Modern Japanese Literature

Miharu Nakamura

Literature Is a Gold Mine of Paradoxes.

Miharu Nakamura , Professor

Graduate School of Letters (Undergraduate School of Letters Department of Humanities and Human Sciences)

High school : Iwate Prefecture Morioka Daiichi

Academic background : doctoral program of Tohoku University

Research areas
Japanese literature, comparative literature, culture and representation
Research keywords
paradox, fiction, metafiction, added value of words

What makes literary studies enjoyable?

In his poem entitled “Kairosei,” Kenji Miyazawa uses a double entendre to sing about a river that flows on earth (Kitakami River?) and the river in the heavens (the Milky Way and galaxy) as the “flow of life,” in which the lives of humans, including that of his deceased sister, are included in this “flow.” This is a very beautiful poem. Once the poem was finished, however, Kenji completely rubbed it out with an eraser. Why? Perhaps Kenji wanted to avoid the absoluteness of integrating not only life and death but also the heavens, man, and earth, thereby leaving the poem eternally unfinished. In fact, many of Kenji’s other works are also unfinished drafts. In my view, what is at work here is the paradox of the essence of literature.

Osamu Dazai has long been regarded as a self-destructive, downward-oriented writer who professed that he was “sorry for being born.” In his Doke no Hana, however, a story about a man who survived an attempted double suicide and a story of another man who is writing that story are combined to make it a novel about a novel, or so-called metafiction. This is a structure for radically reconsidering the very possibility of novelistic art by investigating literary theories within a novel itself. Dazai used this approach in many of his novels, with decadence and the principle of “art for art’s sake” coexisting in each work. I must say that any sense of literature that reduces literature to a simple message is now obsolete.

Poem "Kairosei" rubbed out with an eraser

Metafictional structure of Doke no Hana

1Q84: rewriting the story


On the one hand, having learned from the methodologies of traditional literary studies since Aristotle’s Poetics, analytical philosophy in Europe and the United States, semiology in France, and the Frankfurt School in Germany, I have investigated “what is fiction” from a theoretical point of view. On the other hand, I have developed a textual formalistic methodology to grasp the characteristics of text as a cluster of words, using novels and poems from Japanese modern literature from Soseki Natsume to Haruki Murakami, as well as Japanese films and animation as sources. In the process, I have observed a number of strange behaviors shown by words in literary works, in particular, the aspect of paradox in which words do not converge into a single message. This is a very interesting topic of research.

With my research, including my paper on “Kairosei,” which was favorably received in the academic world, I received the Encouragement Prize in the 17th Miyazawa Kenji Award from the MiyazawaKenjiAssociationIhatobuCenter (HanamakiCity) in September 2007.


In what way are literary studies related to social life?

A sensational work that includes the depiction of DV, cults, sex, and violence, Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 also looks directly at the significance of “rewriting a story” in relation to Orwell’s 1984, to which it refers. In other words, this is also metafiction. Haruki’s works always bring up episodes of disruption and incompleteness of communication between people as well as between men and women, arranging them into an intriguing story using uncommon expressions. The study of literature provides an opportunity to create a richer culture by focusing attention on linguistic phenomena such as fiction, metafiction, and paradox to bring attention to the basis of human society founded upon words on the one hand, while understanding and mastering diverse expressions to learn the added value of words on the other.

From this perspective, I delivered a public seminar “Reading Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84: Rewriting a Story” in 2010 at the Humanities Café, which was organized by the Graduate School of Letters. The seminar created a stir as it was podcast over iTunes and currently registers 5,000 monthly downloads.

 Podcast “Reading Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84” at Humanities Cafe
 Hana no Fractal and Fiction no Kiko II


What is your message to younger generations?

I have liked reading poems and novels since I was young, but I was not a particularly avid reader. That said, there is no doubt that having had time to tackle them not for practical purposes, but purely to read them as works of literature, has culminated in leading me to conduct my present research. Human society never consists of materialistic values and straight messages alone. In particular, young people are presented with a variety of possibilities when it comes to words. How about reading a work of literature to seek out the mysterious, yet rich behavior of words for yourself? For more information on literary studies, visit my website.



(1) Miharu Nakamura, Fiction no Kiko (Mechanism of Fiction) I, II, Hitsuji Shobo (1994, 2015)

(2) Miharu Nakamura, Hana no Fractal: 20-seiki Nippon Zen’ei Shosetsu Kenkyu (Fractal of Flower: Studies in Japanese Avant-garde Novels of 20th Century), Kanrin Shobo (2012)

(3) Miharu Nakamura, Keisochu no Shutai: Soseki, Dazai, Kenji (Pending Subjects: Soseki, Dazai, Kenji), Kanrin Shobo (2006)