Japanese Popular Literature

By Satoru Saito (Fall 2000)


I.  Introductory Remarks

II.  General Works on Popular Literature
III.  Sub-genres of Popular Literature
     A) Period Fiction
     B) Detective Fiction
     C) Children's Literature

I.  Introductory Remarks
Popular literature is at once a historical and a generic term whose definition has been highly contested in Japan.  Originally, popular literature (taishû bungaku) was a term used in the late Taishô and early Shôwa Period to designate a popular form of historical fiction.  But it soon became associated with other generic terms such as tsûzoku shôsetsu (popular or contemporary novels) and tantei shôsetsu (detective fiction) and came to suggest a work of fiction that emphasized its entertaining qualities rather than its artistic merit.  To get the basic understanding of the term taishû bungaku and its relationship to other generic terms that will be used in this bibliography, students should read the entries to taishû bungaku, tsûzoku shôsetsu, suiri shôsetsu, jidô bungaku, and rekishi shôsetsu in Kôdansha's Kindai Nihon bungaku daijiten.
This bibliographical overview of popular literature uses these and other terms for classification purposes without reconsidering their definitions.  In doing so, an emphasis is given to sources that focus on authors and works not covered in traditional literary dictionaries and histories and to sources dealing with popular literature in the prewar and immediate postwar periods rather than those dealing with contemporary works of popular literature.
Moreover, there is no information in this bibliography concerning primary texts.  Multi-volume compendia of primary texts and complete works of individual authors can easily be found through referring to most of the more extensive bibliographies contained in the secondary sources that are introduced in this overview.  However, Starr Library holds very few works of popular literature, with the exception of children's literature.  Students seeking a specific primary text should use the inter-library loan system or check with Kinokuniya and other bookstores, which still sell many works of popular literature from the postwar as well as the prewar period.

II.  General Works on Popular Literature
As a result of the multi-faceted and highly-contested nature of the term "popular literature," there have not been many secondary sources that encompass the many sub-genres of popular literature in a systematic manner.  Because the sub-genres of popular literature developed in relation to each other, however, it is important to understand the general trends and characteristics of popular literature as a whole.  The list below provides the few works that attempt to deal with various aspects of popular literature.

Students seeking an introduction to popular literature and its history should start with the two essays listed below, Ara's "Taishû bungakushi" and Asai's "Taishû bungaku no tôjô", followed by Sakai, Histoire de la litterature populaire japonaise, before moving onto the works introduced in the following sections on sub-genres of popular literature.

For a more complete bibliography of popular literature, students should refer to the bibliographies included in Nihon bungaku shinshi: Kindai (pp. 416-419), Sakai, Histoire de la litterature populaire japonaise (pp. 331-338), and Ozaki, Taishû bungaku (pp. 176-201) listed below.

Ara Masahito, "Taishû bungakushi," in Iwanami kôza: Nihon bungakushi, vol. 14.  Iwanami shoten, 1959.
Call no.: 910.4 N571 v.14 (shelved in Prentis)
One of the most important essays in the postwar scholarship on popular literature, "Taishû bungakushi" offers an introductory literary history of popular literature, covering its many sub-genres such as political novels, period fiction, detective fiction, romance novels, and adventure novels.  While information given here is not extensive by any means, this work provides good basic knowledge of the general trends and characteristics of the development of popular literature in Japan and should serve as a starting place for students interested in popular literature.

Asai Kiyoshi, "Taishû bungaku no tôjô," in Maeda Ai and Hasegawa Izumi, eds., Nihon bungaku shinshi: 5. Kindai.  Shibundô, 1990.
Call no.: PL 716 .N535 1990  v.5
One article within a larger work of literary history, "Taishû bungaku no tôjô" is an excellent introduction to the development of popular literature in Japan from the Meiji to early-Shôwa Period.  Because of its short length, this should be one of the first places to turn for new students in the field after Kindai Nihon bungaku daijiten.  It is well-written and easy to understand, especially because of the head notes which provides information on key authors and terms in the main text.  It also includes an extensive bibliography on popular literature at the end of the volume, which should prove very useful for further research.

