The French Influence in Modern Japanese Literature

 FRENCH books were being read in Japan from before the Meiji Era. The first French dictionary to be published in Japan, the Futsugo-Meiyo (Compendium of the French Language), compiled by Murakami Hidetoshi, began appearing in 1864 and was completed in 1870, the third year of the Meiji Era. In many of the schools set up by feudal clans for the study of European sciences prior to the Meiji Revolution of 1866, French was the principal foreign language taught. In this way, French culture came to exert an important influence in fields such as military science, law and industry in Japan, and continued to do so during the first half of the new era. French literature was naturally introduced at about the same time, so that the history of its influence in Japan now extends over a period of nearly a century, which for purposes of classification can be divided into five stages.

     The first stage carries us from the early years of the Meiji Era to about 1890. During this period, Japan had not yet firmly established her new political system; and her searching in that direction, both in internal politics and in the sphere of international affairs, were reflected in the way interest in foreign culture was directed chiefly toward political, military and industrial subjects. The translation of Rousseau's Contrat Social had a profound influence on Japanese intellectuals of the time, and other works such as Montesquieu's L'Esprit des Lois and Fenelon's Les Aventures de Telemaque were also first translated at this period. Besides these 18th Century writers, the works of novelists such as Hugo and Dumas were also done into Japanese, mainly because of the interest for Japanese readers of the political events depicted. Another fact worth noting about this period is that Round the World in Eighty Days and many other works by Jules Verne were introduced to the Japanese public which, its imagination already stirred by the novel products of Western civilization, no doubt found ready material for delight in the still greater wonders foreshadowed in Verne's novels.
       Nakae Chōmin's Minyaku-Yakukai, a translation and exegesis of Rousseau's Contrat Social, appeared in 1882, and immediately became the Bible of the liberals. Nakae Chōmin also did much other pioneer work in the fields of politics and philosophy; as a result, Rousseau was studied in Japan at that time as the source of Nakae's―for that time―revolutionary liberal ideas, rather than for his actual achievements in the history of French literature. It was not until the third stage had been reached in the introduction of French literature that his true position as one of the forerunners of the French Romantic Movement came to be recognized. I shall have more to say of this third period later. The fact remains that he had a very great influence in Japan at one time as a political thinker; and this linking of his name with liberalism was one of the indirect reasons for his later being widely read for a second time, in connection with what is known as the Naturalist Movement in Japanese literature.

         The second stage covers the period from 1890 to the end of the Russo-Japanese War in 1905. In this period the Meiji Constitution was promulgated (1889); the Imperial Diet opened (1890); and the war with China won (1895).The Meiji regime had finally stabilized itself; and in the field of literature also, new forms developed that were in line with the theories of modern art propounded by men such as Tsubouchi Shōyō.  French literature came to be studied for its intrinsic merits rather than its accidental interest. The works of Hugo, Dumas pére and Verne continued to be translated; but now novels such as the Dame aux Camélias of the younger Dumas also became known to the Japanese public. Even more than these, however, the idea of the experimental novel as put forward by Zola took hold of men's minds during this period; critics expounded it, and some young novelists even appeared who claimed to have discovered a method of writing novels in keeping with the new age by calling in the aid of the science of heredity. Zola's influence as such may not have been profound; but his passion for portraying the darker aspects of human nature in order to give full expression to what was true, and his ingenuous belief that the showing up of social evils served in the end to establish justice, worked as powerful stimulants on Japanese writers, who were trying to break, away from a society that had still remained largely feudal in its manners and outlook.
           Among the translators of this period, mention must be made first of all, of Morita Shiken who produced, via English translations, Japanese versions of many of the novels of Hugo and Verne.  The excellence of his style had its own influence on the novelists of the time and attracted many readers. The next is Nagata Shūtō. Son of a professor of French who became a diplomat in the early days of the Meiji Era, he became familiar with the language as a young man and later went to study law at the University of Paris. While many of the translations from the French were done at the time at second-hand from English translations of the text, he also produced many translations and adaptations working direct from the original. Interesting himself in the reform of the Japanese drama, he adapted for it the plays of Scribe and Sardou. He translated the plays and novels of Frarnçois Coppee, as well as the Dame aux Camelias of Dumas fils already mentioned. He is especially to be remembered for his complete translation of Hugo's Notre Dame de Paris―which he did in conjunction with Ozaki Kōyō, the foremost novelist of the day―and his translations of the short stories of Maupassant.
             In spite of the considerable influence exerted by his theories none of the works of Zola was translated. It is worth recalling nonetheless that the novelist Nagai Kafū was among those who introduced those theories into the Japanese literary world. While still in his twenties, he wrote a short story in the manner of Zola and an article on Nana. He later went over to America, then France, to spend the remaining years of his youth in those countries. He came back to become one of the modern Japanese writers who put to the best account the influence of French literature, living on to the age of eighty. Soon after his return, he published an anthology of translations from the works of the French Parnassians and Symbolists called Sango-shū (A Collection of Corals). In this, however, he had a predecessor in Ueda Bin, whose Kaichōon (The Sound of the Sea) published in 1905 was also an anthology of modern European poetry centering on the French Symbolists and Parnassians, and set a landmark in the history of modern Japanese poetry.

