- Shibasaki Tomoka's Literature of Location
The writer Shibasaki Tomoka (b. 1973) grew up in Osaka and still considers herself to be an Osakan through and through, although she has now lived in Tokyo for well over a decade. Her first novel, A Day on the Planet (Kyō no dekigoto, 2000), was turned into a (substantially different) film in 2003. Many of her stories and novels are set in the Kansai region of Japan, and in 2006 she won the Oda Sakunosuke Prize, at that time awarded to works with a connection to Kansai. In 2014, when she won the Akutagawa Prize, Japan's most prestigious literary award, for her novella Spring Garden (Haru no niwa), she was a decade and a half into her writing career. The story translated here, "Right Here, Right Here" (Koko de, koko de, 2011), is the product of Shibasaki's mid-career, at a point when she was starting to give greater attention to questions of memory and history.
Even in Tokyo, Shibasaki continues to write stories set in her native Osaka. Her Osakan characters speak to one another in the dialect of Osaka, Osaka-ben, which Shibasaki rightly distinguishes from Kansai-ben, the more commonly applied term encompassing the dialects of the entire region. To outsiders, Osaka-ben is often considered earthy and brash; it is heard across the nation as the province of Japanese comedy. For many Osakans, [End Page 96] it is a point of pride. To them, Osaka-ben conveys an air of openness and warmth, in sharp contrast to Tokyo's cold formality. Perhaps many people of various stripes who have experienced life in both places would agree, but this is surely too facile a description of a lived language for a region of well over 20 million people, one which has both casual and formal registers. When asked at a reading at the University of Oregon in 2016 how she herself feels the Osakan dialect should be rendered into English, Shibasaki reminded her audience that it is only a dialect to someone observing it from the perspective of "standard" Japanese; to the people who use Osaka-ben on a daily basis, it is simply Japanese.1
Translators and scholars have often mourned the loss of the Osaka dialect in translation, most noticeably with respect to Edward Seidensticker's 1957 translation of Tanizaki Jun'ichirō's The Makioka Sisters (Sasameyuki, published 1943–48), but to Shibasaki's thinking, the rhythm of the conversation and its seemingly limitless potential to wander afield denote its Osaka-ness far more than verb endings and vocabulary do. For Shibasaki, Osakan conversation is marked by its generosity of spirit: in Tokyo, she claims, you go into a store and ask if they have such-and-such kind of pen and the clerk has no problem simply saying, "No." In Osaka, the proper answer is something like, "Oh, we had it in stock until yesterday—if only you had come yesterday. . . ." Such a reply is very nearly the beginning of a story, and provides a way for the customer to respond in turn. In Osaka, Shibasaki insists, the speaker always feels an obligation to provide an opening for the conversation to continue.2 In "Right Here, Right Here," when the protagonist and her friend run into an acquaintance on a train platform, she feels obligated to "say something to make him laugh." When Shibasaki's characters speak, sentences trail off and conversations blithely meander far from where they started, as though the social codes of Osaka are inscribed into every story and novel. Osaka-ben is denoted in my translation of "Right Here, Right Here" by a slight expansiveness in the language the characters use.
Shibasaki studied geography in college and has a great deal of interest in constructed spaces and urban history. "One of my favorite everyday activities is to conjecture about streets and buildings; no matter how many hours I observe them, I never get tired of it," she said in a public talk while participating in the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa in 2016.3 No surprise, then, that location—by which I mean a story...