Japanese Studies Seminar Series - Kōdan: Oral tradition to modern mass media, 1100s-1930s

This week's presenter will be Adam Croft, PhD candidate, School of Culture, History and Language. 


The oral tradition of kōdan (classical storytelling) has received relatively little scholarship in the English-speaking world compared to other theatrical forms from Japan. However, kōdan contributed much to Japanese mass media at the turn of the 20th century. Kōdan influenced film via the benshi (film narrators)[1]and radio via naniwa-bushi (the musical elégies of Osaka).[2] Notwithstanding, the greatest legacy of kōdan was to accessible print media and literacy in Japan.[3]In support of the argument that kōdan be afforded more scholarly attention this presentation will describe in brief the history of the oral art form from its religious origins in Buddhism during the 12th century to the early days of radio in the 1930s. Themes and selected works from the popular tradition will serve to illustrate the core values of kōdan and its significance to Japanese culture. This presentation will also touch on the personal feuds[4] within the professional kōdan community at the start of the 20th century that saw the establishment of Japan’s largest publishing company Kodansha.


[1]Aaron Gerow, Visions of Japanese Modernity: Articulations of Cinema, Nation, and Spectatorship, 1895-1925 (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 2010).

[2]Henry Smith, “The Media and Politics of Japanese Popular History: The Case of the Akō Gishi,” in Historical Consciousness, Historiography, and Modern Japanese Values, ed. James C. Baxter, 1st English Edition (Kyoto: International Research Center for Japanese Studies, 2006), pp. 75–97.

[3]Richard Torrance, “Literacy and Literature In Osaka, 1890-1940.,” The Journal of Japanese Studies 31, no. 1 (2005): 27–60, doi:10.1353/jjs.2005.0028.

[4]Kenichi Adachi, “Tatsukawa-bunko no tanjyō,” Shisō no kagaku 10, Shisō no kagaku (October 1959).



The Japanese Studies Seminar Series is a fortnightly seminar hosted by the ANU Japan Centre during Friday lunchtimes.  Each fortnight an ANU Japan-related scholar shares their research with the group for discussion.  All are welcome to attend the series and engage with our Japan scholars on their research.

Updated:  27 November 2018/Responsible Officer:  JI Management Group/Page Contact:  Japan Institute