electronic journal of contemporary japanese
Discussion Paper 6 in 2005
First published in ejcjs on
31 October 2005
How to contribute to
The Dying Game
Suicide in Modern Japanese Literature
Wendy Jones Nakanishi
e-mail the Author
The plot of Norwegian Wood, published in 1987, the novel which
propelled Haruki Murakami to international fame and fortune, pivots upon two
suicides. Its two main characters—the first-person narrator, Toru Watanabe,
and a young woman named Naoko—are haunted by the memory of a boy called Kizuki.
Kizuki had been a lively and cheerful boy in high school. He was Naoko's first
lover and Toru's closest friend. But he had stunned them and his other intimates by gassing himself in his parents' garage one night. For Toru and
Naoko, it is an inexplicable but undeniable and equally an unbearable fact
beloved friend, leaving 'no suicide note,' and with 'no motive that anyone could
think of,' had simply and suddenly decided to vanish from their lives by taking
After drifting apart following Kizuki's death, Naoko and Toru meet again
several years later. They feel linked by their mutual grief at Kizuki's suicide
and by their inability to recover from it. They become lovers in all but the
actual physical act, but Naoko's mental health increasingly deteriorates, a
phenomenon which Toru associates with her pain and sadness at Kizuki's death. She
enters a convalescent facility and then a hospital for the psychiatrically
disturbed before finally killing herself, too. Although Toru struggles on, one
senses that Kizuki's suicide has proved somehow fatal for him as well. He admits
that when 'it took the 17-year old Kizuki that night in May, death took me as
well....In the midst of life, everything revolved around death'.
As in many of Murakami's other works, the characters in Norwegian Wood
are obsessed by death. Appropriately, the only man with whom Toru is able to
become intimate following Kizuki's death is an individual named Nagasawa. Just as
Toru and Naoko feel inextricably connected by their memories of the dead Kizuki,
so Toru and Nagasawa acknowledge that their friendship is an unlikely association
of two very different personalities based on nothing other than a shared love for
F.Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby—a book in which death in the form
of murder and suicide and accidental manslaughter plays a central role.
On taking a cursory glance at modern Japanese literature - and even in the
limited selection available in English translation, a western reader may be
struck by what might seem a curious preoccupation with death. Of course, death
takes many forms. There is not only so-called 'natural' death, due to illness or
old age, but also 'unnatural' death—a result of accident, murder or suicide.
Death has formed a topic of literature throughout the world, in every country, in
every age. What a non-Japanese reader might find most unusual about
the Japanese treatment of the topic in its literature is the frequency of
unnatural deaths and especially of suicide.
While, for example, one might expect death resulting from murder to be
prominent in such a work as Ellery Queen's Japanese Golden Dozen: The
Detective Story World in Japan, what is less predictable is the fact that the
twelve short crime stories this publication features include not only stranglings,
knifings and throat-slittings—typical fare for such tales—but that the
number of violent deaths perpetrated by murderers on their victims is nearly
eclipsed by the number of suicides—acts of self destruction. In fact, in the
dozen stories, suicide is suspected in as many as seven of the deaths. In five of
the stories, the characters' deaths initially are attributed, by the
investigating officers, to suicide, and only subsequently found to be murders.
For a western reader, this is a surprising development. In a comparable
publication of crime stories originally written in English, suicide would figure
slightly, if at all. The readiness of Japanese detectives to consider the
possibility of self-inflicted death in the cases they encounter is not
matched by their colleagues in America or Europe.
This phenomenon is a timely reminder that literature needs to be assessed not
only by the usual criteria applied—plot, characters, setting, theme, and tone—but also by cultural considerations.
What is the significance of death and especially of suicide in Japanese society?
The narrator of Takao Tsuchiya's short story 'Write In, Rub Out,' included in the
collection mentioned above, offers these reflections on the subject:
Seneca said that suicide is a special privilege of mankind. Other people
have said suicide is the ultimate human freedom. But this right, this freedom,
exerts tremendous effects on the people associated with the suicide.
Certainly, as we have seen, Kizuki's suicide wreaked incalculable devastation
on the two people closest to him: on Naoko and Toru.