               The third stage, usually called the period of the Naturalist Movement or Naturalism, begins from about this time: that is to say, from 1906 to about 1916 would seem to be its appropriate limits. Japan after the Russo-Japanese War entered a crucial phase in her history. The Japanese ruling classes had been making it their consistent aim, ever since the Meiji Revolution, to bring into the country all the more utilitarian aspects of Western civilization, considering this to be of the first importance if Japan was to preserve her independence. They had led the people in this national effort, but victory―even if not by any means a complete one―over Russia, who was then considered one of the most powerful states in Europe, caused them, if not to pause, at least, to begin to have doubts. The moment they believed Japan had at last attained an equal position with the other great powers of the world, their reasons for "civilizing and modernizing" Japan lost much of their meaning. At the same time, there appeared in the country groups of young men who were in their outlook completely at variance with the statesmen, soldiers and industrialists then forming the ruling classes, and who were searching for new values in which they could believe. In their revolt, they gave Japanese literature a new vitality, which showed itself as a violent collision with State power and social morality. Some of them styled themselves Naturalists, others called themselves aesthetes and decadents; but the characteristic common to all of them was that they were against whatever was the current opinion of that time.
                 Because they felt themselves to be powerless in the face of established society, and because they had set out to live in a world governed by a completely different set of values, they adopted an attitude of indifference toward all that pertained to the actual world of men. French literature acted as a powerful agent in helping them to produce literature on such a basis. It was during this period that Japanese literature came definitively under the influence of European literature; but it is worth noting that it was also at this period that modern Japanese literature began to assume its distinctive character. That is to say, although Naturalistic literature in Japan was influenced by that of France, it differed from the latter very considerably on many points.
                   Most of the writers in the movement had started out as poets and had early identified the problems of European literature with those of their own inner selves, and what they hoped for was to find, through this literature, a new way of giving expression to themselves and their lives. What these men with their closer understanding of Western thought had experienced in their youth was an awakening of their individual personalities and a realization of the need to value and respect the inner life of man; but as these ideas found no place in the life of the society around them, their awakened selves had chiefly to strive with the ruling idea of the family, which still remained the traditional basis of Japanese society. Since this awakening had put an end to the authority of the older morality, and all the embellishments of social life had come to seem so much sham, the animalistic and physiological treatment of man in the novels of the French Naturalists and the Nature on which Rousseau attempted to base his new morality were to these men one and the same thing. To them, Rousseau and Flaubert were writers of the same camp.The two had the greatest influence on our literature during this Naturalistic period, and along with them were read the brothers Goncourt, Maupassant and Daudet. It is interesting to note that French writers of the Romantic period―even Stendhal and Balzac―did not attract much attention. So-called Naturalistic literature in Japan developed by creating the peculiarly personal mode of writing known as the I-novel, in which self-revelation in the manner of Rousseau was carried out in the descriptive technique of Flaubert and the Concourts. Japanese writers of this period who, along with their new respect for the individual, also wanted to adopt ideas that denied it, came to the conclusion that the confession was the form that best fitted such an age of doubt and groping.
