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.
||University of Pittsburgh