Monday, August 31, 2009

Beholdmyswarthyface, Now Servicing the Blind

This just in from Sally Suzuki, Beholdmyswarthyface Media Director:
I've been getting a lot of requests recently from the blind. They heard about the blog from friends, and want us to include text-to-voice software in each of our posts. Above is a sample (taken from here) of what it will sound like. We plan to finish converting all of our posts by September 15.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Beholdmyswarthyface Encyclopedia of Modern Japan

This just in from Sally Suzuki:
Beholdmyswarthyface and I are currently compiling our own Encyclopedia of Modern Japan (so far it's just a list), and we are looking for people to contribute. The project is turning out to be bigger than expected. (In fact, it's become so big that we had to divide into two sections; click here for Part Two.)
Unlike Louis Frédéric's Japan Encyclopedia, ours will not include the pre-modern periods, nor will it include place names, cultural artifacts, historical sites, etc. Rather, it will be limited to a) major writers, artists, historians and intellectuals from Tokugawa to present (with a focus on Meiji/Taishō/Shōwa), b) literary magazines and publishing houses from Meiji to present, c) genres of the novel (e.g., ero shōsetsu, honkaku shōsetsu, etc), d) literary debates (i.e., bungaku ronsō), e) literary coteries, f) major literary awards, and g) major film and anime directors. By limiting ourselves in this way, we hope to produce a literary and cultural encylopedia of modern Japan that is more comprehensive and informative than any published to date.
If anyone is interested in participating in this project, please contact us, and we will add your name to the list of online editors.
- Sally Suzuki, Beholdmyswarthyface Media Director

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Clash of Religions: The Case of Tanizaki Kyūemon

This just in from part-time Japonologist and full-time dandy Leopold Adelgonde Hauspie III, of Belgium. Please forgive Leopold for any minor grammatical errors and/or infelicitous phrasing (his mother tongues are Dutch, French and German).


At the advanced age of sixty-nine, Tanizaki Jun’ichirō (1886-1965) wrote down in detail the memoirs of his childhood in Tokyo’s shitamachi in a work called Yōshō jidai 幼少時代 (Childhood Years).[1] In one passage he describes how his maternal grandfather, Tanizaki Kyūemon (1831-1888), had converted himself to the Russian Orthodox Church late in his life, and how at the side of his deathbed both a Nichiren Buddhist priest and an Orthodox priest appeared, which lead to a heated discussion about how the man should be buried.[2] In this paper I would like to analyze this peculiar case in the light of the tense relations that existed in the Meiji Period (1868-1912) between the new, foreign religion Christianity and the traditional Buddhist religion. Especially when it comes to death rites, Buddhism then had – and still has – a near monopoly that it would not easily give up, which naturally led to frictions when other religions tried to break this monopoly.

I would like to start with a brief sketch of the Kyūemon’s life and character, after which I will take a closer look at the Russian Orthodox Church in Japan, the religion to which Tanizaki Kyūemon converted himself; I will continue with a description of his conversion, and of the conflict that arose when he died and the way he was commemorated by his family. I will then conclude with an analysis of Kyūemon’s case with reference to the background of the religious polemics that surrounded conversions, funerals and memorial services in the Meiji Period.

1) Tanizaki Kyūemon

Before we examine his conversion to the Russian Orthodox Church and the extraordinary scene at his deathbed, let us take a closer look at what sort of man Tanizaki Kyūemon was. In Tanizaki Jun’ichirō’s Yōshō jidai, we find quite a lot of information about his career and his character.[3]

Kyūemon was born as Kumaemon in 1831 in Reiganjima, in the former Kyōbashi ward.[4] He was of humble birth, his ancestors being townsmen in Edo for at least four generations.[5] We learn little or nothing about his career until the end of the Tokugawa Period (1603-1867), when he found himself in the position of head clerk of a kettle maker in the Fukagawa district of Edo. When the Meiji Restoration threw the capital into turmoil, the master of the shop sought refuge with his family in the countryside, leaving Kyūemon in charge of the business until things calmed down.[6] During the “Ueno War” (1868), taking advantage of the temporary decline in the land prices, Kyūemon bought an inn at Kyōbashi. Next he built a house at Kakigara-chō in Nihonbashi, in which he set up a print shop. It was in this house that Tanizaki Jun’ichirō was born.

As early as the 1880s Kyūemon had shifted from very traditional businesses as kettle maker and innkeeper to one as modern as printing and publishing, which shows how perceptive he was to the tide of the times. Still his enterprising spirit was far from satisfied, though, as thereafter he expanded his businesses by opening a rice store, a Western liquor shop, and a branch office of the print shop. He chose to locate his printing establishments near the rice merchants’ quarter in Kakigara-chō, realizing it might be profitable to publish the latest fluctuations in the rice prices every evening. Newspapers were still rare in those days, let alone evening editions, so Kyūemon’s plan was highly successful. The last business he established was a lamp-lighting firm, employing a number of men to go about lighting the oil lamps that provided Tokyo with nighttime illumination in those days. This way, the extremely ambitious and enterprising Kyūemon single-handedly made the Tanizaki family prosperous in the course of one generation. He might well be called a prototype of the self-made Meiji man.

Another important trait of Kyūemon’s character that appears from Childhood Years is his fondness for the opposite sex. He was reputed to have been a notorious playboy until his forties, and Tanizaki Jun’ichirō believed he had inherited his “woman-worship” from his grandfather. Kyūemon is not only said to have kept a mistress without his wife’s knowing about it, but also seems to have greatly favored his daughters over his sons. He and his wife first had three daughters and then four sons in succession.[7] Kyūemon adored the girls but disliked the boys. Two of the three girls he kept at home, adopting husbands into the family for them and establishing cadet branches; of the boys, only the eldest was kept at home to become head of the main house, while the younger three were all sent away to be raised elsewhere, or to be adopted by and married into other families. The third daughter Seki was married to Kuragorō, who thus became an adopted son-in-law. Out of this marriage Tanizaki Jun’ichirō was born. The eldest daughter Hana was also provided with an adoptive husband, Kyūbei, who was in fact Kuragorō’s elder brother. Han, the second daughter, was the only one of the girls to be allowed to marry into another family in the normal way, but since she was provided with the inn of the Tanizaki family as part of her dowry, this too had something of the air of establishing yet another cadet branch about it. Years after Kyūemon’s death, when a great deal of his businesses had gone bankrupt due to the failures of his one real and two adoptive sons, his widow blamed this to the fact he had doted so on the girls and given almost all his sons away to strangers.[8]

After Kyūemon had died of stomach cancer in 1888 at the age of fifty-eight, his wife Fusa lived on for another twenty-three years until she died in 1911 at seventy-three. For many years after his death, everybody in the family talked about him as “the grand old man,” and he was regarded as a model to be emulated. In the house an enlarged picture was always prominently displayed, so Tanizaki Jun’ichirō got to know his face well and could call it to mind any time he wanted. This all gave the young Jun’ichirō the feeling that his grandfather was “living hidden away in some dark corner of the house.” Kyūemon, the family’s veritable patriarch who was the synonym of ambition and prosperity and had remained healthy and vigorous until one or two years before his death, had such a charisma about him that it was still felt after he left this world.

2) The Orthodox Church of Japan

I mentioned in the introduction that in the autumn of his life Kyūemon converted himself to the Orthodox Church, but before I go on to describe the particulars of his conversion and the religious debate at his deathbed, I deem it opportune to take a closer look at the history and some characteristics of the not so widely known Japanese variant of the Orthodox Church, in order to be able to grasp the circumstances of Kyūemon’s case optimally.[9]

As the nickname of the Japanese Orthodox Church (Nikorai-ha) and its most important edifice, the Holy Resurrection Cathedral in Tokyo (Nikorai-dō), already suggest, the first missionary, Nikolai Kasatkin (1836-1912), played an invaluable role in the foundation and establishment of the Orthodox Church. Nikolai, born as Ivan Dimitrovich Kasatkin, first came to Japan at the end of the Tokugawa Period in 1861, as a priest to the chapel of the Russian Consulate in Hakodate, Hokkaidō - a position he would hold for eight years. Soon he mastered the Japanese language and began to study the Chinese and Japanese classics. Although he could not openly engage in missionary activities, since Christianity was a persecuted religion at the time, he succeeded in gathering a number of followers around him, and in 1868, he baptized the first three Japanese.[10] In 1869, the second year of the new Meiji Period, he returned to Russia to ask permission to start missionary activities in Japan. He believed Japan was a land of great opportunities for a mission, as becomes apparent from a letter he wrote in July 1868, shortly before his return: “Catholics and Protestants have occupied the world. … But there is still Japan that is left. It is the last of the many newly discovered countries. Shouldn’t we at least in this country be able to rival the other sects?”[11] In a treatise about Japan that he published during his two-year return, one can see how big he saw things: “The more I get to know about this country, the stronger I believe that the day is near when the words of the Gospel will resound throughout the nation and will rapidly pervade every corner of the empire.”[12]

Eventually Nikolai got the permission he sought and embarked again for Japan. This time he was equipped with a lithograph, which enabled him to print the translations he and his Japanese assistants had made of liturgy books and parts of the Bible, along with a Russian-Japanese dictionary. After a short stay in Hakodate, he arrived in Tokyo early in 1972. There he discovered that many missionaries of other sects were already active. In the beginning, having to start from nowhere, Nikolai went from door to door by himself to preach the word. He found a suitable base for his missionary operations in Kanda Surugadai, where he built a missionary school. Gradually, things started to get of the ground. In 1874, missionary activities already extended to five different wards in Tokyo and also spread outside of the capital and Hakodate, especially in the Tōhoku region. In 1875, Sawaba Takuma, one of the first three people that were baptized, was ordained to become the first Japanese priest.

