Literature and linguistics

Westerns and Tawara

By William Wetherall

Literature, though not in the foreground of my youth, has never been too far away. Growing up, I read mainly hobby and technical magazines and books. The little fiction I read was mostly westerns and war stories in paperback.

My father read a lot of literature in his school days before he turned to law. My mother, as busy as she was, finished a book or two a week. She read mostly current fiction, and for a while was even met with a local group discuss a story all its members had read. For the most part, though, she traveled alone in her reading chair, whenever she felt like getting away, and always before bed.

Pulp days

Toward the end of my junior year in electrical engineering at Berkeley, I became frustrated with the prospects of the sort of career that awaited me and decided to quit. I continued to go to an electrical engineering lab, where we worked in teams, but otherwise I ignored my homework and became a western paperback junkie. I turned to westerns because, for several years in my teens, I had clerked at a shoe store managed by a neighbor, Frank Fredrick, who spent his time in the back office reading westerns while I waited on customers.

Frank, who is dead now, spent the war years as a merchant marine in the Pacific. He gave me his personal copy of Tawara: Toughest Battle in Marine Corps History, a photographic memorial published in 1944 soon after the battle, for a report I made in a high school history class. I cut it up for illustrations to paste into my report, totally clueless about the value of the book. A few years ago, I found another copy at a used book store.

Except what I was required to read in English classes, I had read only pulp fiction until the fall of 1967, when I began my formal studies of Japanese in the Department of Oriental Languages -- now Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures -- also at Berkeley, having returned to Cal with a new major.


Yet, for reasons not clear to me -- for I never did well in composition classes -- I developed an ardent interest in writing. Even as an engineering student, I had written newspaper articles and letters to editors. By the time I began studying Japanese literature, I had even published a couple of rather future-looking essays in a Cal engineering magazine.



Literature courses are mostly about reading for appreciation of whatever the teacher thinks is important. I am most grateful to the teachers who saw their mission as one of lighting fires under students like me, who might not have discovered the pleasures of reading without patient guidance through the verbal foliage of plot, character, voice, and imagery -- but also what I call the texture of a story.


An awareness of texture -- the sounds and rhythms of a narrative -- is cultivated only through experiences of performance -- listing to recitations, and learning to recite. My best teachers did not object to students, like me, who had developed the habit of subvocalizing while reading. Today, I refuse to regard a "good story" as "good writing" unless I can appreciate its texture.

I've always advised my writing students that writing is essentially an oral/aural exercise. Good writing is done through the mouth and ear, and the best way to edit a story -- fiction or non-fiction -- is to read it aloud. Editors who focus on the mechanics of style and grammar often destroy the texture of a story because their ears are plugged with rules that have nothing to do with natural language and performance.

College instructors are likely take interest in literature for granted, and many expect students to speed read long lists of novels, short stories, and essays. Some instructors focus theories of literature and meaning, others on the thoughts and even the lives of the writers. Literature has often been read as material for studying social and even intellectual history, but now also used in "multicultural" courses to raise awareness about about racial, ethnic, and related social issues.

Critical standards

When commenting on contemporary fiction, I am strongly inclined to grade high on sheer narrative quality -- all the better if minimalist, but I have no objection to verbosity if done with literary effect.

Any tendency to tell rather than show, or to hack a story around a social issue, will draw critical fire -- as will the works of authors who appear to expect their ethnicity to add points to their legitimacy as novelists.


Classical literature

My main exposure to the classical world was through an interest in Mediterranean archaeology. In the early 1960s I had read a lot of popular books about ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. My drift away from electrical engineering was partly encouraged by talks on campus by archaeologists reporting their most recent discoveries.

A friend, Bill Boltz, then a math major, now a classical Chinese linguist at the University of Washington, also influenced my budding interest in early civilizations through the own growing fascination with antiquity and philology.

The chairman of the Department of Oriental Languages who interviewed me when I applied for readmission to Berkeley in 1967 was Douglas Mills, a classical scholar on loan from Cambridge, who was then finishing his research on A collection of tales from Uji: A study and translation of Uji Shui Monogatari (1970).

By the time I was ready to tackle classical Japanese grammar, Mills had returned to the United Kingdom. So I first learned kogo and bungotai from Elizabeth Carr, the wife of Denzel Carr, a professor of Malay-Polynesian in the Department of Linguistics.

Elizabeth Carr was known as Elizabeth "Betty" McKinnon to her students at the wartime Japanese Language School in Boulder. Born and raised in Japan, her mother had been Japanese. She was one of those remarkable people who devote themselves to teaching, and I remember her as one of my most inspiring instructors.

Helen and William McCullough had moved to the Department of Oriental Languages at Berkeley from Stanford by the time I returned to Cal in the early 1970s as a graduate student majoring in Asian Studies. So I did my reading of Kokinshu, Heike, and Basho under Helen, and my reading of Genji and study of Japanese historiography under Bill, who became an examiner for my orals and one of my dissertation supervisors. Both are now deceased.

Suicide in classical texts

I was attracted to classical literature because, while one foot was still in Oriental Languages, I had moved the other to Anthropology, where I was studying suicide, among other social problems, with George De Vos.

By no means was my interest in suicide limited to present-day Japan. If anything, I was more interested in the history of how suicidal behaviors have been presented in cultural materials such as written texts. Early chronologies and stories were the only place I would ever find accounts, historical and fictional, of suicide in Japan from antiquity to more recent times, when suicide became an object of vital statistics and case studies.

I was fortunate in that both McCulloughs had reputations for using classical literature as primary material for studying anthropological, sociological, and even psychological subjects. They had limited their own interests to subjects like marriage and adoption, in addition to the usual concerns that translators have about food, clothing, architecture, political and military affairs, religious beliefs and practices, and a long list of other elements of life. For them, they thought it perfectly acceptable that I read literature with an eye for understand what I could about how people described suicidal thoughts and acts, in terms of motives and methods, and impact on survivors.

