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Japanese literature facts for kids

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Onomichi LiteraturePath Steps
Path of Literature, Onomichi, Japan

Early works of Japanese literature were heavily influenced by cultural contact with China and Chinese literature, often written in Classical Chinese. Indian literature also had an influence through the separation of Buddhism in Japan. Eventually, Japanese literature developed into a separate style, although the influence of Chinese literature and Classical Chinese remained until the end of the Edo period. Since Japan reopened its ports to Western trading and diplomacy in the 19th century, Western and Eastern literature have strongly affected each other and continue to do so.

As with all literature, Japanese literature is best read in the original form. Due to vast linguistic and cultural differences, many Japanese words and phrases are not easily translatable. Although Japanese literature and Japanese authors are perhaps not as well known in the west compared to European and American canons, Japan owns an old and rich literary tradition that draws upon thousands of years of culture and experience.


Meiji University Japan modern literature library
Meiji University Japan modern literature library

Japanese Literature is generally divided into three main periods: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern.

Ancient Japanese literature (generally pre 12th Century) includes Kojiki, The Pillow Book, The Tale of Genji, where content centers around the life, love, and pastimes of nobles in the Emperor`s court.

Medieval Japanese Literature (12th Century - 19th Century) is marked by its strong influence of Zen Buddhism, where characters are priests, travellers, or ascetic poets.

Modern Japanese Literature (Late 19th Century - Present) parallels the opening of Japan and exposure to the West. A unique literary form, the shishousetsu, or self-centered short story, came into its own beginning in the Modern period. These short stories often have the writer himself as the main character. Modern literature combined the influences from previous Zen writings, and placed them in modern settings, where rapid progress in the world served to heighten the alienation felt by the author.

The Future of Japanese Literature

Entering the 21st century, there is controversy whether the rise in popular forms of entertainment such as manga and anime has caused a decline in the quality of literature in Japan. The counter-argument is that manga has positively affected modern literature by encouraging younger people to read more.

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Murasaki Shikibu, the author of The Tale of Genji

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