Why We Are Taught Literature


— by H. W.

Looking back on when I was a junior first and second grader, I recall most of my classmates dozing or staring out of the window in Japanese literature courses. We were given worksheets which had questions like, “How did the protagonist change throughout the story?” The teachers wrote down notes on the blackboard. The teachers explained the background of the story.

During the lessons, I always felt a sense of duty brushing against my shoulders, telling me to pay attention. Interest was not the only reason I was listening to the teachers.It was completely understandable for my classmates to be oblivious of the classes; the reason was obvious. The lessons seemed meaningless.

But were they really meaningless?

My answer: yes and no.

To explain my ambiguous answer, I must make a detour. First of all, why is literature appreciated? I have asked myself this question a number of times, and it was only recently that I found an answer.

My answer: Literature is a way to measure your maturity.

When I was in senior two, I decided to read Yasunari Kawabata’s The Dancing Girl of Izu (「伊豆の踊子」) on a whim. I had studied this short story before in junior two, but upon reading it again, I was surprised by how much I had overlooked back then. Three years was enough for me to discover new aspects of the story. In other words,

I outgrew my rudimentary interpretation and found a more profound one.

What does this have to do with Japanese literature class?

The class brought “The Dancing Girl of Izu” to my attention. I probably would not have read the story if it weren’t for the class.

By letting me form an interpretation in junior two, I was able to make a comparison with my new interpretation.

Thus, my Japanese literature class allowed me to measure my maturity. This is why I think the lessons I had in three or four years ago were far from meaningless. However, this assessment is in retrospect. The students who are currently suffering from boredom might be incredulous. I can only ask you to trust me, but you don’t have to. Just do not forget that your teachers are making an effort to make your classes engaging — if the teachers are not, then you have the right to doze in class.