Most Famous Literary works
Japan’s ancient history has imbued it with a diverse literary heritage largely ignored by American literati and professors, save for a few notable exceptions. Anyone wanting to further explore the full range of the country’s written works should consider this list a primer of the highlights to hit before moving on to other poems, novels, plays, comics and short stories. Plenty of amazing writers and narratives exist beyond these, of course, and anyone who digs for them will dredge up a slew of literary treasures.
- Kokin Wakashu (circa 905) by Various: Emperor Uda and his scion and successor, Emperor Daigo, ordered this collection of royal waka to celebrate Japan’s rich creative heritage. Spanning 21 collections and roughly 1, 111 poems, it was compiled by court poets Mibu no Tadamine, Ki no Tsurayuki, Ki no Tomonori and Oshikochi Mitsune and included works by Ono no Komachi, Ariwara no Narihira and Fujiwara no Okikaze Henjo as well as the editors themselves.
- Taketori Monogatari (10th Century) by Unknown: Known alternately as “The Tale of the Bamboo-Cutter” and “The Old Bamboo-Hewer’s Story, ” folklorists believe this narrative is quite possibly the oldest in Japan. Because of the bizarre content, including glowing stalks of the eponymous plant, some even think of the story as one of the earliest science-fiction stories as well.
- The Tale of Genji (early 11th Century) by Murasaki Shikibu: Many, if not most, literary critics and aficionados consider The Tale of Genji humanity’s first novel. At least in the format familiar today, anyways. Featuring over 400 characters, though focusing on the life of only one, it provides history buffs a glimpse into Japanese life under the feudal system. In spite of this epic scope, Murasaki Shikibu masterfully maintains internal consistency.
- Konjaku Monogatarishu (circa 12th Century) by Various: Only 28 of the original 31 volumes of Konjaku Monogatarishu survive today. Thousands of folk stories from across Asia, including India and China, come together thanks to the efforts of a currently unknown compiler. Many believe it was a Buddhist monk’s doing, and the exact date of its inception is unknown, too.
- The Tale of the Heike (13th Century) by Various: Like many medieval literary works, this epic poem was less the efforts of one rather than a collaboration from many. It depicts the histories of the Minamoto and Taira tribes and their mutual struggle for dominance during...