (Ancient Times to Late 700s)

>  Heian Period (794-1185)

>  Kamakura Period (1185-1333)

>  Muromachi Period (1333-1603)

>  Tokugawa Period (1603-1868)

>  Modern Period (1868-Present)

Japanese Literature, literature of Japan, in written form from at least the 8th century ad to the present. Japanese literature is one of the oldest and richest national literatures. Since the late 1800s, Japanese writings have become increasingly familiar abroad. Genres such as haiku verse, no drama, and the Japanese novel have had a substantial impact on literature in many parts of the world.

The literary history of Japan, like the history of the country itself, has been marked by alternating periods of isolation from the outside world and engagement with it. During times of greater contact with foreign societies, Japanese literature absorbed new approaches, genres, and concepts.

Another consistent factor in Japanese literature over the centuries has been a tension between the generally traditionalist values of the elite members of society and the innovative impulses that have come from the culture of common people. Both camps influenced each other, and both contributed greatly to Japanese literary history.

Other distinctive qualities of Japanese literature include sensitivity to the place of nature in human life, an emphasis on sincerity of expression, and the uncommon prominence of female writers, as compared with the literary histories of most cultures.

Scholars customarily divide the general history of Japan into periods based on shifts in the location of the national capital and changes in governmental institutions, such as the Heian period (794-1185), the Muromachi period (1333-1603), and the Tokugawa period (1603-1868). The literary history of Japan can be broken down according to these same periods. The major dividing line between the traditional and modern periods of the country is conventionally set at the Meiji Restoration of 1868, which also signaled a new era of modernization and contact with the West.


Cohn, Joel R.

Associate Professor of Japanese, University of Hawaii at Manoa. Author of "Studies in the Comic Spirit in Modern Japanese Fiction".

Article key phrases:

Tokugawa period, Muromachi period, Japanese novel, Meiji Restoration, Heian period, Japanese Literature, written form, national capital, outside world, human life, sensitivity, shifts, tension, drama, world, centuries, emphasis, engagement, present, West, country, concepts, location, Scholars, genres, changes, parts, camps

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