My paper on the suicide attempt of Ukifune in Genji monogatari represents my first effort to clarify what this very sophisticated story reveals about self-destructive behaviors and responses to such behaviors during the Heian period. The story of Ukifune became a brick in my hypothesis that suicide as a human phenomenon (1) is essentially the same from one society to the next, and (2) has not essentially changed during the several thousand years for which we have historical accounts, mostly in literature, of suicide.

I had no classroom exposure to the gesaku literature of the late Edo and early Meiji periods other than through translation. Not until I began working with the stories on early Meiji news nishikie, most of which were crafted by gesaku writers, did I venture into the vast world of gesaku fiction, still alive and well on the eve of its displacement by novel approaches to story telling.


Contemporary fiction

My first exposure to Japanese literature was as an undergraduate student at Berkeley in the late Sixties. Everything you may have read about the chaos on campus and the immediate neighborhood then is true. It was a war zone, and while most students were never involved in the fighting, very few were totally unaffected.

Japanese lit under fire

I first read classical and modern Japanese literature in translation, in survey courses taught by Francis Motofuji, an associate professor in the Department of Oriental Languages, in Durant Hall, where I was then a major. Frank had published The Love of Izayoi and Seishin (1966), a kabuki play by Kawatake Mokuami (1816-1893), and a short story by Dazai Osamu (1909-1948).

The OL Department was a bastion of academic conservatism and social order -- and, when it came to Chinese, which I also studied, pro Republic of China or at least pro pre-Mao China. Frank, though, was sympathetic with the student movements, and during a period when the most radical professors in other departments were cancelling their classes in support of boycott actions, Frank held a few of his lectures off classes.

By the time I returned to a quieter Berkeley in the early 1970s, Frank had translated short stories by Oe Kenzaburo and Kobayashi Takiji (1903-1933) and was doing research on the life of Dazai. It was then, as a graduate student, that I first read fiction in Japanese, with guidance and tutelage -- as opposed to hit-and-miss reading on my own -- again under Frank Motofuji in courses, seminars, and private sessions.

Only after reading Japanese fiction in translation did I begin to read more English fiction. Whereas most of my classmates had come to their studies of Japanese literature through backgrounds in the humanities, I was practically unread in European literature. Even now I feel that I am still catching up.

Personality and intent

Generally I have not taken a great deal of interest in literature as a reflection of a writer's personality. When forced to write introductions to an author or work I have translated, I to some extent morph myself into a critic and speculate why authors write what they write and how they write it.

Essentially, though, I do not endorse using an author's personal life as a guide to understanding the author's intent. Or, vice versa, even when a writer expresses an intent, I do not think a reader is duty-bound to interpret a story only in terms of intended meanings.


Popular fiction

Though I read westerns and war stories, I was did not become interested in popular fiction academically until I began studying mass media and Japanese literature. Having discovered Mr. Moto and Charlie Chan in English, I began reading Japanese popular fiction as vehicles for images of minorities in Japan, including foreigners like myself.

My military background in clinical testing, which falls within the field of pathology in medicine, led me to an interest in forensic pathology and the broader field of criminalistics and identification. My initiation into psychological anthropology, by George De Vos at Berkeley, sparked to my continuing interest in suicide and crime. And so I was attracted to crime stories involving crime scene investigation and medical examination.

No alien heroes in Japan?

I became most intensely involved with detective and mystery fiction in Japan during the 1970s after coming to Japan in 1975 to conduct field work for a doctoral dissertation. The thesis began as a study of suicide in present-day Japan but turned out to focus on suicidal and homicidal following-in-death in early Japan.

Partly as relief from the tedious work of collecting and collating the material I needed to reveal the nature of funerary practices and human sacrifice in ancient civilizations, centering on East Asia -- partly because, in 1975, I had read Masaaki Kishi's "Images of Americans in Japanese Popular Literature" in Journal of Popular Culture -- and partly because, at the same time, Lieutenant Columbo had begun making huge waves in Japan -- I plunged into a very serious refutation of Kishi's thesis that Japan was not a fertile ground for alien heroes.

"In a homogeneous country like Japan," Kishi stated in his introduction, there is little room for an alien hero" (page 1). Or, as he rephrased it in his conclusion, because "'a foreigner has something about him that Japanese people cannot understand' . . . There is little chance for Americans to become best seller heroes" (page 9).

Several of the articles posted in this section, but particularly "Akechi versus Columbo" and "Critique of Kishi 1975", address Kishi's claim. Several other articles, such as the report on "Translated mystery fiction", the commentary on "Tojinbune" [Chinaboats], and the translation of "Beikei Nichijin" [American Japanese], also grew out of my 1970s infatuation with depictions of foreigners in Japanese fiction, original and translated.



I have reviewed a number of titles of popular English fiction set in Japan, or set elsewhere but featuring Japan or Japanese, for publication in the Far Eastern Economic Review, or in English-language newspapers in Japan. All such reviews are posted on the "Steamy East" website.

Here I have posted only published and unpublished reviews of Japanese fiction, and of English fiction unrelated to Japan. Articles about translation, which compare translations with the original, are grouped in the "Language" section of this website.


Korean / Chosenese fiction

I treat all literature as belonging to the language in which it is written, not the national or other identity of the writer. So by "Korean fiction" I mean any fiction originally written in Korean by anyone at any time and place. Ditto for "Chosenese fiction". I regard fiction written in other languages, such as Japanese or English, by people who consider themselves "Korean" or Chosenese" by any definition of these terms, as belonging to the literature of those languages.

