Modern Japanese Literature: An Anthology

Modern Japanese Literature: An Anthology

Modern Japanese Literature: An Anthology

Modern Japanese Literature: An Anthology

Excerpt

The transformation of Japan within the space of about forty years from an obscure oriental monarchy to one of the great powers is accounted a miracle of the modern age. With the most rapid efforts Japan shook off the encumbering weight of a past of isolation and ignorance, and astonished the world by victory in a war with Russia and the winning of an equal alliance with England. Military successes and the development of industrial enterprises--and also the growth of scientific learning--made Japan the leader of eastern Asia.

Many striking parallels may be drawn between the history and the literature of Japan during this period. In 1868, when the youthful Emperor Meiji assumed control of the government after six centuries of rule by military men, Japanese literature had dropped to one of its lowest levels. The popular authors of the time specialized in books of formless, almost meaningless gossip. The country, which had been turned in on itself during almost 250 years of isolation, seemed to have exhausted its own resources. The gaiety had left the gay quarters, the center of much of the literature of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; and the rouged animation of anecdotes about the courtesans of the day was ugly and meretricious. And yet, within the same forty years that elapsed between the Meiji Restoration and the Russo-Japanese War, Japanese literature moved from idle quips directed at the oddities of the West to Symbolist poetry, from the thousandth-told tale of the gay young blade and the harlots to the complexities of the psychological novel.

The military and commercial successes of Japan have been attributed by Western critics to the Japanese genius for imitation, and this very skill has been often considered a discredit, as if it were somehow more admirable to imitate badly. The literature and art of modern Japan have been open to similar attack by those who deplore any deviations from what they consider to be the "pure Japanese." Such . . .

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