Public romance in Japan (7) – Kyoji Shirai’s “Fuji ni tatsu kage”

Let me introduce today Kyoji Shirai’s best romance, “Fuji ni tatsu kage” (“富士に立つ影”, a shadow standing on Mr. Fuji). This romance is not only his best work, but also a big milestone in the history of public romance, or even in all Japanese literature, I should say. The three greatest works in public romance are, “Dai Bosatsu Touge”, “Musashi” (“宮本武蔵”) of Eiji Yoshikawa (“”吉川英治”), and this work.

This romance was serialized in the newspaper “Hochi” (“報知新聞”) from July 1924 through July 1927, for more than 1,000 times. (Novels serialized in newspapers are still popular in Japan, but the average period of continuance is just around a half year.) There are ten volumes (also chapters) in Japanese paper book style, as you can see in the photo. The names of ten parts are, 1. Susono-hen (Chapter of the plain at the foot of Mt. Fuji), 2. Edo-hen (Chapter of Edo city), 3. Shujinko-hen (Chapter of the central character), 4. Shinto-hen (Chapter of a new battle), 5. Shinkyoku-hen (Chapter of Divine Comedy), 6. Kirai-hen (Chapter of coming back to Mt. Fuji), 7. Unmei-hen (Chapter of destiny), 8. Sondai-hen (Chapter of grandsons’ generation), 9. Bakumatsu-hen (Chapter of the end of Edo period), and 10. Meiji-hen (Chapter of Meiji period). The romance was sold for more than 3 million copies.

Let me introduce now basic story of this romance. To make a long story (literally) short, this romance describes 68 years’ (1805 – 1873) battles between two families of castle builders, during three generations, namely fathers, sons, and grandsons. The author said that he described “war and peace” based on humanity. The story starts when Tokugawa shogunal government planned to build a new castle in the plain at the foot of Mt. Fuji for the training of their subordinate soldiers in western style. The government summoned two engineers, namely Kikutaro Sato (“佐藤菊太郎”), as a representative of Sanshi-ryu (“賛四流”) school of castle building, and Hakuten Kumaki (“熊木伯典”), as one of Sekishin-ryu (“赤針流”), another dominant school of castle building. The government tries to determine the chief designer of the new castle by the competition between two schools. Until this work, most public romance used fighting by Japanese swords (Chambara) to solve the conflict between two parties. This work, however, adopted debates between two engineers, which was, and still is, a brand-new style. Kikutaro is a young, talented, and honest guy. Hakuten, an older guy, on the other hand, plays very dirty. Most readers expected the victory of Kikutaro, a white-hat, but the author betrays the readers’ expectation, which is very rare in public romance.

The actual hero of this romance appears at first only from the chapter three. The hero, Kimitaro Kumami (“熊木公太郎”) is the son of Hakuten, a quite evil guy. The son, however, is completely different from his father. He is quite honest, decent, always trying to protect the weak, and at the same time a little bit foolish. A critic compared him with Prince Myshkin in Dostoyevsky’s novel “The Idiot”. Both of them are, so to say, holy idiots. This character is quite new and different from the cruel, nihilistic character of “Ryunosuke Tsukue” in “Dai Bosatsu Touge”. This hero brought the romance into a big success, because many readers really loved the character of Kimitaro. In parallel to Kimitaro, Heinosuke Sato (“佐藤兵之助”), the son of Kikutaro, is described as a very smart, bureaucratic type, but rather cruel guy. This is quite a surprising twist that the good side and the evil side turn over in the second generation.

One English teacher at Eigox told me when I introduced this romance to him that this romance sounds similar as Frank Herbert’s “Dune”, which also describes the battles between two families, namely between the Atreides and the Harkonnens. In Dune, however, the Harkonnes are always described as the evil side. In Fuji ni tatsu kage, we cannot simply say that one side is good and the other is bad, and do not know until the end of the story how the battles between two families are settled. There is also a “Romeo and Juliet” type affair between the two families, which makes the story more complex and attractive. In such viewpoints, this romance goes far beyond the realm of usual public romance. Kyoji Shirai aimed at such a high-level literature even the genre was classified as public romance, which was usually considered as vulgar literature.

It is absolutely impossible to describe all charm of this romance here. I strongly hope that this novel will be translated into English for foreign readers someday.

Public romance in Japan (6) — The life of Kyoji Shirai and his works (2)

Kyoji Shirai in 1970, when he was still serializing “Priester Tenkai” in a Buddhism magazine, at age 80.

