Growth of Japanese Culture

A Golden Age of Literature and Drama-By Kevin Henderson

Japanese Writing Systems

Japan adopted Chinese characters by about 400. These characters represented objects, actions, and ideas. Later, some characters represented sounds, syllables and letters, like English. Japan's language today include letters as well as characters. Although their writing system was primarily influenced by China, Japan's language (to the right) is closer related to Korea's.

Japanese Drama

Japan's tradition of drama began from people in the 600s performing Shinto dances at religious shrines. In the 1300's actors developed a kind of drama called noh, which were plays starring actor wearing masks and costumes mostly for the upper classes, and a little bit for the common people.


A new style of drama called kabuki emerged from the early 1600s. Kabuki combined melodramatic singing and dancing with elaborate costumes and excessive makeup, creating a style of drama more informal than noh, and more directed to the common folk.

Japan Noh Documentary

The Tale of Genji

In the early 800s Japan ended diplomatic relations with China after some Japanese leaders thought that Japan had learned enough from China. Though China's influence remained, Japan began developing it's own cultural traditions, especially in literature. Lady Musaraki Shikibu, one of Japan's finest writers, lived at the emperor's court in the early 1000s.


Lady Murasaki wrote a book about the life of a prince in the imperial court, which was called The Tale of Genji. This book was important in the development of literature because it was realistic and focused on one individual, making it the world's very first novel.

(Image: Murasaki writing The Tale of Genji.)

Japanese Poetry

Japanese poetry was often about love or nature and was short compared to other countries' poetry. A popular form of Japanese poetry is called haiku, which is a poem containing only seventeen syllables: five on the first row, seven on the second, and five on the third. A good poet named Matsuo Basho who lived in the 1600s wrote haikus that had the reflective spirit of Zen.

(Image: A haiku on a tee-shirt.)

Essential Question: What is unique about Japanese literature and drama?

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