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Legend of Gold and Other Stories

Legend of Gold and Other Stories

Ishikawa Jun
Translated from the Japanese with an Introduction and Critical Essays by William J. Tyler
Copyright Date: 1998
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  • Book Info
    Legend of Gold and Other Stories
    Book Description:

    The four stories and novella translated in this volume represent the best short fiction by Ishikawa Jun (1899-1987), one of the most important modernist writers to appear on the Japanese literary stage during the years before and after World War II. Throughout his career, Ishikawa resisted the tide of popular opinion to address issues of political and artistic significance and thereby paved the way for a generation of Japanese internationalists and experimentalists, including Abe Kobo and Oe Kenzaburo. Highly acclaimed and respected in Japan, Ishikawa remains little known in the West-in part because of the tendency of Western critics and readers of Japanese literature to focus on writers concerned with aesthetic issues. Combining a strong interest in politics with a brilliant use of modernist techniques, Ishikawa's work defies easy categorization. Banned in 1938, "Mars' Song" has been called the finest example of anti-war fiction written during Japan's march to war in China and the Pacific. In it Ishikawa denounces the chorus of jingoism that swept Japan, and via a metafictional tale within a tale, he warns against the suicidal destruction to which complicity in warmongering will lead. The allegorical "Moon Gems," written in the spring of 1945, further explores the tenuous position of the writer moving against the current in a country not only still at war but very near defeat. In "The Legend of Gold" and "The Jesus of the Ruins," both from 1946, Japan has been reduced to a charred wasteland yet Ishikawa envisions destruction as fertile ground for rebirth and resurrection. Finally, the semi-surrealistic novella The Raptor plumbs the meanings and possibilities of peace in the post-Occupation era. William Tyler's eminently readable translations are faithfully expressive of stylistic and tonal nuances in the original works. In a perceptive introduction and the critical essays that follow, Tyler emphasizes Ishikawa's importance as an anti-establishment--even "resistance"--writer and argues that the writer's political iconoclasm goes hand-in-hand with the modanizumu of his literary experimentation. The Legend of Gold will be of tremendous importance in enlarging a Western understanding of the development of the writer's role as social critic and the evolution of the modernist movement in postwar Japan.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6333-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xx)

    The four stories and one novella that appear in translation here represent the best and most frequently anthologized short fiction by the Japanese novelist Ishikawa Jun (1899–1987). Published between 1938 and 1953, they also span the most tumultuous years in twentieth-century Japanese history—from Japan’s invasion of China in the summer of 1937 to prolonged war, defeat, and occupation in 1945, to final reinstatement in the community of nations in 1952. Thus, these works allow us to hear a rare Japanese voice raised in protest against the war, the popular interpretation of defeat, and the meaning of peace as...

  5. Part One: The Stories

    • MARS’ SONG
      (pp. 3-37)

      There it is again . . . that song. How shall I describe the feeling it evokes in me? It is twilight. I sit in my room alone. To my ear comes the clamorous sound of the popular refrain. It originates in the madness of the streets, its frenzied crescendo rising to a fever pitch to assault my window. It is “Mars’ Song” of which I speak.

      In this realm with gods somnolent,

      Where the voice of wisdom has fallen silent,

      utterly silent,

      What will ensue in the hour when you, Mars, rise and gird for battle?

      “How bold!” “How...

      (pp. 38-55)

      New Year’s Day, 1945.

      I rose early and went into the city to a certain Hachiman Shrine. I went to greet the new year and to receive a lucky arrow as a souvenir. As I stood in the crowd that had gathered at the shrine and was bathed in the light of the rising sun as it spread across the cold, windy sky, I composed a crudekyōkaverse.

      Though their gabled peaks

      Are enshrouded in the first mists

      Of the new year,

      As ever we entrust

      The sum of our hopes to the gods.

      I returned to my lodgings...

