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Literature. We hear of one or two Japanese books as having been composed in the seventh century of the Christian era, shortly after the spread of a knowledge of the Chinese ideographs in Japan had rendered a written literature possible. The earliest work, however, that has come down to us is the Kojiki, or "Record of Ancient Matters," dating from the year 712. This has some times been called the Bible of the Japanese, because it contains the mythology and earliest history of the nation; but it gives no moral or religious precepts. It was followed in A.D. 720 by the Nihongi, or "Chronicles of Japan," a more pretentious work written in Chinese, the Latin of that age and country. In about A.D. 760 came the Man-yōshū, or "Collection of a Myriad Leaves." It is an anthology of the most ancient poems of the language, and is invaluable as a repertory of facts and allusions interesting to the philologist, the archaeologist, and the historian. Its poetical merit is also rated very high by the orthodox native critics, who are unacquainted with any literature but their own, unless it be the Chinese. From that time forward the literary stream has never ceased. It has flowed in a double channel, that of books in the native language, and that of books written in Classical Chinese. Chinese has been generally preferred for grave subjects,—law, for instance, and history; Japanese for poetry, romance, and other branches of belles-lettres. Sir Ernest Satow, following the native authorities, classifies Japanese literature under sixteen heads, which are:

I. Standard Histories. Besides the Kojiki and Nihongi already mentioned, the most important standard history is the Dai Nihonshi This huge work in one hundred volumes was compiled at the end of the seventeenth century by a whole company of Japanese and Chinese men of learning, under the general superintendence of the second Prince of Mito, who was a munificent patron of literature.

II. Miscellaneous Historical Works, that is, histories written by private persons and therefore devoid of official sanction. Such are the Mitsu Kagami, the Gempei Seisuiki, the Heike Mono-gatari, the Taiheiki, and a host of others, concluding with the Nihon Gwaishi, which, a few years ago, was in every educated person's hands, and which, by its fanatically Imperialist sentiments, contributed in no small measure to bring about the fall of the Shōgunate.—All Japanese histories are written in a style which repels the European reader. They are, for the most part, annals rather than histories properly so-called. Sir Ernest Satow's translation of the first five books of the Nihon Gwaishi should be glanced through by any one who doubts this assertion. He will find it almost impossible to bring himself to believe that a book so intolerably dry could ever have fired a whole nation with enthusiasm. That it did so is one of the curiosities of literature.

III. Laws. The Ryō no Gige and the Engi-shiki are the works in this division which are most often quoted.

IV. Biography.

V. Poetry. (See special Article on this subject.)

VI. Classical Romances. This is the most curious department of standard Japanese literature, lifting, as it does, the curtain from the long-forgotten life of the Japanese Court of the tenth and eleventh centuries of our era. The lords and ladies of those days step out before us with all the frivolity, but also with all the elegance, of their narrow aristocratic existence, which was bounded by the horizon of the old capital, Kyōto. We have their poetastering, their amorous intrigues of course, their interminable moon-gazings and performances on the flute, even minute descriptions of their dresses and of the parties they gave,—one among various witnesses to the fact that many of these books were written by women. The earliest story commonly classed among the romances is more properly a fairy-tale; for it deals with the adventures of a maiden who was exiled from the moon to this our workaday world. It is entitled Takeiori Mono-gatari, or the "Bamboo-cutter's Romance," because the maiden was discovered in a section of bamboo, where she lay sparkling like gold. To mention but three or four more out of a hundred, there are the Utsubo Mono-gatari and the Ise Mono-gatari, both attributed to the tenth century, the Sumiyoshi Mono-gatari, of uncertain date, and the Konjaku Mono-gatari, with its sequel the Uji Shūi, which are collections of shorter tales. The most celebrated of all, is the voluminous Genji Mono-gatari, which dates from the year 1004.

VII. Miscellanies. These books are a sort of olla podrida of the thoughts of their authors, jotted down without any attempt at classification, but with a great deal of literary chiselling. The two miscellanies most to be recommended are the Makura no Sōshi, by a Court lady named Sei Shōnagon who flourished in the eleventh century, and the Tsurezure-Gusa by a Buddhist monk who died in the year 1350.