                     The representative novelist of the Japanese Naturalistic school is Shimazaki Tōson, whose favorite French writers were Rousseau and Flaubert; while Tayama Katai, who is often mentioned along with Shimazaki, react Maupassant and the Goncourts. The poetry of the French Symbolists and Parnassians was also introduced about this time. Mention has already been made of Kaichōon and Sango-shū ; besides these, the influence of Baudelaire and Verlaine is to be seen in the early works of the poet Kambara Yūmei, such as the Seichō-shū and Yūmei-shū. The influence of modern French poetry may also be seen in the poems of Kitahara Hakushū and Iwano Hōmei. Iwano in particular went further than this, and interpreted the ideas of the French Symbolists in an original fashion, arriving at and carrying out in his novels a new theory of the novel.
                       The fourth stage may be taken to cover the period from 1917 to about I930. It was a time when the after-effects of the First World War had begun to make themselves felt in the Japanese cultural sphere as well as elsewhere; the Russian Revolution, the influx of democratic ideas due to the victory of the Allies and the like were subjecting the established regime to still severer shocks than those it had already received. This, coupled with the world-wide depression following the War, made the period one of general unrest. One must also bear in mind the havoc wrought by the earthquake of 1923, when most of Tokyo was destroyed.
                         In addition to the French Naturalists already mentioned, Maurice Barres, Anatole France, Maeterlinck and Pierre Loti were translated at the beginning of this period. But the end of the War brought Romain Rolland, Henri Barbusse, Paul Morand and other postwar writers to the notice of the Japanese public. Of Romain Rolland's works, Jean-Christophe, biographies of musicians and the plays were the first to be translated. These works are still very widely read today; and in the interval of forty years that have since elapsed, practically all of the more important works of this writer have been translated into Japanese. At the same time, one cannot pass over Barbusse and Morand in their relation to Japanese literature of that time. The clarté movement launched by Barbusse found many supporters in Japan, and Japan's first socialistic literary magazine was founded in accordance with the spirit of the movement. In the case of Paul Morand, novels such as Ouvert la Nuit and Ferme la Nuit were regarded by a group of younger writers calling themselves the "Neo-perceptionists" as harbingers of a new literature, and as such were not without their influence on Japanese literature of the period.
                           This attitude toward French literature certainly lacked depth; but in the next stage, the fifth, an increased activity on the part of postwar French literature itself was paralleled by the way the introduction of French literature into Japan began to take on a form far more methodical and systematic than hitherto. The actual cause of this change lay partly in the drop―due to the War―in esteem for German culture, which until then reigned paramount in the academic world, and a corresponding increase in interest in French culture which since the middle of the Meiji Era had been relatively on the wane. This increase resulted in a greater proportion of French being taught in higher educational institutions. A more direct cause of the change lay in the fact that young men who benefited by this to study French literature at the universities still found few teaching posts, so that the majority took up journalism and other literary pursuits to earn their living. This state of affairs has been largely altered since the end of the last war, which saw such a rise in the social position of journalists and writers in Japan that those wishing to study French literature at university rapidly increased. At one time, there was great competition to enter university faculties of French literature, and some of Japan's best scholars gathered there; they are still today among the most frequented faculties at Japanese universities.

