UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The origins of modern Japanese children’s literature : Meiji dogs and American earls Higashikata, Lilian


This thesis historicizes how Japanese children’s literature (jidō bungaku) emerged in the early Meiji period (1868–1912), and examines what elements of cultural and literary discourse inform the early jidō bungaku landmark texts. I seek to demonstrate that the genre of children’s literature emerged from the intersections of the birth of the modern Japanese nation state, the discovery of “the child” (jidō), public education, and literature and language. Chapter 1 focuses on Wakamatsu Shizuko’s pathbreaking 1890 translation of Little Lord Fauntleroy (Shōkōshi), an example of “children’s literature” that did not necessarily conceive children as the primary audience. In this chapter, I examine how Shizuko employs the medium of translation to experiment with the genbun-itchi style, perceived to be a novel and experimental form of literary expression at the time of Shōkōshi’s publication. Shōkōshi constructs the primordial model of “the child” as we understand in the contemporary cultural imagination, the literary personifications of purity and goodness who exists in relation to detached adult observers. Chapter 2 explores three core features of Iwaya Sazanami’s Koganemaru (1891): the gabuntai prose (style), adaptations of canon folktales (narrative form and intertextual engagement), and Edo ninjō melodrama (pre-Meiji tropes). I investigate how Sazanami revitalizes pre-Meiji legacies to compose what he claims is a modern and domestic story for Japanese children, which showcases a carefully engineered image of Japan as a linear, organic, and collective national community. This portrait of Japan is made memorable and persuasive by Sazanami’s conceptualization of “literature” as a private practice outside of the pedagogical context, one that is meant to generate amusement and pleasure. By attending to children’s personal space and pastimes, Sazanami opens new avenues for effectively instilling child readers with the sense of collective national consciousness. The close reading of these two foundational texts will reveal the urgency, rigorous effort, and creative attention invested into writing high literature for children. This will in turn demonstrate that children mattered in the Meiji period—intellectuals and writers esteemed children as a new modern demographic, namely the future of the Japanese sovereign nation, that deserved serious and artistic consideration.

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