Cécile Sakai, Histoire de la litterature populaire japonaise : Faits et perspectives. Paris : L'Harmattan, 1987. Translated into Japanese by Asahina Kôji as Nihon no taishû bungaku (1900-1980), Heibonsha, 1997.
Call no.: PL 726.55 .S235 1987; Japanese version not available in Starr Library
Translated recently from French into Japanese, Histoire de la litterature populaire japonaise is a very useful introduction to popular literature because of its clear structure and wide-ranging content.  Beginning with a reconsideration and re-contextualization of the term taishû bungaku, this work divides the term into three sub-genres: jidai shôsetsu (period fiction), gendai shôsetsu (contemporary fiction), and tantei/suiri shôsetsu (detective fiction).  From this division, it proceeds along two axes: first, tracing the development of each genre from Edo Period to the present; and second, analyzing the common themes within each genre.  Moreover, it analyzes the publishing industry and its methods, the position and function of popular fiction writers, and the readers of popular literature from a socio-cultural perspective.  It includes an author index and a fairly detailed bibliography of mostly Japanese and French sources.

Ozaki Hotsuki, Taishû bungaku. Kinokuniya shoten, 1980.
Call no.: PL 740.5 .O9 1980
Written by the leading scholar of popular literature, Taishû bungaku traces, albeit fragmentarily, the development of popular literature from the 1920s to the postwar period.  This work is of particular interest to students starting out their research in popular literature because of its extensive bibliography of criticisms, journal specials, literary histories, multi-volume compendia, and complete works of individual authors provided at the end of the work.

 Ikeda Hiroshi, Taishû bungaku no sekai to hansekai. Gendai shokan, 1983.
Call no.: PL 747.65 .I37
Less geared to serve as an introductory work than Sakai's work, Taishû bungaku no sekai to hansekai is one of the few works about Japanese popular literature that approaches this genre from a theoretical perspective.  Besides offering an insightful understanding of the emergence of popular literature in the 1920s in relation to other literary trends during this period such as Shinkankaku ha and proletarian literature, this work juxtaposes various sub-genres of popular literature (historical fiction, detective fiction, science fiction, works of humor and of horror, etc.) to analyze their common themes.

Richard G. Powers and Katô Hidetoshi, eds., Handbook of Japanese Popular Culture.  New York: Greenwood Press, 1989.
Call no.: DS 822.5 .H347 1989
This work contains essays that provide a cultural background necessary for understanding popular literature, as well as essays on detective fiction and science fiction that may prove useful.  Although the essays have some mistakes and are generally too superficial to inspire interesting directions for further research, this work is worth a mention because it is one of the few works in English dealing with Japanese popular literature.  Students who are interested in Japanese science fiction should also refer to Robert Matthew, Japanese Science Fiction, New York: Routledge, 1989 (Call no.: PL 747.57 .S3 M37 1989).

Senuma Shigeki, Hon no hyakunen shi: Besuto serâ no konjaku.  Shûppan Nyûsu Sha, 1965.
Call no.: 023.1 Se5 (shelved in Prentis)
Written by the leading literary scholar of the Taishô Period, Hon no hyakunen shi examines the cultural history of the book and the publishing industry by tracing the best sellers from the Meiji to Shôwa 40s.  The result is a literary history that offers a new perspective on popular literature.  Moreover, numerous figures on book sales as well as an extensive index make this work a good place to turn for information not provided by other works.

Taishû bungaku kenkyû.  Published quarterly by Nanbokusha, 1961-1968.  22 vols.
Call no.: PN 56 .P55 T2 (first 20 volumes shelved in Prentis)
Founded by the leading scholars of popular literature, including Ozaki Hotsuki, Taishû bungaku kenkyû is a quarterly journal that was published from July 1961 to June 1968.  It contains various interesting essays on popular literature as well as a round-table discussion on a particular aspect of popular literature.

