Friday, May 29, 2009

From Prostitute to Bodhisattva and Back Again: Late Night Thoughts on Eguchi no Kimi 江口の君 and Fugen Bosatsu 普賢菩薩

This just in from Dr. Nabil al-Tasnimi:
The picture on the right is Kobayashi Kiyochika's (1847-1915) mitate-e of the famed courtesan Eguchi no Kimi seated astride an elephant, in parody of the Fugen Bosatsu. The overlapping of the two figures Eguchi and Fugen is the subject of Ishikawa Jun's essay, "On the Thought Patterns of the People of Edo" 「江戸人の発想法について」 (1942).

Tanizaki Jun'ichirō (1886-1965) too uses the story of Eguchi in his novel The Reed Cutter 『芦刈』 (1932), in which his narrator explains to his companion how courtesans are avatars for Fugen Bodhisattvas, and how sexual ecstacy is not altogether different from religious ecstacy. The above mitate-e, the conversation in Tanizaki's novel, and Ishikawa's essay all force us to reconsider the standard tropes and ask ourselves: Is there any real distinction between the vulgar and the sublime, or are they in fact interchangeable? Can a woman, whether real or mythical, be at once both whore and saint? Do all women possess attributes of both whore and saint?

Willfully confusing the vulgar and the sublime seems to be a technique common to Japanese art in general and to Edo period art in particular. In Western art, however, this technique doesn't seem to feature so prominently. The boundaries for archetypes seem more clearly drawn, and there isn't much crossing over.

Take the New Testament narrative, for instance. Would it not have made for a better story if the Christ's mother had been, like the maid Otake Dainichi, a little less saintly?

Jarvis32 informs me that throughout history many have asserted that the Virgin Mary was in reality far from sinless. According to the second-century polemicist Celsus, for example, the "virginal" Mary in fact "had sex with a Roman soldier and then married Joseph who protected her from the harsh Jewish laws of the time which otherwise would have sentenced her to death by stoning for such an act" (Jane Schaberg, Illegitimacy of Jesus: A Feminist Theological Interpretation of the Infancy Narratives).

I'm getting off track, so now to my point: The next time Elliot Spitzer is caught fooling around with a hooker from Emperor's Club VIP, or your wife finds in your pant pocket a matchbook from an oppai pub in Kabukichō, just remember that these modern-day courtesans are really disguised Bodhisattvas who, having attained enlightment, have returned to this world to console those of us who continue to suffer from the 108 earthly desires.

[To view more online mitate-e of Eguchi no Kimi and others, click here.]

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Tatekawa Danshi and Other Findings

Just in from Sally Suzuki:
To follow up, here are the Japan-related links:

1. A look at Izumi Kyōka in this episode of Shitte iru tsumori.

2. Rakugo legend Tatekawa Danshi. (Yes, the same Tatekawa from 談志・陳平の言いたい放だい, arguably Japan's best TV show.)

3. Abe Kōbō on writing and growing up in Manshū, from the NHK series Ano hito ni aitai.

4. Two documentaries about writer Kaikō Takeshi (1930-1989): the first, from the series Ano hito ni aitai; the second, Yūyū to shite isoge, in 11 parts.

5. Japan nearing crisis: rare footage of the teito (imperial capital) in 1935 and ’37.

6. Some post-war footage of the major Japanese cities destroyed by the U.S. bombing.

7. This short segment on the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake.

Ishikawa Naoki, Photographer

Just in from Jarvis32:
Ever heard of this dude? I read somewhere that he’s Ishikawa Jun’s grandson. You might want to try to get in touch with him. You'll need permission from the Ishikawa estate before you can publish any translations.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Peter Greenaway’s "Four American Composers" and Other Recent Findings

Just in from Sally Suzuki:
Here’s the latest. Sorry for the delay. Just got in from Kraków. If you’d just give me the keys to your blog, I could post more often, even while abroad. So much is available these days that one rarely needs to rent from the video store. I’ll send you the new list of Japan-related links tomorrow.

1. Four American Composers (1983), Peter Greenaway’s four-part documentary about four of America’s weirdest and perhaps greatest contemporary composers: Philip Glass, Meredith Monk, John Cage, and Robert Ashley.

2. Dylan Thomas’s radio play, Under Milk Wood, in 12 parts, featuring Richard Burton.

3. This Twilight Zone version of Ambrose Bierce’s short story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” which is said to have been the inspiration for both Borges’s “The Secret Miracle” and David Lynch’s Lost Highway.

4. Caryl Churchill's award-winning play, Seven Jewish Children, written in response to Israel’s assault on Gaza earlier this year.

5. This 1967 film version of the world’s most unfilmable novel, Ulysses. In 12 parts. Apparently there’s another version, of which I can only find this final scene (so much for Youtube’s no-nudity rule!)

6. Dante’s Inferno, read in its entirety (Cantos I to XX), using Longfellow's 1867 translation.

7. Night and Fog, the classic French documentary about the Holocaust.

Sally Suzuki, Beholdmyswarthyface Media Director

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Shin Nihon Shugi

This just in from Pam Klithet:

I read your article in Neojaponisme. I liked it. And man, great site. I was wondering where they got the name, Neojaponisme. Does it have anything to do with the nationalistic magazine of the same name (Shin Nihon shugi) that was started by Iwano Hōmei in 1916 in order explain and promulgate the Shinto religion?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Ishikawa Jun Bibliography

Just in from Mabel Aterdose:
Thanks for posting. Is there any way you could also post a list of works by and about Ishikawa?
OK, Mabel, here's what I was able to find. It’s not an exhaustive bibliography, but it should be enough to keep you busy for some time.

