top of page

Why are Japanese male writers such ridiculous oddballs?




When I need to take a break from doing what I love, which is translating Polish classics (books I grew up loving and keep re-reading), I relax by... translating short stories by Japanese masters.


Like Osamu Dazai, herein featured by reference.


Osamu Dazai was a sensitive and intelligent man. You can see it from his photos: his face is easy to read.



He was also born to be a misfit. He was the eighth child of a plebeian and very rich landowning family in the far north of Japan. See how that puts him out:


1) he's from Northern Japan (everybody knows they are bears and wolves, not people, up there in their Tohoku; come autumn they kill a moose and sew themselves up in the carcass until spring to survive the deep freeze, and drink some really rancid booze to prevent their blood from freezing solid); all his life Dazai exaggerated his northern dialect to rile the finer sort and hung around with rude Northerners like himself;


2) he's elite but not elite (first, he's Tohoku elite, what kind of elite is that?); second, they're not even elite (a.k.a. former samurai); they are just peasants made good; new money, OK?


3) he's the eighth child anyway, who cares about the eighth child?


Then there is that literature thing.


I mean, in every country in the world and in every family, the parents tremble to hear that junior intends to be a writer (or, God forbid, even worse, a poet). How will you make a living, son?


But in Japan, this comes with a heavy moral tinge.


It's all very well for a girl to write fiction. Murasaki Shikibu, Lady Nijo, Sei Shonagon, fine traditions, blah, blah. Who cares? All women ever have to do is something inconsequential like bear and raise kids, and maybe serve their husband his sake during the evening meal. So who can possibly object if a woman scribbles something in her free time, of which she has plenty, especially if she scribbles it in that funny women's script, hiragana.


But MEN don't WRITE. (For Hachiman's sake!)


MEN DO.


Men either run a business; or slave away 47/9 (47 hours a day, 9 days a week) as sarariman; or they don armor and go out and do unto their neighbors.

To do vapid dung like write literature is both weak-bum sissy AND unbelievably rude (as in "selfishly ignoring the polite rules of society").


So, if you are born with all that baggage (eighth child of new money peasants from the far North) and then you turn on your own family by choosing to become a writer, this is not just disobedience, it is disobedience cubed.


Add to that that your family probably DOES drink antifreeze and has not read a book since high school required reading.


And now you make this decision -- to become a sissy writer -- in the days of the military regime when THE WHOLE NATION SACRIFICES FOR THEIR SACRED EMPEROR, this emperor about whom you don't give a rolling donut. Well, you're not just beyond the pale, you're just DEAD MEAT. However well you write.


And this makes you a rebel, yes?


And if for all the social pressures, you rebel anyway, then... where lie the boundaries of rebellion? Is it ok to drink? Take drugs? Sleep around? Walk out on your wife? Make a double suicide pact with a beautician half your age?

29 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page