The first twenty years of the Meiji era (1868-1912) constitute an era of assimilation of new ideas imported from the West, and all energy is absorbed by the needs that have suddenly arisen in the bosom of a renewing society. Faced with the vast horizons opened by a civilization rich in glorious conquests like that of Europe, one feels the need to take possession of it, to penetrate it. This explains the enormous success, for example, of the Seiy ō Jij ō (Conditions of the West, 1866) by Fukuzawa Yukichi (1835-1901). The greatest interest is first aroused by our philosophical systems. Nakae Tokusuke (d. 1901) translates theRousseau’s social contract, Katō Hiroyuki spreads German materialism, Fukuzawa American utilitarianism (Fuku – ō Hyakuwa “One Hundred Dialogues of Old Fukuzawa”, 1897), while, at the same time, a whole production of adaptations, rather than translations, of European writers. Smiles, Spencer, Carlyle, Scott, Bacon, Dickens, Lytton, Disraeli, Maltravers and others absorb, thus, the activity of writers in the period 1879-85.
The process of modernization, too rapid, soon aroused a reaction, the beginning of which must be placed in 1885 with the appearance of a famous pamphlet: Sh ō setsu Shinzui (The spirit of the novel) by Tsubouchi Shōyō (born in 1859), which, averse to the conventional method of Bakin and imitators, argues that the novel, as an interpretation of life, must paint this as it is, not as it should be. His novels (Shosei Katagi “Types of Students”, 1886; Saikun “The Wife”, 1888; Imose Kagami”The spouses”, 1885-86 etc.), which appeared soon after, illustrated his concept. His ally, Hasegawa Futabatei Shimei (1862-1909), admirer and translator of Russian writers, was the first to use the spoken language, which enriched with him and acquired power and expression. Under the influence of the two, one influenced by the English, the other by the Russians, a whole production arose in which two currents were soon outlined: an aesthetic-realist, led by Ozaki Kōyō (1867-1903), writer elegant and psychologist, founder of the literary circle Ken – y ū – sha (The friends of the inkwell), whose fame rests especially on the novel Konijki Yasha(The golden demon, 1897); the other, aesthetic-idealist, represented by Kōda Roban (born in 1867), esthete and philosopher, exhumer of the Saikwaku style (F ū ry ū – outsu “The beautiful statue of Buddha”, Go – j ū no T ō ” The pagoda of the five floors “, etc.).
A defect of these realists was the lack of experience of life, hence the impossibility of understanding the problems of the time. The interest of the public was therefore not long in waning them, also because its attention was beginning to be attracted by a whole series of novels and translations which marked a period of transition until the rise of naturalism. Among the writers in vogue it should be noted Higuchi Ichiyō (1872-1896), a seamstress, who in Umore – gi (Woods fossils, 1893), Nigori – e (Palude mortifera, 1894) and other works surprises the compatriots with her full descriptions of feeling and pity, and Tokutomi Rokwa (born in 1898) Tolstoian, whose famous novel Hototogisu(The cuckoo, 1900) was also translated into English. German literature begins in this period to be appreciated with the very accurate translations, the first example of this kind, of Kleist, Lessing, Hoffmann and others, which came from the pen of Mori Ōgwai (1860-1922), also author of translations of French and Italian writers and original works (Mai – hime “The dancer”; Sokky ō Shijin “The extemporaneous poet”, etc.), the style of which reveals his profound knowledge of Western literatures.