                             The fifth stage may be taken as extending from 1931 to 1943. From about this latter year onwards the publication of translations and studies of foreign literature became well-nigh impossible on account of wartime controls. However, the introduction and study of French literature made truly remarkable strides during this decade. From the point of view of quantity alone, more translations from and books on French literature were published than during the whole of the preceding periods. One of the achievements of this particular period is the systematic introduction of French literature written during the years following the First World War. The names of Marcel Proust, André Gide and Paul Valéry were made known to the Japanese public almost simultaneously. Although translations and studies of some of their works had already appeared before 1930, it was from about 1934 onwards that these writers began to attract large numbers of readers, an instance of which may be seen in the successful publication of the complete works of André Gide.
                               It may perhaps be noted here that a far more authoritative edition of the complete works of Paul Valéry than the one then being published in France began appearing in 1942. Publication had to be given up after only a few volumes due to restrictions imposed by the War, which did not however, prevent these volumes being sold in far greater numbers than the complete works of André Gide. This shows to what extent interest in and knowledge of French literature had by then developed. The complete works of Proust have not yet appeared, but a complete translation of A La Recherche du Temps Perdu appeared after the War, and his Jean Santeuil was translated very soon after its appearance in France.
                                 It is impossible to give a complete list of French works translated during the period under review. To give only the main titles in chronological order, translations of the Chanson de Roland and Roman de Renart are followed by those of the Grand Testament of François Villon (tr. by Satō Teruo) from the 15th Century, and the 16th-Century Gargantua and Pantagruel of Rabelais (Watanabe Kazuo) and Essays of Montaigne (Sekine Hideo). Up till then, only modern French literature had been given to the Japanese public, so that the appearance of these translations from the classics did much to modify Japanese ideas of French literature by giving a truer picture of the long humanistic tradition behind it.
                                   From the 17th Century, we have the works of Descartes, Pascal's Pensées the plays of Moliere, Racine and Corneille, the Princesse de Cleves of Madam de La Fayette, La Rochefoucauld's Maximes and La Bruyere's Caracteres, as well as a part of the letters of Madame de Sevigne. From the 18th Century the works of Rousseau and a great many of the Encyclopedists, the plays of Marivaux and Beaumarchais, Gil Bras of Le Sage and Paul et Virginie of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, while Manon Lescaut had already appeared in several versions since early in this century.
                                     From the 19th Century, the more important works of the French Naturalists, only a fragment of which had up to that time appeared in translation, are further complemented by projects to publish the complete works of Stendhal and Balzac, although, as in the case of those of Paul Valéry, the War prevented their completion. The edition of Stendhal was to have been a complete translation of the French Divan edition, and would have been of monumental scope had it been completed. The fin de siécle and the present century are equally well represented: the complete novels of Anatole France, the more important works of Paul Bourget and Pierre Loti, followed by those of Duhamel and Jules Romains and the Thibauts of Roger Martin du Gard (with the exception of 1914, the translation of which appeared after the War together with that of Epilogue). There is also Radiguet's Le Bal du Comted'Orgel, which had a considerable influence on our younger novelists.
                                       These are all novels; but much was done in the way of introducing French poetry also. We have an important forerunner here in Gekka no Hitomure (A Group in the Moonlight), an anthology of translations from the French poets by Horiguchi Daigaku which first appeared in 1925. The influence this had on our later poets may be compared to that of Kaichōon on poets of its time. Besides the excellence of the translations themselves, the contents―ranging from the Symbolists to Apollinaire, Cocteau and other French poets who appeared after the First World War―brought to the world of Japanese poetry the new stirrings of the 20th Century.
                                         But this is by no means all that was done in regard to French poetry. A thorough revaluation of the great French poets of the second half of the 19th Century―Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Verlaine and Rimbaud―was carried out during this final period and the nature of their work elucidated. The complete works of Baudelaire were published, as were Une Saison en Enfer and Les Illuminations of Rimbaud, as well as his earlier poetry.
                                           In the case of drama we have, besides the classics of the 17th and 18th centuries already mentioned, translations of the Naturalist plays of Henri Becque. But what marks this period is the fact that the new drama movement initiated by the Vieux-Colombier group was brought to Japan by men such as Kishida Kunio and Iwata Toyō, who had long stayed in Paris and had breathed the spirit of the movement.  Kishida was a distinguished dramatist in his own right, and produced some outstanding plays in which we can see the influence of French dramatists such as Porto-Riche.
                                             In the domain of criticism, Boileau's L'Art Poétique was translated and published in a popular edition. An edition of the works of Sainte-Beuve was planned, several volumes appearing before the war put a stop to this and many other such worthy projects. Many of the works of Alain and Thibaudet were also translated, and helped to further Japanese understanding of French literature. A complete translation of the history of French literature by Bédier and Hazard was also begun, and a part of it published. Several histories of French literature had also been written by Japanese scholars, so that by now many readers could become acquainted with the general outline of French literature without even knowing French, through these histories and through translations of original works.