Most Korean and Chosenese fiction has been written in one or another Korean or Chosen state or entity, by writers who are affiliated with the state or entity -- The Chosŏ Dynasty, the Empire of Korea, Chosen as a territory of Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea [sic = Chosen, Chosŏn], or even Yanbian Korean [sic = Chosen, Chosŏn] Autonomous Prefecture (边鲜B 연변 조선족 자치주 Yŏnbyŏn Chosŏjok Chach'iju) in Jilin Provence of the People's Republic of China.

I studied Korean in college but did not read Korean literature even in translation. Later in life I read a few works of Korean popular fiction in English translation, mainly stories by Kim Young-Ha (김영하 Kim Yŏngha p), including I Have the Right to Destroy Myself (1996, 2007), Photo Shop Murder (1999, 2003), and Your Republic is Calling You (2006, 2010).

I have pretty much slept through the floods of interest in Korean dramas, music, and food that have swept through Japan now and then. My interest in the worlds of "Korea" and "Chosen" in Japan have been limited to the political and demographic relations between Japan and peninsular entities, or between the Interior of Imperial Japan and Chosen during the Annexation period when the peninsula was part of Japan, especially the migrations of people between these territories, and the so-called "Zainichi Kankoku/Chosenjin" population in present-day Japan.

Kim Soom, Han Myŏng 2016, Hitori 2018

I had never heard of Kim Soom (김숨 Kim Sum ) until receiving a request on 4 January 2019 from a Korean Literature Now staff member to review in English the Japanese translation Hitori (2018) of Kim Soom's Han Myŏng (2016). The review was due 21 January -- barely two weeks by the time I obtained copies of the translation and the original. "One Person" as I translate the title is about a comfort woman who kept her memories to herself until the last officially registered comfort woman is on her death bed.

Japanese fiction

In college I was forever having to comment on the literature I read for courses. I have kept all my written reports and plan to post them, mostly as examples of how I no longer think about Japan -- or about anything else, for that matter.

Miru mae ni tobe

The one report I still rather like is a structural analysis of the title story from Miru mae ni tobe (Tokyo: Shinchosha, 1958), an anthology of short stories by Oe Kenzaburo. I wrote the report for a graduate seminar in which all participants selected stories from the same anthology.

I got so involved with the stories I completely translated some of them and started all. Though required only to write a report, I polished my translation of the title story, "Miru mae ni tobe" [Leap before you look], and submitted it with my report.

Oe says no

Years later, in Japan, I set out to publish a translation of the entire anthology. An agent contacted Oe Kenzaburo through Shinchosha but he said no.

Oe said he considered the story one of his worst. He wrote, as I recall reading his reply at the agent's office, "Honyaku shite morau tsumori de wa nai" -- "I don't intend to have it translated." Oe also suggested that I translate something more recent, which reflected his current body of work.

I was unhappy with this attitude. What upset me the most, however, was that "Miru mae ni tobe" and other stories he wrote at the time continued to be anthologized in Japanese.

Oe was then gunning for the Nobel Prize, for which he had been short listed several years running. He wanted the outside world to read his more personal and intellectually engaging stories -- not those he wrote when still a young man, unmarried much less a father, and not yet so outspoken about political and social issues.

"Fui no oshi"

Later, though, Oe did permit me to publish a translation of "Fui no oshi" -- the shortest story in the 1958 anthology -- as "Unexpected Muteness" for Japan Quarterly in 1989. Though I had already translated it in 1973, the main reason I chose it for the journal was its length: all the other stories were too much too long.

I am not saying that "Fui no oshi" is not interesting. The story reflects a certain attitude toward justice and retribution in a village that did not need an elaborate penal code and law of legal procedure. The story's structural tightness and narrative economy practically defines the short story -- whereas "Miru mae ni tobe" is more like a novella.


Tamura Taijiro (1911-1983)

Tamura Taijirō is best known for his "doctrine of carnality" as I would translate "nikutai-ron" (̘_). His best-known works of "carnal fiction" are the novels he wrote in 1946, immediately after returning to Japan from China, where he had spent most of the Pacific War as a soldier in the Japanese Imperial Army. The work of most interest to me, and the one I have chosen to feature here, is Shunpuden, about three Chosenese comfort women in China.


Tsuzuki Michio (1929-2003)

Tsuzuki Michio was one of the writers who first attracted me back in the 1970s when I plunged into the subject of alien detectives in Japanese fiction. For he was the creator of the inimitable Quillion Sleigh, Poet.

Tsuzuki, whose real name was Matsuoka Iwao, was born in Tokyo on 6 July 1929. In December 1945, during his 4th year of high school, he dropped out of Waseda Jitsugyo Gakko, which graduated Oh Sadaharu in 1957, and fielded the winning summer tournament high school baseball team in 2006.

Tsuzuki's life

From 1949 to 1954, Tsuzuki published a few short stories, mostly historical fiction, in various monthly magazines. From about this time he also became a translator of hard-boiled detective stories. In 1956 he quit a job as a copywriter for a cosmetics company to edit Hayakawa Shobo's Japanese edition of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (EQMM).

In 1961, Chuo Koron Sha published his first full-length mystery, Yabunirami no tokei [The clock that squinted], and he went on to be very productive. He wrote fiction in all genres -- mystery, historical, science, fantasy -- as well as reviews and criticism, and some movie scenarios. Many of his stories involve parody, and some appeal to interests in horror or erotica.

Tsuzuki received the 6th Japan Mystery Award in Tokyo on 18 March 2006, then passed away on 27 November at a hospital in Honolulu, where his daughter and son-in-law live.

Japan Mystery Award

The Japan Mystery Award has been given since 1998 by the Kobun Scheherazade Foundation, which is associated with the publisher Kobunsha. Tsuzuki served on the selection committee for the first four awards before becoming seriously ill.