In 1878, ten years before Kyūemon died, Nikolai wrote a report to his superiors in Russia to ask for more manpower and financial support. In this report he gave a very detailed account of the state of affairs of the mission in Japan.[13] Spread over eight parishes, Nikolai counted 785 believers in Tokyo, while he reported 4115 for the whole of Japan. He also announced that in that year another five priests had been ordained in Kamchatka.[14] It becomes clear from his report that Nikolai was very concerned with the institutionalization of the Church. He established four schools in his headquarters in Surugadai, each for a different target group, and in Hakodate too, two schools existed.[15] There were eleven teachers in service; six in Tokyo and five in Hakodate. The Surugadai site contained two new, sturdy buildings and three old ones.[16] Since December 1877, a biweekly magazine was published with the latest news of the missionary activities.

By far the most important of all Nikolai’s accomplishments, though, was his power to inspire and activate the Japanese to spread the religion themselves. If you include the choirmaster, there were no more than five Russian missionaries at work at the time, which is surprisingly few compared to the Catholics, who had forty-five missionaries, and the Protestants, who counted ninety-nine.[17] In his report, Nikolai wrote: “The Orthodox Church in Japan is not operated by missionaries. Apart from Tokyo and Hakodate, the missionaries have no place to carry out their mission. It is the Japanese proselytizers that run the Church.” These at the time seventy-eight “proselytizers” (dendōsha 伝道者) were not “missionaries” (senkyōsha 宣教者) that fit in the official hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church, but they played an extremely important role in the spreading of the faith. They first got a short theological education, and were then sent to one of the established parishes to work under a priest. Thanks to their efforts, Japanese believers of the Orthodox Church at least equaled, or even outnumbered, those of the other sects, in spite of the much smaller number of foreign missionaries. Paul Louis Couchoud (1879-1959), a French intellectual who resided in Tokyo during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05), wrote in his diary during the war years: “The Church of Russia, the Orthodox Church, here in Tokyo, they all call it “Nikolai”. … Nikolai single-handedly converted more Japanese to Christianity than all the Catholic missionaries did together.”[18] Of course Couchoud gives Nikolai too much credit here, since it was his Japanese followers who did the most important work, as Nikolai himself readily acknowledged.

In 1880, Nikolai was ordained bishop, which enabled him to ordain priests in Japan by himself.[19] In 1884, the construction of the Holy Resurrection Cathedral, generally known as the Nikorai-dō, was started.[20] The Orthodox Community was increasing with more than a thousand members each year and already ran up to more than ten thousand. The construction of the Cathedral was finished in 1891. Situated on the Surugadai Height, the exotic building could be seen from everywhere in Tokyo and became an important landmark. It was three years before this imposing edifice was finished that Tanizaki Kyūemon died.

Because what happened to the Orthodox Church in Japan after Kyūemon’s death is not of great importance to the focus of this paper, I will only very briefly relate the rest of its history till today. Although the Church went through a hard time during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05), its community kept on growing in the beginning of the twentieth century. Nikolai was ordained archbishop in 1907, and at its peak around the 1910s, the Church counted more than thirty thousand members. However, after Nikolai’s death in 1912, due to several reasons, the Church never prospered as before. First of all, the Russian Revolution (1917) meant a serious blow. From then on it stopped receiving financial support from the Russian Orthodox Church, which suffered much from Stalinist policy itself, and from the Japanese side it was watched with great suspicion. In 1923, the Nikorai-dō was heavily damaged by the Great Kantō Earthquake. Due to a lack of money, it was rebuilt with a shorter bell tower and a less ornate interior. After the Second World War, the Orthodox Church in Japan found an ally in the Orthodox Church in America and got out of its isolated position. 1970 the Russian Orthodox Church recognized the Orthodox Church in Japan as an autonomous Church, and on the same day, Nikolai was canonized as “Equal-to-the-Apostles, Archbishop of Japan, Saint Nikolai”. In 2006 the Church was estimated to have about ten thousand members.[21]

3) Tanizaki Kyūemon’s conversion, funeral and commemoration

Tanizaki Kyūemon, that seemingly very worldly man with a sharp business instinct and a weakness for women, is said to have converted himself to the Orthodox Church late in his eventful life. Tanizaki Jun’ichirō describes his grandfather’s conversion and the dispute that took place at the scene of his deathbed as follows in Childhood Years:[22]

When I was a boy, [the annex behind the main house] was uninhabited and always a place of solitude and silence. I would creep in and with stealthy footsteps explore the second-floor parlor and the six-mat room below, where an icon of the Virgin Mary stood on a low cupboard.[23] I have forgotten who it was that told me about Grandfather’s conversion: how in his old age he had become a Christian, keeping it all a secret from Grandmother. (It was, I think, Mother who told me that his final illness was stomach cancer, and that the famous Dr. Baelz had come to the house to examine him.)

According to one of my uncles, and other relatives, Grandfather became a member of the Russian Church at Nikolai-do in Kanda; and a priest of that church came to visit him on his deathbed. At that point, a religious argument ensued between the Orthodox priest and a Nichiren Buddhist monk who had also been summoned.[24] After Grandfather’s death, the family debated whether the funeral should be held at Nikolai-do or at a Nichiren temple.[25] In the end, the latter won; and Grandfather was interred in the Jigen-ji cemetery as a Nichiren believer. I of course knew nothing of such complications, being just a child; indeed, I did not even know what the Nikolai-do was. Yet when I looked at the image of the Virgin Mary holding the infant Christ, there was a solemnness different from my emotions when I stood before the family Buddhist altar, as Grandmother and the others recited the sutras morning and evening. Gazing with inexpressible reverence into the Virgin Mother’s eyes, so full of tenderness and mercy, I felt I never wanted to leave her side. I understood something of my grandfather’s feeling as he prayed before this image of the Western goddess. There was a certain strangeness about it all, yet I sensed that someday I too might well do as he had done.

In his biography of Tanizaki Jun’ichirō, Nomura Shōgo adds some interesting and surprising details to the account given in Childhood Years. Nomura says that the problem of the funeral was solved by attiring Kyūemon in a white Nikolai-ha habit and putting a crucifix around his neck, with above this all the common Buddhist graveclothes (kyōkatabira 経帷子).[26]
Finally, I would like to cite this noteworthy passage from Childhood Years:[27]

… I always looked forward toward the tenth of every month, the anniversary of Grandfather Kyuemon’s death. The actual anniversary was the tenth of June, but it was our custom on that day each month to set up a lacquered papier-mâché table in the storeroom parlor with a large photograph of Grandfather enshrined there and some “Occidental cuisine” set before the photograph as an offering.[28] This was chosen because Grandfather, with his fashionable tastes, had enjoyed eating it in his last years, and also probably out of kindness to me and Seiji, who were the ones designated to devour the offering eventually. At first there were sometimes several different plates of food, but in time these were reduced to one. It was always the same dish – a ham omelet with a sprig of parsley, delivered from either the Yayoiken or Homero restaurant. … After coming home from school on the big day, I would frequently go before the altar to pay my respects to Grandfather, and also to fix the ham omelet with a steady, though sidelong, gaze.

4) Analyzing Kyūemon’s case

In the foregoing chapter, I gave an account of more or less all the obtainable data about Kyūemon’s conversion, funeral and commemoration. Of course, it is not possible to verify their accuracy anymore now, almost a hundred and thirty years later. They are in many respects indistinct – we are in the dark about the exact time and circumstances of Kyūemon’s conversion, for example, or who might have summoned the Orthodox priest to visit the dying man. They are for a great deal colored too, as they stem from the memories of a person with peculiar tastes himself about things that happened at least sixty years earlier, or maybe even worse, are hearsay information – and I think there is no need here to say again how greatly the truth about facts is altered when they are conveyed orally by human beings. Even the particulars of Kyūemon’s funeral that Tanizaki’s biographer, Nomura Shōgo, mentions have something shady about them, as we do not know were he got his information from.

Nevertheless, I think there are a few things we can accept as “true”. His conversion, whatever the particulars, can be assumed to have taken place at some time; the appearance of two different priests and the ensuing dispute at his deathbed, however intense the confrontation was, most likely did really happen; and the monthly commemoration of Kyūemon, in however unusual a way it was done, is something that one probably would not make up. Despite the scarcity of the available date and the flaws that their reliability undeniably has, I think that Kyūemon’s case is interesting enough to be worthy of a closer examination. First I will take a look at his conversion, and then I will examine his dying moments, his funeral and the way he was remembered by his family.