VIII. Diaries. Of these, the Hojoki is probably the one which the student will find most interesting. Like the Tsurezure-Gusa, it is the work of a Buddhist monk. The author describes the calamities of his times, and expatiates on the superiority of life in a hermit's cell to that which he had previously led amidst worldly vanities. It dates from about the year 1200. The Murasaki Shikibu Niki,[1] which is the diary of the most celebrated of Japanese authoresses, is remarkable as being probably the hardest book to construe in the Japanese language.

IX. Travels. Under this heading, the bibliographers class many works which might more advantageously be counted among the DIARIES, as not only are they diaries in fact, but are so entitled by their authors. The easiest and most attractive of the Japanese classics is to be found in this division. It is entitled the Tosa Niki, that is, "Diary of [a Voyage Home from] Tosa," by the poet Tsurayuki, who had been governor of that remote province. It dates from the year 935. Travels are the least voluminous department of Japanese literature. How should it accord with the fitness of things in this stay-at-home country to have a Sir John Maundeville or a Captain Cook?

X. Dramas. These are treated of in the Article on the Theatre.

XL Dictionaries and Works on Phililogy. The best native dictionaries of Classical Japanese are the Wakun no Shiori and the Gagen Shūran; but both are unfortunately fragmentary. The recently published Genkai, or "Sea of Words," and the Kotoba no Isumī, or "Fountain of Words" aim at greater completeness. The fullest native grammar is the Kotoba no Chikamichi, by Minamoto-no-Shigetane. The chief writers of the old school on general philological subjects are Mabuchi (died 1769), Motoori (died 1801), and Hirata (died 1843). In Motoori's works the classical Japanese language reached its acme of perfection. Specially remarkable are, among his greater undertakings, the standard commentary on the Kojiki, entitled Kojiki Den, and, among his lighter essays, the Tama-Gatsuma containing jottings on all sorts of subjects, philological and otherwise.

XII. Topography. The more popular publications of this class, dating roughly from the middle of the nineteenth century, are really the best, though they are less esteemed by the Japanese literati than are other works bearing the stamp of greater antiquity. These popular topographical works are illustrated guide-books to the various provinces of the empire, and are known under the collective name of Meisho Zue. Though by various authors, they are all constructed on a uniform plan, somewhat resembling that of our county histories, though more discursive and better adapted to the practical needs of travellers.

XIII. Literature of the Shintō Religion. Chief works: the Kojiki Den, already mentioned under another heading—for it is one of the corner-stones of Japanese literature—and Hirata's still only half-published magnum opus, entitled Koshi Den. This latter is remarkable for its extraordinary elaborateness and for the vast erudition of its author. Unfortunately Hirata was very bigoted as well as very learned. Consequently the reader must be always on his guard, so as to distinguish how much really belongs to Shintō and how much to Hirata himself; for Hirata never scrupled to garble a sacred text, if he could thereby support his own views as to what the sacred writers ought to mean. Extremely interesting to the specialist are the ancient Shintō rituals termed Norito, round which a mass of modern commentary has gathered. A noteworthy peculiarity of this section of Japanese literature is the attempt made by its authors to use pure Japanese only, without any admixture of the Chinese element.

XIV. Buddhist Literature. This division comprises singularly few works of merit, Buddhism having found an uncongenial soil in the Japanese mind. Certain sets of hymns (wasan) are, it is true, favourites with the lower class of devotees; but we do not know of any Japanese Buddhist book that occupies, either in literature or popularity, a place at all comparable to that taken among ourselves by the "Imitation of Christ," the English "Prayer-Book," or the "Pilgrim's Progress." Shintō, though immeasurably inferior to Buddhism as a religion, must be admitted to have carried off from its rival all the literary laurels on Japanese soil. Besides the Buddhists proper, there is a school of moralists calling themselves Shingakusha, founded partly on Buddhism, partly on Confucianism, partly on utilitarian commonsense. Some of their Dōwa, or "Moral Discourses," which date from the first half of the nineteenth century, oifer a certain interest. But the best things in this line are two small collections of moral aphorisms entitled Jitsu-go Ky—, or "Teaching of the Words of Truth," and Dōji Kyo, or "Teaching for Children."

