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Mirror: The Fiction and Essays of Koda Aya

Copyright Date: 1999
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Ann Sherif discusses the life and work of Kòda in light of changes in critical horizons, readerly communities, and especially constructions of gender and the family in the latter half of the twentieth century. Excellent translations of some of Kòda's most provocative short works are included.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6363-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. A Note on Names
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Part One: Life and Writings

    • 1 A Literary Life
      (pp. 3-28)

      Kōda Aya (1904–1990) never wanted to be like her father, the dedicated and prolific writer Kōda Rohan (1867–1947). Most of her life, Kōda had stayed at home raising a daughter and caring for her father in his old age.¹ Far from her father’s world of art and literature, she devoted herself to work in the kitchen. After Rohan’s death in 1947, Kōda took up writing herself, primarily as a means of supplementing her income. In her own words:

      My motivation for writing was purely commercial. Because my father was a writer, I knew what writers were like and...

    • 2 The Father: Kōda’s Autobiographical Texts
      (pp. 29-72)

      At the start of her career, Kōda Aya had the advantages of a famous name and a tolerant age. The postwar era encouraged an outpouring of literary creativity and fostered a diversity of voices and interests. In this exhilarating atmosphere, Kōda grappled with the assignment of presenting her father’s home life to an admiring readership. But now that she no longer had the responsibility of caring for her father, she also faced the tasks of supporting herself and finding a place in the world. During the 1940s and 1950s, Kōda’s numerous autobiographical essays drew the attention of many Japanese readers...

    • 3 Flowing and the Literature of the Demimonde
      (pp. 73-104)

      In 1955, Kōda surprised readers when she published the novelFlowing(Nagareru), a work about a geisha house in early postwar Tokyo. Readers and critics alike wondered at Kōda’s switch from memoirs about her family to prose narrative on a radically different subject—the world of the geisha and prostitute.¹ Kōda had consistently produced sober, mature works focusing on domestic themes and had exhibited even less interest than her scholarly father in portraying passion, sex, and obsession or spinning amatory tales.² Yet, inFlowing, Kōda chose the floating world(ukiyo), the urban pleasure quarter devoted precisely to these concerns, for...

    • 4 Narrative Authority and the Postwar Realm: Two Exemplary Short Stories
      (pp. 105-130)

      Many works of fiction by modern Japanese women writers convey a strong undercurrent of female self-repression and anger directed at the sexism of Japanese society.¹ Readers who seek expressions of “‘female rage’ against patriarchal oppression” in Kōda’s writings, however, will not find it.² Certainly her earlier works concentrate on the pain resulting from her relationship with Rohan, an unusual, highly critical man, but they also confirm the extent to which Kōda used invaluable tools for living that her father, among others, taught her. Through her works Kōda offers a model of wisdom and the means by which to survive traumatic...

    • 5 Torn Sleeves and the Anti-Oedipal Family
      (pp. 131-155)

      Never has there been a more dazzling and diverse list of titles available to a reader than in the Japan of the late twentieth century. Heedless of critics’ insistence that fiction is dead, hard and soft covers enclose a dizzying array of narratives: some heavy on plot, some not; written by women or men; boldly pornographic or discreetly lyrical; avant garde or conventional in style and conception; realist or fantastic; proposing radical visions or nostalgic dreams. Despite revised economic forecasts, publication of domestic authors flourishes. The thirst for foreign books cannot be quenched, it seems, for translated novels dominate the...

    • 6 Epilogue
      (pp. 156-160)

      An encounter with the body of texts written by Kōda Aya raises many tantalizing questions about the status of reading, literary production, and criticism, few of which have clear-cut answers. In the preceding chapters I have attempted to address some of these questions. As Edward Said has written:

      Criticism adopts the mode of commentary on and evaluation of art; yet in reality criticism matters more as a necessarily incomplete and preparatory process toward judgement and evaluation. What the critical essay does is to begin to create the values by which art is judged…. Critics create not only the values by...

  6. Part Two: Translations

    • Fragments
      (pp. 163-165)

      I live among the charred ruins of Omotechō in Koishikawa. This is where Father spent about twenty years of his life, from the late Taishō period until a month before our neighborhood was destroyed in the fire bombings. When I first moved back here, I felt stunned at the sight of those horrible wild onions that grew everywhere and would not go away, and at the vast expanse of burnt, broken roof tile that covered the ground completely, like asphalt. But I have gotten over that and now find it all quite splendid.

      The burnt ruins are a treasure chest,...

    • The Medal
      (pp. 166-176)

      In those days, I wore a black striped apprentice’s kimono with a chintz sash so threadbare that you could barely see the floral print. A long, straight apron hung firmly from the waist of that sash, like a shield, like a plaster cast, like a fire door.

      With the resounding failure of my husband’s business, I had fallen from the status of proud young mistress of a prosperous Shingawa liquor wholesaler to manager of a for-members-only sake shop. This way of describing our store makes it sound reputable, but in fact it was a miserable little place without so much...

    • Dolls for a Special Day
      (pp. 177-187)

      I have heard that Girls’ Day dolls vary in appearance from one generation to the next because they are modeled after the reigning empress. I wonder about that.

      The sets of Girls’ Day dolls familiar to us today generally contain fifteen figures. Twelve of the fifteen—the emperor and empress, ladies-in-waiting, five-member musical ensemble, the Minister of the Left, and the Minister of the Right—are, as one might expect, exquisite examples of male and female beauty. On the very bottom row of the stand, however, there are three servant dolls with faces and expressions not unlike those of ordinary...

    • A Friend for Life
      (pp. 188-200)

      I have a rather large full-length mirror at home. It is an old mirror, one that I bought nearly forty years ago. Not surprisingly it has begun to wear out. Last year, cloudy spots started appearing, one after another, all over the mirror’s surface. I suddenly developed a great attachment to the mirror, and though I had never been faithful about keeping it clean, I set out to prevent the blotches from spreading. “A little care and attention,” I thought, “will surely restore its youthfulness.”

      One day when the man from the glass shop was over working on something for...

  7. Chronology
    (pp. 201-204)
  8. Bibliography
    (pp. 205-218)
  9. Index
    (pp. 219-224)