Japanese Literature Begins to Look Inward

Japan, the Ambiguous, and Myself: The Nobel Prize Speech and Other Lectures

By Kenzaburo Oe

Kodansha International 128 pp. $15

CONSIDER the fact that throughout most of this historical period [from the Meiji Restoration onward], the Japanese existed as strangers for the West. ... Now again, in the wake of Japan's prosperity and the creation of an international information network, the Japanese are being placed in full view of Americans and Europeans as competitive traders. And the notion of the inscrutable Japanese character still lingers....

Contemporary writing must respond to this sense of crisis and mission. Only then will the Japanese novel be able to claim the full attention of an informed readership....

Japan's modernization reveals the history of an Asian country that sought to extricate itself from Asia and become a European-style nation. This was accompanied by a tendency in modern Japanese literature to focus on writing in Europe, Russia, and America. Even today, Japanese writers look to the West, which now includes Eastern Europe and Latin America. Yet with the new literary movements in China and Korea, certain young Japanese writers and critics have begun to call for a serious study of Asian literature. This strikes me as one possible direction Japanese literature may be heading in.

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