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Mad Wives and Island Dreams

Mad Wives and Island Dreams: Shimao Toshio and the Margins of Japanese Literature

Philip Gabriel
Copyright Date: 1999
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    Mad Wives and Island Dreams
    Book Description:

    Hailed by the noted critic Karatani Kojin as a more important and lasting writer than Mishima, Shimao Toshio (1917-1986) remains almost unknown in the West. Several of his short stories have appeared in English translation, yet it is only now, with the publication of Philip Gabriel's comprehensive and searching study, that Shimao's work is being introduced to the worldwide audience it deserves. Mad Wives and Island Dreams not only is a thorough assessment of the literary legacy of a highly original and influential writer, but also represents a significant contribution to the consideration of much broader issues relating to the emergence and nature of the postwar Japanese sense of identity. Shimao's fiction covers a wide range of topics: the war and its aftermath, the unconscious, the nuclear family, madness, the position of women, the culture of Japan's southern islands. Shimao's experiences as a survivor of a "kamikaze" unit underscore much of his literature and resulted in a series of compelling short stories unique in modern fiction. Many of these early, critically acclaimed works, including the classic "Everyday Life in a Dream," are based on the narrative logic of the unconscious. Mad Wives and Island Dreams contextualizes these "dream stories" as a literary expression of wartime trauma and argues that Shimao's powerful narration of guilt and victimization challenges standard readings of Japanese war literature. Shimao's most popular works are the byosaimono (literally "stories of a sick wife"), which chronicle the real-life crisis of his wife's madness in the mid-1950s. Among these is the writer's best-known work, the 1977 novel Shi no toge (The sting of death), widely recognized as one of the masterpieces of Japanese literature. The novel further explores Shimao's "literature of the victimizer" and wartime experience while revealing a feminist perspective that explores links between the suppressed aspirations of women and madness. Perhaps, most importantly, just as the novel examines the relationship between the wife, Miho, and her southern island roots, Shi no toge parallels Shimao's growing concern over the culture of marginalized regions and notions of cultural diversity-a concern that would eventually result in the Yaponesia essays. In Mad Wives and Island Dreams, Gabriel succeeds in linking all of the seemingly disparate strands within Shimao's oeuvre--the war stories, the byosaimono, the dream stories, the Yaponesia writings-categories all too often discussed in isolation. He shows convincingly that together they represent a consistent and concerted attempt to depict the existence of "the Other," the significant periphery of a less than homogenous whole. This volume will prove fascinating and important reading for those interested in questions of cultural identity and marginalization as well as Japanese literature and culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6343-2
    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-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    Shimao Toshio (1917–1986) once summed up his life as a failure to experience. Having left the Kanto region days before the 1923 earthquake, he escaped the horrific natural catastrophe that leveled Tokyo and Yokohama. Likewise, as a naval lieutenant in World War II in charge of a kamikaze squadron of “suicide boats,” Shimao was just one radio message away from oblivion when the emperor’s words of surrender on August 15, 1945, put an end to the conflict.¹ Despite Shimao’s assessment, the reader of his fiction and essays is left with quite the opposite impression, of a writer whose life...

  5. OnE Self-Apocalypse: Tales of the Tokkōtai
    (pp. 7-50)

    Who were the kamikaze? In the West these suicide warriors have been seen as everything from fanatical, inhuman automatons to thoughtful inheritors of a “noble” historical tradition of self-sacrifice who willingly, even eagerly, gave up their lives. During World War II, unsurprisingly, the kamikaze (hereaftertokkōtai)¹ were viewed by the Allies as one more example of Japanese “barbarous and fanatical behavior” by which the Japanese “forfeited all right to be treated like human beings.”² “Suicide tactics,” Ivan Morris writes, “instead of overawing the Americans as had been confidently expected, produced indignation and rage” and left no compunction on the American...

  6. TwO Dreams and the Alphabet of Trauma
    (pp. 51-98)

    In the lexicon of postwar Japanese literature, dreams and the work of Shimao Toshio are nearly synonymous. In a burst of creativity just after the war (1946–1948) Shimao wrote eighteen stories, twelve of them dream narratives, that is, short stories based on the logic of the unconscious. Several of these, most notably “Yume no naka de no nichijō” (1948; trans. 1985, “Everyday Life in a Dream”), have become modern classics.¹ Shimao continued to use the unconscious as a major source for his literature throughout his career. In addition to some thirty stories classified in one way or another as...

  7. THreE Out of the Abyss: The “Sick Wife Stories”
    (pp. 99-159)

    In the spring of 1954 Shimao’s wife Miho went mad. As she recalls in a later essay, on the day of her husband’s birthday, April 18, Miho took her two small children to greet him at the Koiwa Station in eastern Tokyo, hoping that Toshio, who often spent days away from home, would return for the celebration she had planned.¹ She waited in vain:

    I had prepared a nice birthday dinner of whole bream for the four of us, and the sight of it lying cold on the table under the white cloth I had covered it with pierced me...

  8. FoUR Island Dreams: Yaponesia and the Cultural Unconscious
    (pp. 160-214)

    From the late 1950s through the 1970s Shimao was absorbed in two projects: the fictionalized account of his wife’s mental illness that becameShi no toge(see chapter 3), and the depiction of his relationship with his island home, which is the topic of this chapter. To divide these two projects, however, is to risk missing how they are in many ways one. As noted at the end of chapter 3, Shimao’sbyōsaimono—his twenty-year literary study of his wife and her madness—is in large part a study of a native of Amami, of a woman who could not...

  9. Afterword
    (pp. 215-222)

    Asked in 1981 whether he ever planned a sequel toShi no toge, Shimao remarked, “I feel that I wrote about what happened afterward inHi no utsuroi.”Shi no togeis indeed continued in the 1976Hi no utsuroi, translatable as “The changing [or passing] of the days.”¹ The same cast of characters appears—thetokkōtaisurvivor husband/narrator, the wife, who is a former mental patient, the son, and daughter, Maya—now some years after the crisis of the wife’s madness, living in Naze City on the island of Amami, the husband the head librarian depicted in “Keiji no...

  10. Appendix: Plot Summary of Shi no toge
    (pp. 223-234)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 235-272)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 273-280)
  13. Index
    (pp. 281-288)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 289-290)