Friday, 4 October 2013

The Kobe Hotel

Stuck somewhere between a desire to read either fiction or poetry The Kobe Hotel offers the opportunity to read both with the prose and haiku of Saitō Sanki, 西東三鬼, (1900-1962), who leaving his wife and child in Tokyo went to Kobe, the circumstances behind this course of action are revealed over the course of these stories. A dentist by profession on his arrival at the hotel on Tor Road in Kobe, which he describes as being an 'odd international hotel', he worked in a number of different occupations to get by, Sanki had previously lived in Singapore during the 1920's. The short prose sketches are full of his encounters and observations of the characters that drift through the hotel during his tenancy there, an interesting aspect to the tenants of the hotel is that of their metropolitan origins, especially as Sanki arrived in Kobe in 1942, at the height of the war, being too old he missed being drafted. The opening piece entitled The Story of the Strange Egyptian describes the character Maged Elba, one of only two Egyptians, he mentions, living in Japan at the time, although how Sanki is certain of this fact I'm not sure. Although described as stories they might pass as being labelled as chronicles, perhaps they are in actuality slightly embellished or polished tales of true events, the jacket also describes Sanki as a sexual adventurer and given his antipathy towards the military and authority, whilst reading these stories I was in places slightly reminded of Henry Miller, although they are devoid of Miller's fiery temper and perhaps the stories are told with a slightly more detached poetical eye. In the introduction Saito Masaya mentions that Sanki continued living his bohemian lifestyle in Kobe that he had begun in Singapore during the twenties. 
Originally published in periodicals, the stories evolve around certain fixed events of Sanki's life, his relocation to Kobe and meeting Namiko, a woman who becomes his partner, the eventual fire bombing of the hotel and of his renting and leasing a Western style Meiji era house set in the hills overlooking Kobe Bay. Another reoccurring presence throughout the stories is that of the German naval serviceman who due to increasing blockades are forced to anchor in the harbour, Sanki points out that due to the metropolitan nature of the city, the presence of spies and surveillance personnel were common in the city at the time, there is mention of the notorious spy Richard Sorge. Amongst these portraits and character histories, Sanki discusses his connections and involvement in creating various haiku groups, (Gendai Haiku), and poets from his past, who occasionally pay visit to him in Kobe, he was forbidden to write haiku for a number of years, only resuming again at the wars end. Among telling these stories he briefly describes his involvement in what he refers to as the Kyoto University Haiku incident of 1940 and laments the intellectual repression during the years of increased militarization. The stories continue up to a time period slightly after the war, observing Hiroshima and in the piece Like A Rolling Stone describes being commandeered in the building of a brothel for servicemen of the occupying forces. Eventually Sanki had to move on from his rented house after it was bought by a Chinese landlord, and he describes his re-entry into the world of poetry, struggling to get by editing various magazines and journals. Interestingly, in a slightly strange coincidence there's also a brief appearance here by a Mr Kotani who also features as a character in Inoue's Bullfight, in the character of Okabe.

Along with these autobiographical based pieces there is a varied selection of Sanki's haiku included, selected from the four collections of haiku he produced. Sanki's haikus are filled with scenes of the poverty and despair endured and experienced immediately after the war. Saito was born Keichoku Saito in Tsuyama in Okayama Prefecture, along with The Kobe Hotel he produced four collections of haiku - Flag, 1939, Peaches At Night, 1948, Today, 1952 and Metamorphosis in 1962. The incident in Kyoto that Sanki was involved in was also known as the Satoda Incident after which he was imprisoned, whilst in Kobe he remained under surveillance by the military police, until moving back to Tokyo in 1956. Sanki passed away in 1962 after suffering from stomach cancer, Tsuyama City created a prize in his name.

Let me store it
in myself, a mountainful
of cicadas screeching.

from - Kyo/Today

Translated by Saito Masaya published by Weatherhill, but now out of print.

Works at Aozora Bunko (Japanese Text)


Parrish Lantern said...

loving the sound of this, will definitely go on my wishlist. Thanks

me. said...

The juxtaposition of prose and poetry gives a really good impression of Sanki.

The haiku really is exceptional, wanted to carry on reading more...