Goals, Audience and Scope

Goals for the volume:

This volume will include ideas for translated texts that teachers may want to include in syllabi for a variety of thematic courses, background on those texts, a framework for their interpretation, and resources for further information. While much of the volume will be limited to translation, essays on teaching Japanese literature in a Japanese language classroom would be welcome. It would expose readers to a diverse array of accomplished teachers with a range of pedagogical styles.


This book would appeal to people teaching Japanese literature in a variety of contexts. Its primary audience is specialists in Japanese literature at colleges and universities across the English-speaking world. This audience would appreciate innovative approaches to common themes as well as ideas for other texts and resources of which they may not have been aware. The book would also benefit non-specialists teaching in high schools, colleges or universities who may be interested in including a work or works from Japan in world literature surveys or thematic courses on war, ecocriticism or gender. This audience would appreciate ideas for texts to include, background on those texts, and a framework for their interpretation. When relevant, the chapters will include suggestions for comparisons with works from other traditions to guide non-specialists teaching world literature.

As both specialists and non-specialists primarily teach works in translation, most works of literature discussed in this volume will be available in English translation. There may be a chapter on teaching Japanese short stories in the language classroom.


Scholars of Japanese literature are often divided into two general categories, modernists and pre-modernists. For much of the history of the field, this break has occurred in 1868, with the Meiji restoration and the subsequent nation-building, industrialization, modernization, and westernization. This easy division between modern and pre-modern has been challenged recently, with many seeing the continuities from the pre-Meiji era (especially Tokugawa). Nevertheless, the division remains, and most professors of modern Japanese literature teach Japanese literature from the Meiji era to today. Additionally, while some may feel most comfortable in one particular era, many scholars also produce work that is equally expansive temporally (the work of Dennis Washburn, for example, is impressive in its breadth). It is unusual to divide the field at the war, as I propose to do here. Some of Japan’s most famous novelists were active both before and after the war (notably Japan’s first Nobel Prize winner, Kawabata Yasunari, and Tanizaki Jun’ichirō). This difficulty in breaking up the modern era led Scott Miller to cover the eras from the Meiji to the present for his contribution to the Scarecrow Press’s Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts series.[1] Dividing the field at the war is more problematic than dividing the field at Meiji. Why, therefore, limit the scope of this volume to the postwar? The simple answer is that there would be too much material should we start from the Meiji era, or even the turn of the twentieth century. Furthermore, while there has been much scholarly interest in the turbulent years of Meiji, the roaring twenties, Japan’s empire, and the lead up to the war, the fact of the matter is that teachers outside our field are more likely to be teaching postwar material, be it from people active in the prewar era such as Kawabata Yasunari and Tanizaki Jun’ichirō or contemporary writers such as Murakami Haruki. While I hope that other volumes that deal with prewar and pre-Meiji Japanese literature may follow this one, I recognize that the market for the others may be smaller.

Comprehensive coverage of postwar Japanese literature is an impossible goal in any single volume. Therefore, to keep the book to a more manageable size, this volume will focus specifically on novels (including graphic novels and manga), and short stories. While the canon will be represented, this volume will also include contributions on popular texts as well. Furthermore, to make this volume as widely accessible as possible, all texts referenced (besides language pedagogy chapters) will be available in translation.

Other comparable books:

There are very few pedagogically oriented books relating to Japanese literature. The only comparable books would be two volumes edited by Thomas Swann and Kinʼya Tsuruta: Approaches to the Modern Japanese Novel (Sophia University Press, 1976) and Approaches to the Modern Japanese Short Story (Waseda University Press 1982). These volumes provide essays on canonical texts to help teachers and students interpret them in the classroom. While both volumes are useful, they are out of print, difficult to access, and outdated. Furthermore, the canonical text approach is but one of many possibilities, and current trends in literature pedagogy tend toward thematic courses. A comparable book in pre-modern Japanese literature would be the volume edited by Ed Kamens for the MLA in 1993, Approaches to Teaching Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji. As the name suggests, this book provided several approaches to this canonical novel.

This proposed volume will approach postwar Japanese literature thematically. This strategy will include major canonical works and authors as well as pedagogically useful texts available in translation that might be easily overlooked. Teachers interested in a theme can focus on that section and encounter a range of texts that would meet their needs.

[1] As the editor of the series, Jon Woronoff, noted in his “Editor’s Foreword,” this difficulty meant that Miller’s contribution has “a broader scope than others in the series” (vii).