Contemporary Japanese Writers

Seok-il Yang*

Seok-il Yang* 梁石日

Seok-il Yang ( (1936–)  ), a second-generation Korean-Japanese, was raised in Ikaino, home to Osaka's largest Korean community. After participating in a freedom movement for ethnic Koreans living in Japan, he and others, including the poet and author Shijon Kim, began a literary magazine. At age 29 he failed in the printing business. Burdened with debt, he wandered around the country and worked for ten years as a taxi driver before making his literary debut with the hit short-story collection Takushī kyōsōkyoku (Taxi Rhapsody). The stories were made into a successful movie under the title Tsuki wa dotchi ni dete iru (All under the Moon).

Each of the seven semiautobiographical stories is narrated by a taxi driver who is Korean-Japanese. Meisō (Off Course) begins as the narrator sets off for work in a private automobile driven carelessly by a fellow cabbie. Caught in traffic, they arrive late. The narrator, who suffers harsh working conditions, has been in four accidents in the three years he's been driving a cab. He has developed an eye for potentially lucrative long-distance customers, based on their clothes and demeanor; but of course not all customers are the right kind. There are drunks, couples absorbed in making out, men whose attitude abruptly shifts when they discover his ethnicity . . . At the story's end, the narrator is fired for waving a red flag at a strike and, above all, for being Korean.

The novel Chi to hone (Blood and Bones), based heavily on the life of Yang’s father, is the author’s major work. The film version was directed by Yōichi Sai and stars "Beat" Takeshi Kitano in the lead role of Shunpei Kim. In his commentary to the paperback edition, writer Sokpom Kim declared that "Never before has any work of fiction portrayed with such immediacy the lives of expatriate Koreans at the bottom of Japanese society."

Early in the 1920s, Shunpei Kim moved from Korea's Jeju Island to Ikuno, a district of Osaka home to many expatriate Koreans. He is a giant of a man, nearly two meters (6.5 feet) tall, with a voracious appetite for food and sex. He is also a violent fighter, no less vicious than any yakuza thug: he carries around a nightstick with which to crack people over the head and has been known to take a bite out of an opponent's ear. He drinks great quantities of alcohol daily and abuses his family, destroying furniture in his rampages. Although he lives with his wife, son, and daughter on the second floor of a row house, he brings women home in broad daylight and has noisy sex with them; he also rapes the proprietor of a bar and forcibly makes her his woman. "Blood is from the mother, bones from the father," he proclaims, and tells his son, "You are my bones," yet he never shows his family a scrap of love. Amid the turbulence of postwar Japan he starts up his own successful business making kamaboko fish cakes, but then falls ill, closes the factory, and turns into a merciless moneylender. At the end of his life he returns to his homeland. This is a story of blood, violence, and sex in almost mythical excess

Besides works like these based on his real-life experiences, Yang's backlist also includes a rich assortment of thought-provoking fiction. The novel Yami no kodomotachi (Children of the Dark) is a denunciation of child prostitution and illegal organ sales in Southeast Asia and contains some grotesquely shocking scenes. In a poor mountain village in Thailand, a little girl named Senra, not yet eight, is sold into prostitution by her parents, as was her older sister Yailun. The itinerant broker who pays 360,000 yen (roughly $3,600) and a bottle of whiskey for Senra was once one of Bangkok's street children and was sexually abused by a white man. Yailun, who was shut up in a brothel and forced to service wealthy international patrons with a taste for small girls, develops AIDS and is abandoned in a garbage dump. She manages to crawl back to her home in the mountains, barely alive, but her sickness worsens and her parents burn her to death. A whistleblower brings the case to the attention of Keiko Otowa, who is in Bangkok as a member of a social welfare NGO, and she starts an investigation. Eventually Otowa uncovers an international network of illegal organ sales involving not only the drug mafia but politicians, the army, and the police as well. The parents who pay 40 million yen for Senra's heart in order to save their own son's life are Japanese.


* Takushī kyōsōkyoku (Chikuma Shobo, 1981, 195 pages)
* Chi to hone (Gentosha, 1998, 513 pages, Yamamoto Shūgorō Prize)
* Yami no kodomotachi (Kaiho Shuppansha, 2002, 401 pages)