Kawabata's views of language and the postwar construction of a literary genealogy

Tomi Suzuki*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper shows the ways in which, in the immediate post-war period (1945–1951), Kawabata Yasunari (1899–1972) reflected on his earlier, pre-war literary career and re-envisioned his postwar literary trajectory by constructing a new genealogy of the modern novel in Japan, in relationship to the intricate issues of the literary styles of the modern novel, ‘national language’ (kokugo), and the literary tradition. By examining his Shin bunshō tokuhon (New Guide to Literary Language, 1950), which presents Kawabata's past and present views of literary language, I will argue that Kawabata's changing views of language and literary style must be understood in the context of contemporary debates over national language policy and language reform movements. I will show the manner by which Kawabata formulated his views of language in dialogue with his two rival writers: Yokomitsu Riichi (1898–1947) in the prewar period and Tanizaki Junichirō (1886–1965) in the postwar period. As we shall see, the death of his close literary colleague Yokomitsu in 1947 and Tanizaki's unflagging literary exploration during and following the war prompted Kawabata to position himself in a genealogy of modern Japanese literary writers as well as in relationship to the linguistic and literary tradition of Japan.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-104
Number of pages20
JournalJapan Forum
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Jan 2
Externally publishedYes


  • Kawabata Yasunari
  • literary style of the modern novel
  • reform of national language
  • Tanizaki Jun'ichirō
  • The Tale of Genji
  • Yokomitsu Riichi

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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