His conversion
The first question that comes to mind is: when did Kyūemon convert himself to what the Japanese call the Nikolai Church? In Childhood Years no more is said than that it was in the autumn of his life (bannen晩年), so for a man who lived eighty-five years, it would probable not have been before his fifties. It is also said that he was healthy and energetic until one or two years before he died of stomach cancer, so we can probably eliminate the last year of his life as a possibility. This would situate his conversion between 1880 and 1887. At this time, Orthodox believers were still rather rare in Tokyo. It is estimated that in 1880 Tokyo had a population of about one million,[29] while the number of Orthodox believers in 1878 as reported by Nikolai amounted to no more than seven hundred eighty-five, which is about 0.07 percent of the population. Although the Orthodox Church’s mission might have been thriving at the time when compared to other forms of Christianity, this is an extremely small figure when compared to the adherents of Buddhism, of which nearly everyone was a member due to the danka-system (danka seido 檀家制度) that had existed in the Edo Period.

We can of course only speculate about how Kyūemon got into contact with the Orthodox Church, but it might be worth to remark that he lived in Nihonbashi and often visited Kanda,[30] which were the two wards where the missionary activities had started and that counted the largest number of members then. We will never know, though, if it was one of Nikolai’s Japanese proselytizers that had persuaded him to convert himself, or if it perhaps was Nikolai in person, as he went from door to door preaching the word. In any case, Nikolai, with his gigantic posture and solemn expression, who was reputed to speak fluent Japanese and to know all about the Chinese classics, must have been a real phenomenon and must have exercised a great fascination over the Tokyo townsmen.[31]

As was the case with Protestantism, in early Meiji a lot of converts to the Orthodox Church were former samurais who had fallen out of grace with the new system.[32] Few Christians came out of the lower classes, but it appears that it was for that sort of people that Nikolai had the most sympathy. In August, 1889, he wrote in his diary:[33]

In this country, the upper classes, who are lost in the fog of earthly pleasures, don’t feel the need for any religion at all. The situation is slightly better with the middle classes, as they at least think they need religion as a means to preserve the national order. But the lower classes, the common people, frankly and sincerely acknowledge that religion fulfills a need that cannot be neglected or done without.

Yet it was mostly the people of the upper and middle classes that became Christians.[34] As Nikolai realized, these people were often interested in Christianity primarily to learn Western languages and gain knowledge. Maybe this was also the reason why Kyūemon turned to the Orthodox Church. We have seen how from a very early stage he engaged in up-to-date businesses like selling Western liquor and printing, and how he had “fashionable tastes” and liked Western food. It might well have been this same inclination that attracted him to Christianity. The fact that he kept his conversion secret to his wife, and left symbols of other religions like the Buddhist altar (butsudan仏壇) untouched also suggests that he was not such an ardent defender of the faith as many early Christians were.[35] The following excerpt of Childhood Years about Tanizaki Jun’ichirō’s wet nurse suggests that Kyūemon still visited the family grave at the Jingenji Temple even after he had converted himself (provided that his conversion did not take place in the last two years of his life, after Tanizaki Jun’ichirō was born):[36]

My nurse, whom I always called “Granny,” was born in the Tempo era (1830-44), and was named Miyo. She had worked as a flower and incense seller in front of the Jingen-ji Nichiren temple when it was still in Sarue, Fukagawa, before it moved to its present location in Somei. (This was the parish temple[37] and interment place of the Tanizaki family, and today guards the graves of Shiba Kokan and Akutagawa Ryūnosuke.) Only short after my birth [July 24, 1886] Grandfather saw her there and asked her to become my nurse.

Maybe the fact that the icon he kept in his house was one of the Virgin Mary, and not of Jesus Christ (or Charistos as the Russian Orthodox say), is also significant if we remember his fondness for women and his averse for man. All these things suggest that Kyūemon was not really a fervent believer, and that his conversion was more likely inspired by his fascination for the modern, the new and the exotic.

His dying moments, funeral and commemoration

Let us first of all have a look at some characteristics of Buddhist and Orthodox death rites. In the Buddhist as well as in the Orthodox tradition, the rituals that David Reid (after Arnold van Gennep) calls ‘rites of separation’ can be chiefly divided in two stages: the dying moments and the wake, and the funeral.[38]

In the Buddhist tradition, when a person is on the verge of dying, a few drops of water (shinimizu死に水) are sprinkled at his lips. When the soul has departed, the body is washed, the orifices are plugged and the eyes are closed. Then the face is covered and the body is dressed in white as if for a pilgrimage, with the head facing north. A bladed weapon and food and drink are provided. Since Shintō gods (kami神) dread the pollution of death, the Shintō altar (kamidana神棚) is closed. A date for the funeral is decided upon and relatives and friends are contacted. A black-banded photograph is arranged for, as well as flowers, fruit and other paraphernalia to be used at the wake and the funeral. A Buddhist priest is summoned to recite the “pillow sutra,” to provide a Buddhist name (kaimyō戒名) on a provisional memorial tablet (ihai位牌). The rituals at the dying moments in the Orthodox tradition are not as elaborate as those in Buddhism, but they nevertheless show some similarities. Here as well, a priest is summoned straightaway when a person is dying. Sometimes a chanter is also called upon. The priest sprinkles incense dust upon the body of the dying and on those present, and sings set prayers together with the attendants. Originally, those present had to stay up all night during the wake, and family members and monks took turns reading prayers over the body. Today this is but rarely the case anymore.

In a Buddhist funeral rite, which usually takes place at a private home, sutras are chanted by a priest and the deceased is eulogized by relatives and acquaintances. The body may be viewed through a window in the coffin that exposes the face, but this is not always the case. Before being carried to the crematorium in a hearse, the coffin is nailed shut with a stone by close family members. At the crematorium, while the body is consumed by the flames, the priest again chants a sutra. After the urn is carried home and is placed inside the butsudan. It stays there for forty-nine days, upon which it is installed in the grave. In the Orthodox tradition, funerals are generally held three days after somebody dies. In contrast with the Buddhist funeral, the Orthodox funeral must be held in a church. The coffin is positioned in the middle of the church, a hand-cross is placed near the head of the departed and an icon is placed in his hands. The attendants may kiss the hand-cross or the icon. The closest relatives should be given a few minutes to spend with the departed alone. Again unlike the Buddhist burial, cremation is not allowed. After the funeral, the cortege proceeds to the cemetery, where a short service is held by the priest while the coffin is let down in the grave.

Let us now turn again to the most unusual case that Kyūemon’s is. It almost literally meant a “clash of religions.” As has been said a couple of times before, both a Nichiren priest and an Orthodox priest appeared at his deathbed. In Childhood Years, it is implied that it was the Nichiren priest who had arrived first at the scene, but the question that immediately rises is: who had summoned the Orthodox priest? Can it be assumed that family members other than his wife knew about Kyūemon’s conversion and had called this priest? Or might there have been any friends of Kyūemon present, who were perhaps even Orthodox converts themselves? Unfortunately, we will never know the exact answer to these questions, but it seems hard to think of any other plausible answer than that is was a family member or a friend who was also there that summoned the priest.

According to Childhood Years, a dispute ensued to the involuntary confrontation between these two clergymen with their very different background. We can only imagine how passionate each defended his view or what the details of their arguments were – maybe the rightfulness of cremation yet interment was one thing they talked about. All we know is that Kyūemon eventually was buried “as a follower of Nichiren.” If we can trust what Nomura Shōgo writes, though, under the visible Buddhist grave-clothes, Kyūemon wore a white Orthodox habit and had a crucifix around his neck. This mixture of Orthodox Christian and Buddhist requisites and dress can at least be called unusual.[39] His outward appearance was Buddhist, but his heart was Christian, it almost seems to symbolize. Dressed and adorned like this, Kyūemon was undoubtedly cremated, his ashes being kept for forty-nine days in the butsudan before they went into the family grave in the cemetery of the Jigenji Temple. Although Buddhism eventually “won,” this case has also something about it of that typical Japanese practice: the compromise. There is probably no other people that has such an abhorrence for direct confrontations, and does everything to make interactions between people as smooth as possible, as the Japanese. The peaceful coexistence, and even mixture, between Shintō and Buddhism that had existed for centuries reflects this characteristic as well.