The significance of suicide for the Japanese is, of course, not limited to
their fictional depictions of the world, but it occupies what some western people
might consider a disproportionate prominence in real-life situations in Japan. It
has various meanings for the Japanese. It is seen, for example, as a means of
escaping from a situation perceived as unbearable. Each spring, when Japanese
junior high and high school students undergo the period of intensive testing
known as 'exam hell,' a number of these young people notoriously find the stress
and pressure of the situation so overwhelming that they not only opt out of the
system but out of life itself.
There are distressingly frequent tales of bullied Japanese schoolchildren who
choose to kill themselves rather than continue to bear the brunt of the physical
abuse and/or verbal taunting of classmates. While these deaths are in no sense
condoned or seen as acceptable, they are understood while deplored. The issue of
children's suicides attributable to bullying or school pressures is addressed by
the Japanese government and media each year, with attempts made to reform a
competitive educational system which contributes to what are recognized as two
related phenomena. In The Japanese Educational Challenge, Merry White
observes that the 'abruptness' of the 'examination hell' which Japanese children
suddenly encounter after graduating from the nurturing, non-competitive
atmosphere of Japanese primary schools 'may account for the relatively high rate
of delinquency and other school-related socio-psychological problems that arise
in the third year of middle school'. Was Kazuki's suicide in
attributable to school pressures? We are given no hint of this by Murakami, apart
from the fact that he kills himself when he is seventeen, and thus is in his
third year of high school, when he would be expected to undergo intensive testing
to enter a good university, (just as a third-year student in a Japanese middle
school must endeavor to pass stringent exams to enter a good high school).
The popularity of so-called 'love suicides' in Japan can also be seen
to fall into the category of types of self-destruction which some researchers
ascribe to the nation's cultural mores. In Japanese Culture and Behavior,
a chapter on 'Self-Destruction in Japan: A Cross-cultural Epidemiological
Analysis of Suicide' by Masaki Kato includes findings that indicate that the
phenomenon of 'double suicide for love in Japan' is based on the nation's
'religious belief in the future life, on the low value placed on individual life
from the bushido way of thinking, and on rigidly prizing women's chastity'. With social and familial pressure remaining a potent force in a country
which, possibly, does not accord sufficient respect to the notion of individual
liberty or right to personal privacy, in the face of familial or social
opposition to their prospective marriages, some couples choose to express—ironically?—their undying love for each other in carefully-orchestrated joint
Again, these cultural phenomena are mirrored in Japanese literary works.
Murakami's novel South of the Border, West of the Sun, first published in
Japanese in 1992, continues the author's analysis in Norwegian Wood, which
had been printed five years earlier, of the damage individuals can inflict, often
unconsciously, upon each other. The first-person narrator Hajime regrets his
having carelessly discarded his first lover, Izumi, subsequently realizing that
he has, in a sense, 'killed her.' On chancing to see her many years after the
break-up of their affair, he sees that she has withered and died inside because
of his thoughtlessness: 'Not a trace of feeling grazed her face; it was like the
bottom of a deep ocean, silent and dead'.
The only woman Hajime has ever really loved, Shimamoto, whom he had first
encountered in childhood, improbably reappears in his life many years later,
after his marriage to a woman named Yukiko. They initiate an affair and Shimamoto
contemplates killing them both in a 'love suicide,' as Hajime comes to understand
after she once again disappears from his life: 'After a night of making love, she
planned to grab the steering wheel of the BMW as we drove back to Tokyo and kill
us both'. In her own pain at
witnessing her husband's infidelity, Yukiko later admits to Hajime that she had
thought she would die of her sadness. 'Dying is not hard,' she tells him, at the
novel's conclusion, when the couple have reached an uneasy reconciliation: 'Like
the air being sucked slowly out of a room, the will to live was slowly seeping
out of me'.
