To What Extent Is Futabatei's Ukigumo, Japan's First Modern Novel?
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During the Meiji period, Japan was faced with a plethora of issues regarding its future. One of these issues was the future of Japanese literature. At that time, novels were still regarded as a third rate art form in Japan, though foreign books were highly sought after by the Japanese public. There were many ways to write Japanese, each system with its own use for specific occasions. And yet, the idea of writing in the style of natural conversational Japanese was considered radical and inappropriate for literature by the general public. Most foreign novels were translated poorly, into a writing style known as kanbun-chô which was mostly based around Chinese loan words. As a result, this style had a very rigid and legal feel, due to Chinese…show more content… Japan already had a very strong literary history prior to the Meiji restoration, however, if the Japanese people were to take this heritage into the modern era then they would have to adapt to this new style of writing fiction.
While studying Russian at Tôkyô gaikoku-go gakkô, a student named Futabatei Shimei realised the inefficiency of the kanbun-chô and gabuntai styles when translating Russian novels into Japanese. And through logical continuation, he understood that writing a Japanese novel for the modern era would mean having to drop these traditional writing styles as well. In January 1886, Futabatei met with Tsubouchi Shôyô. Shôyô’s criticism, Shōsetsu Shinzui had struck a chord with Futabatei, who had envisioned many of the same ideas while reading Russian literature. Tsubouchi had himself published a novel known as Tōsei Shosei Kishitsu, which he had hoped would achieve his goals in becoming the book to bring Japanese literature into the modern era. Unfortunately, he failed to avoid the same exaggerated and coincidental plot developments which he himself criticised. Furthermore, the characterisation displayed in the novel was described as, “weak and shows little psychological penetration” 4 . Resigned to the realisation that his talent lay in critique and translation, he decided to focus his attention on tutoring other writers to achieve what he had tried to do. With Tsubouchi’s guidance, and