Takako Takahashi*

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Contemporary Japanese Writers

Takako Takahashi*

Takako Takahashi* 高橋たか子

Takako Takahashi (1932–2013)  is one of very few Japanese Catholic novelists. To trace the path of her soul, one should refer to a timeline the author herself has created.

Born in Kyoto, Takako met Kazumi Takahashi while they were both students at Kyoto University. The two married the year Takako graduated, when she was 22 years old.

Kazumi debuted as a writer in 1962 with Hi no utsuwa (Vessel of Sadness), which won the Bungei Prize, and then went on to become one of the leading novelists of the 1960s. Takako, meanwhile, supported her husband’s writing career as she applied for literary awards and approached publishers with her own manuscripts, all to no avail. In 1971, at the young age of 39, Kazumi died from colon cancer.

Takako began a full-fledged writing career of her own after her husband’s death, producing works full of keen observations, especially on the pain of personal relationships. In 1975, with Catholic novelist Shūsaku Endō (1923?96) in attendance, she was baptized.

In 1976, her novella Ningyōai (Doll Love) was published in the literary magazine Gunzō. After the protagonist’s husband of ten years commits suicide, she heads to a regional town surrounded by mountains and sea. Because a former boyfriend had also committed suicide, she is convinced that she attracts death. The first night at the hotel where she has decided to stay for an extended period, she dreams that she meets a wax doll of a beautiful boy. Later, in the elevator of this old hotel, she encounters the very same boy. The wax-doll boy of her dream, whom she has named Tamao, grows increasingly real, and as her relationship with him deepens, it affects her relationship with the human boy the next afternoon in the hotel’s café. Upon hearing that Tamao cultivates roses, the protagonist goes to an arboretum and waters the roses that bloom in a greenhouse there. As she waters the roses outside the greenhouse, which have not yet bloomed, she calls out to her son, Tamao.

The novel Kirei na hito (Beautiful Woman) depicts a man with an innocent soul. The protagonist arrives at the residence of Madame Simone Vitrac for the hostess’s 100th birthday celebration, whereupon she hears from 98-year-old Yvonne about Michel, a man with whom Yvonne had been in love. Michel had been brought to the village from a field hospital by a Jesuit priest. Traumatized, perhaps, from something he had experienced during the war, Michel utters only the word “no.” Taken by the young man’s beauty, Yvonne blurts, “I love you,” after which he regains the ability to speak. He shows no interest in Yvonne, however, and carries on with three prostitutes. After saying no to a proposal of marriage from the daughter of a wealthy family, Michel drowns himself in alcohol. The protagonist is strangely moved when she realizes that the Michel Yvonne is talking about is the same Father Michel she knows from a monastery on the outskirts of Paris.

In Konseki konseki konseki (Traces Traces Traces), contained in a 2006 short-story series called Haka no hanashi (Tales from the Grave), the protagonist gets on an express train from Paris East Station bound for Strasbourg to visit Verdun, a site of fierce fighting during World War I. She recalls the poet Charles Péguy (1873?1914), a patriot who enlisted as soon as war broke out between France and Germany in 1914 and who died soon afterward by the Marne, and she decides to stop along the way at a battle site near the river. From Strasbourg, she travels to Meuse by bus, and finally arrives in Verdun. From there, it is on by car to the mountains, where the bloodiest battles took place. Located here are Fort de Douaumont and the Douaumont ossuary. Soon after the war, a bishop had walked around collecting scattered bones for what would later become the large memorial. Here the protagonist strolls about, reciting in her mind Péguy’s poems and a poem found in the pocket of an American soldier who died in North Africa during World War II.

* Ningyōai (Kodansha, 1978, 235 pages)
* Kirei na hito (Kodansha, 2003, 317 pages)
* Haka no hanashi (Kodansha, 2006, 253 pages)