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Twelve Views from the Distance

Twelve Views from the Distance

Mutsuo Takahashi
Translated by Jeffrey Angles
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Twelve Views from the Distance
    Book Description:

    From one of the foremost poets in contemporary Japan comes this entrancing memoir that traces a boy's childhood and its intersection with the rise of the Japanese empire and World War II. Originally published in 1970, this translation is the first available in English.

    In twelve chapters that visit and revisit critical points in his boyhood, Twelve Views from the Distancepresents a vanished time and place through the eyes of an accomplished poet. Recounting memories from his youth, Mutsuo Takahashi captures the full range of his internal life as a boy, shifting between his experiences and descriptions of childhood friendships, games, songs, and school. With great candor, he also discusses the budding awareness of his sexual preference for men, providing a rich exploration of one man's early queer life in a place where modern, Western-influenced models of gay identity were still unknown.

    Growing up poor in rural southwestern Japan, far from the urban life that many of his contemporaries have written about, Takahashi experienced a reality rarely portrayed in literature. In addition to his personal remembrances, the book paints a vivid portrait of rural Japan, full of oral tradition, superstition, and remnants of customs that have quickly disappeared in postwar Japan. With profuse local color and detail, he re-creates the lost world that was the setting for his beginnings as a gay man and poet.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8281-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Note about Japanese Names
    (pp. ix-ix)
  4. Chart of Family Members
    (pp. x-x)
  5. Translatorʹs Introduction
    (pp. xi-xx)

    Takahashi Mutsuo is today known as one of Japan’s most prominent living poets and most versatile writers, having published in almost every major genre, ranging from modern-style poetry, tanka, and haiku to fiction, essays, criticism, opera librettos, and evenandkyōgenplays. Long respected in the literary world for his erudition and broad knowledge of world literature, he has been quick to draw on these resources, and for this reason his writing appeals not just to Japanese audiences but to international readers as well. As a result, he has become one of the most thoroughly translated of all living...

  6. Twelve Views from the Distance

    • The Snow of Memory
      (pp. 3-20)

      I have a photograph.

      This photo, which has browned with age, is taller than it is wide and has roughly the same proportions as a playing card. In it stands my mother. She is leaning on a waist-high set of shelves against the wall of what appears to be the interior of a photography studio. She is wearing a coat of iridescent material over an under-kimono decorated with a striped pattern, and her hair is up in the roundedmarumagehairdo traditionally worn by married women. On her right is a little boy with his hair cropped close. That is...

    • Grandmaʹs House
      (pp. 21-37)

      I spent several stretches of my youth being passed from one person’s house to another, but other than that, most of my early childhood was spent at my grandmother’s home. “Grandma’s house.” Strange that I should think of it as hers instead of Grandfather’s. For most of the time I stayed with them, Grandfather was alive and in good health. He was not one of those men who married into his wife’s family, moved in with her, and took her surname. In fact, the name that appeared on the wooden nameplate above the door was his name, “Takahashi Asakichi,” although...

    • Tales of Long Ago
      (pp. 38-54)

      The gears in the dining room clock wheeze into position like an asthmatic trying to catch his breath. The chime sounds ten o’clock at night. Grandfather stands from where he sits beside the dining table and pounds two or three times on his lower back with his right fist. He goes to the restroom, sliding the door open twice, first to leave, then to return. Next, he slides open thefusumato the main sitting room.

      From the other side of the door, I can hear his voice saying, “Paradise, paradise.” For my elderly grandparents who spent the entire day...

    • Spirited Away
      (pp. 55-73)

      The time a young soul spends in sleep is a magical time of nonexistence. The scent of the threadbare covers give me a slight headache, but I wrap myself in them and listen to Grandmother tell her bedtime stories in a voice that speaks on and on without pausing. Then, all of a sudden, I cease to exist. As I disappear, even time itself stops. Later, in the morning, I rediscover myself lying in bed. I cannot tell whether the time I spent away was long or short. After all, a time that does not exist has no such thing...

    • On Motherʹs Back
      (pp. 74-92)

      My early memories of happiness and of the war are, strangely enough, both linked to my mother’s back. I am not trying to say that happiness meant war to me, or that the war was a happy time. If anything, the situation was quite the opposite. Our happiness and the war were as diametrically opposed as heaven and hell, and Mother’s back represented the diverging point between the two. In other words, Mother’s back was the fork in the path—one side led toward paradise while the other led toward the fiery depths.

