Japan Literature

By | January 18, 2022

At the beginning of the seventies, the disappearance of two important writers such as Y. Mishima (1970) and Y. Kawabata (1972), preceded only by a few years by that of another teacher, J. Tanizaki (1965), concretely marked the end of a period. The panorama of the last twenty years has been characterized, in fact, by a certain disorientation: the critics have emphasized the lack of original proposals and the flattening of many issues; and he insisted on the crisis, including the editorial one, which hit the literary world, summarized in 1978 by the bankruptcy of one of the most famous publishing houses, Chikuma shobō. This crisis is conspicuously contrasted by the increasing prosperity of commercial publications, which have never been able to count on a rich and lively market as in this period. At the same time, there was no shortage of voices ready to underline the weariness of literary prizes, too numerous and controlled by publishing houses; and the sterility of the official channels of culture, linked to paternalistic policies and conformist evaluations, based on aesthetic models that are now outdated by the times.

Some writers, who especially in the decade 1960-70 (rich in social ferments and also marked in Japan by student protest) had given life to a harsh and provocative discourse, sometimes accepting an involvement with political and social initiatives, such as K. Ōe and K. Abe, have produced works of considerable interest, which nevertheless seemed less incisive and significant than previous works.

Of note, among Abe’s most recent publications, Hakobune Sakuramaru (“The Ark Sakura”, 1984), which sheds new light on the discourse, already addressed previously by the author, of the isolation of the individual and the impossibility of social relations. Ōand, in turn, with Atarashii hito yo mezameyo (“Open your eyes, new men!”, 1983) he takes up themes already explored by him, but recomposes them in an ambitious and complex work, which openly refers to the poems of W Blake, from which the Japanese author seems to have drawn inspiration.

The mainstream of fiction has given the impression of wanting to limit its horizons to everyday life, accentuating the individual’s connotations of instability, anxiety and insecurity. Characteristics of many writers who appeared in this period and who have been defined as “ the introverted generation ” (naikō no sedai), are the withdrawal on oneself, the rejection of any defined ideology, the insistence placed on small dramas that reflect, like a microcosm, imbalances and more general discomforts. Main exponents of this current are Y. Furui (b. 1937) and S. Kuroi (b. 1932). The first is the author of Yōko (1970), Onnatachi no ie (“The house of women”, 1977) and, more recently, Asagao (“I convolvoli”, 1983), where he analyzes the internal processes of the protagonists with experimental procedures, in a continuous balance between awareness of reality, imagination and madness; of the second, Jikan (“Time”, 1969) and Gogatsu no junreki (“May itinerary”, 1977) are aimed at examining the individual locked in the mechanism of the enormous firms within which he works, while a subsequent work, Gunsei (“The colony”, 1984), traces the minute details of the lives of four neighboring families, in an attempt to portray today’s urban life, with all its fears, anxieties and frustrations.

This panorama was animated by the sporadic emergence of young writers, whose success, even if often received with distrust by critics for its scandalous implications or as a sign of the ” vulgarization ” of literature, received a wide response from the public and still seems to be confirmed. Such is the case of R. Murakami (b.1952), making his debut in 1976 with Kagiri naku tōmei chikai burū (“An almost transparent infinite blue”). Set in a suburban neighborhood bordering an American military base, the story describes the relationships between Japanese youth and their Western peers, with extensive references to sex and drug affairs, and proceeding without a defined intertwining through a rhythmic and pressing prose that transforms physical sensations into literary images. Even more sensational is the case of J. Kara (b.1940), already an established theater writer, who in 1983 obtained one of the main critics’ awards (the Akutagawa prize reserved for novice writers) with a singular novel, Sagawakun kara no tegami (“A letter from his friend Sagawa”, 1983; it., The adoration, 1983), taken from a news story and based on a story of love, madness and cannibalism.

Among the writers most appreciated by the younger generations, we must also remember H. Murakami (b. 1949), author in 1979 of Kaze no uta wo kike (“Listen to the song of the wind”), which was followed by 1973nen no pinbōru (” Pinball of 1973 “, 1980) and, more recently, Sekai no owari to Hādoboirudo Wandārando (” The end of the world and Hardboild Wanderland “, 1985) and Noruuei no mori (“The Norwegian Forest”, 1986). These works have had an immediate echo among readers, even if there have been voices of criticism, which underline the writer’s inability to offer new proposals capable of reorienting Japanese cultural horizons, and see in him a substantially passive attitude to life, ready to accept uncritically the models offered by today’s prosperous and consumerist society.

Much interest is also aroused by the ” phenomenon ” constituted by the writer B. Yoshimoto (b.1964), who has clamorously established herself as one of the most original and lively voices of the younger generations, and is the author of a series of novels and short stories – Tsugumi (1988), Kitchen (1988), Shirakawa yofune (“Deep Sleep”, 1989), and NP (1990) – all entered best seller charts.

More respectful of the traditional canons of Japanese prose is the work of other writers who have emerged on the literary scene in recent years, who have been able to make their own contribution of originality and richness of interpretation to a largely autobiographical and intimate literature. Such is the case of Y. Tsushima (b. 1947), author of Chōji (“The son of fortune”, 1977), Hikari no ryōbun (“The domain of light”, 1979), Danmari ichi (“The market of silence “, 1984), all aimed at examining the female condition, the difficulty in achieving spiritual balance and maturity by rejecting the role of dependence on the family and on men,

Neighbors as a subject, even if with a lesser incisiveness, appear the stories of A. Hikari (b. 1943), which re-examine the theme of a more mature and aware female conscience of her own choices.

Her first works are Juka no kazoku (“The family under the tree”, 1983) and Yukkuri Tōkyō joshi marason (“The slow marathon of the Tokyo girls”, 1984). A few years younger is M. Masuda, who has achieved good recognition with his Shinguru seru(“Isolated cell”, 1986), where the term, taken from the biological sciences (cells isolated for experimental purposes that tend to gather in small groups in order to survive), becomes a metaphor through which the author tries to grasp the essence of human relationships. The presence of many writers on the literary scene is a direct continuation of a whole page of women’s literature that has experienced an extraordinary flowering especially since the post-war years, including famous names such as that of F. Enchi (1905-1986) and of Y. Nogami.

According to Calculatorinc, the latter, who died almost 100 years old in 1985, left in her latest novel, Mori (“The Wood”), a compelling portrait of Japanese society and life in the early years of the century.

In the field of theater, the untimely death of S. Terayama (1935-1983), who was the most radical exponent of the ” total revolution ” of the theater proposed by the avant-gardes starting from the 1960s, left a void only in part filled by other writers, such as J. Kara or K. Tsuka, who however recently seem to have chosen different paths, orienting themselves towards fiction. The poem recorded the sudden success of a young writer, M. Tawara (b. 1962), author of Sarada kinenbi (“The anniversary of the salad”) which immediately became a best seller with more than two million copies sold in 1986. It is a collection of short poems (tanka), the most traditional and celebrated poetic form of Japanese art literature. Elliptical, immediate and allusive, according to the “ classic ” rules, Tawara’s poetry remains faithful, in spirit if not in letter, to a type of lyric poetry, to which, however, the reference to current reality gives it new freshness. The lexicon is also innovative, which makes extensive use of colloquial forms and inserts countless words of Anglo-American derivation. Sarada kinenbi was considered a further step towards the renewal of the tanka, to the point of bringing the name of its author closer to that of the most famous poet of the twentieth century, A. Yosano (1878-1942).

Japan Literature