Japanese Literature

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JAPANESE LITERATURE – The Land of the Rising Sun

Japanese literature spans a period of almost two millennia. Early works were heavily influenced by cultural contact with China and its literature, often written in Classical Chinese thus Chinese characters occupy the most important place in Japanese literature. Indian literature also had an influence through the diffusion of Buddhism in Japan. Eventually, Japanese literature developed into a separate style in its own right as Japanese writers began writing their own works about Japan, although the influence of Classical Chinese literature remained until the end of the Edo period. Since Japan reopened its ports to Western trading and diplomacy in the 19th century, Western and Eastern literature have strongly affected each other and continue to do so. Japanese literature can be divided into four main periods: ancient, classical, medieval and modern.

Ancient literature (Until 794)

Before the introduction of kanji (ideas or concepts) from China, there was no Japanese writing system. At first, Chinese characters were used in Japanese syntactical formats, and the result was sentences that look like Chinese but are phonetically read as Japanese. With the introduction of kanji from the Asian mainland, writing became possible, as there was no native writing system. Consequently, the only literary language was Classical Chinese to begin with; later, the characters were adapted to write Japanese, creating what is known as the man'yōgana, the earliest form of kana, or syllabic writing. The writing language, therefore, consists mainly of characters borrowed from the Chinese, each character representing an idea. To read and write, the student must learn several thousand separate characters. But there now exists in Japan a basic alphabet of only forty-seven characters – the Katakana. The earliest works in Japanese literature were created in the Nara period. These include Kojiki (712), a work recording of...