The award was established to honor lifelong achievement in the field of mystery fiction, as can be seen from the names of those honored. The recipients to date (2006) have been: Sano Yo (1st), Nakajima Kawataro (2nd), Sazawa Saho (3rd), Yamada Futaro (4th), Tsuchiya Takao (5th), Tsuzuki Michio (6th, with a special award to Ayukawa Tetsuya), Morimura Seiichi (7th), Nishimura Kyotaro (8th), and Akagawa Jiro (9th).

Tsuzuki interview

I wrote, literally, hundreds of pages of notes on detective and mystery fiction in Japan during the 1970s, many of them concerning issues that developed from my interest in Tsuzuki. In 1976 I had the pleasure of meeting him -- after calling him several times until, finally, he invited me to his study.

After moving on to other projects, I continued to clip articles about Tsuzuki and magazine and book ads featuring his stories and novels. Some of the articles had photographs, so I watched him age -- become thin, cut his thinning hair, upgrade his glasses.

Nearly thirty years had passed in 2003 when I read in a weekly magazine that Tsuzuki had passed away. As always happens when an active writer moves on, several of his works were reissued in what amount to memorial editions.

An acquired taste

Though Tsuzuki was very productive, he never achieved the fame enjoyed by a fairly long list of contemporaries. My impression is that he wrote more for self-enjoyment, and for a small but dedicated readership, than for the mass fiction market. His themes and sense of humor are very much an acquired taste -- and I preferred the more straight-forward mysteries of Matsumoto Seicho (1909-1992), Shimada Kazuo (1907-1996), Sasazawa Saho (1930-2002), and even Yamamura Misa (1934-1996).

Tsuzuki will probably not be remembered for his literature, but for his enormous contributions to the postwar translated mystery fiction industry, beginning with EQMM at Hayakawa Shobo. He was respected enough as a judge of good mysteries to serve on a number of mystery award committees. And while a century from now no one will pause to mention Quillion Sleigh, it is worth noting that the most widely sold anthology of Tsuzuki's most representative stories begins with a Quillion Sleigh episode.

To be continued.


Yamasaki Toyoko (b1924)

Yamasaki Toyoko was born in 1924, and her first few novels were set in the city. She became a reporter for Mainichi Shinbun, and worked under Inoue Yasushi (1907-1991) when he was the sub-chief of its arts and literature desk.

Inoue left the Mainichi after winning the 22th Akutagawa Prize in 1950 for "Togyu" [Bull fighting]. Yamasaki herself quit the paper to write full-time in 1958, the year she won the 39th Naoki Prize for her second novel, Hana noren [Flower shop curtain]. Her third novel, Bonchi, was made into a film the same year it was published in 1958.

Yamasaki's popularity soared from 1963 when Shiroi kyoto [Great white tower] began to be serialized in the weekly magazine Sandee Mainichi. The story portrays the vanity of a power-hungry surgeon. The novel came out as a book when the serialization ended in 1965. A hugely popular movie was made the next year, and a continuation of the novel, called Zoku Shiroi Kyoto, was serialized from 1967 to 1968.

In addition to the 1966 film, Shiroi kyoto has been dramatized for television four times -- twice by TV Asahi (1967 as NET TV, 1990 as TV Asahi), and twice by Fuji TV (1978-1979 and 2003). The surgeon was played by Tamiya Jiro (1935-1978) in the 1966 movie, and again in the 1978-1979 TV dramatization. Tamiya shot himself late in December 1978, shortly after doing the takes for the early January episode in which he dies of cancer.

Fuji's 2003 remake came 25 years later. Fuji promoted the remake with a release in 2002 of a DVD edition of the 1978 series. Soon after televising the remake, it released DVDs of the remake.

Futatsu no sokoku & Sanga moyu

Yamasaki lived in Hawaii during 1979-1980 while doing research there, and elsewhere in the United States, for her next book, which fed the boom of interest at the time in both the "roots" of Japanese and the Pacific War. The pattern was by then familiar.

Futatsu no sokoku [Two fatherlands] was serialized in the weekly Shukan Shincho from June 1980. Shinchosha published the novel in three volumes in 1983. Then the very year, NHK televised a somewhat altered version of the novel as "Sanga moyu" [Mountains and rivers burning] on its year-long Sunday-evening "Taiga dorama" -- breaking, for the first and last time, its tradition of adapting a "taiga shosetsu" or "roman-fleuve" saga about well-known historical figures and the events, usually wars, that made them famous.

In 1983, an article in the monthly magazine Masukomi hyoron [Mass communication criticism] claimed that Yamasaki had gotten the idea for the novel from Shimamura 's Niju kokuseki sha (Hara Shobo, 1967), and that she may have plagiarized some of the content.

Both the novel and the TV drama were controversial among Americans of Japanese ancestry. I myself became involved in the controversy. My published reviews of the novel and the TV drama, and some unpublished articles and materials related to the controversy, are posted here.

Koei naki gaisen

There have been several Japanese novels about Japanese Americans during the Second World War, before and after Futatsu no sokoku. In sheer size and ambition, Yamasaki's work has been superseded by Shinpo Yuichi's Eiko naki gaisen [Triumph without honor], published by Shogakkan in 2006 after serialization in Shogakkan's weekly magazine Shukan Posuto from 2003 to 2006.

Shinpo Yuichi (b1961)
Eiko naki gaisen
[Triumph without honor]
Tokyo: Shogakkan, 2006
Two hardcover volumes
608 and 656 pages

Shinpo became a novelist after training and working as an animator. He began writing full-time after receiving the Edogawa Ranpo Prize in 1991 for Rensa [Links]. He has since won a spate of popular fiction awards, and several of his novels have been made into films and television dramas.

