1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Japan/03 Language and Literature


III.—Language and Literature

Language.—Since the year 1820, when Klaproth concluded that the Japanese language had sprung from the Ural-Altaic stock, philologists have busied themselves in tracing its affinities. If the theories hitherto held with regard to the origin of the Japanese people be correct, close relationship should exist between the Japanese and the Korean tongues, and possibly between the Japanese and the Chinese. Aston devoted much study to the former question, but although he proved that in construction the two have a striking similarity, he could not find any corresponding likeness in their vocabularies. As far back as the beginning of the Christian era the Japanese and the Koreans could not hold intercourse without the aid of interpreters. If then the languages of Korea and Japan had a common stock, they must have branched off from it at a date exceedingly remote. As for the languages of Japan and China, they have remained essentially different throughout some twenty centuries in spite of the fact that Japan adopted Chinese calligraphy and assimilated Chinese literature. Mr K. Hirai has done much to establish his theory that Japanese and Aryan had a common parent. But nothing has yet been substantiated. Meanwhile an inquirer is confronted by the strange fact that of three neighbouring countries between which frequent communication existed, one (China) never deviated from an ideographic script; another (Korea) invented an alphabet, and the third (Japan) devised a syllabary. Antiquaries have sought to show that Japan possessed some form of script before her first contact with either Korea or China. But such traces of prehistoric letters as are supposed to have been found seem to be corruptions of the Korean alphabet rather than independent symbols. It is commonly believed that the two Japanese syllabaries—which, though distinct in form, have identical sounds—were invented by Kukai (790) and Kibi Daijin (760) respectively. But the evidence of old documents seems to show that these syllabaries had a gradual evolution and that neither was the outcome of a single scholar’s inventive genius.

The sequence of events appears to have been this:—Japan’s earliest contact with an over-sea people was with the Koreans, and she made some tentative efforts to adapt their alphabet to the expression of her own language. Traces of these efforts survived, and inspired the idea that the art of writing was practised by the Japanese before the opening of intercourse with their continental neighbours. Korea, however, had neither a literary nor an ethical message to deliver, and thus her script failed to attract much attention. Very different was the case when China presented her noble code of Confucian philosophy and the literature embodying it. The Japanese then recognized a lofty civilization and placed themselves as pupils at its feet, learning its script and deciphering its books. Their veneration extended to ideographs. At first they adapted them frankly to their own tongue. For example, the ideographs signifying rice or metal or water in Chinese were used to convey the same ideas in Japanese. Each ideograph thus came to have two sounds, one Japanese, the other Chinese—e.g. the ideograph for rice had for Japanese sound kome and for Chinese sound bei. Nor was this the whole story. There were two epochs in Japan’s study of the Chinese language: first, the epoch when she received Confucianism through Korea; and, secondly, the epoch when she began to study Buddhism direct from China. Whether the sounds that came by Korea were corrupt, or whether the interval separating these epochs had sufficed to produce a sensible difference of pronunciation in China itself, it would seem that the students of Buddhism who flocked from Japan to the Middle Kingdom during the Sui era (A.D. 589–619) insisted on the accuracy of the pronunciation acquired there, although it diverged perceptibly from the pronunciation already recognized in Japan. Thus, in fine, each word came to have three sounds—two Chinese, known as the kan and the go, and one Japanese, known as the kun. For example:—


Sei Jo Koe  Voice
Nen Zen Toshi  Year
Jinkan Ningen Hito no aida  Human being.

As to which of the first two methods of pronunciation had chronological precedence, the weight of opinion is that the kan came later than the go. Evidently this triplication of sounds had many disadvantages, but, on the other hand, the whole Chinese language may be said to have been grafted on the Japanese. Chinese has the widest capacity of any tongue ever invented. It consists of thousands of monosyllabic roots, each having a definite meaning. These monosyllables may be used singly or combined, two, three or four at a time, so that the resulting combinations convey almost any conceivable shades of meaning. Take, for example, the word “electricity.” The very idea conveyed was wholly novel in Japan. But scholars were immediately able to construct the following:—

Lightning. Den.
Exhalation. Ki.
Electricity. Denki.
Telegram. Dempō. = tidings.
Electric light. Dentō. = lamp.
Negative electricity. Indenki. In = the negative principle.
Positive electricity. Yodenki. Yo = the positive principle.
Thermo-electricity. Netsudenki. Netsu = heat.
Dynamic-electricity. Ryūdo-denki. Ryūdo = fluid.
Telephone. Denwa. Wa= conversation.

Every branch of learning can thus be equipped with a vocabulary. Potent, however, as such a vehicle is for expressing thought, its ideographic script constitutes a great obstacle to general acquisition, and the Japanese soon applied themselves to minimizing the difficulty by substituting a phonetic system. Analysis showed that all the required sounds could be conveyed with 47 syllables, and having selected the ideographs that corresponded to those sounds, they reduced them, first, to forms called hiragana, and, secondly, to still more simplified forms called katakana.

Such, in brief, is the story of the Japanese language. When we come to dissect it, we find several striking characteristics. First, the construction is unlike that of any European tongue: all qualifiers precede the words they qualify, except prepositions which become postpositions. Thus instead of saying “the house of Mr Smith is in that street,” a Japanese says “Smith Mr of house that street in is.” Then there is no relative pronoun, and the resulting complication seems great to an English-speaking person, as the following illustration will show:—

Japanese. English.
Zenaku wo saiban suru tame no
Virtue   vice-judging  sake of
mochiitaru yūitsu no hyojun wa
used      unique standard
jiai   no kōi    tada
benevolence of conduct   only
kore nomi.
this alone.
The unique standard which
is used for judging virtue or
vice is benevolent conduct

It will be observed that in the above sentence there are two untranslated words, wo and wa. These belong to a group of four auxiliary particles called te ni wo ha (or wa), which serve to mark the cases of nouns, te (or de) being the sign of the instrumental ablative; ni that of the dative; wo that of the objective, and wa that of the nominative. These exist in the Korean language also, but not in any other tongue. There are also polite and ordinary forms of expression, often so different as to constitute distinct languages; and there are a number of honorifics which frequently discharge the duty of pronouns. Another marked peculiarity is that active agency is never attributed to neuter nouns. A Japanese does not say “the poison killed him” but “he died on account of the poison;” nor does he say “the war has caused commodities to appreciate,” but “commodities have appreciated in consequence of the war.” That the language loses much force owing to this limitation cannot be denied: metaphor and allegory are almost completely banished.