In 1925, he organized a party of public romance writers called “Niju-ichi-nichi-kai”, as I introduced in my fourth article. Soon after that, he collaborated with Heibonsha (“平凡社”), a publisher which was famous for the publication of an encyclopedia, in planning a new complete set of public romance dubbed “Gendai Taishu Bungaku Zenshu” (“現代大衆文学全集”, a complete set of modern popular literature), which was finally published in 40 volumes. (Later another 20 volumes were added, so the total volumes were 60.) The first issue (the volume one) was Kyoji’s “Shinsen-gumi” (“新撰組”), and around 330 thousand copies were sold. This contributed to the success of the set and appealed at the same time popularity of public romance. (At that time, since the sales profit of the first volume was used to publish the following volumes, the success of the first volume was quite important.) The royalties of this publication helped many public romance novelists economically. Among them, especially, Rampo Edogawa is alleged that he could build a new house by the reward of this set.
In 1935, Kan Kikuchi (“菊池寛”), the president of Bungei Shunju-sha (“文芸春秋社”), set up a literary award for public romance, named “Naoki prize” (“直木賞”) and Kyoji became one of the first judges and had continued that role until 1942.
Some of his other important works before the end of World War II were “Sokoku wa izuko he” (“祖国は何処へ”), which was his second quite long story, “Sango Jutaro” (“珊瑚重太郎”), or “Bangaku no issho” (“盤嶽の一生”, the life of Bangaku). The last one was picturized by Sadao Yamanaka (“山中貞雄”), who is famous for his last film Humanity and Paper balloon (“人情紙風船”), in 1933. Although the film was unfortunately lost by the war, Kon Ichikawa (“市川崑”), another famous movie director in Japan who picturized the first Tokyo Olympic, watched this movie and was very impressed when he was a kid, and he directed the TV drama of this novel in 2002.
The period after World War II was not a good time for Kyoji. For one thing, public romance was much damaged by the policy of GHQ (General Headquarters of the Allied Forces), which occupied Japan from 1945 through 1952, to prohibit expression to praise traditional morals in Japan, alleging that such morals fueled the Japanese ante bellum militarism. Secondary, people required simpler, much vulgarer novels which handle mostly sex-related matters after the end of the war. Not to mention Kyoji, most of other novelists of public romance suffered as well from these circumstances. They had to wait the revival of public romance in 1960’s. Kyoji, however, under such unfavorable conditions, has never stopped to release his novels. In 1970, when he was 80 years old, he was still serializing “Kokui Saisho Tenkai Sojo” (“黒衣宰相 天海僧正”, Priester Tenkai, a chancellor with black attire) in a Buddhism magazine named “Dai horin” (“大法輪”). Examples of his other important works after the war are, “Kirigakure Emaki” (“霧隠繪巻”), “Yukimaro Ippon Gatana” (“雪麿一本刀”), or “Kuni wo aisu saredo Onna mo” (“国を愛すされど女も”), etc.
Kyoji died in1980, at age 90 at his daughter’s home in Ibaraki prefecture.
None of his works has been ever translated into foreign languages, regretfully to say. Around in 1928, however, Yale University in the USA contacted Kyoji asking to allow it the right of an English translation of “Fuji ni tatsu kage”. The university asked Kyoji to offer a digest version at around 40% length and he accepted that condition. He could not offer a digest version because of his busyness and the translation was not done accordingly, to our regret.

Public romance in Japan (5) — The life of Kyoji Shirai and his works (1)

Kyoji Shirai’s photo (from his autobiography) when he was living at Asahigaoka, Nakano in Tokyo (1926 – 1933). Kyoji loved slow but steady steps of a cow, and he practiced “Fabian tactics” in literature.

As I stated in the previous article, Kyoji Shirai was one of the most important novelists in an emerging stage of public romance. Let me now describe his life and some of his works in detail.

Kyoji Shirai was born in Yokohama in 1889, as the first son of Takamichi and Tami Inoue, both of them were from Samurai (warrior) class of Tottori prefecture. When he was born, Takamichi was working as a policeman of Yokohama city. Kyoji inherited the sense of justice from his father. Because of the frequent changes of his father’s working place, Kyoji kept on the move from Ome, Kofu, Urawa, and to Hirosaki in Aomori prefecture. In 1902, he finally settled in his parents’ home town, Yonago in Tottori. While he was attending Yonago east high school, he wrote two novels and they were put in two local newspapers, showing his precocious talent as a writer.

He entered then Waseda university but he soon moved to Nihon university by his father’s request that he should become a lawyer. While he was studying at Nihon university, he translated many works of Saikaku Ihara (“井原西鶴”) and Monzaemon Chikamatsu (“近松門左衛門”) into the modern Japanese for Hakubunkan (“博文館”), which was one of the biggest publishers at that time in Japan. These works gave him deep knowledge of the Japanese literature in Edo period, and he utilized many episodes or anecdotes in this period later in his works.

After he graduated Nihon university, he started to work at a few publishers and got married with Tsuruko Nakajima, a daughter of a baron Masutane Nakajima, in 1916.
In 1919, he wrote “Kai-kenchiku juni-dan gaeshi” (“怪建築十二段返し”) as his first work under the name “Kyoji Shirai” and the manuscript was offered to Hakubunkan. The publisher put the work in the January issue of “Kodan zasshi” (“講談雑誌”) in 1920. This first work was welcomed and he received requests for other works one after another. Ryunosuke Akutagawa (“芥川龍之介”) praised Kyoji’s “Ninjutsu Koraiya” (“忍術己来也”) enthusiastically and “Shimpen Goetsu Zoshi” (“神変呉越草紙”) also got a favorable reception.

In 1924, he started to write two most famous works, namely “Shinsen-gumi” (“新撰組”) and “Fuji ni tatsu kage” (“富士に立つ影”), and established his fame by these two great novels. The former was put at the head of a weekly magazine “Sunday Maichini” (“サンデー毎日”), which was the first weekly magazine in Japan, and the magazine could get enough number of readers to survive as an independent magazine by his novel. The latter was serialized in the Hochi newspaper (“報知新聞”), which was one of the biggest newspapers at that time, and it continued for more than 1000 times. The hero in this novel, Kimitaro Kumaki (“熊木公太郎”), attracted the readers overwhelmingly by his honest and decent character. As I introduced before, Ryunosuke Tsukue (“机龍之助”) in Dai Bosatsu Touge (“大菩薩峠”) was the first typical character type in public romance with his nihilism and cruelty, but Kyoji created then a completely different type of bright character with this novel. (to be continued)

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 “Daisu” or “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.