Japanese Literature: A Very Short Introduction

Japanese Literature Book Cover

Japanese Literature: A Very Short Introduction

Alan Tansman
Berkeley Book Chats

In Japanese Literature: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2023), Alan Tansman (East Asian Languages & Cultures) traces the rich history of Japanese literature, which encompasses a vast range of forms and genres stretching back nearly 1500 years.

Since the eighth century, poetry and the non-philosophical lyric voice have occupied a central position in Japanese literary expression. The art of narrative blossomed in the eleventh century with one of the world's great literary masterpieces, Murasaki Shikibu's The Tale of Genji and later in the work of the great modern novelists Natsume Sôseki, Tanizaki Jun'ichirô, Kawabata Yasunari, Kôbo Abe, and Ôe Kenzaburô. Beginning with Murasaki and through the present day, Japanese women writers have occupied a central place in the tradition: Higuchi Ichiyô, Kôda Aya, and Takahashi Takako, among others. Japanese literature birthed other genres no less important than poetry and narrative — among them the literary diary, the free-flowing essay, drama, the picture book, and the literary treatise. As steeped as it is in a consciously beautiful literary rendering of the world, Japanese literature has also been deeply responsive to history and violence, including the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

While intensely attentive to its own tradition, Japanese literature has also imbibed influences from around the globe — early on from China, and later from Europe, the United States, and Latin America. Japanese literature has been embraced by the outside world in turn, exporting literary genres such as the haiku, and bestselling authors such as Yukio Mishima and Haruki Murakami. 

A succinct introduction to one of the most dynamic and diverse world literatures, this Very Short Introduction traces the rich history of Japanese literature from its beginnings over a millennium ago to the present day.

Tansman is joined by Dorothy Hale (English). After a brief discussion, they respond to questions from the audience.

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