Modernizing Sinitic Poetry in 19th-Century Japan: Sinitic Poets’ Reactions to Western Literature

Rintato Goyama

Keio University, Tokyo, Japan

The popularity of Sinitic poems did not decline after the Meiji Restoration (1868) for several decades. In this context, a movement to update Sinitic poetry by referring to Western poems took place during the 1880–1890s. The philosopher Inoue Tetsujirō 井上哲次郎 had a strong interest in Western drama and epic and composed unique, lengthy poems containing dialogues. Mori Ōgai 森鷗外, a literary giant and bureaucrat, developed ways to translate Western poems into Sinitic poems by altering their form, including meter and rhythm. Ōe Keikō 大江敬香, a journalist well known for his vigorous activity in the field of Sinitic poetry, argued that composing Sinitic poems regardless of the phonetic rules could provide a useful alternative for Japanese poets, since learning Sinitic literature was a burden on the younger generation. Although these new developments did not greatly influence the dominant group of Sinitic poets who continued to uphold traditional forms of Sinitic poetry, they brought into sharp relief the problematic nature of Sinitic poetry in the modern linguistic context. This paper seeks to examine the full extent of the arguments for modernizing Sinitic poetry in Japan and analyse their literary significance.


Rintato Goyama specializes in Sinitic poetry and prose by modern Japanese writers. In his monograph (2014), he examined the changing roles and forms of Sinitic literature during the modernization of Japan in the Bakumatsu and Meiji periods. His recent research has focused on canon formation in 19th-century Japanese Sinitic poetry.



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