Japaneseliterature spans a period of almost two millenia of writing. Early work was heavily influenced by Chinese literature, but Japan quickly developed a style and quality of its own. When Japan was re-opened suddenly in the 19th century, Western Literature had a strong effect on Japanese writers, and this influence is still seen today.
As with all literature, Japanese literature is best read in the original form. Due to vast linguistic and cultural differences, many Japanese words and phrases are not easily translatable. Although Japanese literature and Japanese authors are perhaps not as well known in the west compared to European and American canons, Japan owns an old and rich literary tradition that draws upon thousands of years of culture and experience.
A period of civil war and strife in Japan, this era is represented by The Tale of the Heike (1371). This story is an epic account of the struggle between the Minamoto and Taira clans for control of Japan at the end of the 12th century. Other important tales of the period include Kamo no Chomei's Hojoki (1212) and Yoshida Kenko's Tsurezuregusa (1331). Writing Japanese using the mixture of kanji and kana (the style that is still prevalent today) started with these works in the medieval period. The medieval literatures strongly reflected hevay influences of Buddhism and Zen ethics had on the emerging samurai class. Works from this period is noted for insights into living and death, simple lifestyle, redemption of killing.
Many genres of literature made their debut during Edo period, helped by rising literacy rate that reached well over 90% as well as a system of rental book stores. Juppensha Ikku (十返捨一九) wrote Tokaido chuhizakurige (東海道中膝栗毛), a mix of travelogue and comedy. Kyokutei Bakin wrote a fantasy novel Nansousatomi Hakkenden (南総里見八犬伝). Genre included horror, crime stories, morality stories, comedy, and porno-- often accompanied by colorful wooden block prints.
Mishima Yukio, well-known for both his nihilistic writing and his controversial suicide by seppuku, began writing in the post-war period. Abe Kobo, best known for his post-modern The Woman in the Dunes (1960) and Endo Shusaku, known for works influenced by his Catholic beliefs, also prospered in post-war Japan. Oe Kenzaburo, Japan's second winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature wrote his most well-known work, A Personal Matter in 1964.
Murakami Haruki is arguably the most popular and controversial of today's Japanese authors. His genre-defying works spark fierce debates regarding whether his humorous and surreal works are true "literature" or simple pop-fiction (Oe Kenzaburo has been one of his harshest critics). Regardless, Murakami's works are known the world over, particularly Norwegian Wood (1987) and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1994-1995).
Entering the 21st century, there is controversy whether the rise in popular forms of entertainment such as manga and anime has caused a decline in the quality of literature in Japan. The counter-argument is that manga positively affect modern literature by encouraging younger people to read more.