Eiko naki gaisen is about three Japanese American men who are caught up by World War II in different ways. Jiro and Henry love the same woman, and Matt intends to marry his white lover, but the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor changes everything.

Jiro, who can speak Japanese, becomes a member of the US Army Military Intelligence Service (MIS), which takes him to the Pacific. Henry faces court action because he resists the internment of Japanese Americans. Matt, with some friends, bears arms in the 442nd Infantry Regimental Combat Team, which fights in Europe.

Daichi no ko

Yamasaki's next most interesting novel for me -- not as literature but for its theme -- is Daichi no ko [Child of the great land], published by Bungei Shunju in 1991 after serialization in the monthly Bungei Shunju from May 1987 to April 1991.

The story is about a Chinese man who was born in China to Japanese parents but raised by a Chinese couple -- his sister, who is left with him but becomes separated -- and their father, who many years later returns to China on business. The man is looking for his sister, and the man is looking for his son and daughter, when the father finds his daughter, and the man finds his sister -- who is sick and dying in poverty, in sharp contrast with her brother, who has been well educated and has good job. The woman dies, and her brother has to decide whether to stay in China and remain Chinese, or go to Japan and try to be Japanese.

The novel won the Kikuchi Prize the same year, and was dramatized by NHK and a Chinese production company in commemoration of NHK's 70th anniversary in 1995. The drama featured a Japanese and Chinese cast, and much of it was shot in China.

In 1996, Bungei Shunju published "Daichi no ko" to watakushi ["Daichi no ko" and I], Yamasaki's account of why she wrote Daichi no ko and how she researched the story. The book dwells on the number of people she interviewed -- but Endo Homare was not one of them.

While the book appears to be little more than a tie-in, it has to have been partly motivated by the talks Endo had been having with Bungei Shunju about whether Yamasaki might have plagiarized her works.


In January 1997, Endo Homare, a Tsukuba University professor (now emeritus) of physics, filed a suit against Yamasaki, claiming that she had plagiarized Chaazu [Pincers], a novelization of her own experiences in Manchuria, published in two volumes through Yomiuri Shinbun Sha in 1984 and 1985, about the time that Yamasaki admits she began doing research on her novel. "Chaazu" reflects a katakana Japanization of "qiazi" (WG ch'iatzu), as the character for the title would be read in Chinese.

The first volume of Chaazu is subtitled "Deguchi no nai daichi: 1948 nen Manshu no yoru to kiri" [A land with no exit: Nights and fog in Manchuria, 1948]. The story relates how a seven-year-old girl and her foster parents escape from the pincers of hell when Nationalist and Communist forces clash at Changchun in Manchuria in 1948, at the height of the postwar revolution.

The second volume is called "Ushinawareta toki o motomete" [In search of time lost], and continues the saga the family after it escapes Changchun and arrives at Yanji, where the girl suffers from malnutrition and tuberculosis and almost dies. Yanji [WG Yenki, K Yonggil, J ] is the capital of Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in Jilin province, near China's border with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.,

Endo was born in China in 1941 and did not come to Japan until 1953. The story she tells is essentially her own. She strongly identifies with the plight of children who were unable to resettle in Japan until several years after 1972, when Japan and the People's Republic of China signed an amity agreement and established diplomatic relations.

Some stats on orphaned Japanese

A survey conducted in 1981 by the Ministry of Health and Welfare in Japan counted 2,457 "left behind orphans" [zanryu koji] known to be in China. Among these, some 1,700 -- about 6,400 including family members -- had resettled in Japan.

Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare statistics as of 31 August 2006 show that of the 2800 people counted as orphans, only 1279 have been able to confirm their identities. 2507 of the total, including 1087 with confirmed identities, have permanently resettled in Japan. 1134 others, including 732 with confirmed identities, have come to Japan to visit or to stay for a short period.

Many Japanese parents left their children in China during the confusion that followed the Soviet invasion and occupation of Japanese positions in Manchuria in August 1945. Repatriation was slow and ineffective. One or both parents of some families were killed or died. Many parents left their children because they were unable to feed them, and were uncertain of their fates even if they managed to get back to Japan.

Thousands of such "war displaced children" or "war orphans" -- of all ages, but mostly very young -- were taken in by Chinese families and raised as Chinese. Their stories of suffering in China, of frustrated searches for parents or siblings in Japan, and of the deep bonds they formed with their Chinese foster parents and with China itself, where most of them married and raised families, are among the most poignant to come out of the drama of "repatriation" that continues as I write this sixty years later.

Bungei Shunju's golden egg

An interesting development is that Bungei Shunju, in 1990, while still serializing Yamasaki's novel, published a paperback edition of Endo's novel in two volumes called Chaazu and subtitled "Chugoku kakumei sen o kugurinuketa Nihonjin shojo" [A Japanese girl who made it through the Chinese revolutionary war]. The aim of the new edition is partly to profit from public interest in the plight of Japanese war orphans on the 45th anniversary of the end of the war. But partly it is also intended as a tie-in with Yamasaki's novel.

The following year, when Bungei Shunju published the finished version of Daichi no ko, it ran advertising in newspapers, and publicity articles in its own weekly Shukan Bunshun, promoting Yamasaki's novel as a "huge bestseller" that "exceeds Pearl Buck" -- a reference to The Good Earth (1931), which is known in Japanese as Daichi -- literally "large land" but figuratively just "the earth" and even "mother earth". (See, for example, Shukan Bunshun, 4 July 1991, pages 49-53)

Claims and counter-claims

Endo claimed that Yamasaki's portrayal of the escape of her (Yamasaki's) protagonist and his foster parents from Changshun is virtually the same as the depiction in her story -- down to structure and even dialog. She felt that Yamasaki has used her personal experiences, as related in Chaazu and even an early work, Fujori no kanata [Beyond absurdity] (1983), without permission.