The difficulties that confront an Occidental who attempts to learn Japanese are enormous. There are three languages to be acquired: first, the ordinary colloquial; second, the polite colloquial; and, third, the written. The ordinary colloquial differs materially from its polite form, and both are as unlike the written form as modern Italian is unlike ancient Latin. “Add to this,” writes Professor B. H. Chamberlain, “the necessity of committing to memory two syllabaries, one of which has many variant forms, and at least two or three thousand Chinese ideographs, in forms standard and cursive—ideographs, too, most of which are susceptible of three or four different readings according to circumstance,—add, further, that all these kinds of written symbols are apt to be encountered pell mell on the same page, and the task of mastering Japanese becomes almost Herculean.” In view of all this there is a strong movement in favour of romanizing the Japanese script: that is to say, abolishing the ideograph and adopting in its place the Roman alphabet. But while every one appreciates the magnitude of the relief that would thus be afforded, there has as yet been little substantial progress. A language which has been adapted from its infancy to ideographic transmission cannot easily be fitted to phonetic uses.

Dictionaries.—F. Brinkley, An Unabridged Japanese-English Dictionary (Tōkyō, 1896); Y. Shimada, English-Japanese Dictionary, (Tōkyō, 1897); Webster’s Dictionary, trans. into Japanese, (Tōkyō, 1899); J. H. Gubbins, Dictionary of Chinese-Japanese Words (3 vols., London, 1889); J. C. Hepburn, Japanese-English and English-Japanese Dictionary (London, 1903); E. M. Satow and I. Masakata, English-Japanese Dictionary (London, 1904).

Literature.—From the neighbouring continent the Japanese derived the art of transmitting ideas to paper. But as to the date of that acquisition there is doubt. An authenticated work compiled A.D. 720 speaks of historiographers having been appointed to collect local records for the first time in 403, from which it is to be inferred that such officials had already existed at the court. There is also a tradition that some kind of general history was compiled in 620 but destroyed by fire in 645. At all events, the earliest book now extant dates from 712. Its origin is described in its preface. When the emperor Temmu (673–686) ascended the throne, he found that there did not exist any revised collection of the fragmentary annals of the chief families. He therefore caused these annals to be collated. There happened to be among the court ladies one Hiyeda no Are, who was gifted with an extraordinary memory. Measures were taken to instruct her in the genuine traditions and the old language of former ages, the intention being to have the whole ultimately dictated to a competent scribe. But the emperor died before the project could be consummated, and for twenty-five years Are’s memory remained the sole depository of the collected annals. Then, under the auspices of the empress Gemmyō, the original plan was carried out in 712, Yasumaro being the scribe. The work that resulted is known as the Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters). It has been accurately translated by Professor B. H. Chamberlain (Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, vol. x.), who, in a preface justly regarded by students of Japan as an exegetical classic, makes the pertinent comment: “Taking the word Altaïc in its usual acceptation, viz. as the generic name of all the languages belonging to the Manchu, Mongolian, Turkish and Finnish groups, not only the archaic, but the classical, literature of Japan carries us back several centuries beyond the earliest extant documents of any other Altaïc tongue.” By the term “archaic” is to be understood the pure Japanese language of earliest times, and by the term “classical” the quasi-Chinese language which came into use for literary purposes when Japan appropriated the civilization of her great neighbours. The Kojiki is written in the archaic form: that is to say, the language is the language of old Japan, the script, although ideographic, is used phonetically only, and the case-indicators are represented by Chinese characters having the same sounds. It is a species of saga, setting forth not only the heavenly beginnings of the Japanese race, but also the story of creation, the succession of the various sovereigns and the salient events of their reigns, the whole interspersed with songs, many of which may be attributed to the 6th century, while some doubtless date from the fourth or even the third. This Kojiki marks the parting of the ways. Already by the time of its compilation the influence of Chinese civilization and Chinese literature had prevailed so greatly in Japan that the next authentic work, composed only eight years later, was completely Chinese in style and embodied Chinese traditions and Chinese philosophical doctrines, not distinguishing them from their Japanese context. This volume was called the Nihongi (Chronicles of Japan). It may be said to have wholly supplanted its predecessor in popular favour, for the classic style—that is to say, the Chinese—had now come to be regarded as the only erudite script. The Chronicles re-traversed much of the ground already gone over by the Record, preserving many of the songs in occasionally changed form, omitting some portions, supplementing others, and imparting to the whole such an exotic character as almost to disqualify the work for a place in Japanese literature. Yet this was the style which thenceforth prevailed among the litterati of Japan. “Standard Chinese soon became easier to understand than archaic Japanese, as the former alone was taught in the schools, and the native language changed rapidly during the century or two that followed the diffusion of the foreign tongue and civilization” (Chamberlain). The neglect into which the Kojiki fell lasted until the 17th century. Almost simultaneously with its appearance in type (1644) and its consequent accessibility, there arose a galaxy of scholars under whose influence the archaic style and the ancient Japanese traditions entered a period of renaissance. The story of this period and of its products has been admirably told by Sir Ernest Satow (“Revival of Pure Shintō,” Proceedings of the Asiatic Society of Japan, vol. iii.), whose essay, together with Professor Chamberlain’s Kojiki, the same author’s introduction to The Classical Poetry of the Japanese, and Mr W. G. Aston’s Nihongi, are essential to every student of Japanese literature. To understand this 17th century renaissance, knowledge of one fact is necessary, namely, that about the year A. D. 810, a celebrated Buddhist priest, Kūkai, who had spent several years studying in China, compounded out of Buddhism, Confucianism and Shintō a system of doctrine called Ryōbu Shintō (Dual Shintō), the prominent tenet of which was that the Shintō deities were merely transmigrations of Buddhist divinities. By this device Japanese conservatism was effectually conciliated, and Buddhism became in fact the creed of the nation, its positive and practical precepts entirely eclipsing the agnostic intuitionalism of Shintō. Against this hybrid faith several Japanese scholars arrayed themselves in the 17th and 18th centuries, the greatest of them being Mabuchi and Motoori. The latter’s magnum opus, Kojikiden (Exposition of the Record of Ancient Matters), declared by Chamberlain to be “perhaps the most admirable work of which Japanese erudition can boast,” consists of 44 large volumes, devoted to elucidating the Kojiki and resuscitating the Shintō cult as it existed in the earliest days. This great work of reconstruction was only one feature of the literary activity which marked the 17th and 18th centuries, when, under Tokugawa rule, the blessing of long-unknown peace came to the nation. Iyeyasu himself devoted the last years of his life to collecting ancient manuscripts. In his country retreat at Shizuoka he formed one of the richest libraries ever brought together in Japan, and by will he bequeathed the Japanese section of it to his eighth son, the feudal chief of Owari, and the Chinese section to his ninth son, the prince of Kishū, with the result that under the former feudatory’s auspices two works of considerable merit were produced treating of ancient ceremonials and supplementing the Nihongi. Much more memorable, however, was a library formed by Iyeyasu’s grandson the feudal chief of Mito (1662–1700), who not only collected a vast quantity of books hitherto scattered among Shintō and Buddhist monasteries and private houses, but also employed a number of scholars to compile a history unprecedented in magnitude, the Dai-Nihon-shi. It consisted of 240 volumes, and it became at once the standard in its own branch of literature. Still more comprehensive was a book emanating from the same source and treating of court ceremonials. It ran to more than 500 volumes, and the emperor honoured the work by bestowing on it the title Reigi Ruiten (Rules of Ceremonials). These compilations together with the Nihon Gwaishi (History of Japan Outside the Court), written by Rai Sanyo and published in 1827, constituted the chief sources of historical knowledge before the Meiji era. Rai Sanyo devoted twenty years to the preparation of his 22 volumes and took his materials from 259 Japanese and Chinese works. But neither he nor his predecessors recognized in history anything more than a vehicle for recording the mere sequence of events and their relations, together with some account of the personages concerned. Their volumes make profoundly dry reading. Vicarious interest, however, attaches to the productions of the Mito School on account of the political influence they exercised in rehabilitating the nation’s respect for the throne by unveiling the picture of an epoch prior to the usurpations of military feudalism. The struggles of the great rival clans, replete with episodes of the most tragic and stirring character, inspired quasi-historical narrations of a more popular character, which often took the form of illuminated scrolls. But it was not until the Meiji era that history, in the modern sense of the term, began to be written. During recent times many students have turned their attention to this branch of literature. Works of wide scope and clear insight have been produced, and the Historiographers’ section in the Imperial University of Tōkyō has been for several years engaged in collecting and collating materials for a history which will probably rank with anything of the kind in existence.

