Monday, August 28

Meiji Flamewars

Saitō Ryokuu (1867-1904) is a writer and literary critic who is little remembered today, except perhaps for being one of several creepy guys hovering around Higuchi Ichiyō in the months before her death. I came across a collection of book reviews published in Mesamashigusa [Wake-up Weed], a journal he edited with Kōda Rohan and Mori Ōgai. Unfortunately the reviews only cover the years 1896-98, and it’s not an era I know much about, so I didn’t find too much of interest. I did, however, learn one thing: everyone hated Izumi Kyōka. Personally I have nothing but respect for Kyōka as a writer, but to purge any negative energy I have from slogging through his Kōya hijiri [The Saint of Mount Kōya] with insufficient Japanese, I’ll now post him getting repeatedly panned:

The Demon Bird [Kechō]
Leader: A woman who was once wealthy and respected has become a bridge-keeper, and teaches her only son that people of this world are no better than beasts. When he asks her who saved him when he fell in the river, she tells him it was a woman with beautiful wings, but he wonders if in fact the winged woman was his mother. It’s Kyōka’s “Ketchō,” and was
published in Shincho gekkan.
A Human: It’s idiotic for a mother to teach her son that we’re like animals, and it’s pretty hilarious when the kid repeats it in front of his teacher. This kind of thing might be interesting if you
used it in something like Aesop’s Fables, I guess, but it’s absurd to try and make a moving tale out of it. First Kyōka was a demonic gingko tree [Bake-ichō, another Kyōka story] and now a demonic bird—he’s turning into a real weirdo. Who knows what he’ll transform into next? We can only hope he’ll turn back into an actual human being again soon.
Gen Sanmi: This might as well be a stand-up routine... [abbreviated]
Indifferent: Kyōka’s got ideas, terrifically abundant ideas. And, he has
no ability, absolutely no ability.
A Classicist: The title “Kechō” is a bit too Chinese. “Bake-tori monogatari” would have been better.

Hard Bread [Katapan]
Leader: “Dumb Ken” the coachman everyday brings two loaves of hard bread to Orei, a poor innkeeper’s daughter, to see her smile, but is distraught when she is married to someone else, and develops
the habit of biting off hard bread with his front teeth and spitting it out to crush it under his shoes. Soon after Ken disappears. Three months later there is a sideshow at Asakusa featuring an Indian who is said to boil oil on top of his head and such. A coachman friend of Ken’s goes to the show where he sees a man called Ringmaster John come out chomping on bread and stomping it underfoot, and realizes it’s Ken. A Kyōka piece.
A Humble Man: I guess a guy like me just can’t manage to bite into bread this hard.

Old Gen, by Kunikida Doppo [Gen oji]
Leader: Ikeda Gentarō, who runs a ferry on
Katsura Bay near Saeki, after losing his beautiful wife in childbirth...[abbreviated, read the story]
Uninhibited: This guy makes a great pair with Kyōka’s “Dumb Ken.”
A Supporter: He finds the poetic in that which is nothing out of the ordinary, and though the writing is not other than crude, it is full of clever aphorisms. This is very rare in a maiden work these days, and the reason I get something out of Kunikida’s work. In the work of someone like that bizarre Kyōka, even if the events are strange and the writing is polished, there’s none of this poetry or epigram. (But the title is
inappropriate, “oji” should be written in kana.)

Snake Eaters [Hebikui]
Leader: By the Jinzû River in Etchû, a group of beggars called the Ō live in Old Manor Field. Gripping their staves they make their way into town and beg at the houses of the rich. If one is refused food, he pulls a snake from his sleeve, chews it up and spits it [around the house]. Whenever these beggars come, a certain children’s song is heard around the town. A Kyōka piece.
A Heckler: How about you vomit snakes at the publishers who won’t buy your manuscripts?

Well, I’m with them on “Bake-tori monogatari” anyway. Has that been used?


Blogger Matt said...

Those are some fantastically lively reviews. Please, tell me more about this magazine! Is it all like that? Do you have (access to) originals or is there some sort of reprint collection that I could track down too?

9/01/2006 10:08 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

I know very little about the magazine. The dictionary says it was published from 1896 to 1902 by Ōgai, Rohan and Ryokuu. I got these entries from a reprint of the book review section, called "Unchūgo" 雲中語, which was included in the Saitō Ryokuu zenshū, vol. 3. However, according to the National Diet Library catalog, it's also included in Ōgai's and Rohan's respective zenshu, so if your local library has one of them you should be able to find it. As far as I know the magazine as a whole hasn't been reprinted, but I haven't looked very hard.

9/01/2006 1:36 PM  
Blogger leoboiko said...

I find the reviewers’ appelations especially enjoyable.

2/23/2007 1:30 PM  

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