• Kajin (Tokyo: Sakuhin, 1935).
• Fugen (Tokyo: Sakuhin, 1936); translated by William Tyler as The Bodhisattva, or Samantabhadra (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990).
• Yamazakura (Tokyo: Hanga-sō Bunko, 1937).
• Marusu no uta (Tokyo: Bungakkai, 1938); translated by William Tyler as "Mars' Song," in The Legend of Gold (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1997).
• Hakubyō (Tokyo: Chōhen Bunko, 1939).
• Watanabe Kazan (Tokyo: Mikasa Shobō, 1941).
• Mori Ōgai (Tokyo: Mikasa Shobō, 1941).
• Bungaku taigai (Tokyo: Shōgakkan, 1942).
• Giteiki (Tokyo: Sakurai Shobō, 1944).
• Meigetsushu (Tokyo: Mita Bungaku, 1945); translated by Tyler as "Moon Gems" in The Shōwa Anthology, volume 1, edited by Van C. Gessel and Tomone Matsumoto (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1985), pp. 45-62.
• Ōgon densetsu (Tokyo: Chuō Kōronsha, 1946); translated by Tyler as "Legend of Gold," in The Legend of Gold (1997).
• Yakeato no Iesu (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1946); translated by Tyler as "The Jesus of the Ruins," in The Legend of Gold.
• Otoshibanashi: Rihaku, Watōnai, Resshi (Tokyo: Shōsetsu Shinchō, 1949-1950).
• Shojo kaitai (Tokyo: Shinchō Bunko, 1950).
• Isai hitsudan (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1952).
• Isai rigen (Tokyo: Bungei Shunjusha, 1952).
• Taka (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1953); translated by Tyler as "The Raptor," in The Legend of Gold.
• Sango (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1953).
• Narukami (Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō, 1954).
• Isai seigen (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1954).
• Shinshaku harusame monogatari (Tokyo: Bungei Shunjusha, 1954).
• Rakka (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1955).
• Shion monogatari (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1956); translated by Donald Keene as "Asters" in The Old Woman, the Wife and the Archer: Three Modern Japanese Novels (New York: Viking, 1961), pp. 119-172.
• Shokoku kijinden (Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō, 1957).
• Hakutōgin (Tokyo: Chuō Kōronsha, 1957).
• Shura (Tokyo: Chuō Kōronsha, 1958).
• Nanga daitai (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1959).
• Isai jōzetsu (Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō, 1960).
• Shinshaku Kojiki (Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō, 1960).
• Isai yugi (Tokyo: Bungakkai, 1961-1962).
• Kijudōjo (Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō, 1963).
• Aratama (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1963).
• Saiyu nichiroku (Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō, 1965).
• Shifuku sennen (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1967).
• Tenmafu (Tokyo: Chuō Kōronsha, 1969).
• Isai shōshiki (Tokyo: Chuō Kōronsha, 1969).
• Bunrin tsugen (Tokyo: Asahi Shinbunsha, 1972).
• Zenken yōin (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1975).
• Isai kyōjitsu (Tokyo: Bungei Shunjusha, 1976).
• Isai zadan (Tokyo: Chuō Kōronsha, 1977).
• Edo bungaku shōki (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1980).
• Kyōfuki (Tokyo: Shueisha, 1980).
• Rokudō yugyu (Tokyo: Shueisha, 1983).
• Tenmon (Tokyo: Shueisha, 1986).
• Isai fuga (Tokyo: Shueisha, 1988).
• Hebi no uta (Tokyo: Shueisha, 1988).

• Ishikawa Jun zenshu, 10 volumes (Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō, 1961); enlarged, 13 volumes (1968-1969); enlarged, 14 volumes (1974-1975); enlarged, 19 volumes (1989-1992).
• Ishikawa Jun senshu, 17 volumes (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1979-1981).

• Omae no teki wa omae da, Tokyo, Haiyuza Theater, September 1961.
• Hitome mite nikume, Tokyo, Haiyuza Theater, April 1967.

• Anatole France, Akai yuri (Tokyo: Shunyōdō, 1923).
• André Gide, Haitokusha (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1924).
• Charles Ferdinand Ramuz, Nayameru Jian Ryukku (Tokyo: Sōbunkaku, 1926).
• Gide, Hōōchō no nukeana (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1928).

• Pekin dokugin [serialized travelogue], Sekai, 29 (June-August 1975).

• Kawakami Tetsutarō, "Ishikawa Jun den," in Gendai Nihon bungakkan (31) Ishikawa Jun, edited by Kobayashi Hideo (Tokyo: Bungei Shunjusha, 1969), pp. 3-22.
• Watanabe Kiichirō, Ishikawa Jun kenkyu (Tokyo: Meiji Shoin, 1987).
• Ishikawa Iku, Hare nochi kumori, tokoro ni yori ōame--kaisō no Ishikawa Jun (Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō, 1993).

