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The Rise and Fall of Modern Japanese Literature

The Rise and Fall of Modern Japanese Literature tells the story of Japanese literature from its start in the 1870s against the backdrop of a rapidly coalescing modern nation to the present. John Whittier Treat takes up both canonical and forgotten works, the non-literary as well as the literary, and pays special attention to the Japanese state’s hand in shaping literature throughout the country’s nineteenth-century industrialization, a half-century of empire and war, its post-1945 reconstruction, and the challenges of the twenty-first century to modern nationhood.
Beginning with journalistic accounts of female criminals in the aftermath of the Meiji civil war, Treat moves on to explore how woman novelist Higuchi Ichiyō’s stories engaged with modern liberal economics, sex work, and marriage; credits Natsume Sōseki’s satire I Am a Cat with the triumph of print over orality in the early twentieth century; and links narcissism in the visual arts with that of the Japanese I-novel on the eve of the country’s turn to militarism in the 1930s. From imperialism to Americanization and the new media of television and manga, from boogie-woogie music to Yoshimoto Banana and Murakami Haruki, Treat traces the stories Japanese audiences expected literature to tell and those they did not. The book concludes with a classic of Japanese science fiction a description of present-day crises writers face in a Japan hobbled by a changing economy and unprecedented natural and manmade catastrophes. The Rise and Fall of Japanese Literature reinterprets the “end of literature”—a phrase heard often in Japan—as a clarion call to understand how literary culture worldwide now teeters on a historic precipice, one at which Japan’s writers may have arrived just a moment before the rest of us.

368 pages | 9 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2018

Asian Studies: East Asia

History: Asian History

Literature and Literary Criticism: Asian Languages


"Treat has chosen literary landmarks that offer him fertile ground for an 'excavation' . . . of the social and economic forces at work on them."

New York Review of Books

“Noting the trend in Japanese literary historiography, up to and including the 1980s, to schematize material by historical period and occasionally even by periods of imperial reign, Treat homes in on the all-important truism that a national literary history is also the history of a nation and, as such, inextricably linked with the history of the modern in general. . . . In his open challenge to the conventional wisdom, Treat offers both interesting and readily accessible fodder for the uninitiated and a call for an element of recalibration from those raised, like it or not, on Katō, Keene, and that previous generation of scholars. At the same time, both sets of readers—plus those in between—will be left in no doubt of Treat's conviction that talk of the ‘end of literature’ in Japan is premature.”

The Journal of Japanese Studies

"Formidable. . . . Though he does, briefly, engage in textual analysis, Treat is less concerned with what the story says than what it is and what it does. That is, he is interested in its function in the larger context of Japan’s literary development. To this end, Treat takes the reader on a surprising journey that includes the emergence of libel and slander laws, competition between highbrow and lowbrow newspapers, and the occasional mention of Hillary Clinton's alien baby. . . . A very welcome addition, and counterpoint, to the existing body of English-language Japanese literary histories."

Australian Book Review

"John Whittier Treat’s new book offers some brilliantly original, delightfully offbeat perspectives on modern Japanese literature. . . . Treat himself is at his best here when he writes with personal warmth and enthusiasm about certain writers one might describe as “rebellious outsiders” to the Japanese literary establishment.."

Japan Review

"John Whittier Treat’s latest book is true to form as a meticulously researched and insightful survey of modern Japanese literature that courts controversy, but delivers on substance. . . . Treat eschews repeating the banal encyclopedic approach set by Donald Keene’s Dawn to the West or the all-too-familiar critiques of area studies and Orientalism that reduce literature to an afterthought of methodology. He instead assembles a corpus of representative texts that include such unlikely popular sources as Numa Shōzō’s erotic sci-fi manga Kachikujin yapū (Yapoo, the human cattle, 1956–1991) alongside works by the customary literary icons – Higuchi Ichiyō, Natsume Sōseki, Yoshimoto Banana, and Murakami Haruki – to chronologically and thematically chart the course of ‘the rise and fall’ of Japanese literature."

Seth Jacobowitz | Japanese Studies

"Erudite but saucy, The Rise and Fall of Modern Japanese Literature succeeds in making the history of modern Japanese literature as colorful as the neon-lit back alleys of Tokyo. The book features a broad range of characters, including a Meiji 'poison woman,' Korean nationalists, and a serial killer enamored of anime. As for the final verdict on the future of Japanese literature, Treat wisely leaves it up in the air."

Minae Mizumura, author of The Fall of Language in the Age of English

Table of Contents

Introduction. Modern, Japanese, Literary, History
Chapter One. Bird-Chasing Omatsu
Chapter Two. Midori’s Choice
Chapter Three. Sōseki Kills a Cat
Chapter Four. Narcissus in Taishō
Chapter Five. Imperial Japan’s Worst Writer
Chapter Six. Creole Japan
Chapter Seven. Beheaded Emperors and Absent Figures
Chapter Eight. Reading Comics/Writing Graffiti
Chapter Nine. Yoshimoto Banana in the Kitchen
Chapter Ten. Murakami Haruki and Multiple Personality
Conclusion. Takahashi Gen’ichirō’s Disappearing Future


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