Growth of Japanese Culture

A Golden Age of Literature and Drama- By Alice Hannon

Japanese Writing Systems

Japan adopted many aspects of Chinese culture, but one of the most important was the Chinese writing system. By 400, the Japanese had started to use the Chinese characters to write words in their own language, and, like the Chinese, used the characters to say specific things, verbs, and thoughts or ideas. Later, the symbols were used for sounds and, like the English language, letters and syllables. While Japanese language is more closely related to Korean, they still use Chinese characters and letters.

Japanese Drama

Japanese drama dates back to 600, when people used to perform Shinto dances at religious shrines. Noh, a type of drama in which legends or folktales were retold, was developed in the 1300s. The actors, who were mostly men, wore wooden masks to show emotion, wore costumes, and used gestures and music to retell the legend or folktale, which were usually performed for both upper and lower classes. Kabuki, a style of drama that combined melodramatic singing and dancing, was developed in the early 1600s. The all male actors wore heavy makeup and elaborate costumes for the more informal drama that often dealt with themes involving the common people. These two types of drama made the Japanese culture very unique from others at the time.

Japanese Poetry

There were three important forms of Japanese poetry: haiku, Tanka, and Renga. The haiku consists of 17 syllables and three lines; 5 syllables, 7, 5. The Tanka is longer, and contains 5 lines and 31 syllables; 5, 7, 5, 7, 7. The Renga is quite different. It would be written by several people, and usually contained over 100 verses. All of these poems were usually about the beauty of nature or rejected love. Matsuo Basho was an amazing haiku poet, whose poems had the quiet, peaceful feeling of Zen. One example of his haiku:

Scent of plum blossoms

On the misty mountain path
A big rising sun

The Tale of Genji

Japanese leaders thought that they had learned enough from the Chinese in the early 800s, so they ended diplomatic relations with China. Even though the Chinese influence stayed, the Japanese developed their own changes in culture, especially in literature. Lady Murasaki Shikibu lived in the emperor's court in the early 1000s, and was one of japans finest writers, as she wrote The Tale of Genji, a book about the life of a prince in the imperial court. It is a very important novel because it strongly influenced the development of a kind of literature unique to the japanese culture, as other earlier books had only retold old myths and legends. The Tale of Genji was a lengthy non-fiction that was entirely focused on one individual. These new-found characteristics made Genji the worlds first important novel.