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Nakagami, Japan

Buraku and the Writing of Ethnicity

Anne McKnight

Publication Year: 2011

How do you write yourself into a literature that doesn’t know you exist? This was the conundrum confronted by Nakagami Kenji (1946–1992), who counted himself among the buraku-min, Japan’s largest minority. His answer brought the histories and rhetorical traditions of buraku writing into the high culture of Japanese literature for the first time and helped establish him as the most canonical writer born in postwar Japan.

In Nakagami, Japan, Anne McKnight shows how the writer’s exploration of buraku led to a unique blend of fiction and ethnography—which amounted to nothing less than a reimagining of modern Japanese literature. McKnight develops a parallax view of Nakagami’s achievement, allowing us to see him much as he saw himself, as a writer whose accomplishments traversed both buraku literary arts and high literary culture in Japan.

As she considers the ways in which Nakagami and other twentieth-century writers used ethnography to shape Japanese literature, McKnight reveals how ideas about language also imagined a transfigured relation to mainstream culture and politics. Her analysis of the resulting “rhetorical activism” lays bare Nakagami’s unique blending of literature and ethnography within the context of twentieth-century ideas about race, ethnicity, and citizenship—in Japan, but also on an international scale.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press


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pp. 1-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

Most of this research was conducted under a Japan Foundation grant and further study under Komori Yōichi’s direction at Komaba, Tokyo University. Very little of the infrastructure of the project could have been done without the inroads through scholarship and bureaucracy and the camaraderie that Professor Komori made possible. ...

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Introduction: I Is an Other

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pp. 1-36

How do you write yourself into a literature that doesn’t seem to know you exist? In 1990, shortly before his death, Nakagami Kenji gave a speech at the Frankfurt Book Fair on precisely that subject. His talk was titled “Am I Japanese?”—a question that may have seemed odd to his listeners, ...

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1. An Archive of Activism

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pp. 37-64

The most important task carried out by early twentieth-century buraku activist thinkers was crafting a history of their own that would establish a place for the buraku within a national historiography. While the Meiji government made efforts to create a body of citizens that was less stratified than it had been under the Tokugawa status system, ...

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2. Confession and the Crisis of Buraku Writing in the 1970s

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pp. 65-96

This chapter shows how the theme of confession preoccupied writers in the 1970s who sought to place buraku sett ings and characters at the center of their work. Since The Broken Commandment, confession had been an instrumental part of literary characterization—and a heavily freighted one—for representing buraku characters ...

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3. Constituents of National Literature

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pp. 97-134

In 1955, five years after winning the Nobel Prize, William Faulkner visited Japan as a guest of the U.S. State Department’s Exchange of Persons Division. He later described himself and his Japanese hosts as “two people running at top speed on the opposite sides of a plate-glass window.”1 ...

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4. Inaudible Man

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pp. 135-170

In a 1968 novella titled On the Japanese Language (Nihongo ni tsuite), Nakagami takes received tradition from both African American and buraku writings and puts it in the service of a modernist first-person narrative.1 This chapter focuses on a set of close readings to explore how these allusions are woven into the text of On the Japanese Language ...

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5. The 38th Parallax: Nakagami in/and Korea

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pp. 171-202

The ideas of exchange and exile punctuated Nakagami’s works. During a period of intense travel beginning in the late 1970s, he transposed these questions from the immediate domestic context of Kumano and kokubungaku (national literature) to the regional context of East Asia. ...

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6. Subculture and the South

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pp. 203-232

Distribution of fan-based subcultures like character goods and anime has flourished outside Japan since the mid-1990s. At the same time, most new research and venues that explore these new subculture exchanges and their social forms have almost entirely dropped prose fiction from their analysis.1 ...

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pp. 233-238

I began Nakagami, Japan by showing how the notion of parallax was integral to Nakagami’s writing and how his doubled point of view attempted to run counter to the myth of Japan’s postwar world as a monocultural, homogenous society that prevailed in the 1970s and 1980s. ...


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pp. 239-270


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pp. 271-282

E-ISBN-13: 9780816677009
E-ISBN-10: 081667700X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816672868

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2011