When she filed her suit, Endo also made public her case against Yamazaki in a book called Chaazu no kensho: Daichi no ko" toyo giwaku [An inspection of "Chaazu": "Daichi no ko" plagiarism suspicions], published by Akashi Shoten. Timed to come out with the suit, it naturally generated a great deal of publicity. The book and the negative publicity moved Yamasaki to threaten to sue Endo for libel, on the grounds that not only were her claims unfounded, but they caused excessive damage to her reputation as a writer. (Asahi Shinbun, Chokan, 14 January 1997, page 29; Shukan Asahi, 24 January 1997, pages 30-33).

Court ruling

The Tokyo District Court agreed with Yamasaki's defense of her novel as an original story that did not abuse Endo's work. In a ruling given on 26 March 2001, it dismissed Endo's demands for public apology and compensation.

The decision found that "The use as material in novels of facts common to publications of others is to some extent permitted." While the overall plots of Yamasaki's and Endo's stories "have several points in common, and resemble each other within the limits of historical facts, there are important differences in their story development and narrative methods." (From summary of ruling.)

Writing process

Yamasaki lists Endo's books in the bibliography at the end of the second volume of Daichi no ko, along with other references. Endo said this was a ruse to give the impression that her work was just one of many others.

In fact, many authors who set fiction in historical periods consult numerous sources -- especially if, like Yamasaki, they set out to lecture the reader about the author at least things really happened. And, like many such didactic writers, Yamasaki displays her research to heighten the reader's faith in the credibility of what is supposed to pass as documentary fact rather than fiction.

Readers like to see their favorite authors at work, and authors of "faction", as much as those of "edutainment" and "docudrama", may feel they need to enhance their image as a reporter or scholar as well as a creator. A photograph on the first page of an article Yamasaki wrote for the May 1991 issue of Bungei Shunju, the month after the last episode of the serialized novel, shows her writing a manuscript while consulting a book, among several that are open on the table in front of her.

One has the impression that, while Yamasaki may do a certain amount of research before she begins writing, she is writing on the fly while continuing to do research. The serialized version is somewhat edited for the book, but mostly the book is the same.

I collected practically all of the serialized episodes of Futatsu no sokoku as they were being churned out ever week for Shukan Shincho. There are not a lot changes in the bound edition. And -- a common fault of fiction written to space in daily, weekly, or monthly heart beats -- the bound novel shows the seams and obesity of serialization.

Other charges of plagiarism

My take is that Yamasaki, like many Japanese writers who crank out page after page of fact-dependent fiction, day after day, with practically no let up, heavily depend on the works of others. Undoubtedly Yamasaki interview a number of Japanese Americans in preparation for the writing of Futatsu no sokoku and did a certain amount of other field work and, while writing, some fact checking.

Yet Yamasaki plays loose with facts that get in the way of her interesting in racializing Japanese Americans and making it seem that many, in their own hearts, were more Japanese than American. And Yamasaki's hero, who kills himself, appears to have been directly inspired by a couple of biographies about a Japanese American interpreter who also killed himself.

To be continued.


English fiction

While a regular contributor to the Mainichi Daily News, I was routinely asked to review a book for the seasonal "Summer Reading" column. Usually I declined, because I had not recently read anything I would really wish on others.

I read for two purposes: research and pleasure. Most pulp fiction titles I now read for research. I read them, whether I like them or not, in order to be able to comment on their value as conveyors of information and stereotypes. Mostly I do not like them.

I used to try and finish every book I started. I have found this not to be a very good way to spend my time. Now I finish only one in ten of the novels I begin to read for pleasure, and I find only one in ten of those I finish to be so impressive that I would publicly wish them on others.

Passing muster

James Welch's The Indian Lawyer (1990) was one of the one-in-one-hundred exceptions. Novels like J.M. Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians (1982) and Hari Kunzru's Transmission (2004) have more recently passed muster.

Now and then I am inspired to promote a favorite work, hence my review, here, of Ted Chiang's Stories of Your Life and Others (2002).



Half of them are stupid

My first teacher of Japanese was a glassware washer I worked with in a pathology laboratory at the 106th Medical Hospital at Kishine Barracks in Yokohama in 1966. He was actually more than a glassware washer. He'd been going to medical school in Manchuria when the war ended and he was repatriated to Japan. But there he was -- washing test tubes, flasks, beakers, pipettes, and petri plates.

Kobayashi Tatsuji taught me how to write kana and some kanji, and I (and then others in the bacteriology section) taught him how to prepare culture media, plate and read cultures, and do virtually everything else that had to be done in the microbiology section of the lab. Eventually his position was reclassified to that of a local national (civilian) lab assistant. Meanwhile, I finished my tour of duty and returned to Berkeley -- where I changed my major from Electrical Engineering to what was then called Oriental Languages.

When "Oriental" stopped being fashionable, and "cultures" came into vogue, the Department of Oriental Languages changed its name to the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures. Who says there hasn't been progress at Berkeley?

My first formal teacher of Japanese was Haruo Aoki, a specialist in North American linguistics, best known for his work on Nez Perce. It turned out he had done his field work in parts of Idaho where my mother was born and raised. I had actually spent some of my summers in the tiny mountain towns where he had lived while recording the speech and stories of older native informants.

The first thing Aoki said, shortly after 8:00 one morning in the fall of 1967, at the first meeting of his beginning Japanese course in Durant Hall, was that Japanese couldn't be difficult. For all Japanese could speak it, and half of them were stupid. The whole class laughed.