One big exception to this general religious tolerance was the attitude of Buddhist priests toward Christianity, especially when Christianity tried to interfere with its monopoly on death rites.[40] In the Tokugawa Period, Buddhism was the state religion and Christians were persecuted heavily. The shift to the Meiji Period did not mean a great change at first. Although the public notes that prohibited Christianity were removed in 1873, Christians still suffered oppression for a long time thereafter. Buddhism tried to protect the monopoly on death rites it had since the Tokugawa Period, and it was being backed in this from 1872 till 1884 by a law that prohibited funerals that were not officiated by either Buddhist or Shintō priests. Shintō funerals were more or less invented at the beginning of Meiji, and played only a minor role, so de facto the law still largely guaranteed the Buddhist monopoly. In his 1878 report, Nikolai mentioned several examples of Orthodox Christians who were refused to hold a funeral and sometimes or sometimes even attacked by Buddhist priests. For example:[41]

…In the city of Kōfu a large group of Bonzes gathered knocked assistant proselytizer Pavel half dead.” Or: “This year in Ishimaki, proselytizer Peter Kutsuki was imprisoned and sentenced to a hundred days of hard labor. Kutsuki had petitioned the Buddhist priests to provide a cemetery plot to bury a Christian, but however much he pleaded, they wouldn’t permit it. What Kutsuki was charged of was to have held a burial there without the warrant of a Buddhist priest.

Even after the law was abolished in 1884 Christian funerals were still frequently hampered, because temples still refused to let Christians have a funeral in their own way. On a big informal gathering of Buddhists priests from the different sects, for example, it was decided that cemeteries on temple grounds should never be accommodated to people of other creeds, and temples in every region signed an agreement to deny grave plots to non-Buddhists. They had no legal grounds to do this, though. Because of all this, the Orthodox Christians began to strive to posses their own cemeteries. Whether the Orthodox Church already had its own cemeteries or not in 1888 when Kyūemon died, it probably was still a very troublesome thing to hold a Christian funeral at the time, being only four years after the law that forbade Christian funerals was abolished, what with the likely disapproving reactions of the community. Kyūemon had been a tradesman, so the loss of clientele because of it was not at all inconceivable. All these factors will undoubtedly have played a role in the decision of the family to bury him in a Buddhist way, or to at least hide the Orthodox paraphernalia.

But it was not only Kyūemon’s funeral that was atypical; his commemoration was too. Until a considerable time after his death, he was remembered every month with a so-called meinichi-rite (命日).[42] The usual Buddhist memorial rites are like this: after a period of forty-nine days of mourning, the deceased is believed to be integrated into the realm of departed spirits; a hōji-memorial service is held in a temple on the first anniversary and on the years containing the numbers three and seven; the meinichi-rites are only held on the intervening years.[43] These rites continue to be held until the thirty-third year after a person’s death. Then the ihai, which was all the time kept in the butsudan is turned over to the temple or burned, and the deceased is believed to be included to the “body of ancestors.” Maybe the memorial services of the Orthodox tradition are of lesser importance to Kyūemon’s case, since he had probably been the only believer in the family, but because of the similarities with the Buddhist rites, I will relate their main characteristics very briefly. Russian Orthodox memorial services may be offered in the church on the third, the ninth and the fortieth day after death. On the ninth day, the soul is believed to leave the body, and on the fortieth day, the soul is said to depart for the other world. After each service a dinner party is held, at which a glass of vodka covered by a piece of black bread is left for the deceased. The parallels between the Buddhist and Orthodox rites are remarkable. Only the exact time differs, but the various stages of death; the soul leaving the body/the deceased being integrated into the realm of departed spirits; the soul’s departure to the other world/the deceased going up in the body of ancestors; are very resembling. There is very little chance that conflicting situations would arise around these rites as was the case with Protestantism, that originally had no memorial services at all, and Buddhism. Kyūemon’s descendents evidently had no qualms about it at all, as they always devoured the offerings with great pleasure.


Almost from the moment he set foot on Japanese soil, Nikolai felt convinced of the possible success of a mission in Japan. In 1868, when he had yet to baptize his first follower, he made his plans for the future and drafted a set of “missionary rules,” in which he talks about the training of believers to spread the faith. “When I have are baptized five hundred men,” he wrote, “I will choose one and send him to Russia to be ordained priest.”[44] In order to make the Japanese independent as soon as possible, he educated proselytizers and priests, so they could spread the faith themselves. The Word did not immediately “resound throughout the nation” and “rapidly pervade every corner of the empire” as he believed it would, but it did reach the ears of a man who lived in Kakigarachō in Nihonbashi, a very enterprising man with a taste for modernity, Tanizaki Kyūemon.

Although Nikolai’s mission seemed to go well in the beginning, for a host of reasons, it did not work out as he expected. One of those reasons was the rivalry of Buddhism, that creed that had just lost many of the privileges it had enjoyed under the Tokugawa regime, and therefore held all the more tenaciously to its monopoly on mortuary rites. This clash of religions, that took place countless times all over the country, also disturbed the last moments on this world of that same man, Kyūemon.

