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Why a Good Man Is Hard to Find in Meiji Fiction: Tamura Toshiko’s Akirame (Resignation)

From: U.S.-Japan Women's Journal
Number 43, 2013
pp. 11-32 | 10.1353/jwj.2013.0005

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Tamura Toshiko (1884–1945) has attracted increased attention since her complete works were published in the late 1980s, and Akirame (Resignation, 1911), the novel that brought her to the attention of the Japanese reading public, has been the object of a number of critical essays in the new millennium.1 It is now widely considered a pivotal novel in the development of modern Japanese women’s literature. The reasons for its stature are numerous, but I will highlight three: it is an early example of a colloquial writing style (genbun itchi) developed by a woman writer; it is a persuasive and probing novel of female self-fashioning; and it is an important moment in the modern novelistic lineage of same-sex love. Nonetheless, Akirame has also been haunted by a persistent criticism that it lacks unity and has tended to induce critics to think in dichotomies about its fictional world. Tamura is probably responsible for some of this, since the “resignation” signaled by the novel’s title encourages readers to make certain assumptions about it that are at odds with the positive portrait of its protagonist. I propose here to reread Akirame as a novel that explores what I will call a geography of patriarchy, and that thematizes its heroine’s search for a female homosocial space. My reading will also demonstrate the shared terrain between Tamura’s novel and the wider context of its publication, especially the emergence of the female literary group Seitō (Bluestockings) at the end of the first decade of the twentieth century. Akirame can also shed light on present-day debates about the relationship between feminism and queer theory. The best way to rethink Tamura’s novel is to start with its publication and reception, so as to understand the reasons for dichotomous approaches to it.

Patterns of Reception

The editors of the Osaka edition of Asahi Shinbun (Asahi News) ran a fiction contest in 1910 and received 91 entries, from which they selected nine works to circulate among the contest’s three judges: Kōda Rohan, who happened to be Tamura’s former literary mentor; Shimamura Hōgetsu, chief theorist of naturalism; and Natsume Sōseki, the daily’s staff novelist. In reality, however, Sōseki was in and out of the hospital that year, trying to recover from his recurrent ulcer problem, which left his associate, Morita Sōhei, to fill in for him under Sōseki’s own name.2 The solicitation of manuscripts from the general public and the awarding of prizes were still relatively new experiments in 1910, but all the major newspapers had such contests after the pioneering efforts of Yorozu Chōhō (The Morning Report) just before the turn of the century. Kōno Kensuke has argued that the spread of the phenomenon marked the replacement of an older practice of apprenticeship for learning the writer’s craft by this new system within print capitalism for scouting talent and nurturing careers among the mass of readers. Kōno calls this print capitalism’s “investment in literature.”3 Since almost every newspaper carried serialized fiction, this was also a survival strategy for the dailies.

In the early years of such experiments in soliciting fiction from the reading public, the budding writers and the judges were all men. In late Meiji, however, we witness the appearance of female awardees (but not female judges, as best I can tell). The nine finalists in the contest to which Tamura submitted her manuscript were rated on a point system from 0 to 100: Rohan awarded Akirame 83 points, Sōhei (using Sōseki’s name) awarded it 80, and Hōgetsu, too, gave it an 80, for an average score of 81. It was the favorite work of the latter two writers; Rohan liked most of the other finalists more, but was far more generous in his scoring than his two colleagues.4 The three men explained that, although many of the works had merit, none of the finalists was a unanimous choice and none was considered by the judges to be exceptional, so the novel with the highest average score, Akirame, would be considered the best submission and awarded the second-place...

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