Ishikawa Jun’s Asters (Shion Monogatari, 1956)
Ishikawa Jun 石川淳 (1899-1987): Novelist from Tokyo. Made his literary debut in 1935 with the novella Kajin (The Nymphs). His 1936 novel Fugen (The Bodhisattva) won him the second Akutagawa Prize. After World War II, Ishikawa came to be regarded as one of the Shin-gesaku (new gesaku) school of writers. Other representative works are Yake-ato no Iesu (Jesus of the Ruins, 1946), Ōgon densetsu (The Legend of Gold, 1946), Taka (The Hawk, 1953), Shifukusennen (A Thousand Years of Happiness, 1966), and Kyōfūki (Account of the Wild Wind).
1. Ichioku sō-zange 一億総懺悔: “Collective repentance by 100 million.” “‘Ichioku,’ or one hundred million, refers to the size of the population of Japan, and by extension it becomes a metaphor for ‘all the subjects/citizens in the land’; ‘zange,’ or penitence, is done by all or in unison (sō)” (Tyler 1998, 274). The term was coined shortly after the war by Prime Minister Higashikuni Naruhiko, who called on the Japanese people to repent collectively for the war. His call has been criticized as an attempt to exonerate the militarists and the ruling classes who were directly responsible for the war, and to shift the blame to the entire population. Ishikawa indirectly addresses the themes of memory, amnesia, trauma, repentance, atrocity, etc in this story.
2. Doppelgänger: “Double walker” in German; a double or second-self. In literature, dream analysis, or archetypal symbolism, the Doppelgänger is often figured as a twin, shadow, or mirror-image of the protagonist. The Doppelgänger characteristically appears as identical to (or closely resembling) the protagonist; sometimes the protagonist and Doppelgänger have the same name. Prominent literary examples of Doppelgängers include Poe’s “William Wilson,” Stevenson’s “Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde,” Conrad’s “The Secret Sharer,” and the novel and movie “The Fight Club.” […] In Freudian terms, the Doppelgänger represents hidden or repressed aspects of the protagonist’s personality, and the arrival of the double represents the “return of the repressed.” The protagonist must acknowledge what the double represents, and at the same time struggle against it. Characteristically, a Doppelgänger story climaxes with a confrontation of the two, usually a fight to the death. The death of the Doppelgänger represents the successful repression of the dangerous impulses, but the struggle leaves the protagonist sadder and wiser about humanity and about himself or herself. (Dr. Glen Johnson, Catholic University of America)
3. Kant’s four types of evil: (1) evil resulting from fragilitas, (2) evil resulting from impuritas, (3) evil resulting from perversitas (i.e. radical evil) (privileging of inclinations, still pathological), and (4) diabolical evil (unpathological, not based on inclinations, contrary to self-interest, elevated to the level of a maxim). For more, see Kant’s Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone (1794): http://bit.ly/bBJlc8
Answer all of the following.
1. What genre(s) of novel might the work be classified as? Does the story fit into any of Todorov’s genres of “the uncanny,” “the fantastic,” or “the marvelous”?
2. Describe the narrative structure of the work.
3. Discuss the role of poetry in the work. What powers does poetry possess? How does Muneyori regard his own natural poetic gifts? Explain the connection between his renunciation of poetry and his rebellion against his father/his father’s courtly culture?
4. Explain the significance of the three arrows. What does each arrow represent? How are they related? What discovery does Muneyori make?
5. At its core, the work is an exploration of the problem of evil. Discuss the four types of evil that are represented in the work through the four characters of Tōnai, Princess Utsuro, Yumimaro, and Muneyori. Consider these characters in relation to Kant’s four types of evil mentioned above. Also, discuss the ambiguous relationship between diabolical evil (Muneyori) and ultimate good (Heita).
6. Describe the character Heita. Describe his doppelgänger-esque relationship to Muneyori. In what ways are they the uncanny mirror images of each another? What are their similarities? What are their differences? Do they complement each another to make a whole?
7. Describe the two settings—Muneyori’s province and the town beyond the mountain—and the inhabitants/communities/cultures of each. How does each group view the other? What is their relation to one another?
8. The work abounds in dichotomies/binary oppositions. Identify and describe them all. What does Ishikawa seem to be saying about the true nature of these dichotomies?
9. Explain the significance of the three plants: the asters (shion), the forget-me-nots (wasurenagusa), and the grasses-of-forgetfulness/day lilies (wasuregusa). Which plants does Muneyori plant? In what circumstances? For what purpose? Which plants does Heita plant? In what circumstances? For what purpose? How do these plants relate to the larger themes of the work, namely the problems of history, memory, trauma, atrocity, evil, etc.?
10. Describe the Buddhist statues that are carved into the rocks. Why is Muneyori driven to destroy them?
11. Discuss the character of Chigusa. How does Chigusa and Muneyori’s relationship resemble that of Yang Kwei-fei 楊貴妃 and Emperor Hsuan Tsung 玄宗 from Bai Juyi’s Song of Everlasting Regret 長恨歌 (806)?
12. Given its main themes, can this work be read as an allegory of postwar Japanese society? Explain.
1. Shibusawa Tatsuhiko’s essay in Hen’ai teki sakka ron.
2. [add to the list as you research…]
2. [add to the list as you research…]
 Source: The Old Woman, the Wife and the Archer: Three Modern Japanese Short Novels. 1961. The Songs of Oak Mountain, by S. Fukasawa; Ohan, by C. Uno; Asters, by J. Ishikawa. Translated by Donald Keene.