The surviving works comprise a literary tradition extending from the 7th century to the present; during all this time there was never a “dark age” devoid of literary production.Not only do poetry, the novel, and the drama have long histories in Japan, but some literary genres not so highly esteemed in other countries—including diaries, travel accounts, and books of random thoughts—are also prominent.By contrast, poetry in Japanese is distinguished from prose mainly in that it consists of alternating lines of five and seven syllables; however, if the intensity of emotional expression is low, this distinction alone cannot save a poem from dropping into prose.
The fluid syntax of the prose affected not only style but content as well.
Japanese sentences are sometimes of inordinate length, responding to the subjective turnings and twistings of the author’s thought, and smooth transitions from one statement to the next, rather than structural unity, are considered the mark of excellent prose.
The Japanese language itself also shaped poetic devices and forms.
Japanese lacks a stress accent and meaningful rhymes (all words end in one of five simple vowels), two traditional features of poetry in the West.
Japanese literature, the body of written works produced by Japanese authors in Japanese or, in its earliest beginnings, at a time when Japan had no written language, in the Chinese classical language.
Both in quantity and quality, Japanese literature ranks as one of the major literatures of the world, comparable in age, richness, and volume to English literature, though its course of development has been quite dissimilar.
Although the Japanese have been criticized (even by some Japanese) for their imitations of Chinese examples, the earliest Japanese novels in fact antedate their Chinese counterparts by centuries, and Japanese theatre developed quite independently.
Because the Chinese and Japanese languages are unrelated, Japanese poetry naturally took different forms, although Chinese poetic examples and literary theories were often in the minds of the Japanese poets.
The verb , “to see,” had overtones of “to have an affair with” or even “to marry” during the Heian period in the 10th and 11th centuries, when men were generally able to see women only after they had become intimate.
The long period of Japanese isolation in the 17th and 18th centuries also tended to make the literature provincial, or intelligible only to persons sharing a common background; the phrase “some smoke rose noisily” (), for example, was all readers of the late 17th century needed to realize that an author was referring to the Great Fire of 1682 that ravaged the shogunal capital of Edo (the modern city of Tokyo).
Japanese and Korean may be related languages, but Korean literary influence was negligible, though Koreans served an important function in transmitting Chinese literary and philosophical works to Japan.