Aoki made the point that learning a language was not a matter of intelligence. It might come easier to the few that were gifted with that mysterious faculty for picking up a language simply through exposure to it, even in their advanced teens or early twenties, long after most brains have thrown up barriers to "natural" language acquisition. For most of us, though, it would be a matter of working at it for hours a day.


Something about Aoki's attitude towards not only Japanese but life itself affected me then and still. On one my trips back to the campus, I interviewed him for a magazine in Japan on the subject of "The Nez Perce Indians: A North American People" (The English Journal, Vol. 9, No. 8, Ser. 107, July 1979, pp. 72-76, pp. 102-104).

I had introduced Aiki as a "foremost expert" on the Nez Perce language. Before he replied to my question, he gave me this take on my characterization of his expertise.

Before we go on, maybe I should make a little comment on your very generous word "foremost". I think there are two kinds of "foremost" -- one, because you're very bright and very capable, you become a foremost authority. The second type is, because nobody else is doing it. And I'm afraid I belong in the second category.

And in response to my final question, about what he thought of the tendency then in Japan to call American Indians "Apatchi", he said this.

Well, it's a little bit like calling a Japanese "Tsushima" or "Sapporo" or something like that. And it is as valid and as representative.

Haruo Aoki was born in 1930 in Kunsan in Korea, received his BA in English from Hiroshima University in Japan in 1953, his MA in English from UCLA in 1958, and his PhD in Linguistics from the University of California at Berkeley in 1965. His life work, which began with Nez Perce Grammar in 1970, culminated with Nez Perce Dictionary in 1994. From the late 1990s, Aoki has been a Nez Perce language preservation consultant in the state of Washington, and has participated in the initiation of several Nez Perce language course. As of this writing (2017) he resides in the East Bay area near Berkeley.

For a fuller story of Aoki's life and work, see Haruo Aoki in article on Keene, Seidensticker et al. in the Translation section of this website.

The Wilupup [January] 2003 Nez Perce tribe newsletter, remarking on Aoki's dedication to the cause of recording and describing the Nez Perce language, noted that there were probably less than 150 fluent speakers when his dictionary came out. Others have stated the number is definitely under 100.

Nez Perce is among numerous "endangered languages" in North America alone. It is, however, the "heritage language" of all putatively Nez Perce individuals -- even those who can't speak a word of the language, and those who haven't yet discovered they are Nez Perce.

Painting pictures

While all human languages essentially label objects and actions, and provide ways to specify relations between objects and actions, how a language actually does this varies according to what is generally called its "grammar".

Most languages have ways of differentiating subjects and objects. Though English pronouns have specific "subject" and "object" forms (I/me, he/him), English generally marks the case of nouns by their position in relation to a verb, hence "dog bites man" and "man bites dog". In principle, case-marked English pronouns can be moved around and still be understandable, hence "I like her" and "her I like" -- while "I her like" would mimic "foreign" English. But if the "I / her" relationship was reversed in reference to the verb "like", you would have to write "She likes me."

Japanese marks topics and subjects "wa" and "ga" and objects with "o". Topics may be more general than subjects, as commonly illustrated by the sentence "Zō wa hana ga nagai" meaning "As for elephants [their] noses are long." In such constructions, the topic "wa" phrase will always preceed the subject "ga" phrase, and possibly other "ga" phrases subordinate to the "wa" phrase will follow. Subjects generally precede objects, hence "Boku ga kanojo ga suki desu" (I like her) and "Boku wa kanojo o ai shite iru" (I love her). If, by chance, the orders of the "wa" and "ga" and "o" phrases were scrambled, the meanings would still be clear, for function is marked by post-positional markings, not order.

Nez Perce marks subjects and objects according to their case. So in Nez Perce, all possible combinations of "I" and "like" and "her" would be possible. The word order would convey which of these elements is "new" or otherwise the "focus" of our interest. If there is sufficient information available in the context of a verb, it might be used without subjects or objects.

In Japanese too, and in many languages, the verb, in sufficiently strong contexts, can carry the entire meaning of an utterance. One could say just "suki" ("like") in Japanese, and either information previously conveyed and still available to the listener -- or information that has not been articulated but is somehow suggested by the situation -- would clarify "who" likes "what" references.

There is a lot of debate about how the mind processes language, and whether the minds of say "English" and "Japanese" and "Nez Perce" speakers are different. The idea is that the mind learns to "think" in terms of the language it learns to process.

In English one hears "I" and expects a verb to follow ("I [love, read, bite, will, do, am]). And having heard "love" one expects an object will follow (I love [someone, something]"). If one hears only a verb, or only a verb and an object, it is likely to be a command ("love me or leave me"). Just "Love" as a saluation in a letter is somewhat ambiguous, because it could imply "with love" rather than "I love you". If one hears just "I love [noise]", the word obscured by the "noise" left to whatever the listener can deduct from the context or otherwise imagine. If one hears just "[noise] love you" then the obliterated word is grammatically constrained to "I" or "they" (or another plural subject).

Word order is also important in Japanese. While relations of noun phrases to each other and associated verbs are clearly marked, phrase order is not entirely free. And word order within phrases is also highly constrained by grammatical and stylistic conventions.

Nonetheless, one processes Japanese phrases in a larger stream of speech according to the functional markers that follow them. Verbs themselves are phrases, and the main verbs typically come at the end of a sentence or major group of phrases. Moreover, tense and negation markers typically come at the end of a verb phrase.

Not often, but now and then, a series of phrases with specific markers can sufficiently constrain the context that the final verb can be omitted with no loss of meaning. The verb is omitted because it becomes predictable -- a foregone conclusion, so to speak. Anything that can be predicted is of little informational value -- it has little or no entropy -- and in strong enough contexts can be omitted with little or no risk of misunderstanding.