III.  Sub-genres of Popular Literature
A) Period Fiction
Period fiction (jidai shôsetsu) is one of the most confusing categorizations within popular literature because of its close ties to historical fiction (rekishi shôsetsu).  Students should note that while most scholars differentiate between these two terms by defining period fiction as a popular or vulgar form of historical fiction, some scholars use these terms interchangeably.  Period fiction, as a popular form of fiction portraying the life of pre-Meiji years, is a field that has not received much academic attention.  Although there are numerous reviews and commentaries on the works of period fiction available, they are mostly geared toward the fans of period fiction and lack the systematic analysis that can be seen in the scholarship on detective fiction and children's literature.  As a result, students seeking introductory as well as bibliographical information on period fiction should refer to the introductory works cited in the previous section.  In particular, Sakai, Nihon no taishû bungaku provides an extensive history of period fiction from the pre-Meiji to the postwar period.

Manabe Motoyuki, ed., Taishû bungaku jiten.  Seiabô, 1967.
Call no.: REF PL 747.6 .T34 1967
As the hanrei at the beginning of this work indicates, Taishû bungaku jiten takes the original meaning of the term taishû bungaku and focuses on period fiction.  It is organized into two sections: literary history of period fiction and biography of authors.  The first section divides the development of period fiction from the Meiji 10s to the postwar period into five stages and offers an introductory overview of each stage, which is a good place to start for students new to the field.  These overviews are followed by entries for works that comprise these stages.  These entries contain a summary of the work's storyline, which is useful.  Moreover, this work includes a nenpyô, a subject and author index, and a separate index for fictional characters of period fiction.

Ozaki Hotsuki, Taishû bungaku gojûnen.  Kôdansha, 1969.
Call no.: PL 740.5 .O92
Although Taishû bungaku gojûnen, a collection of essays written for newspapers between February to May of 1969, attempts to deal with various sub-genres of popular literature such as detective fiction, its primary focus is on period fiction, as it is expected from Ozaki who is the leading scholar of this sub-genre.  This work provides a genealogy of period fiction beginning with Nakazato Kaizan's Daibosatsu tôge, often considered the founding work of popular literature in Japan.  The introductory chapter, however, traces the development of popular literature in relation to the changing media (newspaper, magazine, film, radio, and television), and the closing chapter attempts to grasp the significance of popular literature as a whole.  These chapters should be useful for anyone researching in the field of popular literature.

B) Detective Fiction
Detective fiction (tantei shôsetsu / suiri shôsetsu), as a quick look at any of the below works will reveal, is a term which subsumes a vast number of other types of fiction such as fantasy, grotesque, and horror.  With the change in terminology after the war from tantei shôsetsu to suiri shôsetsu, however, the definition of detective fiction has become narrower.  Scholarship on detective fiction, similar to the scholarship on period fiction, has been largely unsystematic, but in the 1980s, two leading scholars in the field, Nakajima Kawatarô and Itô Hideo, published literary histories of Japanese detective fiction that have provided its systematic treatment much needed in the field.  Students seeking bibliographical information on primary texts should refer to Nakajima, Nihon suiri shôsetsu jiten, which provides an extensive list of multi-volume compendia and complete works by individual authors.

Nakajima Kawatarô, Nihon suiri shôsetsu jiten.  Tôkyôdô Shuppan, 1985.
Call no.: REF PL 770.6 .D45 N35 1986.
A good place to turn for factual information on detective fiction, Nihon suiri shôsetsu jiten is organized into two sections.  The first section, which is the bulk of this work, contains entries of authors and magazines of detective fiction.  A famous detective story is given a separate entry under its author entry.  The second section gives definitions and etymologies of terms such as tantei shôsetsu and torimonochô.  Moreover, this work contains a list of multi-volume compendia and individual author's zenshû published over the years, as well as what is contained within each volume of the compendium or zenshû.  It also includes nenpyô of Japanese and foreign detective fiction as well as an index of detective stories cited in the work.

