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image © Gary Kelley

I ran across this image by the talented artist Gary Kelley, and could not help but recall Abe Kobo‘s 1951 short story, “The Magic Chalk” (魔法のチョーク). In this early Abe gem, a starving artist named Argon sells off most of his possessions for food and is left with a piece of chalk. The significance of the ‘starving artist’ figure is debatable, because in 1951 most people in Japan were starving–the artist here is the everyman in this regard. The significance of Argon is far more apparent: it is a noble gas (希ガス) that takes its name from the Greek for “lazy” (hence used commonly as an inert gas), and despite being a “rare gas” in Japanese, I understand it is the most common of the noble gasses. So there you go–Argon the Idle. Nevertheless, this artist possesses a chalk that brings pictures to life. Food, money, a bed, a beautiful landscape, a beautiful–but troublingly modern–woman. In this respect, Mr. Kelley and Mr. Abe seem to be…ahem…drawing on a similar thought. But just as Abe’s story explores the eternal theme of art’s creative power–the power to create a new world, it also highlights a contemporaneous need for a regenerative force to help Japan through the post-war period.

The short story has been translated as is available, yet again, in The Showa Anthology: Modern Japanese Short Stories (Japan’s Modern Writers) (Bks.1 & 2)

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More from the Mainichi on the Koyanagi File (interviews with WWII naval officers) mentioned in an earlier post. The documents are due to be released this month.

Top secret interviews with WW2 Japanese navy brass to be published in April according to Mainichi. Read the full article here:

http://mdn.mainichi.jp/features/archive/news/2010/03/20100313p2a00m0na021000c.html?inb=rs&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+mdn%2Fall+%28Mainichi+Daily+News+-+All+Stories%29

Kojima Nobuo (小島信夫) wrote the short story “American School” (アメリカンスクール) the same year as “Stars” (星). The similarities in tone and approach are readily noticeable. Although written in 1954, the story is set in 1948 in the midst of the US occupation of Japan. It centers on a visit of a group of Japanese teachers of English to a school run by the Occupation forces, hence the title.

The characters are archetypes and the lampooning of the contemporaneous social realities is representative of Kojima’s satiric approach. Personal relationships between the characters drive the story, the majority of which centers on a group march to the American school. Isa, a cowardly fellow who is scared to death of speaking English—yes he is an English teacher—wants only to be left alone. Yamada, a sycophant to authority and overweening jackass to everyone else, is above all an opportunist (there is a similar character in “Stars”). Yamada sees Isa as a non-hacker and desires to publicly humiliate him. Isa, in turn, despises Yamada. Michiko, the only woman in the group and very popular with the Occupation forces, sticks close to Isa, for a variety of reasons. The most apparent reason is that he has something she wants.

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The Sea and Poison 海と毒薬 (1958, serialized in 1957)

Endō Shūsaku – 遠藤周作

Translated by Michael Gallagher

There are two types of sins, we are often told—the sins of commission and the sins of omission. The former are the committed through immoral actions, the latter through the failure to exercise moral actions. The former is simple enough; if you murder someone you are guilty by your action. The latter is more subtle; what if you did nothing to stop the murder? Edmund Burke once said something about “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” He might have liked this book.

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Kojima Nobuo’s (小島信夫) 1954 short story “Stars” (星) is first of all a humorous read. On the surface its wit expertly pillories the system of rank in the Japanese military during WWII. Like most good humor, however, this story functions on more than one level. The protagonist, a second-generation Japanese-American by the name of George Sugihara, is unfortunate enough to be visiting his grandfather in Japan during the war, and is drafted into the army. The story follows the insecure George (Jōji), who is routinely disparaged for being American, on his journey from buck private to PFC. [Note that there were more than a few cases of Japanese-Americans being drafted in the Japanese army during WWII, see Iwao Peter Sano’s 1,000 Days in Siberia.]

The story quickly becomes a theatre of the absurd. Read the rest of this entry »

64 years ago “Enola Gay” dropped 8,900 lbs of uranium on Hiroshima, marking a watershed moment in history.  64 years later opinions have shuffled around in two major camps; the first feels using the atom bomb was fully justified and the second condemns the action. Those that justify the destruction of Hiroshima and, three days later, Nagasaki defend Truman’s decision citing Japan’s role as the aggressor and express the utilitarian belief that “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” saved more lives than they ended, but to be accurate, the argument goes that they saved American lives, and are thereby justified. Those that oppose martial use of nuclear power are convinced that particular American action represents a crime against humanity, citing the massive civilian casualties and the instantaneous, wholesale destruction of two cities.  These people are inclined to consider the firebombing of Tokyo—that resulted in many more civilian casualties—repulsive as well, however the tremendous destructive power of nuclear weapons render their use immoral.

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Kaiko Takeshi (開高 健), also known as Kaiko Ken, writes particular stories, propelled by self-loathing, nameless narrators whose intense gazing into their navels results in seeing much of themselves in the mass stored in their lower intestines. They are repulsive individuals, at times, but Kaiko writes them earnestly and honestly. That sincerity keeps the reader from tossing the book in disgust, keeps the reader engaged long enough to appreciate the haunted narrators. In the 1972 novel Darkness in Summer (夏の闇), Kaiko returns to a narrator familiar to the readers of his 1968 masterpiece Into a Black Sun (輝ける闇), both available in very readable translation by Dr. Cecilia Segawa Seigle.

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Here’s an interesting story today from the Times of India. It seems that every once in a while the shadow of WWII again reminds us of how much Japan–yes, even today’s futuristic Japan–grew out of the war experience.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/World/Japan_boys_bring_WWII_bomb_to_school/articleshow/4046874.cms