Asuka and Nara Literture

Movement: Asuka and Nara Literture
Dates: c. 542 - c. 784

Before the introduction of kanji from China to Japan, Japan had no writing system; it is believed that Chinese characters came to Japan at the very beginning of the fifth century, brought by immigrants from the mainland of Korean and Chinese descent. Early Japanese texts first followed the Chinese model, before gradually transitioning to a hybrid of Chinese characters used in Japanese syntactical formats, resulting in sentences written with Chinese characters but read phonetically in Japanese.

Chinese characters were also further adapted, creating what is known as man'ygana, the earliest form of kana, or Japanese syllabic writing. The earliest literary works in Japan were created in the Nara period. These include the Kojiki (712), a historical record that also chronicles ancient Japanese mythology and folk songs; the Nihon Shoki (720), a chronicle written in Chinese that is significantly more detailed than the Kojiki; and the Man'ysh (759), a poetry anthology. One of the stories they describe is the tale of Urashima Tar.


  • Aston, William George. A History of Japanese Literature, William Heinemann, 1899.
  • Birnbaum, A., (ed.). Monkey Brain Sushi: New Tastes in Japanese Fiction. Kodansha International (JPN).
  • Donald Keene
    • Modern Japanese Literature, Grove Press, 1956. ISBN0-394-17254-X
    • World Within Walls: Japanese Literature of The Pre-Modern Era 16001867, Columbia University Press 1976 reprinted 1999 ISBN0-231-11467-2
    • Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature in the Modern Era, Poetry, Drama, Criticism, Columbia University Press 1984 reprinted 1998 ISBN0-231-11435-4
    • Travellers of a Hundred Ages: The Japanese as Revealed Through 1,000 Years of Diaries, Columbia University Press 1989 reprinted 1999 ISBN0-231-11437-0
    • Seeds in the Heart: Japanese Literature from the Earliest Times to the Late Sixteenth Century, Columbia University Press 1993 reprinted 1999 ISBN0-231-11441-9
  • McCullough, Helen Craig, Classical Japanese prose: an anthology, Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1990, ISBN0-8047-1628-5
  • Miner, Earl Roy, Odagiri, Hiroko, and Morrell, Robert E., The Princeton companion to classical Japanese literature, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1985. ISBN0-691-06599-3
  • Ema Tsutomu, Taniyama Shigeru, Ino Kenji, Shinsh Kokugo Sran () Kyoto Shob 1977 revised 1981 reprinted 1982

See also

  • List of Japanese writers
  • List of Japanese classical texts
  • Japanese poetry
  • Aozora Bunko a repository of Japanese literature
  • Japanese detective fiction
  • Japanese science fiction
  • Light novel


Further reading

  • Aston, William George. A history of Japanese literature (NY, 1899) online
  • Karatani, Kjin. Origins of modern Japanese literature (Duke University Press, 1993).
  • Kat, Shichi. A History of Japanese Literature: The first thousand years. Vol. 1. (Tokyo; New York: Kodansha International, 1979).
  • Keene, Donald. Japanese literature: An introduction for Western readers (1953).
  • Konishi, Jin'ichi. A History of Japanese Literature, Volume 3: The High Middle Ages (Princeton University Press, 2014).

Primary sources

  • Keene, Donald. Anthology of Japanese literature: from the earliest era to the mid-nineteenth century (Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 2007).

Online text libraries

  • Japanese Text Initiative, University of Virginia Library Electronic Text Center
  • Premodern Japanese Texts and Translations, Michael Watson, Meiji Gakuin University


  • Japanese Literature Publishing Project, the Agency for Cultural Affairs of Japan
  • Japanese Book News Website, the Japan Foundation
  • Electronic texts of pre-modern Japanese literature by Satoko Shimazaki
  • List of literary awards for fiction and nonfiction.

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