In their poetry above everything the Japanese have remained impervious to alien influences. It owes this conservation to its prosody. Without rhyme, without variety of metre, without elasticity of dimensions, it is also without known counterpart. To alter it in any way would be to deprive Poetry. it of all distinguishing characteristics. At some remote date a Japanese maker of songs seems to have discovered that a peculiar and very fascinating rhythm is produced by lines containing 5 syllables and 7 syllables alternately. That is Japanese poetry (uta or tanka). There are generally five lines: the first and third consisting of 5 syllables, the second, fourth and fifth of 7, making a total of 31 in all. The number of lines is not compulsory: sometimes they may reach to thirty, forty or even more, but the alternation of 5 and 7 syllables is compulsory. The most attenuated form of all is the hokku (or haikai) which consists of only three lines, namely, 17 syllables. Necessarily the ideas embodied in such a narrow vehicle must be fragmentary. Thus it results that Japanese poems are, for the most part, impressionist; they suggest a great deal more than they actually express. Here is an example:—

Momiji-ha wo More fleeting than the glint of withered leaf wind-blown, the thing called life.
Kaze ni makasete
Miru yori mo
Hakanaki mono wa
Inochi nari keri

There is no English metre with this peculiar cadence.

It is not to be inferred that the writers of Japan, enamoured as they were of Chinese ideographs and Chinese style, deliberately excluded everything Chinese from the realm of poetry. On the contrary, many of them took pleasure in composing versicles to which Chinese words were admitted and which showed something of the “parallelism” peculiar to Chinese poetry, since the first ideograph of the last line was required to be identical with the final ideograph. But rhyme was not attempted, and the syllabic metre of Japan was preserved, the alternation of 5 and 7 being, however, dispensed with. Such couplets were called shi to distinguish them from the pure Japanese uta or tanka. The two greatest masters of Japanese poetry were Hitomaro and Akahito, both of the early 8th century, and next to them stands Tsurayuki, who flourished at the beginning of the 10th century, and is not supposed to have transmitted his mantle to any successor. The choicest productions of the former two with those of many other poets were brought together in 756 and embodied in a book called the Manyōshū (Collection of a Myriad Leaves). The volume remained unique until the beginning of the 10th century, when (A.D. 905) Tsurayuki and three coadjutors compiled the Kokinshū (Collection of Odes Ancient and Modern), the first of twenty-one similar anthologies between the 11th and the 15th centuries, which constitute the Niju-ichi Dai-shū (Anthologies of the One-and-Twenty Reigns). If to these we add the Hyaku-ninshū (Hundred Odes by a Hundred Poets) brought together by Teika Kyō in the 13th century, we have all the classics of Japanese poetry. For the composition of the uta gradually deteriorated from the end of the 9th century, when a game called uta-awase became a fashionable pastime, and aristocratic men and women tried to string together versicles of 31 syllables, careful of the form and careless of the thought. The uta-awase, in its later developments, may not unjustly be compared to the Occidental game of bouts-rimés. The poetry of the nation remained immovable in the ancient groove until very modern times, when, either by direct access to the originals or through the medium of very defective translations, the nation became acquainted with the masters of Occidental song. A small coterie of authors, headed by Professor Toyama, then attempted to revolutionize Japanese poetry by recasting it on European lines. But the project failed signally, and indeed it may well be doubted whether the Japanese language can be adapted to such uses.

