Japanese Literature
 Ariyoshi Sawako

    In his Reader's Guide to Japanese Literature, J. Thomas Rimer describes Ariyoshi Sawako (1931-1984) as "one of the finest of post-war Japanese writers."   This writer, though her life was relatively short, was extremely productive, and it is unfortunate that of the over 100 short stories, novels, plays, musicals, and movie scripts which she was able to write or produce, only a handful are available in English. 
   Ariyoshi's works were first introduced to the English reading public through the translations of short pieces in the Japan Quarterly magazine. At present, she is best known for The Doctor's Wife (1966, trans. 1978), a novel depicting the rivalry between wife and mother-in-law in the household of Dr. Hanaoka Seishu who developed the world's first general anesthetic, Twilight Years (1972, trans. 1984) which describes how the heroine took care of her father-in-law as he slowly became senile, and most recently Kabuki Dancer (1969, trans 1994) an historical novel following the beginnings of Kabuki. Although a great many of Ariyoshi's works focus on traditional Japanese Art forms such as Jiuta, Kabuki, and Dance, she is perhaps best remembered for the way she targeted controversial topics. Since jolting readers early on with stories of Atom Bomb survivors, Ariyoshi went on to gather public awareness for such topics as discrimination, care of the aged, and pollution.
   In 1959, Ariyoshi won a Rockefeller scholarship to study for one year at Sara Lawrence College in New York City. She continued her study of the Performing Arts, a field she had been interested in since her days at Tokyo Women's College.  Hishoku, which was the result of her time in the United States, can be seen as a turning point in the writer's career. Indeed, Ariyoshi herself says that her time in New York was instrumental in her own recognition of a yearning to be, and be treated only as, a writer. 
    Hishoku was first published in installments in the Chuo Koron magazine from April 1963 to June 1964. The first episode came out some four years after the author's arrival in America, and during the first year of her short, stressful marriage. The story tells about how a war bride travels to America and comes to grips with her life as wife of a negro in New York's Harlem district. Besides looking at the volatile topic of racial discrimination and prejudice, it also discusses the feelings of a woman who has had to leave her home country to accept the conditions of her husband's country and culture.
  Ariyoshi Lives On!  (in Japanese)