Tanizaki Jun’ichirō 谷崎潤一郎, 幼少時代 [Childhood Years]. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1998.
That they both share the family name Tanizaki is due to the fact that Tanizaki Kyūemon adopted Jun’ ichirō’s father, Tanizaki Kuragorō (born as Ezawa Wasuke) into the family to marry one of his daughters, Seki.
Unless mentioned otherwise, the content of this chapter is based on Tanizaki Jun’ichirō 谷崎潤一郎, 幼少時代 [Childhood Years], 17-62. For an English version, see Paul McCarthy’s translation: Childhood Years, 3-27.
I found information about his former name, his birthday and birthplace in: Nomura Shōgo 野村尚吾. 伝記 谷崎潤一郎 [Tanizaki Jun’ichirō: a biography]. Tokyo: Rokkō Shuppan, 1972, p.12, 35. Kumaemon changed his name to Kyūemon in 1883. Reiganjima now falls under the Chūō ward. It is located just to the east of Kayaba-chō and south of the Nihonbashi River.
Nomura Shōgo, p.14.
According to Tanizaki Seiji, Jun’ichirō’s younger brother, his master was banned from Edo because of subversive activities. In: Nomura Shōgo, p.13.
Actually, he had four daughters too, but one died soon after birth, as is mentioned in Nomura Shōgo’s biography, p.22. On page 265 of 幼少時代 [Childhood Years] we learn that his eldest daughter, Hana, was born in 1858. Kyūemon was then twenty-two.
Kotaki Yōko小滝瓔子, in her study 作家以前の谷崎潤一郎 [Tanizaki Jun’ichirō before he became a writer], questions Tanizaki’s portrayal of Kyūemon as a ladies’ man. She points out that for the wealthy merchant class in those days it was common practice to adopt husbands for their daughters and establish cadet branches, and that Kyūemon’s sending away of his own sons could well have been to let them evade military conscription, since he sent them all to families where there was no heir. Nomura counters Kotaki’s arguments by mentioning the complaints Kyūemon’s sons always maid about their unequal treatment. See: Nomura Shōgo, pp.24-25.
The information for this chapter, unless mentioned otherwise, comes from the official website of the Orthodox Church in Japan: The Orthodox Church in Japan. Retrieved on July 14, 2007, from: <>.
Strictly speaking, they were not the first Japanese converts to the Orthodox Church. In 1710, more than a century and a half earlier, Denbei, a merchant from Osaka who was shipwrecked and drifted off to Sachalin, was baptized in Saint Petersburg. In: Naganawa Mitsuo 長縄光男. ニコライ堂の人びと:日本近代史のなかのロシア正教会[The people of the Nikolai Cathedral: The Russian Orthodox Church in Modern Japanese History], p.20.
Nakamura Kennosuke 中村健之介. 宣教師ニコライと明治日本 [Nikolai the Missionary and Meiji Japan], p.67. My translation.
Kasatkin, Nikolai. ニコライの見た幕末日本 [Japan in the end of the Tokugawa Period as seen by Nikolai], p.9. My translation.
Of this report a Japanese translation exists: Kasatkin, Nikolai, 明治の日本ハリスト正教会:ニコライの報告書 [The Japanese Christian Orthodox Church in Meiji: Nikolai’s Report]. Translated by Nakamura Kennosuke中村健之介. Unless mentioned otherwise, the information for this and the next paragraph is based on this publication.
Since Nikolai was not a bishop yet at the time, he could not ordain priests himself, and since priest were needed to baptize new believers, he felt that the mission was slowed down by this fact.
In Tokyo, there was one for adult males, to educate them as “proselytizers” (I will touch on the meaning of this word later); one to educate young boys to become future priest; a girls’ school; and a school for lower clergymen. In Hakodate, there was a boys’ school and a girls’ school.
In the new buildings a chapel, classrooms and male sleeping accommodation were located; two of the old, Japanese-style buildings were used for the girls’ school. Of the latter, rather dilapidated ones Nikolai wrote: “Because in winter it is terribly cold in there, the students constantly catch colds and are always coughing; there faces are pale and there hands are nearly frozen.” From: Kasatkin, Nikolai. 明治の日本ハリスト正教会:ニコライの報告書 [The Japanese Christian Orthodox Church in Meiji: Nikolai’s Report], p.45. My translation. That Nikolai gave such a lively depiction may of course have something to do with the fact that the report was written with the purpose of increasing financial support.
This theme is further expanded in, Nakamura Kennosuke 中村健之介. 宣教師ニコライと明治日本 [Nikolai the Missionary and Meiji Japan], p.86-96. We learn that while the number of missionaries of the other groups increased steadily, that of the Orthodox Church remained the same.
Kasatkin, Nikolai. 明治の日本ハリスト正教会:ニコライの報告書 [The Japanese Christian Orthodox Church in Meiji: Nikolai’s Report], p.136-137. My translation.
He certainly did not abuse this authority. In 1910, he wrote in his diary: “In thirty years I have ordained thirty priests. I suppose there’s not much reason to congratulate me for that.” In: Nakamura Kennosuke 中村健之介. 宣教師ニコライと明治日本 [Nikolai the Missionary and Meiji Japan], p.89. My translation.
From here on, the contents are based again on the information on the website of the Orthodox Church in Japan: <>.
I got this last figure from Wikipedia: 日本ハリスト正教会 [The Orthodox Church in Japan], Wikipeda. Retrieved on July 14, 2007, from: <>.
This quote is drawn from Paul McCarthy’s translation: Childhood Years, pp.19-20. For the original version, see: 幼少時代 [Childhood Years], pp.48-49.
Called zō像in the original. Since Kyūemon was a believer of the Russian Orthodox Church, it is probable that this zō像is an icon, but not sure, since the word can also mean “sculpture”.
The original says:「最近になって清三郎叔父や従姉から聞いたところに依ると、祖父の信仰はニコライ教会派に属するもので、臨終の時は牧師が枕頭に見え、日蓮宗の僧侶と口論になったりした。」 This literally means something like: “According to what I recently heard from my uncle Seisaburō and my niece, since my grandfather by faith belonged to the Nikolai Church, an Orthodox priest appeared at his deathbed and got involved in a dispute with a Nichiren priest”. Since the Nikorai-dō was not yet finished when Kyūemon died, I think McCarthy’s translation is a little bit ill-chosen here.
That the debate should have taken place after Kyūemon’s death is not written in the original. I think it is more likely, since nothing that would point toward the other direction is mentioned explicitly, that this debate still took place before Kyūemon drew his last breath.
Nomura Shōgo, p.20. Unfortunately, Nomura does not make clear where he got this information from. He says that Tanizaki heard everything concerning his grandfather’s conversion and funeral from his mother, uncle and cousins, as Tanizaki wrote himself too, but these last particulars do not appear in Childhood Years.
Drawn from Childhood Years, p.128; pp.238-239 in the original.
For “enshrined”, the more plain word kazari飾りis used in the original.
This information comes from: 東京統計協会 [The Tokyo Association for Statistics]. Retrieved on July 21, 2007, from: <>. Although I simply say “Tokyo”, the figure concerns Tōkyō-fu 東京府, which was somewhat smaller than today’s Tōkyō-to 東京都.
Nomura Shōgo mentions two friends that lived in Kanda: a certain Teruyo, a female kyōgen performer, and Ezawa Fujiemon, the father of Kyūbei and Kuragorō, the boys he would adopt after their parents had died young. The kettle shop where he had started his career had a branch in Kanda too, so that is probably where his ties with Kanda originated. See: Nomura Shōgo, pp.15-16, 26.
To get an idea of the rumors that went about Nikolai, almost making him superhuman, see Naganawa Mitsuo 長縄光男, pp.53-54.
See: Morioka Kiyomi 森岡清美. 日本の近代社会とキリスト教 [Japanese Modern Society and Christianity], pp.32-34. Nikolai himself mentioned in his report that almost all of his followers were: “samurai with a clear head and a great spirit.” In: Kasatkin, Nikolai, 明治の日本ハリスト正教会:ニコライの報告書 [The Japanese Christian Orthodox Church in Meiji: Nikolai’s Report], p.66. My translation. The rest of the information of this paragraph is mainly derived from: Nakamura Kennosuke, pp.228-244.
Nakamura Kennosuke中村健之介, p.241. My translation.
See also: Suzuki Norihisa. “Christianity”, pp.65-67.
Like, for example, Niijima Jō, who set the kamidana of his parents to fire when they prayed before it out of happiness for their son’s safe return from America. See: Morioka Kiyomi 森岡清美, pp.106-107. See also Reid, pp.109-111 on the subject.
Quoted from McCarthy’s translation: Childhood Years, pp.13-14. For the original, see: 幼少時代 [Childhood Years], p.37.
Called the bodaisho菩提所in the original.
Reid, David. New Wine: The Cultural Shaping of Japanese Christianity, p.100. My information on Buddhist death rites is based on the Japanese dictionary Kōjien広辞苑and on Reid: pp.103-107. My information on the death rites of the Orthodox Church comes from the following internet sources: “Eastern Orthodox Churches.” Religions in Canada. Retrieved on July 25, 2007, from: <>; Sokolov, Victor. “Death, Funeral, Requiem -- Orthodox Christian Traditions, Customs and Practice.” Holy Trinity Cathedral. Retrieved on July 25, 2007, from: <>; “Russia: Bells and Black Bread.” On our own terms: moyers on dying. Retrieved on July 25, 2007, from: <>; and: Maximovitch, John. “Life After Death.” Orthodox Advices. Retrieved on July 25, 2007, from: <>.
This specific mixture is probably unique, but from relatively early on, Japanese Christians had adopted Buddhist religious elements. Protestantism, for example, originally does not hold rites on death anniversities, but Japanese Protestants nevertheless soon began to engage in such rites. See: Reid, p.111 and Morioka Kiyomi 森岡清美, pp.142-143.
The information of the following paragraph is based on: Morioka Kiyomi 森岡清美, pp.295-206, and on a comment Nakamura Kennosuke made to Nikolai’s report: Kasatkin, Nikolai, 明治の日本ハリスト正教会:ニコライの報告書 [The Japanese Christian Orthodox Church in Meiji: Nikolai’s Report], pp.127-130.
Kasatkin, Nikolai, 明治の日本ハリスト正教会:ニコライの報告書 [The Japanese Christian Orthodox Church in Meiji: Nikolai’s Report], p.67.
Tanizaki Seiji (1890-1971) was born two years after Kyūemon’s death, and as the child should at least have been old enough to swallow “Occidental food”, Kyūemon’s meinichi probably at least continued for four years, and maybe many more.
For the information on Buddhist memorial rites, I again turned to David Reids’s New Wine: Reid, pp.105-107. For the Orthodox rites I again turned to: “Eastern Orthodox Churches.” Religions in Canada. Retrieved on July 25, 2007, from: <>; Sokolov, Victor. “Death, Funeral, Requiem -- Orthodox Christian Traditions, Customs and Practice.” Holy Trinity Cathedral. Retrieved on July 25, 2007, from: <>; “Russia: Bells and Black Bread.” On our own terms: moyers on dying. Retrieved on July 25, 2007, from: <>; and: Maximovitch, John. “Life After Death.” Orthodox Advices. Retrieved on July 25, 2007, from: <>.

Nakamura Kennosuke 中村健之介, p.88. My translation.


Kasatkin, Nikolai. ニコライの見た幕末日本 [Japan in the end of the Tokugawa Period as seen by Nikolai]. Translated by Nakamura Kennosuke中村健之介. Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1979.

_____. 明治の日本ハリスト正教会:ニコライの報告書 [The Japanese Christian Orthodox Church in Meiji: Nikolai’s Report]. Translated by Nakamura Kennosuke中村健之介. Tokyo: Kyōbunkan, 1993.

Morioka Kiyomi 森岡清美. 日本の近代社会とキリスト教 [Japanese Modern Society and Christianity]. Tokyo: Hyōronsha, 1970.

Naganawa Mitsuo 長縄光男. ニコライ堂の人びと:日本近代史のなかのロシア正教会 [The people of the Nikolai Cathedral: The Russian Orthodox Church in Modern Japanese History]. Tokyo: Gendaikikakushitsu, 1989.

Nakamura Kennosuke 中村健之介. 宣教師ニコライと明治日本 [Nikolai the Missionary and Meiji Japan]. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1996.

Nomura Shōgo 野村尚吾. 伝記 谷崎潤一郎 [Tanizaki Jun’ichirō: a biography]. Tokyo: Rokkō Shuppan, 1972.

Suzuki Norihisa. “Christianity.” Religion in Japanese Culture: Where Living Traditions Meet a Changing World. Tokyo: Kōdansha International, 1996.

Reid, David. New Wine: The Cultural Shaping of Japanese Christianity. Berkeley: Asian Humanities Press, 1991. Tanizaki Jun’ichirō 谷崎潤一郎. 幼少時代 [Childhood years]. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1998.

_____. Childhood Years. Translation of 幼少時代 by Paul McCarthy. Tokyo: Kōdansha International, 1988. Internet Sources “Eastern Orthodox Churches.” Religions in Canada. Retrieved on July 25, 2007, from: <>.

Maximovitch, John. “Life After Death.” Orthodox Advices. Retrieved on July 25, 2007, from: <>.

“Nihon harisuto seikyōkai” 日本ハリスト正教会 [The Orthodox Church in Japan], Wikipeda. Retrieved on July 14, 2007, from: <>.

