Sunday, 8 November 2009


Home-Coming was the first Japanese novel to appear in English translation after the second world war, Secker & Warburg published an edition in the UK in 1955 and Knopf published it a year earlier in the USA, it's Japanese title was 'Kikyo', this translation is by Brewster Horowitz, there's also an introduction by Harold Strauss, who gives a brief explanation about Japanese literature of the day and recalls the times when he met Osaragi in Japan. Home-Coming was originally serialised in the Mainichi Shimbun in 1948. It covers the period at the end of the war, and the years after. Osaragi is mainly concerned at looking at the next generation of Japanese immediately after the war, and through them to envision how Japan might change. Kyogo is an interesting character at first leaving Japan to explore Europe and then on his return to Japan, he has a renaissance with it's culture and tradition, although he doesn't feel like he is part of old Japan, he knows he's has no part in the new generation. It's not a war novel in the same respect as Akira Yoshimura's 'One Man's Justice' or Shizuku Go's 'Requiem', it's an interesting look at Japanese society in the immediate post-war years.

The story opens in Japanese occupied Singapore with Saeko Takano and a painter called Kohei Onozaki surveying the hills around Malacca, they look at an old church where the explorer Francis Xavier had been buried for a time, Saeko had come to Singapore to open a restaurant. On her way back from buying diamonds in the town, (she hides them in medicine bottles, and gets soldiers returning to Japan to give them to her sister, saying you can't get this medicine at home), she meets Captain Ushigi who persuades her to return to Singapore with him, but first he has to meet someone, would she like to come too?, she agrees. They stop outside a Chinese fronted house, the person they have come to see is Kyogo Moriya, a Japanese who has been living in Europe, who had come to Singapore via Sumatra and had narrowly escaped being killed by Japanese bombers. Kyogo and Ushigi have different views on the war, Kyogo knowing that Japan will be defeated, 'War is a terrible thing' he says, Ushigi adamant that Japan can win.
Kyogo has a Chinese passport and is fearful over his European connections, worried he maybe suspected by the Japanese military police as a spy. Ushigi tells Kyogo that he has a boat leaving, but Kyogo is going to head back to Europe. On a rainy day Saeko and Kyogo meet unexpectedly, they discuss the war, Saeko is unsettled to find out that he knows that she's been buying diamonds, Kyogo tells Saeko that he has a wife and daughter in Japan, they go on to a club and dance together, and Saeko later presses him to tell her more about his family, but he won't, uncertain that they will ever see each other again they embrace. Unnerved that Kyogo knows about her diamonds, Saeko writes a letter to the Japanese military police about Kyogo's presence, and he's arrested. Saeko seems to hold love/hate feelings for Kyogo, you get the impression that she may hate him, as he makes her feel vulnerable, but at the same time she can't deny her attraction to him.

The novel skips forward to the end of the war, released from prison, Kyogo sees groups of defeated Japanese soldiers on the road,one commits suicide with a grenade, and he finds a knapsack tied to a tree with the words 'Salt' and 'Not Dirty' written on it, after seeing the soldiers he decides he has to return to Japan. Three years on and Onozaki and Saeko meet again in Tokyo, he's playing guitar in a club, she asks Onozaki about Kyogo, he doesn't know whats come of him, but a young man Toshiki who calls Saeko, Aunt Saeko even tho he's not related to her, offers to track down Kyogo for her. Kyogo back in Japan, happens to meet the young MP who had tortured him whilst he was in prison, and he gives him a beating. Ushigi and Kyogo meet and talk about their revived interest in Japanese culture, Kyogo's wife remarried, Ushigi wants to visit Midway to see where his son drowned, he feels shame that he survived the war, they still have different feelings about the war, Kyogo thinks Ushigi a coward for not facing up to his actions, he has a Japanese sentimentality that needs to be gotten rid off, Kyogo tells him.

The narrative turns to Kyogo's daughter's, Tomoko,who works for a magazine, and designs clothes as a side job, she has approached Onozaki for some illustrations for a novel about Malacca.Tomko's mother, Setsuko has remarried to Professor Tatsuzo Oki, a successful writer on Japanese society. On a visit to a bookstore they meet Yukichi Okabe who is working at the store, also Toshiki (Saeko's young friend), who is nearly the same age as Yukichi, Toshiki is planning on starting a publishing firm and needs Yukichi's help. Through Onozaki, Saeko learns of Tomoko, Saeko too has remarried but hers is a loveless marriage. When Saeko contacts Tomoko she asks her to work for her, Toshiki meanwhile has traced Kyogo,and whilst negotiating a book contract with Tatsuzo Oki, lets slip that he has Kyogo's address in Kyoto for Tomoko, when Toshiki leaves Oki flies into a rage with Setsuko, Setsuko had told him that Kyogo had died. Fearing that Kyogo will come and visit her which will cause more pain to her mother, Tomoko decides to go to Kyoto to meet her father.

Jiro Osaragi was a prolific author, mainly known for writing historical fiction, his last novel, 'The Century of the Emperor', was a history of the Meiji Restoration, featuring hundreds of characters, and told of the restoration from many different view points, it was serialized in the Asahi Shimbun, who also created the Osaragi Jiro Prize after him. 'The Journey', another of Jiro Osaragi's novel was also translated into English.

Jiro Osaragi Society (in Japanese)


mel u said...

It is so wonderful to have this book brought to our attention in such an insightful fashion-it looks like for now only his other novel, Journey is available on so much for sharing this

me. said...

Thanks for the comment,hope you manage to track down a copy!.