• Aoyagi Tatsuo, Ishikawa Jun no bungaku (Tokyo: Kasama Shoin, 1978).
• Izawa Yoshio, Ishikawa Jun (Tokyo: Yayoi Shobō, 1961).
• Izawa, Ishikawa Jun no shōsetsu (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1992).
• Katō Kōichi, Kosumosu no chie (Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō, 1994).
• Donald Keene, Dawn to the West, volume 1 (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1984), pp. 1087-1102.
• Lucy Tian Hiang Ko Loh, "The World of Ishikawa Jun's Fiction," dissertation, Princeton University, 1986.
• Noguchi Takehiko, Edo ga kara ni naru hi (Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō, 1988).
• Noguchi, Ishikawa Jun ron (Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō, 1969).
• William Tyler, "The Agitated Spirit: Life and Major Works of the Contemporary Japanese Novelist Ishikawa Jun," dissertation, Harvard University, 1981.
• Tyler, "Art and Act of Reflexivity in The Bodhisattva," in The Bodhisattva, or Samantabhadra, by Ishikowa (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), pp. 137-174.
• Tyler, Ishikawa Jun Marusu no uta to Dazai Osamu Sekibetsu, Waseda daigaku hikaku bungaku nenshi, no. 30 (1994): 126-142.

Source: Japanese Fiction Writers Since World War II. Ed. Van C. Gessel. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 182. Detroit: Gale Research, 1997. Literature Resources from Gale. Gale. University of Tokyo. 16 May 2009.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Ishikawa Jun

This just in from Mrs. Marina Thomas:
Who's this Ishikawa Jun you're always talking about?
Well, Marina, here’s what William Tyler has to say about him. I quote the article in full:
Standard anthologies of modern Japanese literature have identified Ishikawa Jun as a writer belonging to the "new talent" debuting in the 1930s, the first wave of post-World War II novelists, the burai-ha (libertine) or shin gesaku-ha (new burlesque) school of Sakaguchi Ango and Dazai Osamu, or a young generation of "internationalists" such as Abe Kōbō or Ōe Kenzaburō. Ishikawa has also been seen as a figure belonging to no group at all, his place within Japanese letters established solely by his brilliance as a prose stylist and experimentalist. What these labels obscure or grasp only in part is the consistently modernist thread that runs through his works. To understand this writer and to establish his place within Japanese and world literature are to appreciate how Western modanizumu (modernism) has parallel roots in Japanese culture. A broad understanding of what modernism denotes can help one to understand how Ishikawa is simultaneously "libertine," "new burlesque," and "internationalist," as well as how he fits into the mainstream of contemporary Japanese fiction.

Less is known about Ishikawa's life than is usually the case with modern Japanese writers. He insisted on the right to privacy, and he advocated the principle that a work of art be appreciated independently of the life of its author--a position contrary to that generally assumed by Japanese critics, novelists, and readers. This position is consistent with Ishikawa's long-standing opposition to the shizen-shugi (naturalist) school of writers and his rejection of the first-person, confessional mode of reportage that dominated Japanese letters during the first half of this century.

Ishikawa was born Shiba Kiyoshi on 7 March 1899 in Asakusa, the old downtown section of Tokyo, where the Shiba and Ishikawa families lived in the same neighborhood of Miyoshi-chō. He was the second son of Shiba Atsushi, a local banker and politician who had given up his family name of Ishikawa to become the adopted son-in-law of the Shiba family and head of its traditional business as fuda-sashi, or brokers. Kiyoshi--or Jun, as the character for Ishikawa's given name can also be read--spent much of his childhood at the home of his paternal grandparents, the Ishikawas, who subsequently adopted him as heir.

His grandfather, Ishikawa Shōsai, had been one of the hatamoto samurai, who lived in Edo and served the shogun directly. He was also a scholar of Chinese and Japanese poetry. During the last years of the Tokugawa era, he served as lecturer at the shogun's prestigious School of Confucian Studies, and he edited several anthologies of Chinese poetry written by Japanese. Under his grandfather's tutelage, Kiyoshi received a solid grounding in both the classical Chinese texts and the high culture of the native No drama. On his own initiative he studied the popular literature of the Edo period and frequented the rakugo, or raconteur, theaters in nearby Asakusa Park. He was a fan of Mori Ōgai's translations of Western literature such as Hans Christian Andersen's Improvisatoren (1837; translated as Sokkyō shijin, 1902) and the short stories of Carl Gustav Vollmoeller and Edgar Allan Poe. The boy also met aspiring young writers such as Kubota Mantarō and Akutagawa Ryunosuke through his older brother, Shiba Taketsuna, a business major at Keiō University and later manager of Enoken, the popular comedian. The brother died young, and little is known about the fate of the Ishikawa and Shiba families after the earthquake of 1923.

The chronicler of Asakusa, Kubota Mantarō, wrote that families such as the Ishikawas sustained the spirit of old downtown Tokyo, a spirit often characterized as that of the "Edokko," or "Sons of Edo." Both the samurai and merchant classes had built homes along the banks of the Sumida River and created a highly literate subculture that emphasized free and easy social relations and a quixotic disposition that contrasted sharply to the neo-Confucian orthodoxies of the shogun or the Meiji oligarchs who ruled the "high town" of Edo castle and Tokyo. Ishikawa identified this liberal, antiestablishment tradition as the locus of his spiritual roots in "Edobito no hassōhō ni tsuite" (On the Thought Patterns of the People of Edo, 1943), published in the magazine Shisō. As Kubota Mantarō points out, Ishikawa's definition of an Edokko should be distinguished from a more popular, albeit more squalid, image of Asakusa as the shitamachi (low town) that developed after the destruction of Tokyo in the earthquake of 1923 and the bombing raids of 1945.

At age eighteen Ishikawa entered the Department of French Language and Literature at the Tokyo School of Foreign Languages just as French literature was being introduced into Japan. As a linguistic prodigy, he read extensively in the original texts of such writers as Romain Rolland , Joris-Karl Huysmans , Anatole France, and Charles-Louis Philippe . After Ishikawa graduated, he helped to found Gendai Bungaku (Contemporary Literature), a small coterie magazine in which he published his first pieces. These études have not been treated as a significant part of his literary production, however.