It was under the auspices of an empress (Suiko) that the first historical manuscript is said to have been compiled in 620. It was under the auspices of an empress (Gemmyō) that the Record of Ancient Matters was transcribed (712) from the lips of a court lady. And it was under the auspices of an Influence of Women in Japanese Literature. empress that the Chronicles of Japan were composed (720). To women, indeed, from the 8th century onwards may be said to have been entrusted the guardianship of the pure Japanese language, the classical, or Chinese, form being adopted by men. The distinction continued throughout the ages. To this day the spoken language of Japanese women is appreciably simpler and softer than that of the men, and to this day while the educated woman uses the hiragana syllabary in writing, eschews Chinese words and rarely pens an ideograph, the educated man employs the ideograph entirely, and translates his thoughts as far as possible into the mispronounced Chinese words without recourse to which it would be impossible for him to discuss any scientific subject, or even to refer to the details of his daily business. Japan was thus enriched with two works of very high merit, the Genji Monogatari (c. 1004) and the Makura no Zōshi (about the same date). The former, by Murasaki no Shikibu—probably a pseudonym—was the first novel composed in Japan. Before her time there had been many monogatari (narratives), but all consisted merely of short stories, mythical or quasi-historical, whereas Murasaki no Shikibu did for Japan what Fielding and Richardson did for England. Her work was “a prose epic of real life,” the life of her hero, Genji. Her language is graceful and natural, her sentiments are refined and sober; and, as Mr Aston well says, her “story flows on easily from one scene of real life to another, giving us a varied and minutely detailed picture of life and society in Kiōto, such as we possess for no other country at the same period.” The Makura no Zōshi (Pillow Sketches), like the Genji Monogatari, was by a noble lady—Sei Shōnagon—but it is simply a record of daily events and fugitive thoughts, though not in the form of a diary. The book is one of the most natural and unaffected compositions ever written. Undesignedly it conveys a wonderfully realistic picture of aristocratic life and social ethics in Kiōto at the beginning of the 11th century. “If we compare it with anything that Europe has to show at this period, it must be admitted that it is indeed a remarkable work. What a revelation it would be if we had the court life of Alfred’s or Canute’s reign depicted to us in a similar way?”

The period from the early part of the 14th century to the opening of the 17th is generally regarded as the dark age of Japanese literature. The constant wars of the time left their impress upon everything. To them is due the fact that the two principal works compiled during this epoch were, The Dark Age. one political, the other quasi-historical. In the former, Jinkōshōtō-ki (History of the True Succession of the Divine Monarchs), Kitabatake Chikafusa (1340) undertook to prove that of the two sovereigns then disputing for supremacy in Japan, Go-Daigo was the rightful monarch; in the latter, Taihei-ki (History of Great Peace), Kojima (1370) devoted his pages to describing the events of contemporaneous history. Neither work can be said to possess signal literary merit, but both had memorable consequences. For the Jinkōshōtō-ki, by its strong advocacy of the mikado’s administrative rights as against the usurpations of military feudalism, may be said to have sowed the seeds of Japan’s modern polity; and the Taihei-ki, by its erudite diction, skilful rhetoric, simplification of old grammatical constructions and copious interpolation of Chinese words, furnished a model for many imitators and laid the foundations of Japan’s 19th-century style. The Taihei-ki produced another notable effect; it inspired public readers who soon developed into historical raconteurs; a class of professionals who are almost as much in vogue to-day as they were 500 years ago. Belonging to about the same period as the Jinkōshōtō-ki, another classic occupies a leading place in Japanese esteem. It is the Tsure-zure-gusa (Materials for Dispelling Ennui), by Kenkō-bōshi, described by Mr Aston as “one of the most delightful oases in Japanese literature; a collection of short sketches, anecdotes and essays on all imaginable subjects, something in the manner of Selden’s Table Talk.”