Suicide in Japan is also sometimes understood as an honorable means of accepting blame or of
shouldering responsibility. When, in recent years, the driver of a kindergarten
bus found that he had inadvertently caused the death of a toddler who had crawled
under the vehicle while his mother was chatting with one of the teachers, the
middle-aged man immediately stopped the bus, parked it by the side of the road,
and disappeared. His body was found several hours later. He had walked to a woods
nearby and hanged himself with his own belt.
Similarly, disgraced politicians and businessmen in Japan routinely resort to
suicide as a means of asking the pardon
of the people affected by their crimes or shortcomings.
Given Japanese society's apparent emphasis on the group and the
importance accorded to the family unit, it is perhaps unsurprising that the
individuals who commit suicide to absolve their individual guilt sometimes decide
that their spouses and children, too, must die for their sins. The phenomenon of
the 'family suicide' is also related to perceived present or future hardships or
difficulties. Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the industrialized
to a recent survey, in 2003, as the country continued to suffer from economic
recession, 'suicides in Japan surged to an all-time high, topping 34,000 deaths
in a trend fueled by health and financial troubles'.
Failed businessmen or the parents of chronically or terminally ill children
sometimes choose 'family suicide' as a means of 'solving' their problems.
Astonishingly, a recent Health Ministry report reveals that suicide is the sixth
leading cause of death in Japan after cancer, heart disease, and other illnesses.
Exiled Japanese writer Kazuo Ishiguro (1974- ), resident since childhood in
Britain, offers another rationale for the Japanese phenomenon of the 'family
suicide' in a short piece entitled 'A Family Story,' first published in 1982. It
is a tale with a deceptively simple plot, ostensibly just an account of an
old-fashioned, retired, widowed Japanese businessman who prepares a family dinner
for his son and daughter. But there are murky undercurrents. The father, who is
proud of his samurai heritage, mentions a business colleague who had committed a
family suicide because of shame at the collapse of the firm where they both had
worked. This reference foreshadows the father's murder of his unsuspecting son
and daughter in the course of the story by serving them a meal of the potentially
fatal blowfish. His wife had committed suicide years before, apparently because
of sorrow at her son's having left Japan to take up a new life in America, and
the father seems to have come to the decision to take not only his own but his
children's lives, distressed by their adoption of western ways.
Suicide is seen, too, as a means of unequivocally or unambiguously making a
statement or bearing witness for an ideal in Japan. It is particularly valued in
this sense in a society whose language and customs discourage direct affirmations
of beliefs. In this category we may include the death of the novelist Mishima
Yukio (1925-70), who committed seppuku, or the ritualized
Japanese form of suicide, to publicize his dream of inspiring a revival of the
imperial system in Japan which had prevailed prior to its defeat in the Second
World War. In slitting open his own belly with a sword, after instructing a
disciple subsequently to sever his head, Mishima was honoring the ancient samurai
tradition which held it an honor and a privilege to die in the service of emperor
and country, and was foreshadowed by the death of General Nogi, one of the
'best-known heroes of the Russo-Japanese War,' who had, in 1876, as a young man, lost his
banner to the enemy. Thirty-five years later, upon the death of Emperor Meiji,
General Nogi and his wife committed seppuku: General Nogi had 'waited
until he could no longer serve his emperor to redeem his honor'.
Depending on one's point of view, it is possible to see suicide as the most
and the least egotistical of human acts. The Japanese perspective on suicide
undoubtedly has been influenced by the two religions most prominent in Japanese
culture: Buddhism and Shintoism. Although few modern Japanese admit to possessing
active religious beliefs, a survey of Japan's population of 121 million
inhabitants taken in 1985 found that 95% of those questioned described themselves
as Shintoists and 76% as Buddhists. Traditionally, the Japanese observe Shintoist wedding rites and
Buddhist funeral proceedings.
Shintoism was, from at least the Meiji period until 1945 when Japan was defeated in the Second World War,
accorded by Japan's governing elites the importance of representing Japan's native and national religion.