After leaving home, Ishikawa moved into the Kiku Fuji Hotel, a favorite spot of bohemian and left-wing writers in the Hongō section of Tokyo. He worked briefly in the research division of the Bank of Japan, and after the earthquake of 1923 he went to Kyushu to teach French at Fukuoka Higher School. He was soon forced to resign, however, because of his outspoken support for striking coal miners in northern Kyushu and his opposition to steps taken by the Ministry of Education to suppress student activism. He returned to Tokyo and thereafter struggled to make a living by becoming one of the first Japanese translators of French novels such as Anatole France's Le lys rouge (Akai yuri, 1923) and André Gide 's L'immoraliste (Haitokusha, 1924) and Les caves du Vatican (Hōōchō no nukeana, 1928), as well as plays by Molière.

The essays that Ishikawa published at this time indicate that his interests were shifting sharply away from fin de siècle epicureanism toward symbolism, antinaturalism, and the iconoclastic life personified by Michel and Lafcadio, the protagonists of Gide's L'immoraliste (1902; translated as The Immoralist, 1930) and Les caves du Vatican (1914; translated as The Vatican Cellars, 1952). The extent of Ishikawa's involvement with groups associated with anarchist Ōsugi Sakae and dadaist Tsuji Jun is not fully documented, but during the controversy between the anarchists and the bolshevists that swept Tokyo intellectual circles in the 1920s Ishikawa's political sympathies clearly lay with the ideas of Piotr Kropotkin and Nikolai Bukharin and his literary interests with modernist experiments in narratives such as those of Gide's Paludes (1895) and Les Faux-monnayeurs (1925; translated as The Counterfeiters, 1927).

Throughout his adult life Ishikawa continued to hold anarchism as a posture of philosophical skepticism that challenges the validity of all systems. This position explains why he was not drawn into the proletarian literary movement; moreover, this posture is a perennial topic in his mature works--for example, anabaptism serves as the source of inspiration for Shifuku sennen (On With the Millennium, 1967), a highly fantastic novel that envisions the introduction of millennarian Christianity into Japan during the last days of the Edo period. Or, in Hakutōgin (Lays of the White Haired Wig, 1957) Ishikawa weaves a comic tale of anarchist involvement in the modern theater movement that began at the Tsukiji Shōgekijō (Tsukiji Little Theater). Set in this unsettled period of his life, Hakutōgin is one of Ishikawa's few postwar works that is demonstrably autobiographical.

Issues concerning the grammar of narrative--authorial voice, style, and tone--become important in the series of récits, or words, or that Ishikawa began publishing in the mid 1930s. His debut work, Kajin (The Beauty, 1935), parodies and definitively signals his rejection of the naturalist I-novel. "I, I, I...," the story begins in a seriocomic vein. "It were as if the sluice gates of my pen had opened, and the backwater that is myself surged forth in an endless torrent," Ishikawa writes. He continues with a story of his "stigmata-ization," of how he suffers almost Christlike in an existential drama that records his birth as a writer.

Similarly, Fugen (1936; translated as The Bodhisattva, or Samantabhadra , 1990) is a first-person parody and metafictional tale of an impoverished novelist who, beset by the quotidian realities of making a living in Tokyo, is driven by the dream of realizing a secular "Pure Land" on earth. "The breezes that stir the pages of the novel," he says, "are far different from the gusts of the mundane world," and he longs for a modern incarnation of Joan of Arc--whom he finds in Yukari, a young woman who is involved in the political underground and whom he attempts to save from the hands of the "thought-control" police. By combining Christian and Buddhist imagery and by drawing a series of parallels between the "flowers and dust" of France during the days of Joan of Arc and those of Japan during the 1930s, the novel implicitly critiques its times--and a self-absorbed class of intellectuals that have failed to act. The protagonist unhappily concludes that no "bodhisattva" will save Japan in its hour of peril. The only defense left to those who would resist is reflexive gestures of protest. Awarded the distinguished Akutagawa Prize for literature in 1937, this seminal novel powerfully combines parody, allegory, and satire in using both the palimpsest construction of European modernist prose and the techniques of mitate (look-alikes), tōkai-buri (mystification), and random plotting characteristic of the gesaku, or burlesque fiction, of the Edo period.

Ishikawa's next major work, Marusu no uta (1938; translated as "Mars' Song," 1995), denounces the national chorus of jingoism that followed the Japanese invasion of China in 1937. "Mars' Song" was banned by the censors, and Ishikawa and his publisher were taken to court and heavily fined. Along with Fugen, "Mars' Song" established Ishikawa's reputation as one of the few Japanese writers to oppose the actions of the military, although there was no organized movement, per se, to resist the war. The work presents its antimilitarist message in several ways, sometimes by openly denouncing martial music--which, Ishikawa claims, originates in the madness of the streets, its frenzied crescendo rising to a fever pitch to assault my window. . . . it spits forth an acrid smoke, the blackness of its soot blanketing every household, its grit penetrating into every corner, there to wither city arbors and asphyxiate backyard fowl and family pet. There, in the gaping mouths raised in song, one sees the malaise of our times. . . . I rise from my chair, and turning in the direction of the popular refrain as it echoes down the street, I shout "NO!"