The Orthodox Church in Japan. Retrieved on July 14, 2007, from:<>.

“Russia: Bells and Black Bread.” On our own terms: moyers on dying. Retrieved on July 25, 2007, from: <>.

Sokolov, Victor. “Death, Funeral, Requiem -- Orthodox Christian Traditions, Customs and Practice.” Holy Trinity Cathedral. Retrieved on July 25, 2007, from: <>.

Tōkyō tōkei kyōkai東京統計協会 [The Tokyo Association for Statistics]. Retrieved on July 21, 2007, from: <>.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Call For Articles

This just in from Sally Suzuki, Beholdmyswarthyface Media Director:

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Japanese Literature Ph.D. Programs in the U.S.

This just in from Mabel of Dublin:

Hello. I'm thinking about doing a Ph.D. in modern Japanese literature somewhere in the states. Can you send me a list of the major programs along with their faculties? 

Mabel Callahan, Dublin.
Sure thing, Mabel. Here's a non-exhaustive list. Faculty specializing in the modern era are highlighted. -Sally Suzuki, Beholdmyswarthyface Media Director

1. Berkeley: Mack Horton (classical poetry), Cuong O'Neill (Meiji print culture, Taisho aesthetics), Alan Tansman (Koda Aya, fascism, Isoda Koichi); Miryam Sas (contemporary film, photography)
2. ColumbiaPaul Anderer (modernist aesthetics, Kobayashi Hideo), Theo DeBary (Confucian thought), Carol Gluck (modern history), Haruo ShiraneHenry Smith (Edo, modern Tokyo), Tomi Suzuki (narrative fiction, canon, modern fiction); Marilyn Ivy (anthropology, modernity)
3. Harvard: Edwin Cranston (Nara, Heian, kanbun), Andrew Gordon (modern history), Adam Kern (manga and floating world, kibyoushi), Melissa Wender (visiting prof, minority identity); Stephen Owen (Chinese lit); Akira Iriye (diplomatic history)
4. Ohio State: Naomi Fukumori (Heian, Kamakura court literature); Shelley Quinn (Kamakura, Muromachi); Charles Quinn (classical grammar); Richard Torrance (Meiji lit, naturalism, Tokuda Shusei, fascism); William Tyler (modernism, Ishikawa Jun) (recently deceased); J. Marshall Unger (ethnography)
5. Stanford: Steven Carter (waka, zuihitsu, travel nikki); Indra Levy (modern lit, film, women); James Reichert (modern lit, theory, male-male sexuality, aesthetics of decadence)
6. U of ChicagoMichael Bourdaghs (modern lit, theory, soseki's bungakuron, blogger, now at UCLA?); Susan Burns (intellectual history, kokugaku discourse, Tokugawa history); Norma Field (Soseki, Kobayashi Takiji, revolutionary lit, Genji); James Ketelaar (Ezo frontier, barbarians, history, Buddhism)
7. U of WisconsinSteven Clark Ridgely (60's counterculture, expo 1970); Charo D'Etcheverry (classical lit, folktales, parody)
8. USC: David Bialock (premodern poetics, comparative poetics); Akira Lippit (language, culture, cinematic arts); Anne McKnight (modern, contemporary lit, ethnography, media study, lit and social movements); Lori Meeks (religion, Buddhism, Nara)
9. Washington U in St. Louis: William Brecher (pre-modern, early modern); Rebecca Copeland (modern lit, women's lit, gender, criticism, translation theory); Marvin Marcus (Meiji-Taisho lit, bio- autobiographical lit, literary journalism, poetry); Jamie Newhard (pre-modern)
10. Yale: Edward Kamens (Heian, Genji); Edwin McClellan (emeritus, modern fiction); John Treat (modern lit, sexuality, atomic bomb, Ibuse Masuji); Christopher Hill (modern lit, cultural history, transnational naturalism); Aaron Gerow (modern and contemporary literature, film studies)
11. University of Washington: Paul Atkins (classical); Davinder Bhowmik (modern lit, Okinawan fiction, Kono Taeko); Ted Mack (modern lit and power, publishing, colonial marketing)
12. Princeton: Tom Hare (comp. lit, Japanese lit, Zeami); Richard Okada (Genji, lit theory, resistance); Atsuko Ueda (modern lit; political unconscious); also see Comparative Literature program
13. DartmouthDennis Washburn (Heian and modern lit, comp lit, dilemma of modern, Yokomitsu Riichi, cinema); James Dorsey (medieval drama, aesthetics and war, contemporary culture, criticism and lit, Sakaguchi Ango)
14. University of MichiganKen Ito (modern lit, lit in social context); Liang Luo (Taisho Tokyo, lit, pop culture); Esperanza Ramirez-Christensen (pre-modern); Jonathan Zwicker (early modern, modern, history of the book, sociology of reading)
15. University of ArizonaJ. Philip Gabriel; Noel Pinnington (Noh, Komparu Zenchiku, lit theories)
16. University of Virginia (no Phd program?): Michiko Niikuni Wilson (Oe Kenzaburo, gender, Oba Minako); Stefania Burk (politics of imperial anthologies, Edo kokugaku, Meiji) (now at University of British Columbia)
17. UCLA: Michael Marra (medieval poetics, aesthetics, hermeneutics); Thomas RimerSeiji Lippit (modernism, Akutagawa, urban space, empire); Torquil Duthie (Nara, Heian, kokugaku); Michael Bourdaghs (Shimazaki Toson, nationalism); William Bodiford (Buddhism, Zen); Noriko Akatsuka (linguistics, Genji); Herbert Plutschow (emeritus)
18. University of HawaiiJoel Cohn (Edo lit, comic lit, soseki); Robert Huey (waka, Shinkokinshu); Lucy Lower (comparative lit, hibakusha); Arthur Thornhill III (medieval lit, Noh)
19. Tufts University (no Ph.D. program?): Charles Inouye (Izumi Kyoka); Susan Napier (modernity, manga, Mishima, Oe); Hosea Hirata (Nishikawa Junzaburo, lit. and film, postmodernism) 
20. Cornell: Karen Brazell (pre-modern and theater); Brett de Bary (modern lit and film); Naoki Sakai (translation studies, modern theory, nationalism, cultural theory)

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Portrayal of Country and City in Natsume Soseki’s Sanshiro

Here's another post from Tunisia-based German orientalist and biblical commentatoJohann Weiß, this time on Natsume Soseki's SanshiroPlease forgive Johann for any minor grammatical errors and/or infelicitous phrasing (his mother tongues are Dutch, French and German).

Abstract: During the early Meiji era, Japan, until then largely isolated from exterior influences, opened up to the outside world and started its modernization, and Tokyo was transformed from Edo into the “Teito,” or imperial capital. Natsume Soseki’s (1867-1916) novel Sanshiro, first published in 1908, takes place in this buzzing surrounding. The protagonist Sanshiro, a 23 year-old student, comes from Kyushu, Japan’s southernmost and still very conservative island, to study English literature at the prestigious Tokyo Imperial University. His life in the modern metropolis of Tokyo stands in sharp contrast to his childhood life in the country. During the course of the story, he opens his eyes to the “real world”, the modern life of the city and its inhabitants. The novel is like a kaleidoscope where a multitude of historically typical characters can be observed: Professor Hirota, a Western-educated urban individualist; Mineko, a modern young woman of the city; Yojiro, Sanshiro’s Tokyo-born fellow student with an opportunistic urban mindset; and Nonomiya, a successful researcher living a purely academic life. This article will start with a description of the setting of the novel, Tokyo at the turn of the century, and particularly those parts of the Yamanote where the characters of Sanshiro reside. For help, I will use Jinnai’s Tokyo – A Spatial Anthropology and Smith’s Tokyo as an Idea: An Exploration of Japanese Urban Thought until 1945. Next I will analyse how the novel portrays the countryside on the one hand and the modern metropolis on the other hand. I will show how Sanshiro, the protagonist from the countryside, successively opens his eyes to the modern world of the metropolis and becomes more and more accustomed to city life. But Sanshiro is not transformed completely into a metropolitan; rather, he maintains through the end strong links to his past in the countryside. My analysis will also draw from Raymond Henry William’s Country and City and Georg Simmel’s The Metropolis and Mental Life.

