Japan Contemporary Literature

By | January 14, 2022

In the last twenty years of the 20th century, the great economic and social development of Japan and the consequent formation of a mass culture and of an audience on whose choices the mass media play a decisive role have significantly affected literary production in terms both quantitative and qualitative. The wave of ferment, enthusiasm and counter-current proposals that had invested the Japanese cultural world since the 1960s is still reflected in the works of some writers who share a position of marginality and denial of official culture and the values ​​it proposes.. Among them stands out the aforementioned K. Ōe, an author far from the general public, despite the international recognition obtained in 1994 with the Nobel Prizefor literature: the imaginative richness, the polyvalence of language, the experimental character characterize the cycle of 3 novels, Sukuinushi ga nagurareru made (“When the Savior will be struck”, 1993), Yureugoku-Vacillation (“Vacillare-Vacillation”, 1994) and Ōinaru hi ni (“In the immense sun”, 1995), which have in common the subtitle Moeagaru midori no ki (“Green tree in flames”), inspired by WB Yeats.

Alongside Ōe, there are: the aforementioned K. Abe, who tackled the problem of the marginalization and isolation of the individual in a surrealistic key in an efficient society aimed at the exclusive achievement of profit; M. Inoue, moved by a constant and angry desire to defend against all forms of exploitation and social injustice: his latest work, Jiyū o warera ni (“To us the freedom”, 1992), structured as a set of letters, poems, interviews and memoirs, is set in 2001 in a penitentiary located on the island of Seihō, where 400 prisoners are held who have committed a crime in the name of a true or alleged defense of their freedom. The youngest K. Nakagami also dwelt on the most uncomfortable and disturbing aspects of Japanese society, from Shingū, a village in the Wakayama region, where socially marginalized groups known as burakunin (“village people”) live; against the backdrop of a lyrically evoked nature, Nakagami represented the violent discriminations and crimes of which man is capable (from Misaki “The promontory”, 1975, to Izoku “Razze diverse”, posthumously, 1993).

It is also necessary to remember writers of older generation who have played a different but no less important role. J. Ishikawa linked his fame to the novel Kyōfūki (“Chronicle of a mad wind”, 1971-80), where a solid vision of contemporary reality is mixed with the evocation of an indefinite and disturbing past, in a choice in favor of irrational and fantastic which represents one of the happiest aspects of contemporary Japanese literature. M. Ibuse is also known outside of Japan above all for the novel Kuroi ame (1963; trans. It. The black rain, 1993), dedicated to the bombing of Hiroshima. Y. Inoue he was the author of popular stories that often privilege the history of the continent, China, the Mongol Empire; set in Japan is Honkakubō ibun (“The memories of the monk Honkaku”, 1981), dedicated to the figure of the famous master of the tea ceremony Sen no Rikyū (16th century). S. Endō addressed the difficult issue of the insertion of the Catholic religion in Japan and, more generally, of the confrontation between profoundly different cultures. Finally, some writers such as S. Kuroi and Y. Furui deserve a place apart, exponents of ‘an introverted generation’, led to examine everyday and marginal episodes and to reject any defined ideology.

Female literature, already illustrated in the 1960s by the disturbing and complex narrative of T. Kōno, boasts a prominent personality like that of Y. Kurahashi, who from the metaphysical stories written in the 1960s has passed to the stories collected in Otona no tame zankoku dōwa («Perverse fairy tales for adults», 1984) and in Kurahashi Yumiko no kaiki shōhen («Short fantastic tales of KY», 1986), poised between a refined intellectualism and a dark humor. The production of the writers of her generation privileges the more specific themes of the female condition, such as the couple relationship and the bond with family and children. In addition to T. Tomioka and A. Hikari, Y. Tsushima should be mentioned, which achieved one of its best results with Kagayaku mizu no jidai (“The Age of Shining Water”, 1994), 4 distinct stories that revolve around the experiences of a divorced woman, told in the clear language of the writer, full of symbolic implications and dreamlike elements. A separate mention deserves H. Setouchi (also known as Setouchi Jakucho) who linked his name to a successful version in modern Japanese (1996) of the 11th century masterpiece. Genji monogatari.

According to Shoefrantics, the dominant phenomenon of the 1990s is the birth of ever new bestsellers (mirion serā), whose sales reach remarkable heights. The most spectacular success concerns not so much literary works in the strict sense as a genre of popular non-fiction, popular, immediately connected to the news. Two significant titles can be cited: Nihon o dame ni shita kyūnin no seijika (“The seven politicians who ruined Japan”, 1993), the work of a well-known television personality, K. Hamada, and Nōnai kakumei (“The revolution of the world of the brain”, 1995) by S. Haruyama, which sold 13 million copies in 1996. Even the novel can boast a notable response from the public, and sometimes from critics. Some writers, who already have a long and successful career behind them, have reappeared with works of great interest. S. Maruya, known for social criticism novels as Tatta hitori no hanran (“The revolution of the individual”, 1972), attempted in Onnazakari (“The Strong Age”, 1993) an examination of contemporary Japanese society, filtered through the experience of an attractive journalist struggling with the political pressures provoked by the publication of some of her articles. N. Ikezawa, after the success of Still life (1978), published Mashiasu Giri no shikkyaku (“The Fall of Macias Guili”, 1993), set in the imaginary Republic of Navidad in the South Seas, where human existence moves in unison with the forces of nature and it is marked by rituals and ceremonies. After a brilliant debut with vaguely science fiction stories, H. Murakami has consolidated his success also at an international level with novels in which he mixes adventure and fantasy, cynicism and sentimental notes with intelligence and craft. Even R. Murakami, after the smashing success of the debut novel Kagirinaku Tomei ni chikai Buru (1976; trans. It. Almost Transparent Blue, 1993), turned to topical issues such as AIDS (Kyoko, 1995). Inspired by a news story is Kobe shinsai no nikki (“Diary of the Kobe earthquake”, 1996) by Y. Tanaka, author of the provocative Nantonaku kurisutaru (“Somehow crystal”, 1980), a novel with an almost non-existent plot but complete from a prodigious apparatus of notes (no less than 442) dedicated to illustrating shops, restaurants, clothes and all consumer products in general.

One of the most relevant phenomena of the last years of the century is the presence of female writers who shamelessly tell about female sexuality; among them E. Yamada, R. Matsuura, author of unscrupulous stories bordering on the grotesque that explore the nature of a primitive sexuality, Yu Miri, of Korean origins, who describes the contradictions of contemporary Japanese culture and society. The light atmosphere that characterizes the works of the aforementioned Yoshimoto, author of novels built on slender stories, on light images and barely outlined moods, which occupy the first places in the national rankings and enjoy enormous success abroad, is quite different., from Kitchin (1988; transl. it. Kitchen, 1991) to Umi no futa (2004; trans. it. The cover of the sea, 2007).

Japan Contemporary Literature