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Introduction

Basics Of Japanese Literature

The Japanese literature has been spawned for a period spanning roughly two millennia of writing. Early literal work in the Japanese perspective was profoundly subjective to the Chinese literature, but Japan rapidly developed a style and quality distinct to its identity. Japan reopened its ports in the nineteenth century to western trade and international relations a factor which affected its literature heavily.

A salient feature prominent in Japanese literature is the ease to be comprehended in its original Japanese context. Some Japanese words and phrases lose their relevance and meaning once translated into another language which does not assimilate the constituent facets of Japanese culture. Translating Japanese literature is a daunting task owing to its deep cultural and linguistic diversity. Thus, many resident Japanese authors are not renowned in comparison to their counterparts residing in Europe and America.

Prelude To Japanese Literature

The Japanese literature had it’s inception in early eighth century after adopting a writing system from China. Amongst the first written government projects were the Kojiki, chiefly known as historical chronology of Japanese culture and the Chronicle Of Japan (Gordon 28)

The most luminous written products of this ancient era was the Man’yoshu interpreted as, collection of ten thousand leaves, comprising of an anthology of four thousand and five hundred poems. The collection was composed by a wide pool of writers comprising of, unidentified authors, the elite and the emperors around the year 759(Gordon 61)

In the early eleventh century the Hiragana alphabet obtained from the Chinese characters came into prominent use. Resplendent aristocracy sprung up owing to the increased knowledge, literacy and acquisition of written literature. Court ladies were highly utilized in developing the Japanese literature and this aided to minimize the primitive aspects of the written Japanese literature.

Later, as literature gained recognition in Japan, Konjaku monogatari also known as, tales of a time that is now past, added depth to Japanese literature (Gordon163).Contained in this volume were thousand ramified collection of written material from Buddhists and secular Indian tales. The tales gave a vivid description of the noble class and the way of living amongst the commoners in Japan.

The Meiji Era

Background Information

During the time period termed as Meiji Era, Japan was under the leadership of emperor Meiji who had to be transferred to Tokyo so that Japan could exert its self-rule over the European imperialists (Gordon, 144) Japan’s power had been suppressed under the dominion of westerners, who had compelled Japan to sign up unbalanced treaties to give the European colonies superior economic advantages.

In endeavor to assert its independence from the European and American imperialists, Meiji Japan was determined to close the gap to western powers politically and economically and that is when it started initiating a wave of radical reforms in all areas (Gordon 106).

The commencement of Meiji garnered a huge increase in the number of borrowed works imported into the Japanese set-up. There was introduction of ramified field of literature such as political, philosophical works novel writing.

Literature During The Meiji Era. Juxtapose

The foreign literature imported from abroad was translated to Japanese and acted as the springboard to a far reaching literary development in Japan. The budding writers in Japan were opened to new writing structures and literal stylistic devices; they also recognized and aped the writing of the long structured novel as a modern art form from the west.

There was a fresh inspiration upon the Japanese writers to try out different genres and writing styles; they made efforts to represent the prior oral Japanese literature in print .During this era the Japanese writers branched off from the graceful phraseology of written Japanese and tried out new literary written forms.

Dynamism was embraced by the promising novelists who successfully assimilated concepts borrowed from abroad. Consequently, a new informal literature came into being and some bizarre protagonists were invented like in the case of Natsume Soseki’s I Am a Cat, where the main character is a cat.

Under the sway of western culture during the Meiji period, Japanese literal elite took staggering steps towards developing Japanese modern literature. In the poetry genre, translated foreign poems birthed a revolution in the poetic world churning forth a new drastic way of broaching the poem genre. There was a wave of nascent novelists who contributed immensely to widen the Japanese literature, these included Mori Ogai who had studied in Germany and Natsume Soseki a refined student from Britain (Gordon 192)

Value Of Literature In Meiji Era.

The Book (I am a cat by Natsume Soseki)

I am a cat is a cleverly interwoven master piece relayed with acerbic wit, blended with humor and sardonic truths. In this book, the author illuminates the intrigues of the upper-middle class Japanese society through a tale of whimsical adventures of a weary stray kitten.

The tale depicts an unwanted lost kitten who apparently finds a home in a house of a schoolteacher and starts prying into the ordinary lives of human beings. In the book, Natsume Soseki brings out the upheaval of the Meiji period as he relates to the tales of a stray cat probing deeper into the lives of human beings and fellow cats living in the neighborhood. A book written for the period spanning 1904 to 1906 reveals the delight of a stray cat whose particular joy is commenting on the folly of human beings (Natsume 216)

To add on, the author of the book comes out uniquely to exhibit a cat with ability to observe the trends and foibles of Edwardian Japan, with an acute eye to the satirical and the ridiculous humans he stumbles upon on daily basis. The cat exposes the harsh trials of his master and the tribulations he and the neighboring friends have to put up with in the suburban Tokyo locality.

In a unique way the author probes into the challenges that broached the Japanese people during the Meiji restoration since the time of the Russo-Japanese conflicts of the early 20th century. (Natsume 45) The nameless cat finally draws a conclusion about the coherent explanations for human behavior it finds curious. He highlights his plight in a way fairly akin to the ridiculous affectation of the humans which populate its milieu.

Measuring the Literature value of “I am a cat”

The book opens with a quirky remark as the main character; unnamed cat delves into a pitiful monologue “I am a cat. As yet I have no name. I’ve no idea where I was born.”(Natsume 1) The writer immediately introduces the reader to the harsh reality that the main character has to live with. The teacher is the other character who comes into focus and we immediately pick up his cold shoulder and indifference towards the cat.

