electronic journal of contemporary japanese studies

Discussion Paper 6 in 2005
First published in ejcjs on 31 October 2005

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The Dying Game

Suicide in Modern Japanese Literature


Wendy Jones Nakanishi

Professor of English Literature
Shikoku Gakuin University

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About 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 that their 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 his own[1].

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'[2].

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[3].

On taking a cursory glance at modern Japanese literature - and even in the very
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.[4]

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.[5] 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.[6]

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'.[7] Was Kazuki's suicide in Norwegian Wood 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'.[8] 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 suicides.

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'.[9]

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'.[10] 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'.[11]

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.[12] 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 world. According 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'.[13] 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.[14]

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'.[15]

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.[16] Traditionally, the Japanese observe Shintoist wedding rites and Buddhist funeral proceedings.[17]

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 for self-sacrifice.

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.[18] 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.[19] 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'.[20] 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.[21]

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'.[22]

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 himself.

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'.[23] 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.[24]

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.[25]

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 experiencing it:

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.[26]


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 individuals.'

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, 1989.

25 Laura Miller, 'The Outsider,' 'The Salon Interview with Haruki Murakami,' Accessed: 25 October 2005.

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
This page was first created on 31 October 2005. It was last modified on 30 January 2006.

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