Literary canon and national identity: The tale of genji in meiji Japan

G. G. Rowley*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


In 1890–1, after a lacuna of almost two hundred years, The Tale of Genji was reprinted three times. Two more movable type editions of Genji followed in 1903–6 and 1909–10. The present essay is an attempt to account for this spate of new editions and to explain why scholars of Japanese literature suddenly decided to expend so much energy editing, explicating and otherwise endeavouring to rescue Genji from obscurity. They believed that The Tale of Genji was the epitome of Japan’s ‘true national character'; that an appreciation of Genji was vital to the forging of a strong national identity; and, therefore, that Genji was a book ‘every citizen ought to read’. Yet, despite numerous attempts on the part of scholars to disseminate the text of the classic and aids to its understanding to the Meiji citizenry, it was Yosano Akiko’s modern Japanese translation of The Tale of Genji, published in 1912–13, that was the first successful transformation of the entire work into an accessible form.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalJapan Forum
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Canon
  • Meiji period
  • National identity
  • The Tale of Genji
  • Translation
  • Yosano Akiko

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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