After the dramatic opening of Japan to the West in 1858, the flood of translations from Western literature that followed induced the Japanese to give prose fiction a new direction and psychological realism. Tsubouchi Shoyo (1859–1935) had a profound effect on the modern Japanese novel with his critical study Shosetsu - shinzui [the essence of the novel] (1885), in which he urged the use of colloquial speech rather than the rarefied literary language used by previous writers. Ukigumo [the drifting cloud] (1887–89), by Futabatei Shimei (1864–1909), was the first novel written in colloquial language. The "I novel," a type of personal semifictitious autobiography, was dominant for a time, followed by naturalist and proletarian novels.
Natsume Soseki and Mori Ogai were two major figures of early-20th-century fiction. Ryunosuke Akutagawa (1892–1927) is known for his unusual stories based in part on earlier tale literature and folklore. Japanese literature suffered a slump during World War II, when the government censored literary expression it considered contrary to the interests of the state. Nagai Kafu (1870–1959), with his talent for verbal portraiture, nevertheless remained a popular figure during this time.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.