Introduction



(ܸ)


         In the past twenty years, worldwide interest in Japanese literature, and in classical Japanese literature in particular, has grown remarkably. Before the 1960s, only Arthur Waley's translations of The Tale of Genji, portions of Sei Shonagon's Pillow Book, and his collection of Noh plays were widely circulated. Thirty years later, in addition to a new translation of Genji, fresh translations of prose, poetry, and theatre pieces originally composed from the beginnings of the Japanese literary tradition to the beginnings of modern developments in the later part of the nineteenth century have allowed both specialists and general readers to obtain a broad grasp of the remarkable developments of this thousand-year tradition by reading versions of these texts in English, and to some extent, in French and German as well.

         Along with the appearance of translations has come the development of two generations or more of scholars and readers able to read and study these beautiful texts in their original language. Classical Japanese is now widely taught both in the United States and in Europe, and those who have attempted even a semester or two of study have learned that the beauties of traditional Japanese waka poetry or a text like the Hojoki ("An Account of My Hut") by Kamo no Chomei are greater, and often more profound, than those that any translation can reveal. The availability of this representative sampling of the important texts of the canon of classical Japanese literature will be of tremendous assistance to those who wish to read and study them in the original, particularly as, whenever possible, English translations are included here with them. In addition, contemporary technology permits a rapid searching for words and characters, a technique that can serve in and of itself as a powerful learning tool.

         In his 14th century classic, the Tsurezuregusa ("Essays in Idleness"), Yoshida Kenko, the author, writes that [in Donald Keene's elegant translation] "...the pleasantest of all diversions is to sit alone under the lamp, a book spread out before you, and to make friends with people of the distant past you have never known." The principle he stated so well here remains the same; but although we still need the lamp he spoke of, some find that the book has now given over pride of place to the computer. Used wisely, these new and expanded possibilities can make the world of the past ever more accessible, and ever closer to us.

Thomas Rimer
University of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, PA


Japanese Text Initiative
Electronic Text Center | University of Virginia Library
PO Box 400148 | Charlottesville VA 22904-4148
434.243.8800 | fax: 434.924.1431
Etext Home | Library Home | Search the Library Web
Maintained by:
Last Modified: Tuesday, August 31, 2004
© 2004 The Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia