Contemporary Japanese Writers

Hisashi Inoue*

Hisashi Inoue* 井上ひさし

Hisashi Inoue (1934–2010)  began his writing career while working in the production department of a strip club, creating skits for its interlude performances. While attending Sophia University, he wrote plays and radio scripts, and after graduation he went on to become a writer for television, a playwright, and a novelist.

Nihon no heso (The Center of Japan), which was premiered in 1969 by the stage company Theater Echo, was praised as a new type of comedy for its eccentric composition, clever wordplay, and sharp commentary.

Afterward Inoue wrote the plays Omoteura Gennai kaeru gassen (A Story of Falsehood and Truth about Hiraga Gennai, 1970) and Dōgen no bōken (Dōgen's Adventures, 1971; winner of the Kishida Kunio Stage Drama Award and MEXT Award for New Artists), both of which earned high acclaim.

Inoue's novel Kirikirijin (Kirikiri People) was lauded for its sharp satire and wordplay at the time of its publication. It begins with a train that had left Tokyo bound for Aomori Prefecture making a sudden stop at Ichinoseki Station. Fifty-year-old Kenji Furuhashi, an obscure writer, is on the train, accompanied by Hisao Satō, an editor for Tabi to rekishi (Travel and History) magazine. Zenbei Takanashi, who claims to be a deputy revenue officer of the South Customs Bureau, and Yosaburō Naitō, an immigration-control officer, ask to see their tickets. Because there had been recent incidents of boys with hunting rifles masquerading as police officers, the passengers cannot tell what they should do. Zenbei and Yosaburō tell them, "We've seceded from Japan." The train is no longer in Japan but in Kirikiri. The writer and editor are the first Japanese citizens to enter this country, which declared independence just an hour earlier. The new country has a population of 4,187, but is 100 percent self-sufficient on geothermal energy. Moreover, it has a foreign currency reserve of 40,000 tons of gold. Because it is a tax haven, over 500 top corporations from around the world have established branches there. Nevertheless the country, whose independence has been well thought out and is advertised around the world as innovative, is driven to near ruin when Furuhashi gives away the location of its money. The mere one-and-a-half days captured in the book's 28 chapters make for a Japanese Ulysses driven by wordplay and a unique sense of humor.

Tokyo sebun rōzu (Tokyo Seven Roses) is an important work that took the author 17 years to complete. It is set in 1945, when the Japanese outlook for the war was extremely grim. Even so, the diary of Shinsuke, the owner of a paper-fan shop in Nezu, Tokyo, gives a detailed account of a surprisingly lively commoners' life. One cannot help but feel affection for the Japanese who populate the tale. Hungry and lacking in commodities, they get by day to day on laughter. After the war, Shinsuke learns of a horrifying conspiracy: in order to cut Japan off from its dreadful past, the Occupation forces are planning to romanize the Japanese language. Seven beautiful women?the Seven Roses of the title?stand up to this heretofore unheard-of crisis. (The "seven roses" were bombs dropped during the war by American B-29s; the Tokyo Seven Roses have all lost loved ones in the air raids on the city.) Using their charm, the Seven Roses succeed in framing the members of the American educational delegation responsible for the national policy on language and put a stop to their plans.

In general, Inoue's novels are long. But Yonsenmanpo no otoko (Man of 40 Million Steps), about the life of Inō Tadataka (1745?1818), the famous geographical surveyor, is his longest. Tadataka makes a fortune for the Inō family, into which he has married, by managing their business before retiring at age 49 to study astronomy. From the year 1800, when he is 55 years old, he begins surveying the entire country on foot, walking every length of it for the next 16 years. His research culminates in the first-ever complete map of Japan. By the end of his life, he has walked a total of 40 million steps.

* Kirikirijin (Shinchosha, 1981, 834 pages, Japan SF Grand Prize, Yomiuri Prize for Literature)
* Yonsenmanpo no otoko (Kodansha, 1986?90, five volumes, total of 1,893 pages)
* Tokyo sebun rōzu (Bungeishunju, 1999, 780 pages, Kikuchi Kan Prize)