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Japanese literature

Earliest Writings

Although Japanese and Chinese are different languages, the Japanese borrowed and adapted Chinese ideographs early in the 8th cent. in order to render their spoken language in written form. Because Japanese is better suited to phonetic transcription, the result is a language of extremely complicated linguistic construction.

In 712 the new writing system was used in the compilation of orally preserved poems and stories into the Kojiki [records of ancient matters], an account of the divine creation of Japan and its imperial clan. Another historical work, the Nihon-shoki [chronicles of Japan] (721), was written in Chinese. The oldest anthology of Japanese verse, Manyoshu [collection of a myriad leaves] (760), contains about 4,500 poems, many from much earlier times. A number of the poems in this collection are more varied in form and more passionate in statement than those written in later eras.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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