Hiroshi Sakagami*

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Contemporary Japanese Writers

Hiroshi Sakagami*

Hiroshi Sakagami* 坂上弘

Hiroshi Sakagami was born in Tokyo in 1936. In 1954 he entered Keio University to study literature and the following year, at the age of nineteen, published Musuko to koibito(Son and lover) in Mita Bungaku at the recommendation of author Masao Yamakawa. That work was nominated for the Akutagawa Prize. From then on Sakagami, who continued to be published in magazines, gained the acquaintance of such older writers as Takeo Kitahara, Akira Maruoka, Yasuji Toita, and Hideo Takubo. In 1957 Aru aki no dekigoto (An Incident in Autumn) was awarded the Chuo Koron Prize. In 1960 Sakagami went to work for Riken Kagaku (now Rikoh), and for the next thirty-five years was both a writer and a businessman. In 1992 he won the Yomiuri Literary Priz for Yasashii teihakuchi (Easy Anchorage) and the Noma Literary Prize for Den’en fukei (Pastoral Landscape). In 1997, his short story “Daidokoro” (The Kitchen) won the Kawabata Yasunari Prize for Literature. In 1995 he became director of Keio University Press, and since 2006 he has been president of the Japan Writers’ Association.

The short story collection Den’en fukei (Pastoral Landscape), apparently a portrayal of the daily lives of company workers whose efforts were behind the Japan postwar economic boom, is actually, with a slight shift of focus on the reader’s part, a look at the inner landscapes deep within each character’s heart. In the title story, none of the characters have names. They are known only as “man,” “woman,” “cousin,” “boss,” “husband,” “driver.” A man who works for a trading company is sent to a country in Southeast Asia, where he meets a Japanese woman at a party. Her husband is back in Japan, and she is renting a nearby residence where she and the man make ardent love. From the window of their room they can see a pastoral landscape. When a fire breaks out in the middle of the scene, devouring houses in its path, it may or may not be a sign of a coming coup d’état. Despite the economic prosperity of the times, the lovers share a sense of forlornness.

Daidokoro is a collection of nine short stories, of which the title work was awarded the Kawabata Yasunari Prize for Literature. Three months after the narrator’s short-tempered, faultfinding father dies at ninety-one, his mother, who lived relying on her husband for sixty-one years, also dies. In those three months, she is often alone in the kitchen. As she shows signs of senility, the narrator takes to making her meals for her. Since turning fifty, the narrator has sometimes felt a need to touch his mother’s body. Now that they are alone, a simple, childlike desire has risen in him: he secretly wants to bathe her, to verify to himself that he was truly born from her. When he was in junior high school, his mother once came into the bathroom just as he was about to step into the tub. She dismissed his modesty, saying “You are my flesh and blood.” Yet now that the old man is gone, she is shy about being seen naked; why should this be? With his mother sitting behind him waiting for her meal, the narrator begins preparing food with hands that were born from her body, and the question fades away.

In his recent work Chikakute toi tabi (A Far Journey Nearby), the main character Shugo Yamazaki has high blood pressure that he controls with medicine. He thinks that his blood pressure soared after he was put in charge of a branch of his company two years ago. His wife Yoshiko thinks that her husband’s strong sense of responsibility toward work masks his real feelings. When he was a young, aspiring writer, he met Keisuke Domoto, an older colleague whom he respected for his literary knowledge. When Domoto was suddenly killed in a traffic accident at age thirty-five, Shugo suffered an emotional breakdown. For years he wore two hats, writing when asked by his editor and also working for his company, but gradually his life has lost focus. His cousin Seiko, a year his junior, is married to a German, and their daughter Yurie has breast cancer. Amid these happenings, a woman comes to Shugo with a handwritten manuscript that she says is Domoto’s precious maiden work, which he entrusted to her because he loved her. They never lived together, and after the disaster she made her living as a dyer. Shugo expresses respect for her choices. Seiko and Yurie acknowledge the difference between Japanese and German perspectives, and Yurie braces herself to fight her disease.

 

 

* Den’en fukei (Kodansha, 1992, 275 pages, Noma Prize for Literature)

* Daidokoro (Shinchosha, 1997, 203 pages, Kawabata Yasunari Prize)

* Chikakute toi tabi (Chuo Koron Shinsha, 2002, 402 pages)