Tokyo – the modern Japanese metropolis after the turn of the century

With the advent of the Meiji era the city of Tokyo underwent a wide-ranging transition. Edo became Tokyo, the capital of the modern nation-state of Japan. The transition from Edo to Tokyo changed significantly the social and economic structure of the city. In the early years of Meiji, the city's population declined significantly. The new ruling elite from west Japan and the flood of rural immigrants from all directions changed the city’s structure and mentality. Tokyo was on the one hand a showcase where the latest fashions and inventions from the West were displayed, and on the other hand a proving-ground for institutional innovations. The ‘city of water’ that was Edo was to be transformed into a Western-like metropolis: grand, permanent and monumental. (Smith 1978, 53-56) According to Smith, the most dominant idea of Tokyo from the 1890s on was that of an imperial capital (“Teito”), i.e. Tokyo was less seen as a city than as a symbol for the nation, “a passive tool, a means of achievement for the ambitious and symbol of imperial power for the nation as a whole” (Smith 1978, 55). Only after the Sino-Japanese war in 1895, Tokyo reached again the peak population of Edo and metamorphosed into a modern metropolis. From 1895 to 1923 the population doubled and reached almost four million by the eve of the 1923 earthquake. This sudden growth severely disrupted the pattern of urban space. (Smith 1978, 57)

The main characters in Sanshiro live in Hongo. Hongo is situated in the north district of the Yamanote, or “high city” of Tokyo, just to the north of the Imperial Palace, and is the location of the main campus of Tokyo Imperial University (now simply Tokyo University). In the Edo period, the Yamanote was where warrior houses were located. Its residential zones were organized according to the social status of their residents, whether daimyo, hatamoto, or commoner. “The lots occupied by former daimyo establishments could now readily provide the buildings and facilities needed for the city’s new political military, educational, cultural, and administrative establishments and also for the grand residences of aristocrats and the new ruling classes of Meiji” (Jinnai 1995, 22). The University of Tokyo campus, for example, is also located in the north of the Yamanote. The present-day campus used to be the site of the “upper,” or main, residence of the Maeda family, the lords of Kaga Province in the Edo period and was surrounded by other homes of important families (Jinnai 1995, 25).  The Yamanote, with all its major government and administration institutions and the private homes of the new governing Japanese elite, was the core of the emerging modern Japanese state and embodied the intellectual and bureaucratic elite culture of the time.

The portrayal of the country and the city in Sanshiro

Sanshiro, having just graduated from one of the national colleges (kotogakko), arrives in Tokyo from Kyushu, Japan’s southernmost and still very conservative island (Rubin 2002, 224). Having grown up in the rather traditional surrounding of his hometown, he is consequently torn between the memories of his own past in the countryside and his new life in modern Tokyo.

To understand the protagonist’s experiences in this state of being torn between the country and the city and the conflicts resulting from this state, Raymond Henry Williams’ paper Country and City helps a great deal. In his study, Williams examines the images of rural life and the various connections between ‘city’ and ‘country’. According to him, the two terms have always evoked both powerful positive feelings and hostile associations. The country represents, on the one hand, the idea of a natural way of life, of peace, innocence and simple virtue. On the other hand, the idea of the country as a place of backwardness, ignorance and limitation manages to persist. In the same way, the city provoked two differing ideas: one of an achieved centre, of learning, communication and light, and another of a place of noise, worldliness and ambition. Although highly generalized, these images have persisted since classical times and even today play a major role in the perception of both ‘country’ and ‘city’ (Williams 1975, 1).

These different ideas of ‘country’ and ‘city’ can be found in Natsume Soseki’s Sanshiro as well. The protagonist Sanshiro is neither a young man of the city, nor a man who is still completely rooted in the country. “Sanshiro is an adolescent, eager to plunge into the ceaseless change and movement of the real world, but fearful of losing the certainties of childhood” (Rubin 2002, 236).

In the beginning of the novel we see a young, innocent protagonist. Sanshiro knows almost nothing about the modern life in the metropolis. His past experiences therefore stand for “the comforting shades of old Japan” (Rubin 2002, 219), which is especially represented in his mother. When Sanshiro is feeling repelled by the modern life of the metropolis, the novel portrays the positive ideas connected to the life in the countryside: the idea of a natural way of life, of peace, innocence and simple virtue. Country people are described as honest and economical in monetary issues. Customs and religion still play an important role in everyday life. Sanshiro’s family, for example, once a year follows the old local practice known as “shrine retreat” and his mother goes to the Inari Shrine for oracles (Soseki 2002, 161-2). In another chapter, Sanshiro remembers the peacefulness in the country without those “many stimuli” (Soseki 2002, 186) characteristic for the metropolis.

Nevertheless, the novel doesn’t portray the country as a lost paradise that the protagonist was forced to leave. Sanshiro is very aware of the country’s shortcomings. He is an ambitious young man eager to make his way in the modern times. After having graduated from the national college, his home region in the countryside could not offer him further proper education; he had to go to the metropolis to obtain elite university education. Negative perceptions of the country are even more clearly articulated in remarks of other characters. Yojiro, Sanshiro’s closest friend in Tokyo, continually accuses him of being old-fashioned and ignorant of modern trends because of his background as a country boy: “[Y]ou’ve just arrived from Kyushu. Your mind is still back in Meiji zero.” (Soseki 2002, 57) He later goes on, “only somebody who has just emerged from the wilds of Kyushu and doesn’t know anything about the major literature trends would ask a question like that” (Soseki 2002, 98). Here, we can see the idea of that country as a place of backwardness, ignorance and limitation. Sanshiro partly shares these opinions; he describes the countryside as “drowsy” and admits that it was, “after all, a place of retreat, and in it he had sealed up the discarded past.” He shows no desire to return, “unless things got desperate” (Soseki 2002, 63).

But Sanshiro’s past in the countryside is only the background for the main focus of the story, that is, his becoming acquainted to the modern life in the metropolis of Tokyo. Also in this section I will use Raymond Henry Williams’ work Country and City to analyse the two differing ideas provoked by the city: the one of an achieved centre, of learning, communication and light and the other one of a place of noise, worldliness and ambition. My analysis of both the negative and positive ideas of the city will draw from Georg Simmel’s The Metropolis and Mental Life.

When Sanshiro comes to Tokyo he is bent on experiencing the modern and buzzing life there and using the academic possibilities the metropolis offers. These expectations correspond to Williams’ positive idea of the city as an achieved centre, of learning, communication and light. For Sanshiro, the life in the metropolis represents two things: the “majesty of Academe” (Soseki 2002, 30) and the “real life”, consisting of the exciting atmosphere of the city and the city’s modern women, important aspects for the sophistication and maturation linked to the growth of the protagonist (Soseki 2002, 63-4). The actual reason why Sanshiro comes to Tokyo is to obtain an elite education at the Tokyo Imperial University, “the ultimate goal of the [Japanese] educational elite” (Rubin 2002, ix). Tokyo is not only the political and economic centre of Japan, but, as a metropolis, is also the “seat of cosmopolitanism,” which exerts its “intellectual predominance over its hinterland” (Simmel 1950, 6), making the city inevitably the seat of Japan’s most renowned universities. When he starts to attend university lectures he “experienced the whole with a sense of grandeur. ‘This is how the Seat of Learning has to be. This is what makes it all possible – the study, the research. What a magnificent place!’” (Soseki 2002, 29-30). Sanshiro is impressed by the people he meets at university, e.g. by Nonomiya Sohachi, a physicist working at Tokyo Imperial University with whom he immediately becomes acquainted. This successful scholar who “shines brilliantly in foreign countries” (Soseki 2002, 56) and completely devotes himself to academic life has a great influence on how Sanshiro perceives the academic world. In the beginning of the novel “Sanshiro wondered, perhaps he too ought to live a life like this” (Soseki 2002, 21-2).

Next to academic life, he experiences in Tokyo what he calls the “real life”, a world “as radiant and fluid as spring, a world of electric lights, of silver spoons, of cheers and laughter, of glasses bubbling over with champagne. And crowning everything were beautiful women” (Soseki 2002, 63-4). He enjoys his new life in Tokyo, such as occasions like the “gentlemanly gathering of students” (Soseki 2002, 107) or the time he spends with his new friends as “[t]ime spent with people was real time” (Soseki 2002, 45). He is especially impressed by the women of the metropolis, particularly Mineko, the modern, self-determined city girl with whom he falls in love (Soseki 2002, 203).

Sanshiro’s eyes are opened to the modern world of the metropolis through the help of Professor Hirota, a Western-educated bachelor in his early forties who teaches English at the First National College (Rubin 2002, 245-6). In the course of the novel Hirota becomes a kind of father figure for Sanshiro, to whom he feels very close. Sanshiro is attracted to him because the figure of Professor Hirota is the personification of the modern urban Japanese individualist. As previously mentioned, Japanese modernism began with the Meiji restoration in 1868 and was characterized by the fast attempt to westernize the country. Tokyo as the capital of the emerging Japanese modern nation-state was the centre of modern life and modernity in Japan. During the process, not only Western science and technology was introduced to Japan, but also under the banner of “Civilization and Enlightenment” (bunmei kaika) Western culture was widely promoted as well, from Western philosophy and the Western educational system, to current intellectual trends, clothing and architecture. But Japanese modernity did not simply mean Westernization of life, for there were always opponents and counter movements which promoted traditional values such as samurai loyalty and social harmony or traditional Japanese arts (Encyclopædia Britannica 2008).