The so-called dark age of Japanese literature was not entirely unproductive: it gave the drama () to Japan. Tradition ascribes the origin of the drama to a religious dance of a pantomimic character, called Kagura and associated with Shintō ceremonials. The Nō, however, owed its development The Drama. mainly to Buddhist influence. During the medieval era of internecine strife the Buddhist priests were the sole depositaries of literary talent, and seeing that, from the close of the 14th century, the Shintō mime (Kagura) was largely employed by the military class to invoke or acknowledge the assistance of the gods, the monks of Buddha set themselves to compose librettos for this mime, and the performance, thus modified, received the name of Nō. Briefly speaking, the Nō was a dance of the most stately character, adapted to the incidents of dramas “which embrace within their scope a world of legendary lore, of quaint fancies and of religious sentiment.” Their motives were chiefly confined to such themes as the law of retribution to which all human beings are subjected, the transitoriness of life and the advisability of shaking off from one’s feet the dust of this sinful world. But some were of a purely martial nature. This difference is probably explained by the fact that the idea of thus modifying the Kagura had its origin in musical recitations from the semi-romantic semi-historical narratives of the 14th century. Such recitations were given by itinerant Bonzes, and it is easy to understand the connexion between them and the Nō. Very soon the Nō came to occupy in the estimation of the military class a position similar to that held by the tanka as a literary pursuit, and the gagaku as a musical, in the Imperial court. All the great aristocrats not only patronized the Nō but were themselves ready to take part in it. Costumes of the utmost magnificence were worn, and the chiselling of masks for the use of the performers occupied scores of artists and ranked as a high glyptic accomplishment. There are 335 classical dramas of this kind in a compendium called the Yōkyoka Tsūge, and many of them are inseparably connected with the names of Kwanami Kiyotsugu (1406) and his son Motokiyo (1455), who are counted the fathers of the art. For a moment, when the tide of Western civilization swept over Japan, the Nō seemed likely to be permanently submerged. But the renaissance of nationalism (kokusui hoson) saved the venerable drama, and owing to the exertions of Prince Iwakura, the artist Hōsho Kuro and Umewaka Minoru, it stands as high as ever in popular favour. Concerning the five schools into which the Nō is divided, their characteristics and their differences—these are matters of interest to the initiated alone.

The Japanese are essentially a laughter-loving people. They are highly susceptible of tragic emotions, but they turn gladly to the brighter phases of life. Hence a need was soon felt of something to dispel the pessimism of the Nō, and that something took the form of comedies played in the interludes The Farce. of the Nō and called Kyōgen (mad words). The Kyōgen needs no elaborate description: it is a pure farce, never immodest or vulgar.

The classic drama Nō and its companion the Kyōgen had two children, the Jōruri and the Kabuki. They were born at the close of the 16th century and they owed their origin to the growing influence of the commercial class, who asserted The Theatre. a right to be amused but were excluded from enjoyment of the aristocratic Nō and the Kyōgen. The Jōruri is a dramatic ballad, sung or recited to the accompaniment of the samisen and in unison with the movements of puppets. It came into existence in Kiōto and was thence transferred to Yedo (Tōkyō), where the greatest of Japanese playwrights, Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653–1724), and a musician of exceptional talent, Takemoto Gidayū, collaborated to render this puppet drama a highly popular entertainment. It flourished for nearly 200 years in Yedo, and is still occasionally performed in Osaka. Like the Nō the Jōruri dealt always with sombre themes, and was supplemented by the Kabuki (farce). This last owed its inception to a priestess who, having abandoned her holy vocation at the call of love, espoused dancing as a means of livelihood and trained a number of girls for the purpose. The law presently interdicted these female comedians (onna-kabuki) in the interests of public morality, and they were succeeded by “boy comedians” (wakashu-kabuki) who simulated women’s ways and were vetoed in their turn, giving place to yaro-kabuki (comedians with queues). Gradually the Kabuki developed the features of a genuine theatre; the actor and the playwright were discriminated, and, the performances taking the form of domestic drama (Wagoto and Sewamono) or historical drama (Aragoto or Jidaimono), actors of perpetual fame sprang up, as Sakata Tōjurō and Ichikawa Danjinrō (1660–1704). Mimetic posture-dances (Shosagoto) were always introduced as interludes; past and present indiscriminately contributed to the playwright’s subjects; realism was carried to extremes; a revolving stage and all mechanical accessories were supplied; female parts were invariably taken by males, who attained almost incredible skill in these simulations; a chorus—relic of the Nō—chanted expositions of profound sentiments or thrilling incidents; and histrionic talent of the very highest order was often displayed. But the Kabuki-za and its yakusha (actors) remained always a plebeian institution. No samurai frequented the former or associated with the latter. With the introduction of Western civilization in modern times, however, the theatre ceased to be tabooed by the aristocracy. Men and women of all ranks began to visit it; the emperor himself consented (1887) to witness a performance by the great stars of the stage at the private residence of Marquis Inouye; a dramatic reform association was organized by a number of prominent noblemen and scholars; drastic efforts were made to purge the old historical dramas of anachronisms and inconsistencies, and at length a theatre (the Yuraku-za) was built on purely European lines, where instead of sitting from morning to night witnessing one long-drawn-out drama with interludes of whole farces, a visitor may devote only a few evening-hours to the pastime. The Shosagoto has not been abolished, nor is there any reason why it should be. It has graces and beauties of its own. There remains to be noted the incursion of amateurs into the histrionic realm. In former times the actor’s profession was absolutely exclusive in Japan. Children were trained to wear their fathers’ mantles, and the idea that a non-professional could tread the hallowed ground of the stage did not enter any imagination. But with the advent of the new regimen in Meiji days there arose a desire for social plays depicting the life of the modern generation, and as these “croppy dramas” (zampatsu-mono)—so called in allusion to the European method of cutting the hair close—were not included in the repertoire of the orthodox theatre, amateur troupes (known as sōshi-yakusha) were organized to fill the void. Even Shakespeare has been played by these amateurs, and the abundant wit of the Japanese is on the way to enrich the stage with modern farces of unquestionable merit.

