Five Japanese novels recently translated into English are now available at the JICC library. These novels are among the titles published under the Japanese Literature Publishing Project (JLPP), launched in 2002 under the initiative of the Agency of Cultural Affaires of Japan to promote the translation and publication of Japanese contemporary fiction. The JLPP titles extend the scope of Japanese literature translated into foreign languages. They include highly-acclaimed works in literary history, provocative stories by emerging writers, best-selling entertainment, period novels and women's stories. Details of the newly-arrived books are as follows:
Shintaro Ishihara "Undercurrents ? Episode from a Life on the Edge"
Shuhei Fujisawa "The Bamboo Sword and Other Samurai Tales"
Teru Miyamoto "Autumn Brocade"
Nobuo Kojima "Embracing Family"
Rika Yokomori " Tokyo Tango"
Shintaro Ishihara (1932-) "Undercurrents - Episode from a Life on the Edge"
Kodansha International, Tokyo 2005
Shintaro Ishihara is best known to the English-speaking world as the Japanese politician who collaborated with Sony founder Morita Akio in writing THE JAPAN THAT CAN SAY NO in 1989. He established himself as a celebrity writer while still a university student and has remained a prolific writer throughout his political career. In addition to his works of a political nature, Ishihara has also written fiction, literary non-fiction, memoirs and essays. Among Ishihara's better-known works are the award-winning KASEKI NO MORI, SEIKAN and SEISAN. Previously a cabinet minister, Ishihara ran for Governor of Tokyo in 1999 and continues to serve in that office today.
"Undercurrents - Episode from a Life on the Edge" contains 40 autobiographical stories, covering the period from Ishihara's grade-school years during World War II until his younger brother Yujiro's death from cancer in 1987. Stories about Ishihara's experiences while yachting and scuba diving dominate, making up about half of the collection. Close encounters with, and miraculous deliverance from, death or other peril forms a common thread running through these stories. Among the stories, too, are several that might be termed ghost stories but which Ishihara assures us are absolutely true. Ishihara explores the often fine line between life and death as well as the relationship between the here and the hereafter, the physical world and the spiritual world.
Teru Miyamoto(1947-) "Autumn Brocade"
New Directions, New York
A fiction writer and essayist, Miyamoto is among Japan's most widely-read living authors. His early works received prestigious literary prizes: DORO NO KAWA won the Dazai Osamu Prize and HOTARUGAWA was awarded the coveted Akutagawa Prize. Both of these were turned into films, the former receiving the Silver Prize at the Moscow International Film Festival in 1981. Several later works also won awards and were made into films. Many of Miyamoto's works have been translated into English and other foreign languages.
Image of Teru Miyamoto: ©Mamoru Minamiura
The story unfolds gradually through an exchange of letters between Aki and Yasuaki who, ten years after their divorce, meet by chance at a mountain resort. The events leading to their separation as well as their respective struggles during the intervening years are chronicled through correspondence initiated by Aki. Two years into their marriage, Yasuaki was involved in a love suicide with Yukako, an old acquaintance from his teenage years, but Yasuaki survived. His letters reveal, in addition to choices and circumstances leading up to the suicide attempt, the downward course of his life after his separation from Aki.
Shuhei Fujisawa(1927-97) "T he Bamboo Sword and Other Samurai Tales"
Kodansha International, Tokyo, 2005
Shuhei Fujisawa started writing poetry while he was recuperating from tuberculosis in the early 1950s, then began working as a journalist in 1957. The work of this popular writer comprises over fifty books, including both full-length novels and short-story anthologies, and has also been adapted for television. In 1973 Fujisawa received the acclaimed Naoki Award for ANSATSU NO NENRIN (Annals of Assassination), establishing himself as a leading author of period stories. He retired from journalism in 1974 to devote himself to his writing and went on to win six further prestigious literary awards.
This collection of eight short stories presents a cross-section of society as it was in Edo-period Japan, depicting the lives of people from all walks of life in a realistic and convincing way. Although his stories may contain sudden death from the single blow of a samurai sword, Fujisawa does not write about violence, sex or corruption but instead focuses on the humanity of his characters, be they samurai or merchant. HESOMAGARI SHINZA provides an excellent introduction to life as it was in olden Japan as well as a good understanding of the kind of fiction that is popular in Japan today.
Nobuo Kojima(1915-) "Embracing Family"
New Directions, New York
Nobuo Kojima was born in Gifu Prefecture and started writing for private magazines while still in high school. He began teaching middle-school English after graduating from the University of Tokyo in English literature in 1941, but was drafted and sent to China a year later. Discharged in 1946, he resumed writing while also working as a high school and university instructor. Kojima won the Akutagawa Prize for "Amerikan sukuru" (American School) in 1955, and in 1957 he received a fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation to travel to the United States and study the works of such American authors as Anderson, Faulkner and Saroyan. His own fiction ranges widely from the experimental to the allegorical and symbolic.
This portrait of postwar Japanese society as symbolically captured in the life of one family won the Tanizaki Prize in 1965.
Shunsuke Miwa is a university lecturer and translator who lives with his wife Tokiko and their two children. His serene life suddenly crumbles, however, when he learns his wife has been having an affair with an American soldier. Shunsuke alternately upbraids and cajoles Tokiko to get her to confess her true feelings, to no avail. His efforts to repair the rift between them, although well-intended, often border on the pathetic and only disgust his wife.
Before long Shunsuke hits on the idea of fencing Tokiko behind a high wall erected around their home, but her opposition brings an end to that plan. The two eventually agree to build a fully air-conditioned, concrete-and-glass "American-style" dream house in the suburbs from which to start anew. But Tokiko is diagnosed with cancer and undergoes surgery while the house is being built. She spends most of her time in and out of the hospital even after the house is completed and dies without having lived there at all. After her death, the air-conditioning breaks down and the roof springs leaks as the house falls apart seemingly in reflection of the family's sorry state.
Desperate to resuscitate his family, Shunsuke seeks to remarry but is unsuccessful this time as well. He finally has no choice but to stand by and watch his family disintegrate inside the house that he had built to bring everyone together.
Rika Yokomori "Tokyo Tango"
Duchworth, London, 2006
Rika Yokomori has published over thirty books in the last ten years, ranging through novels, essays, travel writing, reportage and female-oriented self-help books. Her top-ranking work of fiction is EAT & LOVE, 'a tale of two men and five women centered on the themes of food and sex', and her most recent work is IMA SUGU SHIAWASENI NARU AIDEA 70 (Seventy Ideas for Achieving Immediate Happiness). She is a frequent contributor to newspapers and magazines. Key themes are those dealing with the emotional development of girls as they become women in contemporary Japan, with an emphasis on their interests in sex, food, fashion and money that can so easily grow into obsessions.
BOGICHIN is a love story set in the crazy excesses of the Japanese economy of the 1980s. The narrator is Saya, a naive young student at one of the better private universities in Tokyo who falls in love with "Bogichin", an older man and a smooth operator who is making money by the fistful. A compulsive gambler, he loses his money even more quickly than he makes it. At one level this is a straightforward story of compulsion: Saya's compulsive love for Bogichin and the latter's compulsive use and abuse of money. Yet there is also a genuine element of tenderness in the relationship. Ultimately, that's what this book is about - love and money, money and love.