I am a Cat is a radical master piece which seeks to diverge from the archetypal concision pattern dominantly found in Japanese literature. As a matter of fact, at times the book feels a bit effusive. The excellent writer shows a strange knack to engross the writer; there are notably few moments of weak writing.

Conspicuously, there is recurrent overkill when it comes to the frequency of illuminating the idiocy of human beings. The most appealing parts of I am a Cat is when the cat is digresses its wisdom and observation about life and the people around him.

Soseki Natsume’s epic tale I am a Cat encompasses many things revealing a great deal of satire. The master piece eminently brings forth true pathos to spawn forth work of shrewd literature. The author interweaves the plot with such excellent skillfulness making it a good incentive to read.

The value pegged to this tale is fashioned by the way the tale is relayed. Foremost, the author imparts the story in such a manner that the reader is not distracted by the words, but is enthralled and held captive by the ironical twist of the events in the tale. The reader is gradually ushered into the uncanny world of a spoofing stray cat and certainly identifies with the realities of human life, that no one has been keen enough to notice. The author has panache for vivid descriptions to create a fantasy world in the minds of the reader.

I am a cat is of course a priceless piece of work, the author presents his ideas in such a way that the books’ content has an undertone of meaning. After going through the plot the reader is left with a feeling of fulfillment, convinced that their minds have being opened to envisage new realities.

The message behind I Am A Cat is fundamentally embedded in human existence possessing general human interest to give the book an accolade as a classic heroic tale of all the times. Through a critical eye, one may deem the views expressed by Soseki as stereotypical and exaggerated but the reader has got to appreciate the fact that the story is relayed through a cat’s perspective.

The unnamed cat in this tale is entertaining, pleasant, and even lovable. Readers easily identify with his acidic remarks and perceptions about human considering the treatment he gets under his master. The book has got moments of great hilarity and moments of great wisdom, it brings forth freshness and modernity as though it was penned yesterday. This highly valuable piece of literature is well composed well worth the reader’s time.

Good Literature versus Bad Literature

Readers must be in a position to filter through the many available books and pick through the “bad literature” and “good literature” There is a distinct variation between the two, in respect to the values and beliefs advocated in the literal work in relation to the social milieu of the story set-up.

Good literature is keen to preserve societal dignity by putting into consideration societal needs, values, attitudes and general beliefs. The authors are particularly cautious of the message they are passing across to the readers since books are intended for mass readership.

Good literature must always have long consent, in that people should be able to read appreciate and approve of the literature piece for a long time. It should be widely accepted across all ages and genres, capturing issues relevant for a long period of time. Conversely,” bad literature” only appeals to certain cluster of people and does not give thoughtfulness to the universal values and expectations of the society.

“Good literature” must have merit in literary form, in other words the language, structure and style used in writing the literature must be outstanding and well organized. By following through the literal writing principles the written work becomes standardized hence convectial and universally accepted.

On the other hand “bad literature” compromises the literal writing structure an element which minimizes it’s standing as an informative piece of information. In the contemporary world, authors have veered towards the “bad literature”; they tend to pick up trendy slang mostly vulgar language used by the characters in their books and write it word by word.

“Good literature” must always capture human interest, this in essence means that the story relayed must be relevant to real life situations and should relay the experiences and emotions of the people (Natsume 95). The personalities and the characteristics brought forth in a tale should have an appeal to the human sense. In the past the characters utilized in the ancient literature were clinched and warped up; but in the current world readers connect better to modern characters portrayed in stories for they are real and upbeat.

“Good Literature” cultures the imagination of the reader, this means that the message passed across through the literature piece causes the readers to think and imagine more. The element of imagination bolsters increased knowledge and creativity A writer should be able to give a vivid description which expands the readers’ mental ability and ingenuity.

“Bad literature “on the other hand probes people to have flawed imaginations which could steer them to wicked decisions and lure them into evil activities. Some books for instance steer the deception that stealing is good as long as you are not caught, nudity is trendy and prostitution is a decent way of living.

Conclusion

Japanese literature during the Meiji Era comes out with such a rich heritage which offers the readers an entryway into Japanese ancient history and culture. The literature brings alive the chronological characters of the past peeking into the fascinating ancient times, mannerism and general way of life amongst the Japanese.

This rich literary heritage offers captivating comparison to the other Asian countries and the western literature. The theme evidently explored in Meiji period was the individual’s inner lives; action and plot development in Japanese literature were always seconded emotional issues.

The Japanese literature during the Meiji era was packed with literal values; Buddhist attitudes and significance of being in tune with oneself were highly acclaimed in the literature. The literature not only delved into social matters but also persuaded the reader to embrace inners sanctity, uprightness and good will towards others. Further, the literature pried into the impermanence of the materialistic living, impelling the readers to have a connection with their God to be able to achieve their purposes in life.

Works Cited

Gordon, Andrew. A Modern History of Japan from Tokugawa Times to the Present (2nd edition): USA: Oxford University Press, 2008.Print

Natsume, Soseki. I Am A Cat. Translated by Aiko Ito Trade Paperback. NY: Tuttle Publishing, 2001. Print.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "The Value Of Japanese Literature In Meiji Era." May 6, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-value-of-japanese-literature-in-meiji-era/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'The Value Of Japanese Literature In Meiji Era'. 6 May.

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