Japanese Literature During The Meiji Era (1868-1912)


In the early 1800’s Japan was an isolated country from the rest of the world and it was poised for revolution due to a weakened economy and increasing pressure from the West. So in 1868, powerful warlords gathered to overthrow the existing Shogun and insert Emperor Mutsuhito as head of the throne which would mark the beginning of the Meiji Era (Met Museum). The Meiji Era in Japan was a rapidly changing time in which the Island opened its borders to the west after being secluded for nearly two centuries. This led to a time of rapid industrialization and trade, but it also introduced the many themes and ideas of European literature. As a result, Japanese literature itself experienced an evolution especially amongst novelist (New World Encyclopedia). The annotated list below is compiled to give a better understanding into the period as well as how the literature reflected this changing time.

Frédéric, Louis. Japan encyclopedia. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2002.

Author, Louis Frederic, wrote the “Japan Encyclopedia” to give Western societies a better understanding Japanese culture and history. The encyclopedia is filled with dense and concise material with a focus on society and institutions, commerce and industry, sciences, sports, politics, and a particular emphasis on: religion, material culture, arts, and literature. This comprehensive encyclopedia takes into account 2000 years of Japanese history. This will give the reader an understanding the events that led up to the Meiji Era as well as the impact that the period had on the future of japan. The book also has a section specifically dedicated to the Meiji Era itself to give the reader some social context into the time. This is a good place to start for any student that is interested in the literature of the Meiji Era.

Yukichi, Fukuzawa. “Sekai Kunizukushi”. Okadaya Kashichi, 1869.

Author Yukichi Fukuzawa was a Japanese author, teacher, writer, and translator who wrote many books during the Meiji Era. He was an early civil rights advocate and his ideas about the structure of social structure made an impression on the rapidly changing Japan. The book mentioned above is a geography book for children that is translated to “All the Countries of the World, For Children Written in Verse. It is one of Fukuzawa’s famous texts, and eventually became a best-seller. The idea behind the book came about when Fukuzawa was trying to teach his sons about world geography but realized there were no textbooks on the subject. There simply, hadn’t been a reason for one while Japan was secluded from the rest of the world. This book eventually became part of a six part volume set that covered world geography.

Shoyo, Tsubouchi. Shosetsu Shinzui (The Essence of the Novel). 1885.

Tsubouchi Shoyo was another influential writer, novelist and playwright of this time. In 1885, just as the Meiji Era was beginning, Shoyo penned “Shosetsu Shinzui” which translates to “The Essence of the Novel”. This essay addressed the cultures frowning upon of novels and dramas and helped liberate Japan from these low opinions. As the years passed Japan became exposed to great novelists and playwrights from the West like William Shakespeare and adaptations of these writings slowly became accepted into the general culture. This essay was the tipping stone that sent everything rolling downhill. Shoyo then went on to write traditional Kabuki (Japanese theater) plays that were based on western stories.

Francisco, Aya. Higuchi Ichiyo: Badass Women in Japanese History. Tofugu.com. https://www.tofugu.com/japan/higuchi-ichiyo/. August, 16, 2016.

Tofugu is a prominent Japanese Language blog for English speakers. They write about Japanese culture, travels to the island and produce guides and videos for travelers. This article is an extensive account of the life of Higuchi Ichiyo who was an important, influential and rare female author during the Meiji Period. Unfortunately her life was short lived as she died at the age of 24, but her impact is remembered and she is even featured on the 5000 yen note. The article dives into Ichiyo’s education, social standing, struggles and tragedy. It also chronicles the short stories that Ichiyo is most known for. The article then concludes with the impact, reception and lasting legacy of Ichiyo and her stories. See the article HERE.


The Met Museum: “Japan, 1800–1900 A.D.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.

The New World Encyclopedia: The Editors of The New World Encyclopedia. "Japanese Literature". Encyclopedia Britannica. December 12, 2015.