The allegorical subplots that its first-person narrator weaves also reinforce such denunciation. One presents the story of Fuyuko ("Winter's Child"), who insists that "pretending deafness may prove fatal," because the consequences of tacitly supporting, or not resisting, the war are more lethal than many suppose. Yet another denunciation device is the narrator's metaphor for Japan as a beautiful aquarium, in which all of its species are hopelessly entranced and entrapped.

During the war years Ishikawa wrote primarily literary criticism. Most notable is his famous critique of the fiction of Mori Ōgai (Mori Ōgai, 1941). In an introduction that is startling for its boldness, he dismisses the bulk of Ōgai's oeuvre as "inferior work, reeking of the commonplace" and argues that only Ōgai's last works (such as Shibue Chusai, 1916) are praiseworthy. Even so, they are admirable not as biographies, as was commonly held, but as experiments in repertorial narration--that is, as "novels" using a metafictional narrator-within-the-narrative technique. Moreover, in Bungaku taigai (All About Literature, 1942) Ishikawa follows the French essayist Alain (pseudonym of Emile Chartier), who had enunciated in "Essai sur le style" (1920) a theory of writing as vitalistic and automatic: "penser à mesure que la plume écrit" (to think as the pen writes). During the war Ishikawa wrote only one novel--Hakubyō (Line Drawing, 1939), a roman à clef that has as its central character Bruno Taut, the modernist, pro-Soviet architect who had been driven out of Nazi Germany in 1933 and had sought temporary refuge in Japan. While Dr. Kraus--as Taut is called in the novel--praises the spirit and design of "native" Japanese buildings (most notably the Katsura Detached Palace in Kyōto), he does not want his views associated with the rising tide of Japanese nationalism.

Because Japanese citizens could not pursue such immigration abroad during the war years, Ishikawa decided to withdraw from the sociopolitical situation by immersing himself in literary studies. Through a self-proclaimed program of Edo ryugaku, or "study abroad in Edo," he located the historical roots of modern Japan in the Tenmei era (1781-1789)--"Japan's most modern age"--and in the literary genre of Tenmei kyōka, comic poetry in the Tenmei style. In this satiric verse Ishikawa saw the origin of a modernist spirit characterized by the relativism and secularization of ideas. In Meigetsushu (1945; translated as "Moon Gems," 1985), a story recounting Ishikawa's attempts at learning to ride a bicycle during the final days of the war, he describes how important, as sources of humor and inspiration, were the kyōka and its sole practitioner in the twentieth century, the novelist Nagai Kafu. The bicycle stands as a metaphor, or "vehicle," for Ishikawa's attempt to maintain a sense of pride and levity in the face of the single-minded national pursuit of the war. During this period Ishikawa also adopted the pseudonym of Isai, meaning both "the barbarian" and "the kyōka poet at his desk."

After Japan was defeated, Dazai Osamu, Sakaguchi Ango, and Ishikawa--recognized as members of a "libertine" or "new burlesque" school--quickly became leaders in Japanese postwar literature that was characterized by their iconoclastic attitudes toward traditional values and their interests in the parody fiction of the Edo period. Yet they did not share any formal association, credo, or membership in a coterie magazine.

Ishikawa wrote short stories almost exclusively during the period immediately after the war, and while he wrote in the seriocomic, garrulous style of his earlier works, he shifted from a posture of resisting to one of openly embracing the yet undefined possibilities of what Japan might become. Couched in Christian rather than Buddhist imagery, his stories are allegories for the death and resurrection of Japan. In Yakeato no Iesu ("Jesus of the Ruins," 1946), for example, Ishikawa suggests that a vagrant orphan of the war who haunts the black markets of Ueno is Christlike, or almost divine, by virtue of having been returned to an elemental state that is free of tradition. Allegories such as "Jesus of the Ruins" are among Ishikawa's best known and most often anthologized pieces. Ōgon densetsu (1946; translated as "Legend of Gold," 1997) gained notoriety when it was censored by the occupation authorities: a scene depicting a Japanese woman in the company of an American soldier was cut from the story, along with references to black-market American cigarettes and chocolate.

Occupation policies on fraternization and censorship notwithstanding, "Legend of Gold" presents the return of peace as a golden opportunity for its first-person protagonist--representing Everyman in Japan--to reclaim his watch and hat, symbols of the restoration of time and dignity after the ignominy and lack of creativity during the war years. Even though the protagonist is about to lose his old love--his girlfriend, or a vision of Japan about to be surrendered to a Western soldier during occupation times--he remains proud. "Heretofore modernity has been an understudy in the grand drama of history," he announces in a passage reminiscent of existential themes. "It has been made to stand in the wings, its potential cloaked in the heavy curtains of possibility. As of this moment, however, there has been an opening, and it has stepped forward to take its place on centerstage. It is announcing to the world that '...thanks to the marvelous invention known as the Introduction of Time, at last it is possible to bring you what you've been waiting for.'"

Ishikawa faded from popular attention in the 1950s, but he continued to be read by Japanese intellectuals, to whom he was known as a novelist's novelist, or a shibui writer of "understated" genius. More importantly, during his next three and one-half decades he wrote works of increasingly greater length, including his longest novel, Kyōfuki (Record of a Mad Wind, 1980), which exceeds nine hundred pages.

On the one hand, Ishikawa devoted himself to writing what he called jikken shōsetsu, or experimental novels. Circa 1949 he switched to third-person narration and a less garrulous, more streamlined style. While he retained his familiar parodic and satiric tone, for the first time he incorporated the pure fantasy that distinguished his prewar stories such as Yamazakura ("Wild Cherries," 1936) or Hasuzake ("Lotus Wine," 1942) as salient features of his fiction. Without resorting to conventional employment, Ishikawa added to his work a kinetic rhythm that propels his stories, and the novels that he wrote during these years consequently explore more deeply the terrain of metafiction. By having layers of parody and allegory, these novels also reference their times and retain the satiric bent of his prewar fiction.