XV. Modern Fiction. Japan's greatest modern novelist, in the opinion of the Japanese themselves, is Bakin (1767-1848), the most widely popular of whose two hundred and ninety works is the Hak-ken Den, or "Tale of Eight Dogs," itself consisting of no less than a hundred and six volumes. Though Japanese volumes are smaller than ours, the Hak-ken Den is a gigantic production. Other universally popular novels of the earlier part of the nineteenth century are the Ukiyo-buro, by Samba, and the Hiza Kurige, by an author who writes under the name of Jippensha Ikku. In our opinion this latter is, with some of the lyric dramas (Nō no Utai), the cleverest outcome of the Japanese pen. In it are related with a Rabelaisian coarseness, but also with a Rabelaisian verve and humour, the adventures of two men called Yajirobei and Kidahachi as they travel along the Tōkaidō from Yedo to Kyōto. The impecunious heroes walk most of the way, whence the title of Hiza Kurige, which may be roughly rendered "Shanks Mare." The author of this work occupies in literature a place akin to that which Hokusai occupies in art. Warmly appreciated by the common people, who have no preconceived theories to live up to, both Hokusai and Jippensha Ikku are admitted but grudgingly by the local dispensers of fame to a place in the national Walhalla. They must look abroad for the appreciation of critics taking a wider view of the proper functions of literature and art. Gravity, severe classicism, conformity to established rules and methods,—such qualities still constitute the canon of orthodox Japanese literary judgment. Many Japanese novels are of the historical kind. The most interesting of these is the I-ro-ha Bunko, by one Tamenaga Shunsui, which, with its sequel, the Yuki no Akebono, gives the lives of each of the celebrated Forty-seven Rōnins. The Ōoka Meiyo Seidan is another book of this class, much to be recommended to the student for its interest and its easy style. It pur ports to be an authentic account of numbers of causes célèbres tried by Ōoka, the Japanese Solomon, who flourished early in the eighteenth century.

XVI. Miscellaneous Literature, including cyclopaedias, works on industries, sciences, arts, and inventions, works on Confucianism, works on Japanese and Chinese antiquities, and on a hundred other subjects. Under this heading, the popular moral treatises of Kaibara Ekken and Arai Hakuseki, Confucianists of the seventeenth century, call for particular notice, partly because their ideas are those that long moulded Japanese society, partly because the easy, flowing style of these books specially fits them for the student's use.

To the foregoing enumeration, borrowed from Sir Ernest Satow, one item more can now be added, namely:—

XVII. Europeanised Literature. The opening of the country was the death-blow to Japanese literature proper. True, thousands of books and pamphlets still pour annually from the press—more, probably, than at any previous time. But the greater number are either translations of European works, or else works conveying European ideas. From "Mrs. Caudle" up to Captain Mahan, nothing is amissing. It is but natural and right that this should be so. Immense civilising effects in every department of intellectual activity have been produced by the contemporary school of Europeanised authors, with Fuktizawa, Kato, and a dozen other eminent men leading the van. But of course their translations, adaptations, and imitations can interest Western readers, who are in possession of the originals, far less than do the books written under the old order; besides which, by the very nature of the case, most of their handiwork is provisional only. Some of these days, when the life-time of competent scholars shall have been given to the task, Shakespeare and Victor Hugo may possibly be rendered into Japanese not much more unsatisfactorily than we render Homer into English. In their present hastily donned Japanese dress, they send a cold shiver down one's back.

