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U.S.-Japan Women's Journal

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Japanese Literature -- Analysis


As a fixed 31-syllable form of short poetry, Japan's tanka is one of the world's oldest forms of still-practiced poetry, with examples perhaps dating back to the fifth century. In the modern periods of Meiji (1868-1912) and Taishō (1912-1926), poets radically reformed the genre, expanding diction beyond millennium-old classical limits, thereby allowing poets to write not only about cherry blossoms and tragic love but also about things like steam trains and baseball games; although today many tanka poets in practicing circles still employ classical Japanese, many modern masters innovated the genre by skillfully blending in colloquial language. Like their modern forebears, poets in the contemporary period (1945-present) continue to experiment with the metrical and time limits of this short form.


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