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date: 24 June 2018

Summary and Keywords

Modernist literature was introduced to Japan in the early 20th century, and some of it took root. While modernism, a new movement in art and literature, was first developed in Europe, American poets, especially Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot, played a major role in its development. Both of these poets were expatriates, living in Europe after they left the United States. As this fact indicates, there was an international, cosmopolitan nature to modernism, which was also seen in other modernist writers and poets, such as James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, H. D., Mina Loy, Djuna Barnes, and Eugene Jolas, to name just a few; this internationalist appeal was also an important factor in the early reception of modernism by the Japanese. In literature in English, Noguchi Yonejirō (Yone Noguchi) and Nishiwaki Junzaburō, for example, had contact with modernist writers abroad, published their own works in English, and introduced foreign poets they knew to Japanese readers. Takahashi Shinkichi, Kitasono Katue (Kitazono Katsue), and other poets also had correspondence with poets and writers of foreign countries and exchanged their works.

Following the initial encounter between Japanese poets and modernist American poets at the beginning of the 20th century, their works were introduced to Japanese readers of literature in English in the late 1920s. At the time, within academia, American literature was still considered part of English literature. Although mass-market literature series included many American literature titles, especially novels, the curricula in the English departments at major universities rarely included American literature. Besides, even in English literature studies, the focus was mainly on 19th-century (and earlier) authors, and modernist poetry was still not getting much attention. Thus, the reception of modernist American poetry in Japanese academia was generally slow. Instead, it was literary magazines such as Shi to shiron that actively introduced modernist poetry (including Gertrude Stein, T. S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound) to Japanese readers. Modernist poetry in English was often seen as “intellectualist” in Japan. As the control of freedom of speech and publication tightened in the late 1930s and the 1940s, in keeping with Japan’s militarization and totalitarianism, it became difficult to read and write about foreign literature. In this situation, adhering to modernist and intellectualist literature assumed its symbolic meaning of resistance. While under totalitarian rule, older Japanese modernists converted themselves into collaborationists, younger poets such as Ayukawa Nobuo, who started a magazine called Arechi [The waste land], tried their best to maintain their literary independence. They became leading figures in postwar Japanese poetry.

Keywords: modernist American poetry, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Kitasono Katue, Ayukawa Nobuo, Shi to shiron

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