20 Oct 2008

Essays on Japanese Literature

When we speak of literature, our mind tends to drift westward towards American and European literature. Yet many other literary histories are just as significant and dynamic. From the passions of Arabic lore to the dramatic cultural tones of Japanese literature, we overlook much of the richness of human experience, desire, and tradition.

Japanese literature is an excellent example of this truth. Western society prides itself on the works of William Shakespeare, Tolstoy, and even Homer’s Iliad, yet from Japan we have Kojiki (a compilation of Japanese myth and legends), Nihon Shoki (a chronology of historical events), and Man’yōshū (perhaps some of the most beautiful poetry in the world). A note of significance is Nihon Shoki is considered more historically accurate than Kojiki, which is suspected of being a historical cleansing executed to rewrite Japanese history after the fall of the Soga clan to legitimize the Imperial Throne. The Kojiki also focuses primarily on the lineage of Japanese deities and is thus still considered significant in Japanese literature.

In another way, Japanese literature has claim to another literary first. In western culture, when we think of literature such as science fiction, H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine is usually considered one of the earliest works. Yet it is in Japanese literature that we find perhaps the oldest example. Taketori Monogatari (roughly translated as “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter”) is a wonderful 10th century Japanese folktale about a bamboo cutter finding a tiny baby inside a bamboo stalk (reminiscent of the tale of Thumbelina) and takes her to raise as his own daughter. In the end, it is learned the girl was a princess of the moon, sent to Earth for safety during a celestial war.

  • Much of Japanese literature focuses on the power of minor people performing wondrous tasks and adventures. How is this balanced against the backdrop of Japanese traditional loyalty to family and authorities or is there even a conflict between them?
  • With the richness and diversity of Japanese literature, why has western society overlooked or ignored its significance?

When researching foreign literature, students are often overwhelmed not by the volume of information, as with western literature, but with the task of finding relevant resources and translations. With the advent of the Internet, this is becoming less of an issue, but advanced research skills, like those our writers possess, are frequently still necessary to locate the desired information on Japanese literature.

Contact us today to learn how we can assist in your Japanese literature essay.

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