No department but has yielded to the new influence. Even Japanese novel-writers nowadays draw their inspiration from abroad. The first European novel to be translated was (of all books in the world!) Bulwer Lytton's "Ernest Maltravers," which appeared in 1879, under the title of Kwaryu Shunwa, literally, "A Spring Story of Flowers and Willows." The most successful perhaps in recent years, among publications of this class, has been the version of "Little Lord Fauntleroy."[2] Paraphrase is frequently resorted to: a plot is borrowed, and the proper names which occur in it are slightly Japonised, as Shimizu for Smith. O Risa for Eliza, and details altered to suit Japanese social conditions. The first original novel of Japanese life composed in imitation of the European style was the Shosei Katagi, by Tsubouchi Yūzō (1886), who seems to have put into it his own experiences as a student. Sometimes a more ambitious kind of historical romance is attempted. We would willingly wager ten thousand to one that not a single reader of these pages could ever guess the hero of a work which for several years enjoyed such popularity that its author, Yano Fumio, was able to take a trip to Europe and to build himself a fine house with the proceeds. The hero is Epaminondas!—The work in question, entitled Keikoku Bidan, takes the whole field of Theban politics for its subject-matter. That not a few of the allusions might be transferred without much difficulty to contemporary Japanese politics, was doubtless one reason for the immense sale which it had. Another successful novel, the Kajin no Kigū, has its opening scene laid in the Capitol at Washington, where one of the characters—a Japanese—reads aloud to his companion the Declaration of Independence. The Carlists, the wicked English who robbed Egypt of her native prince Arabi Pasha, etc., etc., all appear in kaleidoscopic variety in the pages of this work, which by a curious contradiction, is written in the most classical Chinese style. Sometimes the future is peered into, after the example of Lytton and the author of "The Battle of Dorking." In 1895, while Japan was busy beating China, and had convinced herself that she could beat the world, one of the Tōkyō papers achieved a success by the publication of a serial noved entitled Asahi-Zakura, by a feuilletonist called Murai Gensai. The heroines of this book were two Red Cross nurses, and the story was that of the coming defeat of England by Japan, who, after annexing Hongkong, India, Malta, and Gibraltar, sends her fleet up the Thames to raze the fortresses there and to exact from the cowering Britishers an enormous indemnity.

The favourite novelists of the present day are Rohan, a subjective, introspective writer, and Tokutomi Roka, whose Omoi-de no Ki and Hototogisu may be particularly recommended to the foreign student for their good colloquial style. Aeba Koson's short stories, collected under the title of Muratake, are also much read. So are the works of the realist Koyo Sanjin, who died in 1903. The European influence in most such modern prose-writers affects not only the choice and treatment of the subject-matter, but the very style and grammar. Even when perusing an original production, one might often take it for a translation, so saturated is it apt to be with "Europeanisms." An effort was made a few years ago to Europeanise even poetry, by the introduction of rhyme and by other innovations; but the genius of the language proving essentially unsuitable, the attempt failed. After all, if poetry is to be started on a new flight, the first prerequisite would be an original poet, and that is precisely what was and still is lacking. Sasaki Nobutsuna may be mentioned as the most attractive of contemporary writers of verse. Though he adheres to the old thirty-one syllable form,—is, in fact, thoroughly Japanese and a conservator of the past,—still he has contrived to infuse some measure of new vigour into the volume of his selected best pieces entitled Omoi-gusa, published in 1903.

Among more serious and influential modern productions may be mentioned The Opening of Japan,[3] by Shimada Saburō; The History of Two Thousand Five Hundred Years,[4] by Takekoshi Yosaburō; The History of the Tokugawa Shōguns,[5] by Naitō Chiso; The Decline and Fall of Feudalism,[6] by Fukuchi Genichirō, The Japan of the Future,[7] by Tokutomi Iichirō, and the same author's Life and Opinions of Yoshida Shoin;[8] A Treatise on the Constitution,[9] by Ono Azusa; the Constitution itself, with Marquis Itō's Commentary (see p. 219); Nakamura's excellent translation of Smiles' Self-Help,[10] together with such more recent scholastic works as Mikami and Takatsu's History of Japanese Literature,[11] two great dictionaries, namely, Ōtsuki's Sea of Words[12] and Ochiai's Fountain of Words,[13] Takahashi Goro's excellent Japanese-English dictionary,[14] Taguchi's encyclopaedia entitled A Dictionary of Japanese Society,[15] Tsubouchi Yuzō's History of English Literature[16] and Kuroiwa's work on monism entitled A Treatise on Heaven and Man.[17] But the work which undoubtedly did more than any other single factor to mould Japan into its present shape was The Condition of Western Countries[18] by Fukuzawa—a book now thirty years old. The reception accorded to the same author's "Hundred Essays,"[19] published in 1897, showed his popularity to be as fresh as ever; and his Autobiography,[20] which appeared in 1899, has since then passed through thirty-four editions, and is, in the present writer's opinion, one of the most interesting books in the Japanese language. The fact that it is written in colloquial should facilitate its perusal by foreign students.