It held that death in the service of one's emperor, promoted before that date as
a divine being descended from the mythic Sun Goddess who had created Japan, was
the most glorious end of all, and one which ensured a kind of immortality. This
belief contributed to the phenomenon of the kamikaze pilots
who were trained up in Shintoism's doctrine that such an early death
resembled, in its purity, the fragile beauty of the cherry blossom, with the
beauty of a life devoted to the imperial cause and the beauty of a flower
directly proportional to the transience of their existence. Of course, we can
view this doctrine as a convenient instrument for propaganda which was
manipulated by Japan's wartime government to encourage its suicide bombers. Many
of the pilots must have held ambiguous views on the desirability of an early
death, and the fear of public shame, which would affect not only them but their
families, must also have played a role in the young men's apparent willingness
Japan's inheritance from Buddhism also has undoubtedly shaped the Japanese
consciousness. From Buddhism many Japanese acquired a belief in reincarnation
accompanied by a conviction that the ever-changing world lacks real substance and
constitutes a kind of dream. Following upon these beliefs is Buddhism's
notion of the wisdom of an individual's rejection of personal egotism. This
inheritance has had an interesting impact on the modern Japanese novelist, who
typically depicts a desperately lonely protagonist who abhors his individuality
and whose struggle is one of attempting to fuse himself into something other than
himself, whether it be absorption in patriotism or in some religious mission or
simply in love for another human being. Japanese literature's typical hero
usually is seeking annihilation—either mentally, in the sublimation of his
ego, or physically, in death, which might be in the service of a cause or simply
as a means of ending an existence perceived as meaningless.
We may here describe modern Japanese fiction as that written after 1868,
when the Meiji Restoration opened up Japan—rigidly hierarchical,
tradition-bound and fiercely isolationist—to what had long been perceived, by
many Japanese, as the contaminating influence of western culture. The
generation of Japanese writers first exposed to European thought eagerly embraced
the opportunity to become familiar with the hitherto-forbidden outer world, and
thus we find that modern or post-1868 Japanese literature bears many signs of a
self-conscious assimilation of the west. Yet, for all that, Japanese literature
is markedly different from western literature—western taken here to refer
to literature written in the European tradition.
Natsume Soseki (1867-1916), belonging to that first generation of Japanese
writers exposed to western culture, is generally recognized as at once the
'greatest novelist' and the greatest 'literary figure of modern Japan'. He
wrote ten novels, ranging from the early, light-hearted I Am a Cat and
Botchan to the profound dissection of man's propensity to egotism and the
personal hell which can attend this tendency in such novels as And Then,
Kokoro and Light and Darkness. According to one critic, we may
witness in Soseki's work, in his transition from playful wit to somber
philosophy, a reflection of Japan's struggle to overcome its two centuries of
isolation and to achieve, abruptly a thoroughly modern, westernized social order.
What did the chronicle of the old 'progressing' to the new Japan encompass? In
I Am a Cat (1905) and Botchan (1906), Soseki adopts, in the first
novel, the amusing, ironic perspective of a non-human observer of man's foibles
and, in the second, recounts in half-autobiographical fashion, the struggles of a
Tokyo math teacher in his first position—exiled to a provincial high school on
the rural island of Shikoku, where he encounters a delightful cast of
hypocritical or smug characters.
This comic vision of life darkened with time and experience. Were we to relate
Soseki's fictional, imagined world to the contemporary Japan of his time,
the first two novels might mirror Japan's euphoria following its unexpected
victory in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5) when it felt itself finally to be
taking its rightful place in the league of politically mature, powerful nations.
But Japan was soon to learn that progress is only achieved at a cost. Its
desperate struggle following the Meiji Restoration to westernize and to modernize
had entailed a number of sacrifices. In departing from its defiantly insular
stance, Japan was forced to relinquish the finely if rigidly-defined code of
morality and social rank which had held its people in thrall
for hundreds of years. This
was the price of progress.
It is in the context of this moral vacuum that we must place the protagonists
of Soseki's later novels. Daisuke, the hero of And Then (1909), is acutely
aware of his physical, mental and emotional life. His narcissism leads him to
trace each thought to its source, to revel in the subtle glory of a flower's
perfume, and to adopt the habit of listening to his own heartbeat. He condemns
what he perceives as the hypocrisy underpinning the codified habits and beliefs
of his father's generation but can find no morality by which he may govern his
own behavior and, finally, races recklessly to public disgrace and to his own
self-destruction by nurturing an impossible love for his best friend's wife.
