Public romance in Japan (4) — Kyoji Shirai and Niju-ichi-nichi kai

During an emerging stage of public romance, another outstanding novelist was Kyoji Shirai (“白井喬二”) (1889 – 1980). Not only he created some great works one after another such as “Shimpen Goetsu Zoshi” (“神変呉越草子”) (1922 – 1923), “Shinsen-gumi” (“新撰組”) (1924 – 1925), or “Fuji ni tatsu kage” (“富士に立つ影”, A shadow standing on Mt. Fuji) (1924 – 1927), he also started to use the word “大衆” newly as the translation of an English word “public”, adding it a new reading as “Taishu” instead of the conventional “Daiju” that meant a group of Buddhist monks, and thus triggered that the word “大衆文学” (Taishu Bungaku, literature for common people) was created by the then media.
The reason I use “public romance” here is that, the word “大衆” was originally the translation of “public”, and most works appeared in this stage were to be regarded rather romances than novels.
He also initiated a social gathering of public romance novelists in 1925 named “Niju-ichi-nichi kai” (“二十一日会”, a party of twenty first day). The members were, Kyoji Shirai, Shin Hasegawa (“長谷川伸”), Shiro Kunieda (“国枝史郎”), Sanju-san Naoki (“直木三十三”, he changed the name later to Sanju-go Naoki (“直木三十五”)), Rampo Edogawa (“江戸川乱歩”), Fuboku Kosakai (“小酒井不木”), Tekishu Motoyama (“本山荻舟”), Roko Hirayama (“平山蘆江”), Fujokyu Masaki (正木不如丘”), Soun Yada (“矢田挿雲”), and Seiji Haji (“土師清二”). Except Rampo, Fuboku, and Fujokyu, all of them were novelists of period romances. Although Rampo Edogawa was a writer of early-stage detective novels in Japan, that genre was also classified as a type of public romance at that time. From 1926, the party started to publish a magazine named “Taishu Bungei” (“大衆文芸”). (See the pictures.) With the magazine, they presented the emergence of a new genre in the Japanese literature.

Public romance in Japan (3) — Dai Bosatsu Touge

Everybody agrees that Kaizan Nakazato’s (“中里介山”) “Dai Bosatsu Touge” (“大菩薩峠”, Dai Bosatsu pass) is the first typical example of public romance in Japan, excluding the author himself. He did not accept at all that his novel is classified as a public romance, instead he called it a “Mahayana novel” (“大乗小説”). (Mahayana Buddhism is a school of Buddhism that was missionized in east Asian countries including Japan.)
It is true that the novel is in many aspects beyond any classification. As you can see in the picture, it has twenty volumes in Japanese paper book style, and continued for 28 years (1913 – 1941) to write, yet is still uncompleted.
When we start to read this novel, we are shocked by the first scene where the hero, Ryunosuke Tsukue (“机龍之助”), kills an old male pilgrim on the top of Dai Bosatsu pass without any specific reasons. He further kills Fuminojo Utsuki by a match at a shrine and kidnaps Fuminojo’s wife and rapes her. You may think then this novel is a picaresque roman, but the hero is not at all jovial but very nihilistic. He will become blind later by an accident, but he still keeps killing many innocent people without clear motives.
Although we classify the novel as “public” romance, this novel is rather favored by intellectual people, as Hiroshi Nakatani (“中谷博” ) pointed out. In 1910, Taigyaku affair (“大逆事件”) occurred and Shusui Kotoku (“幸徳秋水”) and his fellows were sentenced to death by the suspicion that they planned to assassinate the emperor of Meiji. The suppression was much strengthened after the affair, and many intellectual people (among them there were many socialists or anarchists) felt depressed. For them, the acts of Ryunosuke, who kills people disregarding conventional morals completely, were kinds of relief.
The novel was turned into a play by Shinkokugeki (“新国劇”) in 1921, and the sword actions in the play made this novel and Ryunosuke Tsukue very popular. It has been so far picturized as well for five times, though all of them handle just early parts of the novel. Through the play and the movies, Ryunosuke Tsukue became a typical character type in Japanese public romance, and we can find many mimics.
Because the intellectual right of the author has already expired, you can read this novel on the internet. As for English translation, I don’t think it has released, unfortunately. If you try to understand public romance in Japan, however, this work is a must-read.

Public romance in Japan (2) — some backgrounds

If you ask some Japanese now about the definition of “大衆小説” (popular literature), answers might be much diversified and vague. There could be no more clear distinction between “pure” literature and popular literature. Regarding the popular literature in its early stage, namely public romance in my word, however, its existence was obviously clear and prominent in the total literature in Japan. Before explaining the details of public romance, let me clarify some backgrounds why it became so popular in Taisho period (1912 – 1926):

(1) Taisho period is often referred with the word “democracy”. (Taisho democracy) Democracy in Japan has not started first since after World War II, but it has its origin in Taisho period. The first universal suffrage was given to all adult males for the first time in 1925. It means common people’s power was strengthened more and more during Taisho period.
(2) Along with the development of democracy, many newspapers started their business from around the end of 19th century. They definitely needed catchy entertainment to attract more readers.
(3) For the above mentioned purpose, some newspapers serialized stenography of “Kodan” (講談). Kodan is a traditional art of story-telling in Japan, mainly of anecdotes of historically famous person. Many tellers of Kodan at that time protested them as infringements of their intellectual right. The accused newspaper companies had to explore some alternatives.

It is important that public romance was called “new Kodan” in the beginning, and it replaced stenography of Kodan in offering entertainment to the readers of newspapers.

Public romance in Japan (1) – an introduction –

Did you know that the “Star Wars” story is very much influenced by Japanese period movies?
It is a famous fact that the movie was directly influenced by Akira Kurosawa’s period movie, “The Hidden Fortress” (1958), as George Lucas himself once confessed this. In addition to several direct resemblances of scenes between the two movies, we can also find many similarities between “Star Wars” and other Japanese period (Samurai) movies:
(1) Luke Skywalker is wearing “Kimono”-like attire.
(2) The warriors in the movie fight with swords, namely by lightsabers, in a manner similar to the use of Japanese swords rather than fencing ones.
(3) The hero tries to help a princess.
(4) The existence of a supporting character who is skillful but a little bit nihilistic (namely, Han Solo).
(5) Emphasis on something spiritual rather than physical, in other words, the “Force.”
The characteristics mentioned above are not just limited to the Kurosawa’s movie, but are commonly-used motifs in most Japanese period (Samurai) movies.

Movies started showing in Japan in 1896, and the first movie filmed by a Japanese crew appeared in 1898. Most of the first Japanese movies were period (Samurai) movies, probably more than anything else. One of the most famous movie directors at that time was Shozo Makino, who produced more than 300 period (Samurai) movies. “Ninja” is now quite famous worldwide, but it became so popular more or less for the first time in Japan by Makino’s period movies.

What I would like to introduce in this blog is “public romance” in Japan. In Japanese, we call it “大衆小説”, literally literature for common people. It is usually translated into English as “popular literature”, but let me use “public romance” to describe the works of novelists such as Kyoji Shirai, Shiro Kunieda, Jiro Osaragi, Eiji Yoshikawa, and so on, from around 1920 to 1945. These authors’ romances were widely used for the early-stage period movies.