The Tokugawa era (1603–1867), which popularized the drama, had other memorable effects upon Japanese literature. Yedo, the shōgun’s capital, displaced Kiōto as the centre of literary activity. Its population of more than a million, including all sorts and conditions of men—notably wealthy Literature of the Tokugawa Era. merchants and mechanics—constituted a new audience to which authors had to address themselves; and an unparalleled development of mental activity necessitated wholesale drafts upon the Chinese vocabulary. To this may be attributed the appearance of a group of men known as kangakusha (Chinese scholars). The most celebrated among them were: Fujiwara Seikwa (1560–1619), who introduced his countrymen to the philosophy of Chu-Hi; Hayashi Rasan (1583–1657), who wrote 170 treatises on scholastic and moral subjects; Kaibara Ekken (1630–1714), teacher of a fine system of ethics; Arai Hakuseki (1657–1725), historian, philosopher, statesman and financier: and Muro Kiusō, the second great exponent of Chu-Hi’s philosophy. “Japan owes a profound debt of gratitude to the kangakusha of that time. For their day and country they were emphatically the salt of earth.” But naturally not all were believers in the same philosophy. The fervour of the followers of Chu-Hi (the orthodox school) could not fail to provoke opposition. Thus some arose who declared allegiance to the idealistic intuitionalism of Wang Yang-ming, and others advocated direct study of the works of Confucius and Mencius. Connected with this rejection of Chu-Hi were such eminent names as those of Itō Junsai (1627–1718), Itō Tōgai (1617–1736), Ogyu Sōrai (1666–1728) and Dazai Shuntai (1679–1747). These Chinese scholars made no secret of their contempt for Buddhism, and in their turn they were held in aversion by the Buddhists and the Japanese scholars (wagakusha), so that the second half of the 18th century was a time of perpetual wrangling and controversy. The worshippers at the shrine of Chinese philosophy evoked a reactionary spirit of nationalism, just as the excessive worship of Occidental civilization was destined to do in the 19th century.

Apart from philosophical researches and the development of the drama, as above related, the Tokugawa era is remarkable for folk-lore, moral discourses, fiction and a peculiar form of poetry. This last does not demand much attention. Its principal variety is the haikai, which is nothing more than a tanka shorn of its concluding fourteen syllables, and therefore virtually identical with the hokku, already described. The name of Bashō is immemorially associated with this kind of lilliputian versicle, which reached the extreme of impressionism. A more important addition to Japanese literature was made in the 17th century in the form of children’s tales (Otogibanashi). They are charmingly simple and graceful, and they have been rendered into English again and again since the beginning of the Meiji era. But whether they are to be regarded as genuine folk-lore or merely as a branch of the fiction of the age when they first appeared in book form, remains uncertain. Of fiction proper there was an abundance. The pioneer of this kind of literature is considered to have been Saikaku (1641–1693), who wrote sketches of everyday life as he saw it, short tales of some merit and novels which deal with the most disreputable phases of human existence. His notable successors in the same line were two men of Kiōto, named Jishō (1675–1745) and Kiseki (1666–1716). They had their own publishing house, and its name Hachimonji-ya (figure-of-eight store) came to be indelibly associated with this kind of literature. But these men did little more than pave the way for the true romantic novel, which first took shape under the hand of Santō Kyōden (1761–1816), and culminated in the works of Bakin, Tanehiko, Samba, Ikku, Shunsui and their successors. Of nearly all the books in this class it may be said that they deal largely in sensationalism and pornography, though it does not follow that their language is either coarse or licentious. The life of the virtuous Japanese woman being essentially uneventful, these romancists not unnaturally sought their female types among dancing-girls and courtesans. The books were profusely illustrated with woodcuts and chromoxylographs from pictures of the ukiyoe masters, who, like the playwright, the actor and the romancer, ministered to the pleasure of the “man in the street.” Brief mention must also be made of two other kinds of books belonging to this epoch; namely, the Shingaku-sho (ethical essays) and the Jitsuroku-mono (true records). The latter were often little more than historical novels founded on facts; and the former, though nominally intended to engraft the doctrines of Buddhism and Shintō upon the philosophy of China, were really of rationalistic tendency.

Although the incursions made into Chinese philosophy and the revival of Japanese traditions during the Tokugawa Epoch contributed materially to the overthrow of feudalism and the restoration of the Throne’s administrative power, the immediate tendency of the last two events was to The Meiji Era. divert the nation’s attention wholly from the study of either Confucianism or the Record of Ancient Matters. A universal thirst set in for Occidental science and literature, so that students occupied themselves everywhere with readers and grammars modelled on European lines rather than with the Analects or the Kojiki. English at once became the language of learning. Thus the three colleges which formed the nucleus of the Imperial University of Tōkyō were presided over by a graduate of Michigan College (Professor Toyama), a member of the English bar (Professor Hōzumi) and a graduate of Cambridge (Baron Kikuchi). If Japan was eminently fortunate in the men who directed her political career at that time, she was equally favoured in those that presided over her literary culture. Fukuzawa Yukichi, founder of the Keiō Gijuku, now one of Japan’s four universities, did more than any of his contemporaries by writing and speaking to spread a knowledge of the West, its ways and its thoughts, and Nakamura Keiu laboured in the same cause by translating Smiles’s Self-help and Mill’s Representative Government. A universal geography (by Uchida Masao); a history of nations (by Mitsukuri Rinshō); a translation of Chambers’s Encyclopaedia by the department of education; Japanese renderings of Herbert Spencer and of Guizot and Buckle—all these made their appearance during the first fourteen years of the epoch. The influence of politics may be strongly traced in the literature of that time, for the first romances produced by the new school were all of a political character: Keikoku Bidan (Model for Statesmen, with Epaminondas for hero) by Yano Fumio; Setchūbai (Plum-blossoms in snow) and Kwakwan-ō (Nightingale Among Flowers) by Suyehiro. This idea of subserving literature to political ends is said to have been suggested by Nakae Tokusuke’s translation of Rousseau’s Contrat social. The year 1882 saw Julius Caesar in a Japanese dress. The translator was Tsubouchi Shōyō, one of the greatest writers of the Meiji era. His Shōsetsu Shinsui (Essentials of a Novel) was an eloquent plea for realism as contrasted with the artificiality of the characters depicted by Bakin, and his own works illustrative of this theory took the public by storm. He also brought out the first literary periodical published in Japan, namely, the Waseda Bungaku, so called because Tsubouchi was professor of literature in the Waseda University, an institution founded by Count Okuma, whose name cannot be omitted from any history of Meiji literature, not as an author but as a patron. As illustrating the rapid development of familiarity with foreign authors, a Japanese retrospect of the Meiji era notes that whereas Macaulay’s Essays were in the curriculum of the Imperial University in 1881–1882, they were studied, five or six years later, in secondary schools, and pupils of the latter were able to read with understanding the works of Goldsmith, Tennyson and Thackeray. Up to Tsubouchi’s time the Meiji literature was all in the literary language, but there was then formed a society calling itself Kenyūsha, some of whose associates—as Bimyōsai—used the colloquial language in their works, while others—as Kōyō, Rōhan, &c.—went back to the classical diction of the Genroku era (1655–1703). Rōhan is one of the most renowned of Japan’s modern authors, and some of his historical romances have had wide vogue. Meanwhile the business of translating went on apace. Great numbers of European and American authors were rendered into Japanese—Calderon, Lytton, Disraeli, Byron, Shakespeare, Milton, Turgueniev, Carlyle, Daudet, Emerson, Hugo, Heine, De Quincey, Dickens, Körner, Goethe—their name is legion and their influence upon Japanese literature is conspicuous. In 1888 a special course of German literature was inaugurated at the Imperial University, and with it is associated the name of Mori Ogai, Japan’s most faithful interpreter of German thought and speech. Virtually every literary magnate of the Occident has found one or more interpreters in modern Japan. Accurate reviewers of the era have divided it into periods of two or three years each, according to the various groups of foreign authors that were in vogue, and every year sees a large addition to the number of Japanese who study the masterpieces of Western literature in the original.