The novella Taka (1953; translated as "The Raptor," 1997) illustrates these developments. It presents the story of Kunisuke ("Servant to the Nation"), a young man who becomes involved in the clandestine distribution of a new contraband cigarette called "Peace." The cigarettes endow their smokers with the mysterious power to read futurese, or ashita-go, "the language of tomorrow." The authorities eventually apprehend and incarcerate Kunisuke and his fellow visionaries, but in a conclusion that comes as a lyrical paean to the indomitable courage of the human spirit, Kunisuke is saved by a giant raptor that, swooping over the billets of the prison yard, transports him to freedom. Through the story's references, for example, to a government-run cigarette monopoly or to a brand of cigarettes called "Peace," this work clearly references contemporary Japan. It also speaks allegorically of the burning political question of the period: with the signing of the peace treaty in 1952 and the end of the Allied occupation, who was to shape the new age of peace that had come to Japan--the government, the corporate monopolies, or the people?

Ishikawa's mature fiction typically offers a similar pattern of visionary tale, literary parody, and social allegory or satire. Inspired by Gustave Flaubert 's Legend of Saint Julien L'Hospitalier (1877), for example, Shion monogatari (1956; translated as "Asters," 1961) is set in an age of feudal wars, and the central character is torn by his creative and destructive impulses. Aratama (The Bad Boy of the Gods, 1963) is the story of Sata, a bête noire who embodies the darkling forces at the bottom of society and represents another manifestation of the divine wild child introduced in "Jesus of the Ruins." The novel parodies comic-book heroes, and it prophesies the kuroi kiri (black mist) that enveloped Japanese politics in the 1970s. Likewise, On With the Millennium--a narrative in which bands of hidden Christians plot to take control of the city of Edo and impose competing definitions of Christianity on Japan--is no doubt inspired by Gide's tale of the "false Pope" in The Vatican Cellars, the factionalism endemic to Japanese politics, and the new religions of the postwar period.

In addition to writing novels, Ishikawa published many postwar essays. Starting with Isai hitsudan (Isai's Propos, 1952), Isai rigen (Isai in the Vernacular, 1952), and Isai seigen (Elegant Isai, 1954), he wrote a series of essays under his pen name of Isai and in the style of the "propos" of Alain. These essays include a wide range of topics: politics--for example, "Kenryoku ni tsuite" (On Authority) and "Kakumei to wa nanika" (What is Revolution?); art--""Geijutsuka no eien no teki"" (The Artist's Eternal Enemy) and "Utau ashita no tame ni" (Toward the Tomorrows Which Shall Sing); and even the rare personal reminiscence, such as "Jiido mukashi-banashi" (Once Upon a Time with André Gide ). The political and philosophical threads that these share are anarchist and existentialist.

Ishikawa was also interested in nanga painting and in the East Asian tradition of the kijin, or eccentric artist. Occasionally acting as an appraiser, he became an art authority on nanga, and one of his most elegant collections of essays is Shokoku kijinden (Grand Eccentrics and Gallants from Around the Country, 1957), which contains biographies of Kobayashi Jotei, "the Master Carpenter of Matsue"; Awa no Dekochu, "the puppet maker Chusaburō from Awa"; and other craftsmen and artists. Ishikawa also adapted into modern Japanese Ueda Akinari's Shinshaku harusame monogatari (Tales of Spring Rain--A Modern Interpretation, 1954) and, in Shinshaku Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters--A Modern Interpretation, 1960), the classic myths of Japan. Saiyu nichiroku (Travels to the West, 1965), an account of his first trip to Europe in 1964, and Pekin dokugin (Solo Verse from Beijing, 1975) include his linked verse and haiku.

From 1969 to 1971 Ishikawa wrote a weekly column on the arts and literature for the evening edition of the Asahi newspaper, and these essays were collected in Bunrin tsugen (Speaking from the Groves of Literature, 1972). In 1967 he had joined Abe Kōbō, Kawabata Yasunari , and Mishima Yukio in an appeal for the protection of intellectual freedom during the Cultural Revolution in China, and in 1975 he testified before the Supreme Court of Japan in defense of Nosaka Akiyuki, who in a famous test of censorship laws had reprinted and distributed Nagai Kafu's allegedly pornographic novel, Yojōhan fusuma no shitabari (The Voyeur's View of the Four-and-a-Half Mat Room, 1919). Ishikawa was much admired as the last of twentieth-century Japanese novelists to be freely conversant with the three traditions of Japanese, Chinese, and Western literature. Abe Kōbō ranked him with Hayashi Tatsuo, dramaturge and Renaissance scholar, as having one of the most erudite and encyclopedic minds in Japan.

An important critical debate about Ishikawa concerns the nature of his transformation into a writer of experimental fiction during the 1950s. Some critics have seen the change as sudden and radical; others, as a natural evolution of the metafictional pattern established from the time of his literary debut. Some have viewed his writing of experimental fiction as a retreat from politics or as a separating of artistic and political concerns, whereas others have seen it as a layering or conjoining of Ishikawa's interests, although his intent often may be concealed by a pretense of detachment or a smokescreen of "mystification" in the style of writers of the Edo period. Especially after Ishikawa married Ishikawa Iku and his life became more settled in the postwar era, he was able to devote his energies to writing in a way that had not been possible during the war and the years immediately thereafter.

