Growth of Japanese Culture

A Golden Age of Literature and Drama- by Miya Chinn

Japanese Writing Systems

Japanese writing was influenced by both China and Korea. Similar to the Chinese, Japan used characters to stand for certain objects, actions, or ideas. Their writing later included characters to represent sounds like English letters and syllables.

Japanese Drama

  • Retellings of legends and folktales
  • Male actors wore painted wooden masks
  • Performed for both the upper class and commoners


  • Melodramatic singing and dancing
  • Elaborate costumes and heavy makeup
  • Informal and based on common people
  • Performed by men
Kashu-Juku Noh Theater

The Tale of Genji

Lady Murasaki Shikibu was one of Japan's finest writers because she contributed to the development of Japanese literature by writing the first important novel. She is famous for her book, The Tale of Genji, because it is a long, realistic story focused on one person. Like this book, Japan continued to start its own traditions.

Japanese Poetry

Japanese poetry was often written about sadness or the beauty of nature and remained short compared to other countries. Matsuo Basho is famous for his haikus (5-7-5 syllables), a short form of poetry.

Example of a haiku-

An old silent pond...

Into the pond a frog jumps,

splash! Silence again.

-Matsuo Basho

Essential and Review Questions

Essential- What is unique about Japanese literature and drama?

Japanese literature is unique because the Japanese wrote the first important novel, developed a new language that blends both Chinese and Korean concepts, and started to write shorter poems different to other civilizations. Not only is their literature unique, but also their dramas. Noh and Kabuki only use male actors and have become two traditions known for their makeup/masks and costumes.

Review- What new forms of literature and drama did the Japanese develop?

The literature that the Japanese created was The Tale of Genji and short forms of poetry. The Japanese developed two new forms of drama-- noh and kabuki. Noh plays are retellings of legends and folktales and kabuki is uses singing, dancing, elaborate costumes, and makeup to tell stories often about common people.