Japanese are some of the most prolific readers in the world. Books, magazines, newspapers, and of course the comics are widely read. Many foreign books and publications are translated and available in Japanese bookstores. Despite having three writing systems, Japan boasts a literacy rate above 99%.
The Chinese writing system was imported to Japan in the 4th century. The first known Japanese literary works emerged in the 8th century. Some of the early works of note are the anthology called Man-Yoshu, and the earliest written history of Japan, Kojiki. Both are compiled in the 8th century.
The Chinese writing system that Japan adopted consists of complex ideograms called kanji. Since Japanese and Chinese language systems are completely different, the Japanese first used the Chinese characters as phonetic symbols to write Japanese text. Around the 10th century, original Japanese phonetic characters called kana were being used. The Heian period court ladies of the 11th century used kana when they wrote court literature. Some of the most notable writers were Mursaki Shikibu, who wrote the novel ”Genji Monogtari” and Sei Shonagon, who wrote the essay ”The Pillow Book.” These works provide deep insight into the imperial court during that period.
In the Edo period, many Japanese traditional arts and literature matured. This was the time that haiku poetry developed into its present form.
Deep into the Meiji period, most Japanese literature was written in a classical style partially using the Chinese language. As the times modernized, the written language changed to a more spoken language. Nevertheless, Japan still uses three language systems – kanji, hiragana and katakana. Katakana are mostly used to write loan words.
In modern times, numerous Japanese writers have received international esteem. Mishima Yukiyo, Abe Kobo, Murakami Haruki and others have had their works translated into foreign languages. Two Japanese writers have won the novel prize for literature- Kawabata Yasunari(1968) and Oe Kenzaburo(1994).