  Miyazawa Kenji 
  Murakami Haruki 
  The Nakasendo 
  Mark Twain 
  Native American Mythology 
    Furu-amerika ni Sode wa Nurasaji is the Japanese title of a 4-act play Ariyoshi wrote in 1970 for her talented friend, Sugimura Haruko. It is set in Yokohama at the end of the Edo period when Americans were "filling the streets like raindrops in a storm." The heroine, O-sono originally played by Sugimura, is a middle-aged shamisen player, who has know better days as a geisha in Tokyo's Yoshiwara district. Based on fact, the play humorously shows how bendable the human character can be when trying to fit in with the crowd.
   The play begins by depicting O-sono's discovery of the coverted love story of a young geisha, Kiyu, and Tokichi, the interpreter for the establishment where they work, the brothel house Ganki-ro. By the end of Act 1, Kiyu pledges her love for Tokichi, but at the end of the next act she cuts her throat when she sees him with "customers" and realizes that they could never be together. News of her death is initially hushed, but later is reported in quite an unexpected way. Here, Ariyoshi makes a pointed statement of how dangerous media can be when it conveniently warps the truth.
    The historical significance of this play lies in that it tells a little of the origins of the Ganki Yokocho area of Yokohama. Based on the story of a Geisha who, the media of 1859 says, committed suicide in preference to spending the night with an American merchant, one can still visit the Ganki Inari Shrine and see the poem she is said to have written.
    Much longer, but also set at the close of the Edo Period is Kazu-no-miya o-tome. Based on the journey of Princess Kazu, younger sister to the Emporer, to meet her future husband, the Shogun, it not only looks into the political upheavals of the country at the time, but also, of course, contains the usual Ariyoshi intrigue. Unlike the official documents which give no clue of anything but a simple look at a 15-year-old princess being pushed into marriage for political convenience, Ariyoshi claims that the young girl who pouts at the idea of going to far-off Edo is not the same child who endures the rigors of the long and tiring Nakasendo journey. She is also, in turn, not the same girl who enters the Tokugawa Castle as the wife of the 14th Shogun.
   A hallmark of the Ariyoshi classics, the author has done her research well. The depiction of court life in Kyoto at the time is quite detailed, and the text can be used to study the language of the Kyoto aristocracy at the close of the era. Although disregarded by contemporaries like Tomiko Miyao, author of Tenshoin, a story about Princess Atsuko, who becomes Princess Kazu's mother-in-law, this novel that highlights a very "public" time during Princess Kazu's short life is both informative and intriging, and leaves the reader wondering if Ariyoshi's hypothesis is perhaps indeed the truth.
    Recommended to me by a New Zealand friend, Kay, Akujo ni tsuite is a book I just couldn't put down. The title implies that we are talking about a "Bad" (nasty, vicious, sly, vulgar) woman. The "heroine", who has recently passed away, is all of these and yet none at all. A fascinating look at how the same person may be "seen" from different angles, this book is divided into 27 chapters, a chapter for each testimony from the people who knew Kimiko as a child, a poor but hard-working teenager, a struggling young mother, a business-woman, and a celebrity. She is loathed by some, but loved by many, and no-one can explain her untimely death. Part way along we learn that she was last seen climbing out of her office window to chase a butterfly. By the end, we, too, are almost convinced by her son's words, "She was beautiful. And she [just] loved beautiful things."
    During her journalist days, Ariyoshi occasionally had a chance to travel. Watashi wa Wasurenai is the fruit of one of those trips. This story is set on the small island of Kuro-jima, several hours boat-ride away from Kagoshima, Kyushu. Mariko, a model hoping to hit the big-time sometime soon, arrives for a short holiday on this so-called "forgotten island". Her stay is expended from 4 days to 3 weeks because of a typhoon that cuts off all contact with the outside world. As in all good fiction (and travel literature) the heroine's journey is full of joys and hardship, and lessons in life. The beauty as well as the harshness of rural (island) living is well portrayed, and Ariyoshi includes some wonderful character studies. Unlike several other later novels, this story also contains a number of strong male characters. Mariko finally returns to the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, and between her tears (and your own!) you'll hear her say "I'll Never Forget".
    Nihon no Shima-jima - Mukashi to Ima is a collection of several special articles discussing the situation (past and present) of a number of small islands that hang about the outskirts of the Japanese archipelago. She looks at the difficulties fishermen were having east of Hokkaido due to the lack of petroleum to power their fishing boats. She spoke with people who had lived on the islands that are now part of Russia, and heard stories of how they were (gently) pushed back closer to the mainland. She explains why some of the people living in the Ogasawara Group have English names, even though they are Japanese nationals. And she delves into the rollercoaster history of the Ryukyus, and how they eventually came to be part of modern Japan. Most interesting is the ongoing battle about Take-jima (present Japanese name), an island (or rather rock!) that seems to be forever changing its name and loyalties. Published just before her death (articles in 1980, book in 1981), it shows the sober, fervent reporter within the fiction writer.
    Ariyoshi visited China 5 times between 1961 and 1975. China Report was written after her final visit. It is a documentation of her stays in Beijing, Shanghai, and other cities, but more importantly (for the author), the time she spent with farmers at a number of communal farms throughout the country.

Some book covers that might help you find what you are looking for:
Ariyoshi once explained that she thought of the English title Not Because of Color even before she came up with the Japanese title Hishoku. The black and white cover is very striking, and even the outer edge of the pages are colored black. puerto_riko.gif In contrast to the contrasting racial colors of Hishoku, this book evokes the vibrancy of the Caribbean.
The cover of Kazu-no-miya O-tome is so simple, while the content of the story is so complex. amerika.gif Another book of the turbulent period around the closing of the Edo Period and the beginning of the Meiji here. The cover comes from an ukiyo-e of the period.
A wistful cover for I'll Never Forget portraying the memories which Mariko takes home from the southern island paradise. The Islands of Japan - Then and Now book starts with a map, that you go back to again and again as Ariyoshi flies nation-wide to talk with the locals in rarely visited islands.
This book, China Report, contains lots of pictures; even on the front and back covers. The photos, however, are not of tourist spots, but communal farms, and farmers. This book contains 3 stories, the first centering on the lead character's search for the "truth" behind the Chinese Meng Jiang Nu legend, while the last is set in Hawaii.
The book contains a number of photos that report Ariyoshi's adventures in inland Papua New Guinea with the Anthropologist, Hatakenaka Sachiko. This is a book by Michiko Yamamoto, written when she was in Darwin with her husband. The stories centre around the lonely life (or lives) of war-brides married to Australians. A very poignant novel, especially when we realize how many Japanese women followed their soldier husbands, and compare that with the so very few accounts of their lives.
This book is entitled, The Ariyoshi Sawako Album, and it contains a lot of photos and information about her younger days as a reporter as well as information about her literary career. This book was written a few years after Ariyoshi's sudden death, and is an account of Marukawa Kayoko's friendship with the Ariyoshi. It puts light on various aspects of the author's private life, especially her determination to become, and stay, a top selling writer.

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