Literature of the North

 Representations of Iwate in Local Fiction

Introduction to Topic

The publishing industry in Japan is very centralized, with more than 80 percent of all publishing houses based in Tōkyō. Similarly, most biographies of well-known authors reflect this focus on the capital, as literates have felt drawn to Tōkyō for more than a century. On the other hand, there are exceptions to this phenomenon, as the perhaps best-known example of literature from Okinawa (Okinawa bungaku) shows.

This dissertation focuses on current fiction from the prefecture of Iwate to shed light on literary production outside the reputed centre. Iwate is especially interesting for several reasons: it is a part of Tōhoku – a vast region that was widely ignored in public and academic discourses until the triple catastrophe occurred on March 11th, 2011. Within this highly diverse region, Iwate stands out due to its history of poverty, but also due to its rich cultural heritage of folk tales such as Tōno monogatari and modern literates such as Ishikawa Takuboku and Miyazawa Kenji. While academic publications, museums, and the public discourse do cover modern literature from the region extensively, post-war and present authors and their works seem to be absent from the discourse.

Research Question

How is Iwate represented in current fiction from authors who live or used to live in the prefecture?


The methods consist of close reading of literary texts (fiction) and a discourse analysis that should identify the most prominent ways in which the fictional images of Iwate are constructed:

  • How is Iwate mentioned (specific places, general setting, local markers, etc.)?
  • Is Iwate set into contrast to other places and what does thattell about Iwate?
  • Does the text criticize living conditions in Iwate? What arethose and how are they brought up?
  • Do the depictions of Iwate in different works resemble eachother or do they draw a fragmented picture of the prefecture?
  • Do these works construct a certain kind of local identity?
  • Are there common themes, tropes or narratives and whatdoes that tell about the self-perception of Iwate?

Preliminary Results

Although the whole of Tōhoku has often been perceived as a cultural wasteland, the research found a thriving literary scene in present-day Iwate. Many authors have publishing contracts with big Tōkyō-based publishing houses and some even work as authors full time. However, the lack of a common label, as is the case in Okinawa bungaku, makes it difficult to identify these authors. Albeit, it appears that a loose network of Iwate authors does exist due to the efforts of Iwate based author Michimata Tsutomu.

Further, first analyses of the corpus show that the portrayals of Iwate range from relatively urban to extremely rural. This finding challenges the idea of the ‘country side’ or the ‘periphery’ as one homogenous space and directs the researcher’s view to the (geographic) diversity within Iwate – and most likely other underrepresented places as well.


All publications focus exclusively on literature from Iwate and were published in the prefecture, all but the last one by Iwate Nippō:

  • Kita no bungaku (published twice a year since 1980; analyzed period: 2005 – 2016)
  • 12 no okurimono: Higashi nihon daishinsai shien. Iwate-kenzaijū sakka jisen tanpenshū (2013)
  • Ano hi kara: Higashi nihon daishinsai tamashizume. Iwate-kenshusshin sakka tanpenshū (2015)
  • Kenmin bungei sakuhinshū 47 (2016)