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Japanese Literature Essay

1617 words - 6 pages

Rich in sensitivity, quality and variety, Japanese literature ranks as one of the great literatures of the world. While some of its works are over 1,300 years old, they still capture us with their sensitivity to nature. Their writing is artfully worded and structured, and it has always been characterized by its lyrical beauty. In this essay, we will look at how Japanese literature has evolved over the years, beginning at the first complete works, and moving on through time to today's great Japanese writers.Japanese literature began around the year 700. At this point in time, a great amount of Chinese influence could be seen in their work. The Japanese did not have a writing system of their own, and so they adopted Chinese characters to their own needs. This can be seen clearly in the most ancient complete work, the 'Kojiki' (Records of Ancient Matters), which was completed in 712. Eight years later this was found again, in the second complete work produced by the Japanese, 'Nikon shoki' (Chronicles of Japan), which was completed eight years later.The first great literary achievement of the Japanese was the 'Manyo-shu' (Collection of Myriad Leaves). This is an excellent anthology of more than 4,500 poems. It was compiled mostly by the courtier-poet Otomo no Yakamochi at some point in the late 700's, but it contained some poems that had been written a century or more ago. The majority of poems found in this collection are the tanka. These poems are 31-syllables, and, like most Japanese poetry, do not rhyme, but rather have a subtle rhythm within the structure of the poem. These poems usually dealt with friendship, love, and nature. There are also several longer poems, most of which praise the imperial family. (Keene, The Pleasures of Japanese Literature 11)From 794 to 1185 the Japanese entered the Heian period, the first great period of Japanese literature. In this period, the greatest writers were usually women. During this period, the first work of Japanese fiction was written. It was entitled 'Taketori monogatari' (The tale of the Bamboo Cutter). This is a fairy tale that becomes a humorous satire on a group of gentlemen who have all fallen in love with the same women. All of them attempt to capture her love, but in the end her love is won by a suitor who they weren't even aware of. (Aston, History of Japanese Literature 76-80)The next fictional story written is today considered to be the greatest fictional Japanese work ever. 'Genji monogatari' (The Tale of Genji), written in the early 1000's by a noblewoman by the name of Murasaki Shikibu deserves to be described as the first true novel, and one of the classics of literature. It focused on Prince Genji whose irresistible appeal was match only by his sensibility to beauty, be it in nature, the arts, or in a woman. There are hundreds of other characters throughout the story, all of whom are skillfully manipulated through all of the various twists within the plot.Diaries and essays were also...

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