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Japanese Language and Literature

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Japanese literature -- Taishō period (1912-1926) -- History and criticism, Japanese literature -- Meiji period (1868-1912) -- History and criticism


Sentimentalism (senchimentarizumu) for Meiji poet Takamura Kōtarō 高 村光太郎, and others of his generation, was not a practice to be cultivated—not in one’s personal life, where it connoted emotional weakness, and certainly not in one’s artistic creations, where the concept suggested a sycophantic appropriation of Western trends. By the Taishō period (1912–1926), however, the term senchimentarizumu appeared with greater and greater regularity in the works of such luminaries as Akutagawa Ryūnosuke and Hagiwara Sakutarō. What did they mean by it? And why had the term taken on such noticeable cachet? In the article that follows I trace the formation and development of the notion of sentimentalism in Japanese literature and art—primarily poetry—in the first half of the Taishō period, proposing a new definition of this term for Japanese literary history that ties together a diverse set of canonical Taishō writers and changes what is known of excessive emotionalism in the Japanese literature of the 1910s.

First, I examine how writers at the end of the Meiji era, such as Takamura Kōtarō, commonly understood the foreign term senchimentarizumu (センチメンタリズム) before the next generation of writers opened it up and exploited its ambiguity. Second, I trace how the aesthetic concept of sentimentalism took root in the Japanese literature of this time through the poetry of Hagiwara Sakutarō 萩原朔太郎. Third, I examine the interplay of sentimentalism in Sakutarō’s literature with that of the visual arts. Fourth, I consider coterie and amateur writings as possible indicators of the spatial and temporal boundaries of the phenomenon I call Japanese Sentimentalism. In particular, I consider the way that Miyazawa Kenji 宮澤賢治 and his agricultural-school colleagues, who lived and wrote in Iwate prefecture, far away from Tokyo, demonstrated the reach of Sakutarō’s unique blend of Japanese Sentimentalism. By exploring the way these writers or their critics used the term senchimentarizumu (and its variants), it is possible to discover what kind of vogue the term had in the realm of poetry and the arts in the 1910s.


This is the publisher's final PDF. Copyright © 2014 Jon Holt. This article first appeared in Japanese Language and Literature, Volume 48, 2014, pages 237-278.

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