                                               The policy of closed frontiers adopted by the Japanese authorities during the War was a thorough one. From 1941 to the end of the War, practically no French books of a literary nature were imported into the country. This continued for some time after the War; so that the first reports Japan had of the postwar work of, for example, Sartre were through an article in an American magazine. When this embargo on foreign books relaxed a little, we were faced with a system of controls on the translation of books of a severity never experienced before the War. In effect, the American Occupation Forces published at certain intervals lists of foreign books that we were permitted to translate, from which our publishers were allowed to choose. But even then, the royalties demanded for the copyright holders were often so high that no margin was left for the translators, with the result that many books worth bringing to the notice of the Japanese public had to be passed by. Yet in spite of this, and particularly after the signing of the Peace Treaty, translations from foreign literature began to be read with an avidity unknown until that time, and among them French literature still looms very large. What is more, the development of air mail facilities now made it possible for foreign magazines and newspapers to reach Japan in a matter of days; so that today, an event occurring in the literary world of Paris is already being talked about by lovers of French literature in Tōkyo a fortnight later. It is, in fact, a weakness of the present-day study of French literature in Japan that one is perpetually being disturbed by minor facts and incidents that are really not worth knowing.
                                                 The first new French writer to be made known to the Japanese public after the War was Jean-Paul Sartre. However, due to circumstances already alluded to, it was difficult either to import his works or to translate them. His name was soon linked with that of Existentialism; but for want of any detailed information on the subject, Existentialism tended to be used simply as another word for temperamental rebelliousness and sexual laxity on the part of the younger generation. Or rather, one might perhaps say that a kind of Existentialist atmosphere prevailed among the younger generation as part of the postwar psychology, and that Sartre's name was made use of to give some literary embellishment to the scene.
                                                   Most of Sartre's works, including such major pieces as the Chemin de la Liberté and L'Existence et le Néant have since been translated through the efforts of our younger writers and French scholars; but the way his ideas have been received by the Japanese public would seem to indicate very clearly both the commendable and the deplorable aspects of the new age that has begun since the War.
                                                     In the first place, the intelligentsia of the postwar world are now being faced by problems that are common to all, irrespective of frontiers. The possibility of a nuclear war threatens all alike. Such problems as the choice between Capitalism and Communism, or the clash between individual freedom and life in a mechanized society, all form part of the common consciousness. The Suez dispute, the revolt in Hungary, or any considerable incident of this nature is treated by intellectuals the world over as having a bearing on their own lives. It is only natural, then, that under such circumstances statements made by a French writer like Sartre should make a different impression on the minds of Japanese readers from the purely literary one that would have been expected in the years before the War. In the world we live in today, it is the feeling that frontiers are as nothing in the face of difficulties that are common to all that form the basis of international cultural exchanges.
                                                       The same thing may be said of Camus, whose Peste and L'Etranger caused a great stir among the Japanese reading public. Most of his plays, essays and political articles have been translated into Japanese; and his popularity must come from the fact that young Japanese readers as well as French regard him, in the shape of Mourseau and his perception of the "irrational," as personifying the conscience of the modern world.
                                                         Besides Camus and Sartre, the poets and novelists who carried on the resistance movement during the War, and other poets such as Aragon, Eluard and Emmanuel have all been translated. At the same time. the fact that the works of Mauriac, only fragments of which had been made known to the Japanese public before, were translated almost in their entirety after the War, and that several important pieces of Claudel, whose name had long been familiar to us, were also translated for the first time, shows the increased interest the Japanese intelligentsia have come to take in Catholicism since the defeat.
                                                           One might go on with this kind of list indefinitely. Complete translations have appeared of Gide's Journal, published after his death, and of Aragon's Les Communistes. The novels of Montherlant and Simone de Beauvoir, the plays of Anouilh and Roussin have all been translated, and acted in Japanese theatres. Cocteau's works, including his plays, novels and essays as well as his poetry, have always been read, ever since the earliest days of this century. The essays and biographies of André Maurais too have always had their readers. Françoise Sagan's novel was translated and enjoyed large sales very soon after its appearance in France. And I must end this very incomplete outline of the influence of French literature in Japan by noting that the anti-novel movement initiated by Butor and Rob-Griller is now being discussed here, and that translations have already appeared of some of their works.

                                                              (Work Posted) The French Influence in Modern Japan Literature was published in Japan Quarterly (Vol.7 No1 P57-65, published by Asahi Shimbun Company, 1960 ).

                                                              NAKAMURA Mitsuo
                                                              This page was created on 2017/02/07

                                                              Background Color

                                                              Font Style

                                                              • Default
                                                              • For Weak-Eyed

                                                              NAKAMURA Mitsuo

                                                              Literary critic, Novelist, Playwright. February 5, 1911~July 12, 1988. Born at Shitaya, Tokyo. The 6th President of the Japan P.E.N. Club. He was accredited as Person of Cultural Merits and a Member of Japan Art Academy.

                                                              Other Works