Contemporary Japanese Writers

Takashi Atoda*

Takashi Atoda* 阿刀田高

Takashi Atōda (1935–)  fell in love with science as a child, sparking a lifelong interest that has influenced the novels he has written.
Atōda majored in French literature at Waseda University and aspired to become a newspaper journalist, but was forced to abandon his plans when he entered treatment for tuberculosis. After he was discharged from the hospital, he wrote short essays while working as a librarian at the National Diet Library. In 1969, his book Burakku yūmoa nyūmon (Introduction to Black Humor) became a bestseller, and in 1972 he quit his job at the library to make a living by writing comedy skits and advertising copy, and also by doing translation.

Reizōko yori ai o komete (From the Refrigerator with Love) is the unconventional title story of Atōda’s first collection of fiction, which was short-listed for the Naoki Prize. Shinsuke has just left the mental hospital where he had been for a year. He had quit his job as a bureaucrat and had begun a rental washing-machine company, but when this company folded, he went crazy. Shinsuke hears from a man he meets in a park that his wife, Keiko, is having an affair with the husband of a friend of hers who is also the owner of the hair salon where Keiko helps out. The man from the park ropes Shinsuke into a business scheme; Shinsuke stocks three refrigerators in his basement and starts a rental refrigerator company. One evening, he declines an invitation to dinner with his wife and the couple running the hair salon. Later, Keiko receives a call from the salon owner: the woman’s husband has disappeared. Keiko overhears Shinsuke, alone in the basement, saying, “I’m sure to succeed this time because I’ve got customers.” Using two voices, Shinsuke goes on as if he is continuing his conversation with the man in the park. In the refrigerator lies the body of the salon owner’s husband.

Two Napoleon freaks appear in the title story of the short-story collection Naporeon kyō (Napoleon Crazy), for which Atōda received the Naoki Prize in 1979. Kinbei Minamizawa was, as a child, incredibly moved by a biography of Napoleon. Since then, he has devoted his life to collecting anything related to Napoleon and now owns a four-story castle called the Napoleon Memorial Hall that contains his treasures. The other Napoleon freak in the story is Murase, who is convinced he is the reincarnation of the French general. With Western features uncommon for a Japanese man, he looks just like Napoleon. Murase swears that his claim holds even when it is tested against the world’s various theories on reincarnation. He asks “I,” the first-person narrator, to introduce him to a Napoleon expert so that he can learn more about his former self. “I” introduces him to Minamizawa, the other Napoleon freak; soon after, “I” stops hearing from Murase. On a visit to see Minamizawa, “I” asks about Murase, but Minamizawa says he does not really remember him. After “I” leaves Minamizawa’s house, he shudders, recalling that there had been a book on taxidermy on Minamizawa’s desk.

Shin Toroi monogatari (New Tales of Troy) is a full-length novel, unusual for this writer, about the vast human dramas in the Trojan War. In this book, the epics The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer and Virgil’s The Aeneid have been rendered into prose that can be understood by the present-day reader.
Greece and Troy, separated by the Aegean Sea, are in a political and economic conflict. It is under such circumstances that Paris, prince of Troy, falls in love with the Spartan princess Helen and brings her back to his country as his wife. This humiliates the Greek people, and thus begins the Trojan War. What could have been an opportunity for Troy to overcome political and economic pressure from Greece drags into a war that continues intermittently for nine years. The Trojan prince Aeneas goes to battle with a fleet of three ships and 200 warriors. Following his defeat, Aeneas spends seven years wandering as a pirate, after which he returns to Troy to begin rebuilding the country.

* Reizōko yori ai o komete (Kodansha, 1978, 250 pages)
* Naporeon kyō (Kodansha, 1979, 275 pages, Naoki Prize, Yoshikawa Eiji Prize for Literature)
* Shin Toroi monogatari (Kodansha, 1994, 565 pages)