And now it may be asked: What is the value of this Japanese literature—so ancient, so voluminous, locked up in so recondite a written character? We repeat what we have already said of the "Collection of a Myriad Leaves,"—that it is invaluable to the philologist, the archaeologist, the historian, the student of curious manners which have disappeared or are fast disappearing. We may add that there are some clever and many pretty things in it. The Tosa Niki, for instance, is charming—charming in its simplicity, its good taste, its love of scenery and of children. The 'Makura no Soshi teems with touches of wit and delicate satire. Several of the lyric dramas are remarkable poems in their way. Some of the Lilliputian odes in the "Songs Ancient and Modern" sparkle like dew-drops in the sun; and of Bashō's still tinier poems—the wee seventeen syllable mites—many are flashes of delicate fancy, atoms of perfect naturalistic description, specks of humour truth, or wisdom. For Jippensha Ikku, the Rabelais of Japan, we have already expressed our warm admiration. Not a few of the writers of the present reign would, if born under other skies, have taken a respectable rank among European litterateurs. On the other hand, much of that which the Japanese themselves prize most highly in their literature seems intolerably flat and insipid to the European taste. The romances most of them are every bit as dull as the histories, though in another way: the histories are too curt, the romances too long-winded. If the authoress of the Genji Mono-gatari, though landed to the skies by her compatriots, has been branded by Georges Bousquet as cette ennuyeuse Scudèry japonaise, she surely richly deserves it.[21] And what shall we say of Bakin, on whom her mantle fell in modern times,—Bakin and his Hakken Den, which every Japanese has read and re-read till he knows it almost by heart? "How inimitable!" cries the enraptured Japanese reader, "how truly excellent!" "Excellent, yes!" the European retorts, "excellent to send one to sleep, with its interminable accounts of the impossible adventures of eight knights, who personify the eight cardinal virtues through the labyrinth of a hundred and six volumes!

Sum total: what Japanese literature most lacks is genius. It lacks thought, logical grasp, depth, breadth, and many-sidedness, it is too timorous, too narrow to compass great things. Perhaps the Court atmosphere and predominantly feminine influence in which it was nursed for the first few centuries of its existence stifled it, or else the fault may have lain with the Chinese formalism in which it grew up. But we suspect that there was some original sin of weakness as well. Otherwise the clash of India and China with old mythological Japan, of Buddhism with Shintō, of imperialism with feudalism, and of all with Catholicism in the sixteenth century and with Dutch ideas a little later, would have produced more important results. If Japan has given us no music, so also has she given us no immortal verse, neither do her authors atone for lack of substance by any special beauties of form. But Japanese literature has occasional graces, and is full of incidental scientific interest. The intrepid searcher for facts and "curios" will, therefore, be rewarded if he has the courage to devote to it the study of many years. A certain writer has said that "it should be left to a few missionaries to plod their way through the wilderness of the Chinese language to the deserts of Chinese literature." Such a sweeping condemnation is unjust in the case of Chinese. It would be unjust in that of Japanese also, even with all deductions made.

Books recommended. A History of Japanese Literature, by W. G. Aston. The Asiatic Transactions, both English and German, passim, for a variety of translations and summaries including (of works mentioned in the foregoing article) the Kojiki, the Nihongi, portions of the Man-yōshū, the Sumiyoshi Mono-gatari, selections from the Uji Shūi, the Hōjōki, the Tosa Niki, and most of the Norito.—The Monthly Summary of Current Japanese Literature in the "Japan Mail" newspaper.—A Geschichte der Japanischen Literatur, by Prof. K. Florenz, is in process of publication. The largest Japanese library accessible to the public is the Tcikoku Tosho-kwan in Tōkyō. The library of the Imperial University of Tōkyō is also extensive; the collection formed by Max Miiller was added to it in 1901. Both these, however, are eclipsed by the library attached to the Imperial Cabinet, which is said to contain 170,000 Japanese, and 370,000 Chinese volumes, and to include many Chinese works no longer extant in China itself.

