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Japanese Studies: Pre-Modern Japanese Literature

Guide to resources for the study of Japan and Japanese

Japanese Literary History

Literary Histories

Literary histories provide an overview of the development of Japanese literature from the earliest written works to the present.

Anthologies

Anthologies

Collections of literary works that were judged to be particularly well written.

Criticism and Review Databases

Use these databases to locate scholarly articles regarding Japanese Literature. While there may be some overlap in what you discover with your search, keep in mind that each database includes some unique works of academic literature. So, searching more than one database will provide you with different resources. For detailed information about each database, click the relevant "Information Icon" .

EBSCO Databases

These databases can be searched at the same time by clicking on the "Choose Databases" link above the search bar. The more databases you add, the more likely you are to find articles, but it can also take longer to load.

Online Resources

Japan Foundation Database of Translated Japanese Literature

Use this database to find out when and where translations of Japanese literature in all genres were published. Then use the HBLL library catalog to see if we have copies of the published translations in our collection.


Asian Theatre Video Collection

The Asian Theatre video collection offers interviews with leading performers and practitioners, and houses several filmed performances, documentaries, rehearsal footage, and training videos. Several are from Japanese traditions. This collection is a vital repository for students and academics interested in Asia’s rich theatrical traditions.


Japanese Noh 能 Drama (The-Noh.com)

This site provides a wealth of information on the history of Noh drama in Japan. Including English and Japanese synopses and transcriptions of many famous Noh plays.


Japanese Aesthetics (Stanford Dictionary of Philosophy)

Criticism Literature

Works to Know

古事記

(Kojiki)

Records of Ancient Matters

Editor: Ō no Yasumaro
Pub.: 712 ce
Book: Japanese
English

 

 

 

 

 

Description: The Kojiki is considered to be the first literary work in the history of Japan. It is a compilation of myths, history, songs, legends, genealogies, and other disparate works from which written history and literature were later created. 

日本書紀

(Nihon Shoki)

Editor: Ō no Yasumaro
Pub.: 720 ce
Book: Japanese
English

 

 

 

 

Description: Detailed historical record of Japan.

萬葉集

(Man'yōshū)

Editor: Ōtomo no Yakamochi
Pub.: 759 ce
Book: Japanese
English

 

 

 

 

 

Description: The oldest existing poem anthology with over 4,500 Waka poems from the Nara period. The latest dated poem is from 759 ce.

枕 草子

(Makura no sōshi)
The Pillow Book

Author:  Sei Shōnagon
Pub.: 1002 ce
Book: Japanese
English

 

 

 

 

Description: Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon is by far our most detailed source of factual material on life in eleventh-century Japan at the height of Heian culture.

源氏物語

(Genji monogatari)
The Tale of Genji

Author: Murasaki Shikibu
Pub.: 1008 ce
Book: Japanese
English

Description: "Lady Murasaki's great 11th century novel is a beautifully crafted story of love, betrayal and death at the Imperial Court. At the core of this epic is Prince Genji, the son of an emperor, whose passionate character, love affairs and shifting political fortunes, offer an exquisite glimpse of the golden age of Japan." 

古今和歌集

Kokin wakashū

Author: Ki no Tsurayuki and others
Pub.: 905 ce
Book: Japanese
English (4 Different Translations)

 

 

Description: The first imperial anthology of Japanese poetry : with Tosa nikki and Shinsen waka.

竹取物語

(Taketori monogatari)
Tale of the Bamboo Cutter

Author: unknown
Pub.: late 9th, early 10th century
Book: Japanese
English

Summary: This story is considered the oldest surviving monogatari in Japan although the original copies are long gone. The oldest manuscript of the story is from 1526. This tale is about an aging childless couple who finds a magical baby in bamboo.

平家 物語 : 流布本

Heike monogatari: Rufubon
The Tale of Heike

Editor: Kakuichi
Pub.: 1371 ce
Book: Japanese
English

 

 

 

 

 

Description: An epic account of two warring clans. 

方丈記

Hōjōki 

An Account of My Hut

Editor: Kamo no Chōmei
Pub.: 1212 ce
Book: Japanese
English

 

 

 

 

 

 

Description: This work discusses the Buddhist idea of impermanence through a series of natural disasters. 

方丈記

Tsurezuregusa 

Essays in Idleness

Editor: Yoshida Kenkō
Pub.: 1331 ce
Book: Japanese
English

 

 

 

 

 

 

Description: A collection of essays and notes from a Buddhist monk. The passages cover a variety of topics from impermanence to the beauty of nature.

五輪書

Go Rin no Sho
The Book of Five Rings

Author: Musashi Miyamoto
Pub.:  ~1645 ce
Book: Japanese
English

 

 

 

 

 

Description: Written by a Japanese swordsman on martial arts. 

雨月物語

Ugetsu monogatari
Tales of Moonlight and Rain

Author: Ueda Akinari
Pub.: 1776 ce
Book: Japanese
English

 

 

 

 

 

Description: An anthology of supernatural short stories. 

曾根崎心中

Sonezaki Shinjū
Love Suicides at Sonezaki

Author: Chikamatsu Monzaemon
Pub.: 1703 ce
Book: Japanese
English

 

 

 

 

 

Description: A jōruri play based on the true events of lovers committing a double suicide.

おくのほそ道

Oku no Hosomichi
The Narrow Road to Oku

Author: Basho Matsuo
Pub.: 1702 ce
Book: Japanese
English

 

 

 

 

 

Description: Basho wrote this work while traveling by foot through Japan. Basho wrote this work in prose and a travel diary style. 

How to Search for a Japanese Book

To Find Books in Japanese:

If you know the author or title you want:

Look up the book in the library catalog using Kanji 漢字, or Kana かな, or Hepburn Romanization.

Click for detailed rules on Romanization  

If you have a suggestion for what the library should order, fill out this form. You must have a library account to do so. 

Call Number Guide

All books published in Asian languages are located on the 4th Floor in the Asian Collection. English materials on Asian topics are located in different parts of the library. All Japanese Language and Literature have the call number in the range PL 501–899.

If you are looking for an English translation, it will be on the 5th floor. But if you are looking for a book in Japanese, it will be on the 4th floor. The exception is children's books which will be on the 1st floor regardless of language.

Only a fraction of the library's books are available in digital format. Those who browse the stacks always discover additional research materials! Books on the same topics are shelved next to each other, so if you find one relevant book, you will likely find others next to it on the shelf. You can also do this online by using the alphabetic browse or the "search books nearby" function on the library website.

If you have trouble finding a book ask the Asian Studies Librarian or inquire at any library help desk.