In 1978, a linguist hired by the Ministry of Education to make sure English textbooks were teaching proper English, wrote in an Asahi shinbun op-ed that in Japanese you need only say "Tasukete!" to be saved, but in English you have to say "Help me!" I countered in an op-ed I wrote in Japanese for the column that you could cry just "Help!" -- and bystanders would not ask who it was you wanted them to help before they threw you a life line. "Help!" would be the most common expression in such a situation, whereas "Help me" would be used merely to request someone's assistance.

The same linguist said that in Japanese you say "nomu" (drink) with soup, but in English you must say "eat". He also said you couldn't say "drink tobacco" in English. I said that in English you can say "drink soup" if in fact you drink it, and that people "drunk" tobacco long before they "smoked" it. There is concrete evidence of such usage in English literature and even in English diaries about Japan.

There is some testimony to the effect that, when listening to Nez Perce, one has to hear all the affixed words before one can know what is being said. Supposedly the brain has to wait for all pieces of the puzzle before it put them together into a picture that makes sense.

Someone arguing that the Nez Perce brain might therefore be different wrote that a certain "tribal educator who is seeking to become fluent in her heritage language, verbalized this [heuristic] shift beautifully. Her face lit with joy as she exclaimed, 'My language paints a picture in my head; I just watch it!'"

The idea is that, because Indo-European languages involve "linear" or "real time" processing of words that typically have only one morpheme per word, they facilitate "analytical" or "critical" thinking in the form of conscious sequential inductive logic. Whereas Native American languages, presumably because they entail more "holistic" processing of words composed of more than one and sometimes many morphemes, make logical processing more difficult because one must wait for a picture to pop into or be painted in one's brain before there can be any conscious awareness.

Well, Aoki's brain -- native in Japanese, and better wired in English than most native English brains, managed to transcribe Nez Perce stories into texts that made enough sense to be translated into both English and Japanese. And reading these texts makes it very clear that Nez Perce speech, though a highly agglutinated or polysynthetic (words consisting of several morphemes) polysemous languages like many in the world, has every appearance of being translatable.

To be continued.


I began studying Chinese the same semester I started Japanese. The next year I continued Japanese but switched to Korean instead of Chinese. By then I had decided to specialize in Japanese but wanted to familiarize myself with Chinese and Korean. My only regret is that I did not pursue Chinese and Korean as diligently as I did Japanese -- to the point where I could speak, read, and write them today, rather than merely be able to pick my way through book and article titles, and translate a phrase or two with the help of dictionaries.

I also audited a general undergraduate course in linguistics taught by James A. Matisoff, in preparation for taking Haruo Aoki's graduate courses on Japanese linguistics. Matisoff, now emeritus at UCB, is a Sino-Tibetan specialist. He animated his lectures on general linguistic principles with comparisons of words from numerous languages he had studied, not only from the Indo-European and Sino-Tibetan families, but Japanese, which he was able to speak.

Matisoff launched UCB's Sino-Tibetan Etymological Dictionary and Thesaurus project. It's goal is a dictionary of Proto-Sino-Tibetan, the reconstructed ancestor of "Chinese, Tibetan, Burmese, and over 200 other languages spoken in South and Southeast Asia."

for specialized in North American languages but was also well-versed in Japanese historical linguistics and dialectology. Though primarily interested in the relationships between the families of North American languages and Siberian languages, he was also a close observer of the still unsettled controversy over the linguistic affiliations of Japanese.

The methods of historical linguistics were developed and proven in the reconstruction of Proto Indo-European -- the "Eve" of the Indo-European super family of languages, the largest in the world. Through a backward analysis of how sounds have changed in languages as far flung in space and time as Sanskrit, Hittite, Greek, Latin, and English and Russian and Spanish, linguistics determined that these and over four-hundred other languages descended from a common tongue.

Sino-Tibetan, the second largest super family of languages, includes Chinese, Tibetan, and Vietnamese,

Linguists are divided between between all human languages derive from a common ancestral population in which speech first evolved (monogenesis), or whether speech evolved in more than one human population (polygenesis). The former are looking for "the cradle" -- the latter for "the cradles" -- of human language(s).

Numerous attempts have been made to group Indo-European and other language families, like South Caucasian, Altaic, Uralic, Dravidian, and Afro-Asiatic, into an even larger family. Most such attempts speculate as about cultural and even racial links as much as they do about common linguistic roots. Archaeology and genetics are therefore playing a greater role in what began as a purely linguistic endeavor.

National identities are often at stake. Romantics in nations that are homes to the older Indo-European languages, sometimes guided by myths of national origin, want to believe the whole family got its start in a certain valley where their nation now sits. But nationalist theories inevitably encounter fatal problems in the light of archaeological and other evidence.



Japanese and English cannot be fundamentally different, since both are human languages. There are only so many things a language can do, and Japanese and English allow one to do most of these things, in pretty much the same way.

I am not, of course, talking about pronunciation or word order. I am talking the fact that most languages have names for objects and actions, expressions that modify the qualities of objects and actions, and ways to relate such elements in a train of thought that could be past, present, future, or timeless.

Moreover, users of English and Japanese share essentially the same emotional capacity for anger, joy, disappointment, anxious anticipation, fear, whatever.

To be continued.



While intelligence may help in learning or using a language, what makes some people better or more interesting speakers than others is personality.

This fall a Japanese friend asked me to let an Australian girl stay at my home for a couple of nights before she returned to Australia. After speaking with the girl on the phone, I said to my friend, "She speaks very well." My friend said, "Of course, she's Australian." My friend meant that the girl spoke well because she was a native speaker. I meant that she was an exceptionally good speaker, because most native speakers don't speak particularly well. They just speak, because they have mouths, like they walk because they have legs

To be continued.