Japan has a rich heritage of literary criticism dating from early classical times, with the preface to the Kokinshu (ca. 920) addressing the meaning and function of poetry. During the Tokugawa period, Motoori Norinaga (1730–1801) wrote so forcefully on The Tale of Genji (ca. 1008) and the nature of literature that his influence was still strongly felt among writers and critics of the Meiji period. Modern literary criticism first appeared as long essays and prefaces written by Meiji writers, especially Shosetsu shinzui (1885; tr. The Essence of the Novel, 1956), a critique of dogmatism and call for narrative reform published by Tsubouchi Shoyo. Behind the essay were several contemporary catalysts: the genbun itchi debates from the 1870s surrounding how to bring the written language into greater correlation with spoken Japanese; adaptations and translations of Western literature and poetry that challenged assumptions about styles and the role of literature; Western philosophy and theories, such as realism and naturalism, that were reflected in both the literature and translations of Western criticism; and a polarizing tension between traditionalists and modernizers that existed among writers and intellectuals.
   The tendency to polarize arguments in literary criticism was first demonstrated in a heated exchange of published articles launched by Mori Ogai and Shoyo in 1891–92, wherein they argued the finer points of categorizing Japanese literature. Other critics and writers followed suit, establishing this kind of formal, published debate, called ronso, as a staple of the Japanese critical world. Writers often formed groups that shared similar theoretical enthusiasms, including the Seito (Bluestockings; feminist) and Shirakaba (White Birch; humanist) schools. Three prominent critic/novelists of the first half of the 20th century were Masamune Hakucho, Hirotsu Kazuo, and Sato Haruo. By the 1920s critics were less confrontational about the fundamentals of literature, focusing instead on specific authors or works. By the 1930s, Marxism had become the dominant ideology of literary criticism, which reflects the contemporary emergence of proletarian literature. One critic in particular, Kobayashi Hideo, exerted a strong and long-lasting influence on Japanese criticism from the 1930s until his death in 1983.
   Though the Marxist mode dominated Japanese criticism well into the latter half of the century, dozens of schools of critical practice have emerged, including comparative approaches. Japanese critics and scholars are quick to assimilate new ideas; critic and philosopher Karatani Kojin, in particular, has risen to prominence with his fusion of Japanese and French critical theory. In addition to formal books, essays, and published ronso debates, criticism in Japan also appears as individual zuihitsu (contemplative, informal essays) and zadankai (informal roundtable discussions) that are transcribed and published in literary journals.

Historical dictionary of modern Japanese literature and theater. . 2009.

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