Newspapers, as the term is understood in the West, did not exist in old Japan, though block-printed leaflets were occasionally issued to describe some specially stirring event. Yet the Japanese were not entirely unacquainted with journalism. During the last decades of the factory at Newspapers
Deshima the Dutch traders made it a yearly custom to submit to the governor of Nagasaki selected extracts from newspapers arriving from Batavia, and these extracts, having been translated into Japanese, were forwarded to the court in Yedo together with their originals. To such compilations the name of Oranda fusetsu-sho (Dutch Reports) was given. Immediately after the conclusion of the first treaty in 1857, the Yedo authorities instructed the office for studying foreign books (Bunsho torishirabe-dokoro) to translate excerpts from European and American journals. Occasionally these translations were copied for circulation among officials, but the bulk of the people knew nothing of them. Thus the first real newspaper did not see the light until 1861, when a Yedo publisher brought out the Batavia News, a compilation of items from foreign newspapers, printed on Japanese paper from wooden blocks. Entirely devoid of local interest, this journal did not survive for more than a few months. It was followed, in 1864, by the Shimbun-shi (News), which was published in Yokohama, with Kishida Ginkō for editor and John Hiko for sub-editor. The latter had been cast away, many years previously, on the coast of the United States and had become a naturalized American citizen. He retained a knowledge of spoken Japanese, but the ideographic script was a sealed book to him, and his editorial part was limited to oral translations from American journals which the editor committed to writing. The Shimbun-shi essayed to collect domestic news as well as foreign. It was published twice a month and might possibly have created a demand for its wares had not the editor and sub-editor left for America after the issue of the 10th number. The example, however, had now been set. During the three years that separated the death of the Shimbun-shi from the birth of the Meiji era (October 1867) no less than ten quasi-journals made their appearance. They were in fact nothing better than inferior magazines, printed from wood-blocks, issued weekly or monthly, and giving little evidence of enterprise or intellect, though connected with them were the names of men destined to become famous in the world of literature, as Fukuchi Genichiro, Tsūji Shinji (afterwards Baron Tsūji) and Suzuki Yuichi. These publications attracted little interest and exercised no influence. Journalism was regarded as a mere pastime. The first evidence of its potentialities was furnished by the Kōko Shimbun (The World) under the editorship of Fukuchi Genichiro and Sasano Dempei. To many Japanese observers it seemed that the restoration of 1867 had merely transferred the administrative authority from the Tokugawa Shōgun to the clans of Satsuma and Chōshū. The Kōko Shimbun severely attacked the two clans as specious usurpers. It was not in the mood of Japanese officialdom at that time to brook such assaults. The Kōko Shimbun was suppressed; Fukuchi was thrust into prison, and all journals or periodicals except those having official sanction were vetoed. At the beginning of 1868 only two newspapers remained in the field. Very soon, however, the enlightened makers of modern Japan appreciated the importance of journalism, and in 1871 the Shimbun Zasshi (News Periodical) was started under the auspices of the illustrious Kido. Shortly afterwards there appeared in Yokohama—whence it was subsequently transferred to Tōkyō—the Mainichi Shimbun (Daily News), the first veritable daily and also the first journal printed with movable types and foreign presses. Its editors were Numa Morikage, Shimada Saburo and Koizuka Ryū, all destined to become celebrated not only in the field of journalism but also in that of politics. It has often been said of the Japanese that they are slow in forming a decision but very quick to act upon it. This was illustrated in the case of journalism. In 1870 the country possessed only two quasi-journals, both under official auspices. In 1875 it possessed over 100 periodicals and daily newspapers. The most conspicuous were the Nichi Nichi Shimbun (Daily News), the Yūbin Hōchi (Postal Intelligence), the Chōya Shimbun (Government and People News), the Akebono Shimbun (The Dawn), and the Mainichi Shimbun (Daily News). These were called “the five great journals.” The Nichi Nichi Shimbun had an editor of conspicuous literary ability in Fukuchi Genichirō, and the Hōchi Shimbun, its chief rival, received assistance from such men as Yano Fumio, Fujita Makichi, Inukai Ki and Minoura Katsundo. Japan had not yet any political parties, but the ferment that preceded their birth was abroad. The newspaper press being almost entirely in the hands of men whose interests suggested wider opening of the door to official preferment, nearly all editorial pens were directed against the government. So strenuous did this campaign become that, in 1875, a press law was enacted empowering the minister of home affairs and the police to suspend or suppress a journal and to fine or imprison its editor without public trial. Many suffered under this law, but the ultimate effect was to invest the press with new popularity, and very soon the newspapers conceived a device which effectually protected their literary staff, for they employed “dummy editors” whose sole function was to go to prison in lieu of the true editor.

