Modern Japanese literature used to be divided into two broad genres: the "pure" - art for art's sake; and the "popular" - easily accessible works with an emphasis on entertainment. Into the "pure" category fell conceptual works dealing with politics and ideology or refined aesthetics, such as those by Junichiro Tanizaki and Yasunari Kawabata. Their globally renowned novels often express a Japanese sense of beauty based on the notion, from mediaeval times, of life as being transient and evanescent.

However, the pure/popular distinction started to break down in the latter half of the 20th century, and today it is virtually impossible to place a novel firmly in one genre or another. The classifications of the literary world seem to mirror the vague divisions between "high culture" and "sub-culture" evident elsewhere in contemporary culture. This trend is also discernible in novelistic techniques, as pure literature adopts devices such as fantasy, fable and science fiction that would once have been lmost inconceivable in this genre. In addition, globalisation has caught up with Japan's literary scene, giving rise to a large number of novels that either do not emphasise or transcend the traditional lyric qualities of Japanese literature. These developments suggest that Japanese literature has for the first time taken on a global flavour.


Text by Hiroharu Ayame (Professor, Japanese Language and Literature, Notre Dame Seishin University)


Copyright 2007 - Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan

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