With a history stretching back nearly 1,500 years, written works originating from Japan encompass a vast range of forms and genres. Since the eighth century, poetry and the non-philosophical lyric voice have occupied a central position in Japanese cultural life. The art of narrative would soon follow, blossoming in the eleventh century with one of the world’s great literary masterpieces, Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji. Japanese literature later developed other genres no less important than poetry and narrative, among them the diary, the free-flowing essay, drama, the picture book, and the literary treatise. While intensely attentive to its own tradition, Japanese literature has also embraced the outside world, particularly the influence of China. It is also embraced by the outside world in turn, exporting bestselling authors such as Haruki Murakami and Yukio Mishima. Beyond this, Japan boasts a powerful literary culture, made up of cultivated reading publics, both aristocratic and bourgeois, literary salons, specialized presses, authoritative judges of talent who cultivated and celebrated particular writers and styles, and a canon consisting of classics. A succinct introduction to one of the most dynamic and diverse world literatures, this Very Short Introduction traces the rich history of Japanese literature from its beginnings over a millennium ago to the present day.
Japanese Literature: A Very Short Introduction