Ishikawa received the Ministry of Education Prize for Literature in 1957 for Asters, and he also received the Asahi Cultural Prize in 1982 in honor of his longest novel, Record of a Mad Wind. He was elected to permanent membership in the Geijutsuin, Japan Academy of the Arts, in 1963. At the time of his death from lung cancer at age eighty-eight, he was working on Hebi no uta (Song of the Snake, 1988), a novel concerning sex, power, and money in contemporary Japan.

In terms of his generational peers Ishikawa ranks alongside critics and writers such as Kobayashi Hideo and Yokomitsu Riichi, who sought an end to naturalist, first-person narration and called for the junsui shōsetsu (pure novel). Clearly he was among the first writers of his generation to advance the causes of modernism and metafiction, and in moving away from the nostalgia that mainstream writers such as Kawabata Yasunari and Tanizaki Jun'ichirō maintained for traditional Japan, Ishikawa anticipated a major change in the interests and tastes of younger writers. Often he has been anthologized with Abe Kōbō and Ōe Kenzaburō, with whom he shared a love of French existentialist literature and a desire to wrest the Japanese novel from topics particular to the culture. Although modern Japanese literature has a strong existentialist orientation by virtue of its relative indifference to issues such as absolute authority and the existence of God, Ishikawa ranks among the first to have articulated in abstract or allegorical ways the significance of what it means for modern man to live in a relativistic world. Moreover, because of Ishikawa's skill at creating in his works an imaginary realm in which he mixes icons and images of Japanese with non-Japanese culture, critics have treated his work as belonging properly to world literature. Often he is compared to Jorge Luis Borges or Vladimir Nabokov because of his brilliance as a stylist, his mastery of parody, and his advocacy of experimental fiction.

Yet one must not forget that as a writer Ishikawa was not isolated from Japanese literature, as his indebtedness to the traditions of gesaku fiction and kyōka poetry show. He is also heir to the bunjin, or "literati," tradition that, starting with the nanga painters, was introduced to Japan from China in the early 1600s and was continued by the kyōka poets of the mid Edo period. The works of modern writers such as Mori Ōgai and Nagai Kafu continue to transmit this heritage to Japanese arts and letters, and Ishikawa has accordingly been hailed as saigo no bunjin, "the last of the literati" of Japan, as he embodies the antiestablishment and iconoclastic, as well as the refined and cosmopolitan, strains of the tradition.

--William Tyler from Van Gessel's Japanese Fiction Writers Since World War Two (1997)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

More Japanese Film-Related Stuff

This just in from Sally Suzuki:
Here’s some Japanese film-related stuff I thought you might be interested in:

1. Ozu Yasujirō's silent film Tokkan kozō (A Straightforward Boy, 1929), including an interview with actor Aoki Tomio in Part 3.

2. Ozu's 1959 film Ohayō, in full and w/ closed captions in Spanish.

3. This video of Donald Richie discussing Ozu's silent film Ukikusa monogatari (1934), which was remade in 1959 into Ukikusa. For those interested, I think the silent version is still playing at Shin-bungeiza in Ikeburo. Last week famed benshi Sawato Midori performed the script.

4. Alex Cox's documentary about Kurosawa Akira, in 6 parts.

5. Abe Yutaka's 1950 film version of Tanizaki's Sasameyuki, in 15 parts.

6. Ichikawa Kon’s Kokoro (1955).

7. An anime version of Soseki's Sanshirō.

-Sally Suzuki, Beholdmyswarthyface Media Director

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


This just in from first-time commenter Aoki Nanpachi:
My English is not so good but I like Ishikawa Jun very much so can you please translate this to Japanese for me please?

OK, Aoki Nanpachi. Here's an approximate translation. Some passages might be slightly different from the original.

提出した論文「石川淳の『江戸人の発想法について』と『明月珠』」での議論を発展させ、----では、日本のモダニズムとは何かという主題と、石川淳(1899-1987) に見られるモダニズム作家としての美学を研究していきたいと考えている。石川淳は、中国と日本の伝統と欧米のモダニズムの両方の土台の上で創作した作家であり、その意味で日本において両者が融合したモダニズムを象徴する最適の存在と言え、日本のモダニズムという主題を追求していくうえで最も重要な作家の一人だと考えている。また、私は翻訳に深く興味をもっているため、石川淳の短編小説の実際の翻訳を研究と並行して進めていきたい。

“Modanizumu”—日本におけるモダニズム(1920年代に始まり40年代まで続く)—とはいったい何か。その理解は、日本と欧米どちらにおいても不十分であったように思われる。日本のモダニズムは狭い意味で適用され、横光利一や伊藤整などのヨーロッパのモダニズム作家の手法を用いているのが顕著な作家達のみがその代表とされ、谷崎潤一郎や川端康成は単純に「伝統的な作家」というカテゴリーに組み入れられる傾向にある。しかし、『浅草紅團』(1930)で川端がモダニズムの技法を大胆に実験していることは明らかで、その後もモダニズムの技法を使用し磨き続けていることがわかる。谷崎もまた、「日本に回帰した」と考えられる以降も、小説の創作にあたって革新的な手法を模索し続けている。「伝統的」とされる谷崎や川端も実際には一貫してモダニズムの文学を書いており、また、モダニズム作家である石川淳の文学の基盤には常に中国と日本の伝統があった。「伝統」と「モダン」とは、境界線のかなりぼやけたものであり、この二つの言葉を根本から再評価する必要があると考える。近年、セイジ・リッピトのTopographies of Japanese Modernism(2002)、橋爪紳也の『モダニズムのニッポン』(2006)、ミリアム・シルババーグのErotic Grotesque Nonsense(2006)、ウィリアム・ガードナーのAdvertising Tower(2006)、ウィリアム・タイラーのModanizumu(2008)などの新しい視点から論じる研究が発表されるが、それを踏まえて、以下の五つの問題を提示し研究を進めていく。