Japanese journalistic writing in these early years of Meiji was marred by extreme and pedantic classicism. There had not yet been any real escape from the tradition which assigned the crown of scholarship to whatever author drew most largely upon the resources of the Chinese language and learning. The example set by the Imperial court, and still set by it, did not tend to correct this style. The sovereign, whether speaking by rescript or by ordinance, never addressed the bulk of his subjects. His words were taken from sources so classical as to be intelligible to only the highly educated minority. The newspapers sacrificed their audience to their erudition and preferred classicism to circulation. Their columns were thus a sealed book to the whole of the lower middle classes and to the entire female population. The Yomiuri Shimbun (Buy and Read News) was the first to break away from this pernicious fashion. Established in 1875, it adopted a style midway between the classical and the colloquial, and it appended the syllabic characters to each ideograph, so that its columns became intelligible to every reader of ordinary education. It was followed by the Yeiri Shimbun (Pictorial Newspaper), the first to insert illustrations and to publish feuilleton romances. Both of these journals devoted space to social news, a radical departure from the austere restrictions observed by their aristocratic contemporaries.

The year 1881 saw the nation divided into political parties and within measured distance of constitutional government. Thenceforth the great majority of the newspapers and periodicals ranged themselves under the flag of this or that party. An era of embittered polemics ensued. The Era of Political Parties. journals, while fighting continuously against each other’s principles, agreed in attacking the ministry, and the latter found it necessary to establish organs of its own which preached the German system of state autocracy. Editors seemed to be incapable of rising above the dead level of political strife, and their utterances were not relieved even by a semblance of fairness. Readers turned away in disgust, and journal after journal passed out of existence. The situation was saved by a newspaper which from the outset of its career obeyed the best canons of journalism. Born in 1882, the Jiji Shimpō (Times) enjoyed the immense advantage of having its policy controlled by one of the greatest thinkers of modern Japan, Fukuzawa Yukichi. Its basic principle was liberty of the individual, liberty of the family and liberty of the nation; it was always found on the side of broad-minded justice, and it derived its materials from economic, social and scientific sources. Other newspapers of greatly improved character followed the Jiji Shimpō, especially notable among them being the Kokumin Shimbun.

In the meanwhile Osaka, always pioneer in matters of commercial enterprise, had set the example of applying the force of capital to journalistic development. Tōkyō journals were all on a literary or political basis, but the Osaka Asahi Shimbun (Osaka Rising Sun News) Commercial Journalism. was purely a business undertaking. Its proprietor, Maruyama Ryūhei, spared no expense to obtain news from all quarters of the world, and for the first time the Japanese public learned what stores of information may be found in the columns of a really enterprising journal. Very soon the Asahi had a keen competitor in the Osaka Mainichi Shimbun (Osaka Daily News) and these papers ultimately crushed all rivals in Osaka. In 1888 Maruyama established another Asahi in Tōkyō, and thither he was quickly followed by his Osaka rival, which in Tōkyō took the name of Mainichi Dempō (Daily Telegraph). These two newspapers now stand alone as purveyors of copious telegraphic news, and in the next rank, not greatly lower, comes the Jiji Shimpō.

With the opening of the diet in 1890, politics again obtruded themselves into newspaper columns, but as practical living issues now occupied attention, readers were no longer wearied by the abstract homilies of former days. Moreover, freedom of the press was at length secured. Already (1887) the government had voluntarily made a great step in advance by divesting itself of the right to imprison or fine editors by executive order. But it reserved the power of suppressing or suspending a newspaper, and against that reservation a majority of the lower house voted, session after session, only to see the bill rejected by the peers, who shared the government’s opinion that to grant a larger measure of liberty would certainly encourage licence. Not until 1897 was this opposition fully overcome. A new law, passed by both houses and confirmed by the emperor, took from the executive all power over journals, except in cases of lèse majesté, and nothing now remains of the former arbitrary system except that any periodical having a political complexion is required to deposit security varying from 175 to 1000 yen. The result has falsified all sinister forebodings. A much more moderate tone pervades the writings of the press since restrictions were entirely removed, and although there are now 1775 journals and periodicals published throughout the empire, with a total annual circulation of some 700 million copies, intemperance of language, such as in former times would have provoked official interference, is practically unknown to-day. Moreover, the best Japanese editors have caught with remarkable aptitude the spirit of modern journalism. But a few years ago they used to compile laborious essays, in which the inspiration was drawn from Occidental textbooks, and the alien character of the source was hidden under a veneer of Chinese aphorisms. To-day they write terse, succinct, closely-reasoned articles, seldom diffuse, often witty; and generally free from extravagance of thought or diction. Incidentally they are hastening the assimilation of the written and the spoken languages (genbun itchi) which may possibly prelude a still greater reform, abolition of the ideographic script. Yet, with few exceptions, the profession of journalism is not remunerative. Very low rates of subscription, and almost prohibitory charges for advertising, are chiefly to blame.[1]The vicissitudes of the enterprise may be gathered from the fact that, whereas 2767 journals and periodicals were started between 1889 and 1894 (inclusive), no less than 2465 ceased publishing. The largest circulation recorded in 1908 was about 150,000 copies daily, and the honour of attaining that exceptional figure belonged to the Osaka Asahi Shimbun. (F. By.) 

  1. The highest rate of subscription to a daily journal is twelve shillings per annum, and the usual charge for advertisement is from 7d. to one shilling per line of 22 ideographs (about nine words).