Contemporary Japanese Writers

Kei Nakazawa*

Kei Nakazawa* 中沢けい

Kei Nakazawa started her writing career while still in college with the publication of Umi o kanjiru toki (When I Sense the Sea), which won the Gunzo New Writers Prize. She was only eighteen at the time. Published in June 1978, this stunning debut novel became an immediate bestseller, selling over 600,000 copies, and is still well remembered. In her subsequent works, she has continued to depict the world of physical sensation in extremely sensitive language. The sea is also a key to understanding her works. The Boso Peninsula enclosing Tokyo Bay, where Nakazawa is from, appears throughout her works in various guises, with frequent references to "the sea" and "the peninsula."

Narrated by a sixteen-year-old high school girl named Emiko, When I Sense the Sea is memorable less for the writer's youth and naiveté than for her calm, penetrating insight. Emiko is strongly attracted to Takano, an older student in the journalism club. She knows he likes someone else but still asks him to sleep with her; they have sex on the school grounds, and she becomes pregnant. Takano thereafter avoids her, graduates, and goes off to college. Emiko has an abortion; despite this painful experience, and a letter from Takano asking to break things off, she continues to pursue him and to sleep with him. Finally her mother finds out what she has been up to and goes wild with rage. Emiko projects herself onto the sea near which she grew up: "The sea is full of the dark, deep blood of women. I felt the sea as a physical extension of myself."

In Suiheisenjo nite (On the Horizon), a variation on When I Sense the Sea, Nakazawa deepens her overlapping reflections on women's physical sensations and on the sea. The two stories are based on a similar premise. Here Akiko Izumi develops a physical relationship with Tsunehiro Uematsu, two years ahead of her in high school, becomes pregnant, and has an abortion. The story portrays the relationship between these two young people?a tangle of love and sex incomprehensible even to them, in which "their inhibition regarding the word 'love' . . . causes a divergence in their courses of action." Here the sea does not have the darkness it does in When I Sense the Sea, where it suggests the sterility of love. "The light was emblazoned with the colors of the land and the colors of the sea and the colors of the sky; the horizon was a line of ultimate clarity and sharpness." In this scene Izumi is thinking of Uematsu while having sex in the sea with a classmate named Amamiya. The difference between the two stories lies in the narrative technique; here it is told in the third person, whereas When I Sense the Sea is in the first person. The author portrays her characters objectively, while keeping their speech distinctive and true to life.

Nakazawa uses the same technique in an experimental way in her major novel Mamebatake no hiru (Midday in the Peanut Field). The setting of this story is an odd house surrounded by a peanut field on the same peninsula as in the previous two works. A couple who were childhood sweethearts?Riku, a middle school teacher, and Kazuko, a government office worker with a husband and son?openly have frequent sex there. Riku, who is shy and awkward around people, left home in high school and has lived alone in this house ever since. Even though Kazuko was his childhood sweetheart and they are now having a torrid love affair, he does not unbutton his feelings to her, nor is he completely accepting of her. As with Riku, who even in his relationship with Kazuko must grope toward mutual understanding, the author portrays the emotions and sensations of all her characters with the greatest delicacy and thoughtfulness: the Kurashimas, a prominent local family; a middle-school pupil in Riku's class; even the ghost of a homeless man who committed suicide by the sea nearby. Writer Teru Miyamoto wrote of this novel, "The human drama of Midday in the Peanut Field is quiet yet full of commotion, lonely yet peculiarly abundant. Once I started reading I could not stop. This is proof of the author's unmistakable maturation."

 

* Umi o kanjiru toki (Kodansha, 1978, 157 pages, Gunzo New Writers Prize)

* Suiheisenjo nite (Kodansha, 1985, 223 pages, Noma Literary Prize)

* Mamebatake no hiru (Kodansha, 1999, 321 pages)