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  • Writing Home: Representations of the Native Place in Modern Japanese Literature
  • Dennis Washburn
Writing Home: Representations of the Native Place in Modern Japanese Literature. By Stephen Dodd. Harvard University Asia Center, 2004. x + 293 pages. Hardcover $40.00/£25.95/€36.90.

Few concepts have exerted such emotional force and carried such ideological freight in Japan as furusato. The word usually calls forth associations with the countryside, evoking images of rustic villages or natural vistas that stimulate a desire to identify with the pure, authentic culture they signify. Interestingly, the allusive force of furusato can even extend to certain types of urban space: the fading remnants of the preindustrial back streets depicted by Higuchi Ichiyô; the shabby, marginalized licensed quarters eulogized by Nagai Kafû; or the lively lower-class neighborhoods represented by Tora-san's Katsushika Shibamata. All these imagined spaces carry within them not just an echo of home as place, but also of the aching desire to return there. That desire has been the inspiration for a wide array of cultural forms—from art songs and min'yô to a long line of motion pictures stretching from Mizoguchi Kenji's Furusato to Koreeda Hirokazu's Maboroshi no hikari—as well as the object of ideological and economic manipulation in everything from political campaigns to advertising slogans.

Given the importance of the idea of furusato in modern Japanese culture, the appearance of Stephen Dodd's monograph is welcome. Dodd presents a survey of literary representations of furusato, a word he renders as "native place," that builds upon the groundwork laid by a number of scholars, most notably Maeda Ai, Isoda Kôichi, Marilyn Ivy, and Harry Harootunian, and draws on theorists such as Henri Lefebvre and Edward Soja to construct a hermeneutics of space. Although this book is not an exhaustive treatment of the subject, Dodd brings together his ongoing research, including some previously published essays, to focus on a number of key texts that demonstrate how the idea of furusato impacted literary practices.

Following a brief introduction that establishes the historical context of the idea of furusato, Dodd turns in the opening chapter to the writings of Kunikida Doppo. He notes that for Doppo furusato signified not so much his actual home, or native place, as an idealized space that could provide a stable and rooted source for literary production. Doppo's essentially urbane conception of the countryside owed a great deal to European Romanticism, and Dodd's discussion of Doppo's debt to Wordsworth in particular points to the recent vintage of the ideological sources for the meanings of native place in Japanese culture. [End Page 278]

The next two chapters are devoted to the works of Shimazaki Tôson, who, in contrast to Doppo, dealt explicitly with his personal experience of native place in novels such as Yoake mae. This personal connection to place helps explains the pedestrian (in my view) quality of much of Tôson's writing. But that very same quality also conferred on his fiction an aura of sincerity and artistic integrity that in turn gave it a strong sense of authenticity. The appeal to authentic space in Tôson's case elevated the construction of cultural and national identity to a form of mythmaking.

The third writer in the survey is Satô Haruo, a man Dodd views as representative of what he characterizes as the "introverted mood" of the Taishô period. While I hesitate to endorse that characterization of the period, Dodd links it to Satô's understanding of native place, which he sees as more sophisticated than that of either Doppo or Tôson. Satô's literary art, as represented by works such as Utsukushii machi and Den'en no yûutsu, is, in Dodd's estimation, variously the work of a miniaturist, fantasist, and utopian, with the effect that furusato becomes a highly interiorized space, a place of spiritual repose that serves as a stable grounding for a sense of artistic selfhood.

The final two chapters of the study are dedicated to an overview of the fiction of Shiga Naoya. Dodd's critical writing is in many respects at its sharpest in this section, particularly in his...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1880-1390
Print ISSN
0027-0741
Pages
pp. 278-281
Launched on MUSE
2005-07-25
Open Access
No
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