Japanese Literature

Writing was introduced to Japan from China in the 5th century via Korea. The oldest surviving works are two historical records, the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, which were completed in the early 8th century. In the 11th century, during the peak of the Heian Period, the world's first novel, The Tale of Genji, was written in Japan.

During the Meiji Period (1868-1912), an influx of foreign texts spurred the development of modern Japanese literature. Influential authors of the time include Higuchi Ichiyo, whose image is on the 5000 yen bill; Natsume Soseki, who is best known for his Matsuyama-based novel "Botchan"; and Miyazawa Kenji, a poet and children's literature author from Iwate best known for his work "Night on the Galactic Railroad".

Since then, Japan has maintained a vibrant literary culture, and contemporary writers such as Kawabata Yasunari and Oe Kenzaburo have won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968 and 1994 respectively.

Below are a few places in Japan where the country's literary heritage can be appreciated:

Ehime Prefecture
Matsuyama (more details)
Matsuyama is home to three famous Japanese writers: Natsume Soseki and Shiba Ryotaro, who both set their novels in Matsuyama; and poet Masaoka Shiki. Each author has museums, monuments and statues dedicated to them around the city.

Kyoto Prefecture
Uji (more details)
The Tale of Genji is an 11th-century work of fiction written by a Japanese noblewoman describing the intrigues of court life during the Heian Period. The town of Uji is frequently mentioned in the novel, and several locations around the town are marked by statues and plaques. Visitors can also visit the Tale of Genji Museum to learn more about this novel that has stood the test of time.

Iwate Prefecture
Tono (more details)
Tono is well known for its collection of folklore involving legends of spirits, animals and supernatural creatures. This rich oral tradition was eventually transcribed and collated into a book in 1910 - the "Legends of Tono". The legends continue to be told today and visitors can attend these story telling performances (in Japanese) at the folk villages, museums and at some of the hotels around town.

Okayama Prefecture
Kibi Plain (more details)
The Kibi Plain was the center of the Kibi Kingdom. The area is known for the legend of Prince Kibitsuhiko, which serves as the foundation of the famous folktale "Momotaro". The folktale chronicles the journey of a boy, who was born of a peach (momo) and defeated a band of ogres who were terrorizing the land. Visitors can follow a cycling route that loosely follows the legend of Prince Kibitsuhiko, passing several important shrines, temples and burial mounds along the way.

Shizuoka Prefecture
Kawazu Nanadaru (more details)
The Kawazu Seven Waterfalls (Kawazu Nanadaru) are seven waterfalls in the mountains above Kawazu Town in the southeast of the Izu Peninsula. This area was also the setting of Nobel laureate Kawabata Yasunari's short story "Izu no Odoriko" (The Izu Dancer). Visitors can follow a walking trail with several life-sized statues of the odoriko (dancing girls) depicted in the story. Over on Izu Oshima island, the Odoriko no Sato Museum has life-sized odoriko models commemorating the dancers depicted in the short story.

See also our page about Japanese poetry.

Last updated: November 24, 2014
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