- Advertising Tower: Japanese Modernism and Modernity in the 1920s
In 1925, a year central to the concerns of Advertising Tower, the short-lived short story writer Kajii Motojirô published a tale called 'Lemon'. It has long been considered one the classics of Japanese short fiction. The climax of the story locates the focal character in one embodiment of Western-orientated Japanese modernity – the book section of Tokyo's Maruzen Department Store. The down-at-the-heel narrator has brought with him one shiny yellow lemon. He heaps up an armload of expensive, illustrated art books, sticks the lemon in the pile, and awaits the cataclysm.
William O. Gardener has looked back at the decade of the 1920s in Japan in this fascinating, sometimes frustrating, always informative study of how modernism in the arts and literature were generated within Japan's particular experience of cultural, social and political modernity. He does a generally good job of balancing forces, texts, manifestos – within both artistic modernism and the encompassing structures of modernization – along three lines: those that might be considered European derivations, home-grown adaptations, and developments generated from Japan's own colonial periphery, chiefly Manchuria and Korea. The work hinges on key texts by two writers: Hagiwara Kyôjirô, a rather obscure – until recently – poetic experimenter and pamphleteer; and Hayashi Fumiko, a writer who might have been celebrated as the pioneer of postwar literature by women had she not been compromised by the opportunistic ultra-patriotism of her war-time career and texts. Gardner also manages to sketch the artistic trajectory of other figures, such as Anzai Fuyue, a poetic modernizer from the colonial frontier of Manchuria. I will suggest below that one other figure who emerges midway through the book, Yi Sang, is the lemon in the stack of Japanese modernists. The Korean poet and writer/Japanese colonial subject Yi Sang, and a sample of his texts, surge up amidst [End Page 455] an accumulation of texts and interpretations of 'mainland' poets and theorizers with enough force to all but destabilize the main themes of Advertising Tower.
The first chapter of the book sets out an ambitious framework of contexts for the kind of modernism it will explore. First is the literary field that characterized Japanese culture as it entered a decade of experimentation and contestation. Gardner patiently traces out the main players of 'the imagined community governed by the editors and senior writers of major literary journals' (p. 20): within poetry circles, a split between those looking back to French symbolism and poets of the more politicized and plain-speaking school of 'people's poets'; in prose fiction, the emergence of semi-autobiographical 'I-fiction', challenged both by writers more in sync with the modernism of contemporary European fiction (Kawabata Yasunari, Yokomitsu Riichi) and the writers of the Proletarian Literary Movement. These schools and individuals writers are in turn located within the development of the media and advertising, from the growth of literary journals and series of affordable books to the coming of radio. The 'advertising tower' of the book's title links up to both the modern urban landscape and to the artistic project of Hagiwara Kyôjirô.
'My poem listens to the music inside my private box, but it also listens to the screech of the elevated railroad as it mixes with the noise of the city', wrote Hagiwara Kyôjirô in the Preface to his 1925 poetry collection Death Sentence. 'It listens to the sound of the printing press, to the sound of my pen scribbling beside it, to the cry of a single insect. Joy, laughter, anger, pleas, screams, and blows: with a monetary fall, they explode, they're reborn; born, they dash forth. Glaring yellow smoke compresses the swelling excreting heart' (p. 240). Gardner notes that this same collection contains 'a satirical sketch [. . . ] of a robot-like assemblage festooned with advertising messages'. One of them proclaims, 'All forms of poetic literature are destroyed – now they are replaced by the electric-radio advertising...