According to Intershippingrates, this leads to the Russo-Japanese war. Victory changes social conditions and well-being generates a real hedonistic frenzy, hitherto unknown. In search of a new interpretation of life, the young men of letters turn to Zola, Maupassant, Dostoevskij, Ibsen, D’Annunzio. Under the influence of these, naturalism arises with the affirmation that art must be a natural and real expression of life, and it becomes such only if it is freed from the shackles of every moral convention that prevent it from making intimate contact with it. Among the phalanx of supporters of the new current, Toyama Kwatai (born in 1871), fruitful and sensual, Shimazaki Tōson (born in 1872), sentimental, Masamune Hakuchō (born in 1879), nihilist, and above all Kunikida Doppo (1871- 1908),
Naturalism too, with its often brutal representations of life, soon tired the public and had to yield to other ideals. Meanwhile, a series of novels of a higher level highlighted the name of Natsume Sōseki (1867-1916), of which the wit, the depth of psychological analysis, tinged with a mild skepticism, and the classicism of style, clear and pleasant, they were much appreciated. His best works include: Wagahai wa neko de aru (I am a cat, 1905), B ō tchan (A simpleton, 1906), Kokoro (Heart, 1914). Of his followers, Kikuchi Kwan (born 1889), critic, in short novels and dramatic sketches, such as T ō j ū r ōno koi (The Love of T., 1919) etc., affirms the need, for man, of a reasonable objectivity, so that he can find his own way, above sentiment and social conventions; Akutakawa Ryūnosuke, a psychologist, enjoys dealing with old topics in a new way, and Kume Masao (born 1891), sentimental and analytical, gives colorful and throbbing descriptions of modern life.
In the early years of the Taishō era (1912-1926), a group of writers, imbued with Tolstoian ideologies and full of altruistic and humanitarian conceptions of life, make up the magazine Shirakaba(The white birch), which they founded, the tool of their thinking, while a series of novels highlights the best. Among these, Mushakōji Saneatsu (born in 1885), Tolstoian, author of novels overflowing with passion, Arishima Takerō and his brother Ikuma, Satomi Ton (born in 1887) and Shiga Naoya (born in 1883), original stylist and rigid moralist. Another group of idealist-humanitarians, but of a different inspiration from the Tolstoian, include Tanizaki Juni-chirō (born in 1886), erotic writer of sensation novels, Nagai Kafū (born in 1879), famous hedonist and Satō Haruo (born in 1892), with a style full of imagination.
After the European war, the country witnessed the rise of a whole production tending to the enhancement of social ideals. Among the most eminent figures are Kagawa Toyokiho (born in 1889), a Christian-socialist and Nishida Tenkō, a Buddhist-Franciscan, who affirms his solidarity with the poor, while Akita Uiaku (born in 1883) and Fujii Shinchō, along the lines of Barbusse, they work on the creation of a proletarian literature.
The discussion of scientific literature, which the numerous contributions of the Japanese in the various branches of knowledge have already made conspicuous in terms of volume and quality, does not enter the context of this brief review, but a word should be said about the current state of historical studies in the country. The attempt to prune primitive history from myth is not, of course, under a theocratic regime, a work accepted; and for Japan, in particular, it runs counter to the theory of divine imperial descent. In such a state of affairs, those few who took risks in this attempt had to suffer the marks of official disapproval. Most scholars, such as Inoue Tetsujirō, Anesaki Masaharu, Haga Yaichi and others have had to direct their research into different fields of history, where they have earned well-deserved laurels,
Poetry. – An attempt to introduce some characteristics of European verses (long poems, divisions into stanzas and verses, rhyme, etc.), and to use the modern language, was made by Toyama Masakazu (1848-1900) with the collaboration of a few others. This new fashion (shintaishi, “poetry in the new form”), received at first a good reception and followed with translations or adaptations of western poets and with original compositions, but the old tanka and haikai, ended up regaining the upper hand, acquiring, however, wider horizons of inspiration and thought.
Among the contemporary poets, the greatest is perhaps the emperor Mutsuhito (1852-1912), who left us thousands of poems, mostly patriotic. Yosano Tekkan (born in 1873) has a bit of the tone of the storyteller; his wife, Yosano Akiko (born in 1878), one of the greatest literary stars, has an inexhaustible streak full of imagination and passionate love; Matsuura Hajime shows an inimitable purity of sentence and style; Arishima Takerō and his brother Arishima Ikuma deal with the sad subjects of life, while Masaoka Shiki sings nature inspired by the Many ō sh ū. Alongside these “classics”, the shintaishiit is mainly represented by the lyrics of Shimazaki Tōson (born in 1872), by the melancholy symbolism of Kambara Yūmei and Susukida Kyūkin and by the sonorous epic of Tsuchii Bansui (born in 1871).