Oddly, Daisuke resembles many of Murakami's protagonists. Murakami's
novels are almost invariably related in the first person by a Japanese individual
whose prototype was created by Soseki nearly a hundred years before. They are
male, middle-aged, and leading aimless existences. They enjoy preparing and
eating such 'western' foods as spaghetti; they love American pop culture,
particularly music of the 1960's and 1970's; they are hedonistic and idle. They
either engage in casual love affairs or fantasize about having them. They think
surprisingly often of death.
In The Wayfarer (1912-3) Soseki creates another doomed love triangle in
the characters of the intellectual Ichiro, his wife Onao, and Ichiro's brother, Jiro.
Through the eyes of the sympathetic if robustly 'normal' Jiro we are granted a
harrowing perspective on Ichiro's mounting despair. Ichiro is representative of
the young Japanese intellectual living in a modern world bereft of the familiar,
comforting landmarks of tradition and belief. Ichiro's existential angst finally
is summed up in his declaration that 'To die, to go mad, or to enter
religion—these are the only three courses left open to me'.
Kokoro (1914) presents us with another impossible romantic triangle.
This novel is related through the medium of a naive young student whose
friendship for his beloved teacher or Sensei absorbs his life. Gradually the
reader, simultaneously with the narrator, is enlightened as to the cause of
Sensei's gloom and initially incomprehensible despair. In his youth Sensei became
disillusioned with mankind in general when his uncle robbed him of his
inheritance. Ironically, Sensei's misanthropy soon comes to assume a more
personal dimension when, loving a woman yet failing to make his intentions
towards her explicit, Sensei finds that his best friend, ignorant of Sensei's
feelings, has fallen in love with the same woman. Sensei concludes that his
hatred of man's duplicity must also be directed at himself when, knowing of his
friend's love, Sensei successfully proposes to the woman. Sensei must shoulder an
unbearable burden of self-loathing and guilt when his friend subsequently commits
suicide. The novel concludes with Sensei's own death as, driven by remorse at
what he perceives as man's and his own essential sinfulness, he, too, kills
While Shiga Naoya (1883-1971) published only one full-length novel, A Dark
Night's Passing, he remains one of the most revered of modern Japanese
novelists, occasionally referred to by Japanese critics as the 'god of
literature'. A first installment of A Dark Night's Passing was issued
in 1921, subsequent chapters appeared between 1922 and 1928, and the book was not
completed until 1937, when Shiga published its conclusion. It is a novel of
complicated social intrigue, but its hero, Kensaku Tokito, remains, like the
protagonists of Soseki's later novels, and like the first-person narrators of
nearly all of Murakami's works, essentially alone, with this alienation perceived
as at once a concomitant to being human as well as a product of the new Japan,
stripped of its traditions and customs.
This is also the predicament both of the novelist Mishima Yukio and of the
individuals he depicted in his novels. In the tetralogy of The Sea of
Fertility (1969-70), generally acknowledged as his masterpiece, Mishima
chronicles what he perceived as Japan's decline, with the final novel, The
Decay of the Angel, depicting a country whose destiny has gone tragically
awry, whose Shinto doctrines and ancient samurai integrity have been betrayed and
corrupted by the influence of the west. That work's vision of a 'modern Japan'
which is an untidy heap of 'raw building materials and blue-tiled roof,
television towers and power lines, Coca-Cola advertisements and drive-in snack
bars' is startlingly similar to what Fred Hiatt, in The Washington Post in
1989, described as Murakami's own disaffection with his country:
Murakami is very much a writer of modern Japan, nostalgic for missing
idealism, aghast at sudden wealth. For in his Japan, the old has been
destroyed, an ugly and meaningless hodgepodge has taken its place, and
nobody knows what comes next.
In a recent interview Murakami described this disaffection as a reason for the
popularity of the Aum Shinryikyo cult and especially for its attraction for the
young Japanese intellectual elite, as well as representing a motive for the
group's sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, launched in March 1995.