Professor Hirota is a careful observer and “critic” (Soseki 2002, 43) of the life in Tokyo and through his friendship Sanshiro successively opens his eyes to the modern world and learns to deal with his new environment. Hirota is a modern urban individualist “eager to preserve the autonomy and individuality of his existence in the face of overwhelming exterior forces” (Simmel 1950, 1) to which a person is exposed in the crowd of the metropolis. Thus, he is really a full-fledged metropolitan, because, according to Simmel, only the metropolis “grants to the individual a kind and an amount of personal freedom which has no analogy whatsoever under other conditions” (Simmel 1950, 4). To preserve his own individuality and independence is one of the most important things for Hirota. Already during his first encounter with Sanshiro he warns him to be very careful not to sacrifice his individuality: “Don’t ever surrender yourself – not to Japan, not to anything. You may think that what you’re doing is for the sake of the nation, but let something take possession of you like that and all you do is bring it down” (Soseki 2002, 15). Maintaining independence is more important for Hirota than career advancement. Instead of trying to improve his social status and advance his career, he chooses a state of retreat. Due to a mixture of modesty and pride, he refuses to participate in the rat-race for personal advancement: “He taught language in the College, that was all. He had no other accomplishments […] and was not the least bit concerned about it” (Soseki 2002, 121). Hirota’s self-effacement is one of the main factors that attract Sanshiro to him because he makes Sanshiro “relax and forget about the competitive way of the world” (Soseki 2002, 122). Sanshiro admires Hirota especially because of his complete independence, and he describes him as a person “so free of danger that he could afford to warn others against it”, as a one of those “men who, while part of the world, yet watched it from a place apart” (Soseki 2002, 43).

Though Hirota is definitely a modern urban individualist typical of the metropolis, he is nevertheless not uncritical about some signs of modernity and directs Sanshiro’s attention to the unpleasing aspects of life in the metropolis of Tokyo as well – the aspects Williams summarized in his idea of the city as a place of noise, worldliness and ambition.

Hirota complains about the increasing egoism in modern times. “When society changed, […] as a result, self-centeredness was gradually imported into thought and action, and egoism became enormously overdeveloped” (Soseki 2002, 122-3). He reports that this used to be different before the advent of modernism. “When I was a student, there wasn’t such a thing we did that was unrelated to others. It was all for the Emperor, or parents, or the country, or society – everything was other-centered” (Soseki 2002, 122-3). Simmel explains the metropolitan’s egoism and indifference with the incapability of the human psyche to cope with the intensified nervous stimulation to which man is exposed in the city. In order to accommodate to the fast changes and contrasts, modern man abandons his ability to maintain deep feelings and emotional relationships and begins to react with his head instead of his heart. “Metropolitan life, thus, underlies a heightened awareness and a predominance of intelligence in metropolitan man” (Simmel 1950, 2). According to Simmel, the function of intellectuality is “to preserve subjective life against the overwhelming power of metropolitan life.” The above mentioned physicist Nonomiya Sohachi is a very clear example of a metropolitan intellectual who is very indifferent toward his environment and unable to entertain warm relations. Sanshiro is “shocked” by Nonomiya’s coolness when informed about a nearby suicide the night before (Soseki 2002, 44). Neither does Nonomiya show any warm relations toward his sister Yoshiko. When he receives a telegram stating that she fell ill, he tells Sanshiro: “No, Yoshiko is just playing games, I’m sure, the silly little thing” (Soseki 2002, 40). Yet it is not only Nonomiya who shows such indifference towards his environment. When Sanshiro takes a walk with his acquaintances, the group encounters a beggar kneeling on the ground begging desperately for money. No one in the group is impressed by his pleading; instead, the group discusses his fate in a distanced and objective way and criticises him for begging in an ineffective manner. The same emotional distance can be seen in the next passage when the group passes a small girl who has lost her parents: “Everyone who saw her seemed to be touched. […] But no one took care of her” (Soseki 2002, 87-8).

A further negative aspect of the metropolis is the ambitious and opportunistic character of the metropolis. Yojiro, Sanshiro’s closest friend under his fellow students is a typical example for the opportunistic urban mindset. On the one hand, Yojiro, like Sanshiro, is a student at the Faculty of Letters, where he holds idealistic speeches on the purpose of literature: “We, the young men, we’re the ones who hold today’s literary power in our hands. We’ve got to go ahead and say every word, every phrase that we can, or else we lose out” (Soseki 2002, 98). On the other hand he openly confesses that, for him, education and science is clearly a means to an end. When speaking of Nonomiya who is a very successful and respected physicist but poorly paid, Yojiro pities him because “[i]t’s not a paying business” (Soseki 2002, 56). Simmel explains this metropolitan character trait with the fact that the metropolis has always been the seat of the money economy. According to him, due to the combination of the overall importance of money, the modern mind has become more and more calculating (Simmel 1950, 2).  

The calculating mind of modern man also affects his personal relationships. Yojiro, for instance, makes new acquaintances systematically and by intention (108) and he is willing to use them if they are able to fulfil a purpose. In Simmel’s words, he is the metropolitan who “reckons […] even with persons with whom he is obliged to have social intercourse” (Simmel 1950, 2). When Yojiro wants to help make Professor Hirota a university professor, he uses his connections to place an essay in a literature magazine full of “propaganda from beginning to end” (Soseki 2002, 192), and to organize a dinner party in order to introduce Hirota to influential men of the Department of Literature (Soseki 2002, 135-6). He justifies these “somewhat devious methods” with the stray remark that “[d]evious methods aren’t bad. Only bad methods are bad” (Soseki 2002, 105). According to Simmel, Yojiro lacks the scruples to exploit his connections in order to achieve his aims because “[t]he intellectually sophisticated person [of the city] is indifferent to all genuine individuality, because relationships and reactions result from it which cannot be exhausted with logical operations. […] Only the objective measurable achievement is of interest” (Simmel 1950, 2).

Sanshiro’s maturation through the course of the novel

In the beginning of the novel we see Sanshiro as an inexperienced young man from the countryside who is unacquainted with the modern life of the metropolis. Living in Tokyo, far away from his hometown and family, he is confused by everything around him. In order to orientate himself in his new environment he simplifies and idealizes. After his first weeks in Tokyo he imagines a naïve scheme by which he could “mix together” his rustic past with his new life in the city: “The best thing would be to bring his mother from the country, marry a beautiful woman, and devote himself to learning” (Soseki 2002, 64). The impracticality of this “terribly mediocre” (Soseki 2002, 64) compromise is not already clear to him. In the course of the novel however, he learns more about the modern life in Tokyo. Whereas at the very beginning he could not get the gist of Professor Hirota’s remarks, he later learns how to better able to follow his explanations (Soseki 2002, 36). Hirota is crucial in helping the protagonist to better develop his own individual point of view. Sanshiro begins to accept that becoming an adult individual means that he has to part with some of his illusions. When Sanshiro is shocked by the metropolitans’ indifference or opportunistic character, he “felt that some damage was being done to the moral precepts by which he had been raised” (Soseki 2002, 87). At this stage he is no longer so naïve as to condemn the metropolitans’ attitude, but instead admits that those “people of the city” lived “true to themselves” (Soseki 2002, 87). He has to cope with some smaller and bigger problems. After his first weeks at university, he is slightly disappointed by the academic life (Soseki 2002, 33), realizing that the “real world” does not only consist of “cheers and laughter” (Soseki 2002, 63), as he had imagined, but consists also of hard times as well. This becomes most apparent when Mineko, the object of his desire, in the end marries another man (Soseki 2002, 205).

In the end, Sanshiro must find his own way. Natsume Soseki often stressed the necessity to find one’s own path to a life suited to one’s own individuality: “There may be some who are satisfied to travel the old, proven routes behind others, and I do not say that you are wrong doing so – if it gives you genuine, unshakeable peace of mind and self-confidence. But if it does not, you must continue to dig ahead with your very own pick until you strike home. I repeat, you must do it, for anyone who is unable to will be unhappy for life, straying through the world in an endless, uneasy crouch” (Rubin 2002, 228). Sanshiro is certainly not a person who will be satisfied following the “old, proven routes behind others”; he must instead find his own way. Yet so far, he has yet to find it; he is still, like a lost sheep, “straying in the world.” But in the course of the story he became more and more aware that he has to abandon many of the certainties of his childhood and that his new life in the metropolis, the “real life” how he calls it, will not always be pleasant, but will rather demand some bitter compromises. By the end of the novel, Sanshiro is not yet a modern individual, but he is on his way.


After a brief depiction of the setting of Natsume Soseki’s Sanshiro, namely, the emerging metropolis of Tokyo at the turn of the century, I examined how the differing ideas of both  ‘country” and ‘city’ are represented in the novel. The author does not use simplified, one-sided stereotypes of those two concepts, but rather describes both the positive and negative aspects of ‘country’ and ‘city.’ Sanshiro, newly arrived from the countryside, has to struggle to find his way in the city. Through his experiences in Tokyo and the help of his acquaintances and friends, he eventually opens his eyes to the modern world and, although his coming-of-age is not over at the end of the novel, learns to deal with his new environment. Together with the protagonist, the reader gets an intense insight into this buzzing vivid kaleidoscope of Tokyo at the turn of the century. 


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