Japanese Literature: An Introduction for Western Readers

By Donald Keene | Go to book overview

I. INTRODUCTION

JAPANESS literature, in spite of its beauty, richness and immediate charm, is as yet inadequately known in the West. The reasons for this neglect are not hard to discover. The intricacies of the Japanese language prevent all but a handful of foreigners from approaching the literature in the original, and the uninspired nature of many translations often causes the enthusiasm of the most adventurous-minded reader to cool. The good translations which do exist, notably those by Arthur Waley, have won their circle of admirers, but many Western readers remain reluctant to extend their interests in the direction of Japanese literature, if only because of a widespread belief that since the Japanese are a "race of imitatos", their literature can be no more than a pale reflection of the Chinese.

The question of the degree of Japan's indebtedness to China is so basic that I must discuss it briefly, before going on to any more critical consideration of the literature. It would be impossible to deny the enormous role played by China in the development of Japanese civilization. The method of writing, the philosophy, much of the religion, and certain literary genres had their origin in China, and Japanese have at all times professed the greatest admiration for the older culture, frequently paying it the supreme compliment of imitation. But if this is true of Japan's relationship to China it is equally true of France's and even England's to the classical world, although we do not say of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra or of Racine's Phèdre that they are "nothing but" imitations. I do not think it fair, either, to say it about those Japanese works which obviously have their roots in China. With the exception of very short

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Japanese Literature: An Introduction for Western Readers
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • I. Introduction 1
  • Ii. Japanese Poetry 22
  • Iii. the Japanese Theatre 47
  • Iv. the Japanese Novel 67
  • V. Japanese Literature Under Western Influence 88
  • SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY 111
  • Index 113
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