Genbunicchi (言文一致)

Genbunicchi (unification of the written and spoken language) refers to the movement in the Meiji period that asserted that writers should write in a style close to the colloquial style Japanese, using everyday expressions instead of the previous literal style Japanese and practiced it, and to the works written in that style. It didn't mean writing Japanese sentences as spoken.

The bungo, classic style Japanese, had completed in large part by the Heian period, but gradually became more and more different from the spoken Japanese. With the beginning of the Meiji period some people of letters started a reform movement (genbunicchi movement). Novels such as "Ukigumo" written by Shimei FUTABATEI, who was influenced by Shoyo TSUBOUCHI are known to be pioneering genbunicchi novels. It is said that when FUTABATEI wrote "Ukigumo", he referred to Encho SANYUTEI's rakugo recorded into written Japanese. The writing style adopted in translating Russian literary works such as Turgenev's was also an attempt of breaking away from the previous style. At that time, many writers including FUTABATEI groped for a new style of genbunicchi. Among them Bimyo YAMADA attempted a "desu/masu style", which failed to become a mainstream language of novels as another possible Japanese expressions, but greatly influenced the succeeding generations. Shizuko WAKAMATSU attempted in translating "Little Lord Fauntleroy" in an "arimasenkatta style", which attracted attention at that time, but which no one succeeded.

However, at that time a lot of works were written in literary style Japanese: HIGUCHI Ichiyo, who learned at "Waka School" and was versed in Japanese classics, wrote "Nigorie", "Takekurabe" and so on in the gabuntai style, using the breathing of the classics, MORI Ogai, who challenged a genbinicchi style in his translations, adopted literal style Japanese, and in the field of critical essays Tokoku KITAMURA and Shusui KOTOKU wrote essays in "kanbun-kakikudashi-bun (semi-Chinese style Japanese)". In this respect, the Genbunicchi movement did not quickly become a mainstream of the time.

Such challenges to new writing styles were not performed not only in the field of literature but also in contemporary newspaper and magazine articles concurrently. Particularly in battlefield reports by embedded journalists and reports of trials written in shorthand, genbunicchi styles were actively attempted. As a result, in the late Meiji period they gradually became established as the written language, and came to greatly influence Japanese general writing. A movement of Japanese naturalism literature played a part in its popularization. However, the legal language was described in literal style Japanese under the system of the Great Imperial Japan Constitution, so that it was not until the post-war period under the system of the Constitution of Japan that it came to be written in a colloquial style.

Example Sentences

Literary style (Kanbun style): Heaven (God) created millions of millions of humans and gave all of them undeprivable rights. That is to say, these rights make us alive, seek freedom and pray for happiness with no one unable to do anything against them.
(Passage from the Declaration of Independence in "Seiyo Jijyo" 1866 by Yukichi FUKUZAWA)

Colloquial style Japanese: In the fall of the middle September, I found myself sitting in a certain birch woods all day.
Since this morning it has been drizzling on and off, and when it stopped, slightly warm sunshine fell: How fickle the sky has been!
("Aibiki" translated by Shimei FUTABATEI (1888), Iwanami paperback library)

An extreme decline of the colloquial style literature! We have been told about the phrase by Saburo SHIMADA, the revered old Mr. FUKUZAWA and another one or two persons. Mr. SHIMADA said sadly that literature today had been written for the public taste, the revered old Mr. FUKUZAWA sighed that no person of letters now had been able to produce new ideas and thoughts, and other people criticized that literature today was based on mammonism.
("Bungaku Kyokusui?" by Bimyo YAMADA, 1890, from "Kindai Bungaku Hyoron Taikei"

Literal style: Coal had already been shipped. It was very quiet around the table in a middle-class room and a sinetsuto light was shining brightly, only in vain.
("Maihime" by MORI Ogai, 1980)

Literal style: When a black colored car stopped at the gate, her parents, thinking that their daughter had come back, always greeted her, but tonight she left the car which she had picked up on the street and stood with a heavy heart in front of the lattice door ("Jyusanya" by HIGUCH Iichiyo, 1895, from Iwanami Bunko)
Colloquial style: Now I am going to tell you about my own and family's economic situations. Generally speaking, nothing is more dreadful than debt in the world, apart from assassination.
("The Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa",1899) from Iwanami Bunko

Colloquial style: Junichi KOIZUMI left the inn in Shibahikagecho, asking people questions with a Tokyo gridded map in his hand, and got on a train for Ueno at Shimbshi Station. (Abbreviated), Junichi who came from the countryside uses a Tokyo dialect which he has learned in novels.
("Young Man"in 1910 by MORI Ogai)

FYJUZAWA's 'Seiyo Jijyo" and Ogai's text are quoted from Aozora Bunko