      Probably the earliest of my well-formed memories...

    • Heaven and Hell
      (pp. 93-113)

      The following fragment probably comes from the very first song I learned as a little boy:

      A fire lights on the head of theketsuguro

      Splash—it sticks its head in the water and puts it out

      Aketsugurois what we would call a grebe in our dialect. It is a kind of waterbird known elsewhere in Japan askaitsuburi. In our dialect, the wordkaitsuburiis pronouncedkeetsuburi, and people misunderstood this as meaningketsu-buri, which means “ass-shaking.” Since the body of the bird was dark all over, this word was further transformed intoketsuguro, meaning “dark assed.”...

    • The Various Types of Sea
      (pp. 114-131)

      I was four years old when I first encountered the wordsea. That was after Mother ran away to China to be with her lover, telling me only that she would be away for a short time as she did her shopping. It was three months after her disappearance that a big package arrived from China and Grandmother finally leveled with me.

      “Mommy went to China.”

      “Where is China?” I asked.

      It was in her response that I heard the unfamiliar wordseafor the first time. “It’s on the other side of the sea, really far away.”

      When a...

    • Princes and Paupers
      (pp. 132-148)

      To a young soul, there is nothing more frightening than stories about kidnapping. Children always suspect there are kidnappers lurking outdoors, and those kidnappers are inevitably lying in wait for them.

      The first kidnapper to come after me was theyosshoibird. At night when I was fretting about, unable to sleep, Mother would whisper quietly into my ear, “You’d better be quiet. Theyosshoibird will come.” I would hold my breath, and Mother would begin telling me the story of theyosshoibird and thekakkōbird.

      There once was a naughty little boy who would not stop...

    • The Shore of Sexuality
      (pp. 149-166)

      From the dawning, distant shore of my young sexuality, I hear the strains of a certain song:

      Gikkon battan

      Shall I put on theobi?

      Whom shall I put theobion?

      Shall I put theobion Mut-chan?

      Gikkon battan …

      This song is what one calls anayashiuta, a “humoring song”—a song that we would sing to entertain a small child—and it was accompanied by a particular game. An adult would lie on their back, bend their knees up, then have a young child straddle them. The adult would stick out their hands and take those...

    • Skies of Blood
      (pp. 167-187)

      There are many different types of skies that hang over the memories of my childhood. There are the May skies, clear as water, visible through the clusters of fresh, veined leaves of the persimmon tree over the corrugated iron fence off to the side of Grandmother’s house. There are the skies of the rainy season that drooped heavily from the heavens and, before long, would drop gloomy ropes of rain that bound them tightly to the muddy earth below. There are the skies that would come at the end of summer and would be full of clouds, almost as if...

    • Imagining Father
      (pp. 188-208)

      Tangible things are not the only things that can leave deep scars on the soul of a young child. Sometimes things that do not exist—things that are absent from one’s life—leave even firmer imprints on the soft flesh of the heart.

      In my early youth, the thing that I missed above all others was a father. My father died soon after my birth, well before I had emerged from the blackness of oblivion into the light of consciousness—before I had even really come into being. In a sense, my father’s absence preceded my very existence.

      When people...

    • Communities outside the World
      (pp. 209-230)

      The first time I was ever visited by a sensation of something “outside this world” was probably when I was in a train. I am not sure where I was going. Perhaps I was in the train going with Grandmother to visit my aunt in Yame-gun, or perhaps I was on my way to Shimonoseki to go meet Mother, accompanied by my young relative. In any case, I do remember that I had propped my chin on my hands, which were placed against the glass window, as I gazed absentmindedly out the window. The landscape approached us with great speed...

  7. Afterword to the English Translation MORE THAN FORTY YEARS LATER …
    (pp. 231-233)

    I wroteTwelve Views from the Distancein 1969, when I was thirty-two years old. Using that year as my vantage point, I gazed across the distance of time onto the panoramas of my childhood, examining the years between 1937 and 1952 through twelve different windows. That was what I had in mind when I gave the work this title. Since I first wrote the book, more than forty years have gone by, depositing us in the year 2012. The events that transpired in and around the year I wrote this book have also retreated into the past, becoming two-dimensional...

  8. Glossary
    (pp. 234-240)
  9. English Translations of Takahashiʹs Writing
    (pp. 241-241)
  10. Translatorʹs Acknowledgments
    (pp. 242-243)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 244-244)
  12. [Illustrations]
    (pp. 245-252)