The topic of death resonates through modern Japanese life and literature. In
Japan there are, historically, religious and cultural reasons for the frequency
of acts of self destruction, where suicide can present itself as the last resort
for children who are bullied or who are undergoing the stress of exam hell, for
disgraced politicians and businessmen unable to bear financial or social ruin,
and for star-crossed lovers. It is perceived as a regrettable but
culturally-sanctioned means of escaping the unbearable, of expiating sin, of
signifying remorse, of admitting culpable responsibility and, far less commonly
in recent years, of signaling allegiance to country and emperor.
An insomniac housewife in Murakami's short story 'Sleep' echoes Shakespeare's
Hamlet's anxiety that death might represent an uneasy doze from which there is no
awakening. Her conclusion, like his, is that this 'undiscover'd country, from
whose bourn no traveller returns'—death—can only be understood by
If the state of death was not to be a rest for us, then what was going to
redeem this imperfect life of ours, so fraught with exhaustion? Finally,
though, no one knows what death is. Who has ever truly seen it? No one.
Except the ones who are dead. No one living knows what death is like.
They can only guess. And the best guess is still a guess. Maybe death
is a kind of rest, but reasoning can't tell us that. The only way to find out
what death is like is to die.
1 Haruki Murakami,
Norwegian Wood, translated into English by Jay Rubin (London: Random House's Harvill
Press), 2000, p. 29. First published in
Japanese in 1987 with the title Noruwei no Mori by Kodansha Ltd., Tokyo.
2 Ibid., pp. 30-1.
3 Many of Murakami's fictional characters are fond of
literary works in which death
plays a prominent role. His collection of short stories The Elephant Vanishes,
translated into English by Alfred Birnbaum and Jay Rubin (London: Random House's
Vintage Press, 2003) includes, for example, a tale entitled 'Sleep'
whose main character, an insomniac housewife, obsessively thinks of death
and whose favorite reading material is Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy's Anna
Karenina—the housewife particularly is fond of reading about the latter
book's heroine 'throwing herself under a train at the end' (p. 86).
4 A small portion of the following analysis of suicide
in Japanese life and literature was first published by the author in an article
entitled 'Fatal Attraction: Suicide in Japanese Life and Literature,' Journal of
Language and Culture, Shikoku Gakuin University (Zentsuji, Japan), March 2005.
5 As for the profound influence exerted on Japanese
individuals by their society, a friend of the author's provides an interesting
insight in Alex Kerr's Lost Japan (London: Lonely Planet Publications, 1996),
p. 140, observing that while the 'Japanese...restricted by their society, are so
limited as human beings ... their culture is infinitely deep.' In an article by J.
Sean Curtin entitled 'Japan: Suicide also rises in land of rising sun,' appearing 28
July 2004 in Asia Times On-Line, Curtin points out the shocking fact that 'in
today's Japan one is roughly five times as likely too die by one's own hand as to be
killed in a traffic accident,' a phenomenon which he attributes to cultural factors:
'lack of religious prohibition against suicide, reluctance to discuss mental health
and stress-related problems, a literary tradition that romanticizes suicide, a view
of suicide as an honorable act, a way of taking responsibility for failure … the
breakdown of the family and social networks and the increasing isolation of
6 'Write in, Rub Out' by Takao Tsuchiya, included in
Ellery Queen's Japanese Golden Dozen: The Detective Story World in Japan,
edited and with an introduction by Ellery Queen (Tokyo: Tuttle, 1978), p. 262.
7 Merry White, The Japanese Educational Challenge: A
Commitment to Children (London: Collier Macmillan, 1987), pp. 141-2.
8 Japanese Culture and Behavior: Selected Readings,
edited by Takie Sugiyama Lebra and William P. Lebra (Honolulu: University of Hawaii
Press, 1974), pp. 368-9.
9 Haruki Murakami, South of the Border, West of the
Sun, translated into English by Philip Gabriel (London: Random House's Vintage
Press), 2003, p. 178. First published in Japanese in 1992, Kodansha Ltd., Tokyo.
