Literature

Literature
Japanese literature and Japanese poetry

The earliest works of Japanese literature include the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki chronicles and the Man’yoshu poetry anthology, all from the 8th century and written in Chinese characters. In the early Heian period, the system of phonograms known as kana (Hiragana and Katakana) was developed. The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter is considered the oldest Japanese narrative. An account of Heian court life is given in The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon, while The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu is often described as the world’s first novel.

During the Edo period, the chonin (“townspeople”) overtook the samurai aristocracy as producers and consumers of literature. The popularity of the works of Saikaku, for example, reveals this change in readership and authorship, while Basho revivified the poetic tradition of the Kokinshu with his haikai (haiku) and wrote the poetic travelogue Oku no Hosomichi. The Meiji era saw the decline of traditional literary forms as Japanese literature integrated Western influences. Natsume Soseki and Mori Ogai were the first “modern” novelists of Japan, followed by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Jun’ichiro Tanizaki, Yukio Mishima and, more recently, Haruki Murakami. Japan has two Nobel Prize-winning authors—Yasunari Kawabata (1968) and Kenzaburo Oe (1994).