      (pp. 56-71)

      “Now I ask you, sir. How can people expect to be served white rice in times like these? There’s none to be had no matter where you look. Besides, I wouldn’t serve it even if I did have it on hand. It wouldn’t feel right if I did. Yes, I know. The Chinaman across the street has got white rice. He’s got it, and he doesn’t think twice about offering it to his customers. You name it, he’ll serve it. Vegetables over rice. Meat with rice. A bowl of steamed rice to go with the main dish. But not at...

      (pp. 72-96)

      Under the blazing sky of a hot summer sun, amidst choking dirt and dust, a cluster of makeshift stalls has sprung from the land, and like a weed that grows in a clump, it has sent out its tendrils to cover the earth. The stands are partitioned by screens made of reeds, each pressing so hard upon the next there is scarcely room to breathe, let alone move. And as for the occupants, if there are those who flog their various and sundry household goods by simply setting them out on the ground, and those who spread kimonos of things...

      (pp. 97-166)

      “The canal.” So this was it.

      Here, its path cut from the land, was where the abundant waters flowed.

      Coming from the center of the city, where the streets were lined with dirty little shacks each built hard upon the other, one came to a bridge. Crossing the canal, one immediately came upon a great concrete causeway. It stretched far into the distance.

      There was nothing vaguely suggestive of a house where people might live. Only warehouses. Long, gray warehouses. They were like walls that lined both sides of the highway. They seemed to go on forever.

      “Hmm . ....

  6. Part Two: Critical Essays

    • On “Mars’ Song”
      (pp. 169-183)

      Written late in 1937 and published in January 1938, “Mars’ Song” must be read against the backdrop of its times to be fully appreciated. In July 1937, an incident ominously similar to the military fait accompli that had precipitated Japan’s seizure of Manchuria in 1931 occurred on the outskirts of Beijing, and Japanese forces invaded China. By August, Beijing had fallen, and Shanghai was under siege. By the end of December, Nanjing lay raped. At home, news of Japanese military advances was met by a rising chorus of popular support that found its voice in “The Bivouac Song”(Roei no...

    • On “Moon Gems”
      (pp. 184-200)

      The half-written poem at the beginning of “Mars’ Song” and the chapbook that falls serendipitiously from the overhead rack on the train to Izu remind us thatkyōkacomic verse and the example of its chief practitioner in the Tenmei style, Ōta Nanpo, played an important inspirational role in Ishikawa’s life during the next seven and a half years of war and privation. It was to them that he turned for sanity, humor, and refinement—or what we might call Ishikawa’s fundamentally seriocomic and ironic outlook—as well as strategies for literary and professional survival at a time when freedom...

    • On “The Legend of Gold” and “The Jesus of the Ruins”
      (pp. 201-221)

      “The Legend of Gold” (Ōgon densetsu;1946) and “The Jesus of the Ruins” (Yakeato no Iesu;1946) rank among Ishikawa’s most famous and commonly anthologized works. Representative not only of his brilliance as a stylist, especially as past master of the garrulous style(jōzetsu-tai),¹ they are also powerful evocations of the immediate postwar milieu in which Ishikawa rose to prominence, alongside Dazai Osamu, Oda Sakunosuke (1913–1947), and Sakaguchi Ango (1906–1955), as one of the first of the “après guerre” novelists and a member of the so-called libertine school (burai-ha) of writers.² As the title of one of the...

    • On The Raptor
      (pp. 222-238)

      One has only to see an actor gesticulating with a cigarette in an old movie—The Women(1939),Casablanca(1942), andAll about Eve(1950) rank among Hollywood’s smokier titles—to recall how ubiquitous smoking was in the not so distant past and how elaborate the grammar, if not innuendo, of its gestures. But, like ashtrays and lighters now consigned to roadside tag sales, in recent years cigarettes have largely disappeared from coffee tables across the United States. Of all the social movements generated in the northern hemisphere of the Americas since the 1960s, abstinence from tobacco ranks as the...

  7. NOTES
    (pp. 239-288)
    (pp. 289-292)
    (pp. 293-299)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 300-300)