10 Ibid., p. 171.
11 Ibid., p. 183.
12 Regrettably, the author has been unable to find
the documentation for this story, encountered in a newspaper or on television in
Japan within the past ten years, but it is unsurprising in a country where, since
2003, the 'Aokigahara woods at the base of Mount Fuji have been known as the
“suicideforest” because 78 middle-aged men apparently committed suicide by hanging
themselves from tree branches' (see Curtin, op. cit.).
13 See Kanako Amano, 'An International Comparison and
Analysis of Japan's High Suicide Rate', NLI Research Institute, 6 September 2005, Accessed: 25 October
2005. Japan leads the developed world in female suicides and is second, behind
Hungary, in male suicides.
14 Ibid. According to Curtin in his article: 'Japan:
Suicide also rises in land of rising sun', 'Based on provisional data for 2003,
Japanese male and female suicide rates per 100,000 people are now roughly 40.2 for
men and 14.9 for women, approaching levels normally witnessed in countries suffering
severe economic hardships such as Russia, Latvia or Lithuania.'
15 See Edwin McClellan's introduction to his English
translation of Natsume Soseki's Kokoro, (Tokyo: Tuttle, 1969), p. 2. Also see
Donald Keene's Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature of the Modern Era, Vol. 3
(New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), pp. 370-1: 'During the first century of
Tokugawa peace the only way for a samurai to achieve a glorious death was by
committing junshi (ritual suicide), thereby demonstrating both his loyalty to
his late master and his readiness to give up his own life. The families of samurai
who killed themselves in this manner were well provided for afterward, and enjoyed
the esteem of the entire clan.'
16 Ian Reader, Religion in Contemporary Japan
(Honolulu: University of Hawaii
Press, 1991), p.4.
17 Ibid., p. 6.
18 In The Buddhist Writings of Lafcadio Hearn
(Santa Barbara, California: Ross-Erikson, republished 1977, first published in 1889),
Hearn observes, on pp. 22-3, that while children 'in all countries play at death,'
Japanese children 'being Japanese and Buddhists, will never, in any event, feel
about death just as you or I do. They will find reason to fear it for somebody else's
sake, but not for their own, because they will have learned that they have died
millions of times already, and have forgotten the trouble of it, much as one forgets
the pain of successive toothaches. In the strangely penetrant light of their creed,
teaching the ghostliness of all substance, granite or gossamer ... this their present
world, with its bigger mountains and rivers and rice-fields, will not appear to them
much more real than the mud landscapes which they made in childhood.'
19 Some of the following observations on works by
Soseki, Shiga and Mishima has been taken from the author's article on 'Eastern
Literature through Western Eyes: A Look at Some Modern Japanese Fiction' (Tokushima
Bunri University, July 1985).
20 V.H. Viglielmo, 'Afterword,' Natsume Soseki's
Light and Darkness (Tokyo:
Tuttle, 1971), p.376.
21 Beongcheon Yu, 'Introduction,' Natsume Soseki's
The Wayfarer (Tokyo: Tuttle,
1969), p. 14.
22 Ibid., p. 296.
23 Dawn to the West, op. cit., p. 445.
24 Fred Hiatt, The Washington Post, December
25 Laura Miller, 'The Outsider,' 'The Salon Interview
with Haruki Murakami,' Accessed: 25 October
26 'Sleep,' op. cit., p. 106.
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About the author
Wendy Jones Nakanishi, an American by birth, spent seven years in
Britain, earning her MA in 18th-century English Studies at
Lancaster University and her Ph.D. at
Edinburgh University, with a doctoral thesis
on Alexander Pope's correspondence. She has been a resident in Japan since the
spring of 1984, working first for five years as a 'Guest Professor' at
Tokushima Bunri University's Shido
campus, and since then, as a full-time tenured member of staff in the Department
of Language and Culture at Shikoku Gakuin
University. She has published widely in her academic field, mainly on the
topic of letters, diaries and journals, but recently has also been writing on the
topic of her experiences as a foreigner living in Japan, the wife of a farmer and
the mother of three sons.
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Copyright: Wendy Jones Nakanishi
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