Modernist literature was introduced to Japan in the early 20th century, and some of it took root. While modernism, a new movement in art and literature, was first developed in Europe, American poets, especially Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot, played a major role in its development. Both of these poets were expatriates, living in Europe after they left the United States. As this fact indicates, there was an international, cosmopolitan nature to modernism, which was also seen in other modernist writers and poets, such as James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Hilda “H. D.” Doolittle, Mina Loy, Djuna Barnes, and Eugene Jolas, to name just a few; this internationalist appeal was also an important factor in the early reception of modernism by the Japanese. In literature in English, Noguchi Yonejirō (Yone Noguchi) and Nishiwaki Junzaburō, for example, had contact with modernist writers abroad, published their own works in English, and introduced foreign poets they knew to Japanese readers. Takahashi Shinkichi, Kitasono Katue (Kitazono Katsue), and other poets also had correspondence with poets and writers of foreign countries and exchanged their works. Following the initial encounter between Japanese poets and modernist American poets at the beginning of the 20th century, their works were introduced to Japanese readers of literature in English in the late 1920s. At the time, within academia, American literature was still considered part of English literature. Although mass-market literature series included many American literature titles, especially novels, the curricula in the English departments at major universities rarely included American literature. Besides, even in English literature studies, the focus was mainly on 19th-century (and earlier) authors, and modernist poetry was still not getting much attention. Thus, the reception of modernist American poetry in Japanese academia was generally slow. Instead, it was literary magazines such as Shi to shiron that actively introduced modernist poetry (including Gertrude Stein, T. S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound) to Japanese readers. Modernist poetry in English was often seen as “intellectualist” in Japan. As the control of freedom of speech and publication tightened in the late 1930s and the 1940s, in keeping with Japan’s militarization and totalitarianism, it became difficult to read and write about foreign literature. In this situation, adhering to modernist and intellectualist literature assumed its symbolic meaning of resistance. While under totalitarian rule, older Japanese modernists converted themselves into collaborationists, and younger poets such as Ayukawa Nobuo, who started a magazine called Arechi (The waste land), tried their best to maintain their literary independence. They became leading figures in postwar Japanese poetry.
The year 1922 has been known as the annus mirabilis (“miracle year”) of Anglo-American literary modernism, chiefly because of the near-simultaneous publication of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” James Joyce’s Ulysses, and Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room. The distinctive historical character of 1922 remains an ongoing concern: the year was at once a time of traumatic memory of World War I and a moment of renewed ambition for the radical experiments of modernism. During the war, Eliot, Joyce, and Woolf had enjoyed an unusual opportunity to revise and extend their aesthetic ambitions. Each of their works registers the more defiant provocation of postwar literature, but each confronts the powerful resistance of cultural and political authorities who saw the efforts, especially of Eliot and Joyce, as both meaningless and dangerous. The postwar period also saw the rapid expansion of new technologies (especially in transport and telecommunications) and a consumer society keen to enjoy the availability of freshly circulating material goods. D. H. Lawrence described the end of war as both a relief and a menace. This double valence captures the contrast between searing memories of battlefield death and anticipation of pleasure and plenitude in the Jazz Age. The central figures in this entry are at once newly confident in the adversarial mission of modernism and fully aware of the social complacency and cultural conservatism arrayed against them. The immediate felt disturbance of these works came through their formal challenge, in particular through the intersecting uses of many-voiced and multi-perspectival montage, an assemblage of fragmentary views, and a diversity of speaking tones. This conspicuous technique appears in closely related terms within the early films of Dziga Vertov and the postwar philosophy of logical atoms developed by Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein. But the formal inventiveness exhibited during the year is no more prominent than the social concern. Especially as in 21st century, historical studies of the period have recovered the depth of interest in questions of race, empire, sexual debility, and social failure.