Edogawa Rampo, Nihon tantei shôsetsu jiten.  Ed. Shinpo Hirohisa and Yamamae Yuzuru.  Kawada shobô shinsha, 1996.
Call no.: PL 826 .D6 N54 1996
In spite of its name, this is not really a dictionary, but rather a collection of previously published reviews and criticisms that Edogawa Rampo wrote on various authors and works of detective fiction over the years.  The work is organized by the author's name.  What is interesting about this work is that the entries for the authors also contain a review or criticism that the author has written on Rampo.  Although this may not be a useful work for gathering basic information on detective fiction, it is nonetheless a very interesting work for anyone who is an avid reader of detective fiction.

Nakajima Kawatarô, Nihon suiri shôsetsu shi.  Tôkyô Sôgensha, 1993-1996.  3 vols.
Call no.: PL 747.67 .D45 N35 1993 v.1-3
Spanning from the beginning of Meiji to the postwar period, Nihon suiri shôsetsu shi, a collection of past articles written by the author, provides a comprehensive literary history of detective fiction in Japan.  This work is particularly useful because it does not focus only on the works of detective fiction themselves but also provides the contexts for their production and reception through its examination of translations, magazines, literary criticism, etc.  Each volume contains an author index and a title index.  At the end of volume 2, there is a list of major works contained within each issue of Shinseinen, a magazine that played a major role in the development of detective fiction in Japan, from its first appearance in January 1920 to its last in July 1950.  At the end of volume 3, same information is given for Purofîru, a short-lived (May 1933-April 1937) but influential magazine of detective fiction in the prewar period.

Itô Hideo, Meiji no tantei shôsetsu.  Shôbunsha, 1986.
Call no.: not available in Starr Library
Itô Hideo, Taishô no tantei shôsetsu.  San'ichi Shobô, 1991.
Call no.: PL 747.63 .D45 I86 1991
Itô Hideo, Shôwa no tantei shôsetsu.  San'ichi Shobô, 1993.
Call no.: not available in Starr Library
Similar in scope to Nakajima's three-volume work, this trilogy examines the development of detective fiction from early Meiji Period to the Shôwa 20s.  In contrast to Nakajima's work, however, this work emphasizes the detective stories themselves and provides numerous plot summaries of famous and obscure works of detective fiction as well as adaptations/translations of foreign detective fiction.  It also includes nenpyô and an index of names and titles at the end of each volume.

 Itô Hideo, Kindai no tantei shôsetsu. San'ichi Shobô, 1994.
Call no.: PL 747.57 .D45 I86 1994
Examining the development of detective fiction from the early Meiji to the Shôwa 20s, Kindai no tantei shôsetsu is the single-volume supplement to the above trilogy.  Because it includes information not contained in the trilogy, these works should be used in conjunction with each other.

C) Children's Literature
Unlike the other two sub-genres of popular literature, children's literature (jidô bungaku), which has maintained a semi-autonomous position in relation to popular literature both historically and academically, is a field that has been extensively studied.  This section will introduce few works that may prove particularly useful for those who are just starting their research.  Students seeking bibliographical information on primary texts should turn to Nihon jidô bungaku daijiten; and while many of the works introduced below contains a fairly extensive bibliography of secondary sources, for the most comprehensive bibliography of secondary sources on children's literature, students should turn to Torigoe Shin, ed., Jidô bungaku (Kadokawa Shoten, 1982), pp. 353-371 (Call no.: PL 751.5 .J5 1982).