  1. This word is commonly pronounced nikki, but niki is more ancient and correct.
  2. When Mrs. Iwamoto, the accomplished translator of this novel, died, copies of her works, of all the Tōkyō newspapers published on the day of her funeral, and of recent magazines and other books were buried with her, every care being taken to guard against decay, and thus preserve intact for future ages specimens of the literary activity of the present reign.
  3. Kaikoku Shimatsu.
  4. Ni-sen Go-hyaku Nen Shi.
  5. Tokugawa Jū-go-dai Shi.
  6. Bakufu Suibō Ron.
  7. Shōrai no Nihon.
  8. Yoshida Shōin.
  9. Kokken Hanron.
  10. Saikoku Risshi Hen.
  11. Nihon Bungaku Shi.
  12. Genkai.
  13. Kotoba no Izumi.
  14. I-ro-ha Jiten.
  15. Nihon Shakwai Jii.
  16. Eibun-gaku Shi.
  17. Ten-jin Ron.
  18. Seiyo Jijō.
  19. Fuknō Hyaku-wa.
  20. Fukuō Jiden.
  21. Sir Ernest Satow's judgment of the Genji filono-gatari agrees with ours. "The plot," writes he, "is devoid of interest, and it is only of value as marking a stage in the development of the language." Fairness, however, requires that the very different estimate of this work formed by Mr. Aston, the accomplished historian of Japanese literature, should he here cited. He writes as follows:—

    "I do not profess to have read more than a small part of this portentously long romance, hut judging from a study of a few books of it, the above condemnations appear to me undeserved. The ornate style to which these adverse critics object consists chiefly in the honorific terminations of the verbs, as natural to a courtly dialect as the gorgeous but cumbrous costumes and the elaborate ceremonial of the palace. There is no superabundance of descriptive adjectives or anything to correspond to our word-painting. The want of interest complained of seems to me to proceed from a misunderstanding of the writer's object. She was not bent on producing a highly wrought plot or sensational story. Her object was to interest and amuse her readers by a picture of real life, and of the sentiments and doings of actual men and women. There is no exaggeration in the Genji, no superfine morality, and none of the fine writing that abounds in modern Japanese fiction. What Murasaki-no-Shikibu did for Japanese literature was to add to it a new kind of composition, viz. the novel, or epic, of real life as it has been called. She was the Richardson of Japan, and her genius resembled his in many ways. She delighted specially in delineating types of womanhood. Indeed, the whole work may be regarded as a series of pictures of this kind, drawn with minute care, and from a full knowledge of her subject-matter. She does not deal in broad strokes of the pen. Her method is to produce graphic and realistic effects by numerous touches of detail. This is, however, incompatible with simplicity of style. Her sentences are long and somewhat complicated, and this with the antique language and the differences of manners and customs constitutes a very serious difficulty to the student. The Genji is not an easy book either to us or to the author's modern fellow-countrymen. The labour of mastering its meaning is probably one reason why it is not more appreciated. As a picture of a long past state of society, there is nothing in the contemporary European literature which can for a moment be compared with it. It contains a host of personages from Mikados down to the lowest court attendants, to elucidate whose genealogy the standard Kogetsushō edition has devoted a whole volume. Its scene is laid sometimes in Kyōto, but also changes to Hiyeizan, Suma, and other places in the neighbourhood. A whole calendar of court ceremonies might be compiled from it. If we remember that it was written long before Chaucer, Dante, and Boccaccio shone on the horizon of European literature, it will appear a truly remarkable performance." (This quotation is made, not from the History of Japanese Literature itself, but from a preliminary essay entitled The Classical Literature of Japan, read before the Japan Society, London, in June, 1898.)