次に、石川淳のモダニズム作家としての美学を追及してく。このために、二つの文学運動がいかに石川に影響を与えたかを見ていく。一つはヨーロッパのモダニズム、もう一つは、日本の「伝統」、特に江戸時代の中でも異端というべき伝統の影響であるが、これは、石川の創作にあたって常に新しい手法や考えの着想を得る源泉となっていたものである。ヨーロッパの影響については、石川がアンドレ・ジードやアナトール・フランスなどヨーロッパのモダニズム作家の作品によってメタフィクションなどの新しいナラティヴの技術を獲得していることが指摘できる。石川がジードのL’Immoraliste (1902) (『背徳者』、1924) 、Les Caves du Vatican (1899) (『法王庁の抜け穴』, 1928)を翻訳することによって新しい文体を発見していく過程を見ていく。

日本の伝統との関係については、特に太田南畝ら江戸の作家たちからの影響を見ていく。石川は、江戸の作家たちを通して、作者、テクスト、読者、世界、そして伝統といったものの新しい理解を得ており、石川の文学の「モダン」だと考えられるものは実は江戸の作家たちに由来しているとも考えられるのである。石川と江戸との関係を理解するには1943年の『江戸人の発想法について』が重要であるが、その中で石川は江戸の作家たちが「転換の操作」(見立て、やつし、俳諧化、俗化)という技術をもって文学的な伝統を自分たちの時代に応用する才能に長けていたことを論じている。石川淳がこれらの操作をどのように自分の作品に採用したかについては、安藤始と野口武彦らの先行研究を踏まえて研究を進める。石川の文学も、そしてジェイムズ・ジョイスやT.S.エリオットらヨーロッパのモダニズム作家の文学も、江戸の作家たちと同じように文学の伝統を現代に適用する試みであったのである。石川の江戸人についての議論には、後の新批評、構造主義、ポスト構造主義によって展開されるものとの共通点も認められる。例えば、石川の「本詩取り」の議論にはハロルド・ブルームの「創造的誤読」や「影響の不安」と共通している部分が大きい。また、「天明狂歌師の人格無名」や 「韜晦振り」についての記述では、ロラン・バルトが「作者の死」で主張したものとまさに重なる概念を論じている。明治以降見捨てられていた江戸文学の伝統を発見することによって、石川は新しい文学の概念を先取りしていたことも示していきたいと考えている。

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Utopian Studies

This just in from Dr. Nabil al-Tasnimi:

My wife Reiko and I we're talking about it, and we really think you ought to move in the direction of utopian studies. Think about it, it’s a burgeoning new field, everyone around you’s involved in it— N-sensei’s recent book deals with utopian/dystopian discourses in modern Russian literature; recent graduate D. Gabrakova has written extensively on the subject; and Professor Y's recent work is concerned with “the process by which a physical reality emerges from abstract ideas,” as she explains in this paper about how the utopian visions of the Taishō period informed Mushanokōji’s commune, Atarashiki mura.

There’s also a Society for Utopian Studies with its own Utopian Studies Journal and annual meeting, as well as this Tokyo University journal called Utopia: Here and There.

And, most importantly, Ishikawa Jun grappled throughout his career with the problem of utopia, of how utopian abstractions, often originating in art, are pushed into the intellectual and political spheres where they harden into ideologies that, more often than not, turn dystopian. (Think, for example, of the Kyoto School of Nishida, Tanabe, Miki, Abe, etc.)

As Susan Napier puts it, Ishikawa repeatedly and “explicitly undermines the promise of a better world.” His novella Taka (1953), you’ll remember, deals with the post-war clash between utopian leftists and the dystopian conservatives who seized control after the U.S. decided on a gyaku-kosu (“reverse course”) in order to curb communist influence. Shion monogatari (1956) assumes the form of a pastoral utopia, while its subject is dark and sinister. Omae no teki wa omae da (1961) is a play that explores the broken dreams of utopian builders. The only exception I can think of is his Tora no kuni (1961), in which, I’m told, an Arcadia-like tōgenkyō is actually achieved.

At any rate, give some thought to what I’ve said. And remember, in most cases it’s your dissertation topic which chooses you, and not the other way around.

-Nabil al-Tasnimi

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Women's Gidayū: 女流義太夫

Sally Suzuki sends this:
Did you know that girls can be tayūs, too? I had always thought the roles were reserved for men. But last week I saw my first all-female gidayū-bushi performance at the Ueno Hirokoji-Tei in Ueno. A friend was performing on the shamisen. She was splendid. It was splendid. Here’s a video of one of the performances.

For those who don’t know, gidayū-bushi refers to the chanted narration and music of the bunraku theater, and takes its name from the great tayū (chanter) Takemoto Gidayū, who is said to have started bunraku in Osaka in 1684.

-Sally Suzuki, Beholdmyswarthyface Media Director

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Shingo's Apology: The Necessary Empty Gesture

W. David Marx, editor of the popular online journal Neojaponisme, has kindly invited me to post this article, in full, on his site. The article is about the recent public indecency scandal involving legendary pop group SMAP.