This panel investigates the role modern Japanese literature played as an alternative form of education from Meiji to Shōwa by exploring various ways in which 'pure' literature, school readers and farmers' drama each targeted specific readerships and complemented or contradicted official education.
The close relationship between literature and education constitutes one crucial aspect of investigation when trying to elucidate the social and political role of modern literature in Japan. From Meiji until Shōwa, modern Japanese literature's form and function developed to a great extent in tandem with the establishment and expansion of modern school education. As literacy spread, new groups of readers became the target of literature, changing its style, content and educational goals. At the same time, literature was gradually recognized as a didactic tool in official education, which resulted in the incorporation of literary works not only in government-approved textbooks but also in commercially published supplementary readers. In sum, it could be said that literature often acted as a type of 'alternative' education, complementing or contradicting official school education and stimulating new readerships such as teachers, youths and farmers in various ways. This entanglement of literature and education forms an insufficiently covered area of literary research, partly due to scholars of education shying away from literary analyses, partly since scholars of literature still tend to make a clear distinction between the realms of 'moralistic' education and literature as 'art'. However, a full understanding of the social and political meaning of literature requires a comprehensive study of the intricate interaction between both domains. This panel sets out to clarify the close and complex link between literature and education through three case studies, each discussing one peculiar episode in Japanese history where literature developed or was used in hopes of educating a specific readership. Covering Meiji, Taishō and Shōwa, and tackling 'pure' literature, school readers and farmers' drama, the three presentations each provide a unique approach to highlight the multifaceted social and political workings of modern Japanese literature as a form of non-official education.