Osaka Kokusai Jidô Bungakkan, ed., Nihon jidô bungaku daijiten, 3 vols.  Dai Nihon Tosho, 1993.
Call no.: REF PN 1009 .J3 N5 1993 v. 1-3
This three-volume work contains vast amount of information useful for anyone doing research in children's literature.  The main body of this work, taking up the first volume and part of the second, consists of entries for authors of children's literature, including famous authors who have written what can be considered children's literature as well as more obscure authors of children's literature who are not listed in regular literary dictionaries.  Each entry is signed, and a bibliography is provided at the end of each entry.  Important works by the authors are given a sub-entry under the author's entry.  The second volume of the work contains various entries for terms, publishers, literary groups, magazines, etc. associated with children's literature.  The third volume contains a list of multi-volume compendia of children's literature and what is contained in each volume.  The entries for each compendium are very detailed, containing a description of its physical composition and bibliographical information pertaining to the compendium.  The third volume also provides a list of children's literature awards and their recipients and an index of names, titles, and topics that appear in this dictionary.

Torigoe Shin, Nihon jidô bungaku.  Kenpakusha, 1995.
Call no.: PL 751.5 .N54 1995
Written by one of the leading scholars in the field, Nihon jidô bungaku serves as a good introduction to the history of children's literature.  Organized into four historical periods (Meiji, Taishô, early Shôwa, and late Shôwa), this work is well-written and provides an understanding of children's literature in relation to the socio-cultural conditions of each period.  It also provides a short but annotated bibliography of sources that the author suggests for students of children's literature.

Kan Tadamichi, Nihon no jidô bungaku.  Ôtsuki Shoten, 1956.
Call no.: not available in Starr Library
Often cited as the founding work of postwar scholarship on children's literature, Nihon no jidô bungaku is a key work in understanding the history of scholarship on children's literature.  Moreover, because this work still exercises great influence over current scholarship in the field, students of children's literature should take a look at this work.

Muramatsu Sadataka and Kami Sôichirô, eds., Nihon jidô bungaku kenkyû.  Miyai Shoten, 1974.
Call no.: 909 M37 (shelved in Prentis)
Nihon jidô bungaku kenkyû is a collection of essays by literary scholars in various fields.  Organized by historical periods from pre-Meiji to early Shôwa Period, it is a good place to turn to get a sense of the issues that have been addressed by past scholars on children's literature in various historical periods, especially because it provides an overview of the essays that appear in the work.  It also contains an appendix which provides a fairly extensive bibliography on children's literature.

Nihon jidô bungaku gakkai, ed., Kenkyû: Nihon no jidô bungaku.  Tôkyô Shoseki, 1995.  6 vols.
Call no.: PL 751.5 .N544 1995 (Starr Library only has vols. 2 and 3)
This six volume series (1. Kindai izen no jidô bungaku  2. Jidô bungaku no shisôshi / shakaishi 3. Nihon jidô bungakushi o toinaosu  4. Gendai jidô bungaku no kanôsei 5. Ehon to irasutorêshon  6. Media to jidô bungaku) is a collection of essays that attempts to reconsider children's literature from a new perspective, organizing its analysis around a particular subject matter rather than on a particular historical period, author, or work.  For example, the essays contained in volume 2 of this series reconsider children's literature through examining its relationship to nationalism and Christianity.  Because of its approach, this work may not be useful as an introductory work for students who are starting their research in children's literature, but it may prove useful for those who want to incorporate children's literature into their project in another field.

Nihon jidô bungaku gakkai, ed., Jidô bungaku kenkyû. Kyûzansha, 1994. 3 vols.
Call no.: PL 751.5 .J54
Jidô bungaku kenkyû is a collection of the first 25 issues (1971-1993) of Nihon Jidô Bungakkai's journal and contains articles on various topics in children's literature.  While some of the articles look very interesting, researchers should be aware that the articles are written by the members of Nihon jidô bungakkai whose background and affiliations are not clear and their quality varies from one to the other.

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