Shizuo Fujieda*

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Contemporary Japanese Writers

Shizuo Fujieda*

Shizuo Fujieda* 藤枝静男

Shizuo Fujieda (1908–1993)  was an ophthalmologist by day who wrote in his spare time. His debut as an author came at the relatively late age of 39, when he published a short story in a literary magazine. In high school, Fujieda was friends with Shūgo Honda and Ken Hirano, who became literary critics and who together bestowed on him the pen name that we know him by. When Fujieda was an aspiring writer of 20, he met Naoya Shiga (1883?1971), the grand man of letters of that era. It was another nearly 20 years of warm-up time before Fujieda figured out the kind of fiction he should write.

Fujieda carved out a place for himself among writers of the autobiographical “I-novel.” His approach is clearly stated in the beginning of Kūki atama (Head of Air), where he says that he writes fiction “to distinguish from others a self that I myself barely know . . . recording my thoughts and life faithfully, without the least deviation.” No lies to facilitate the telling of the story would remain in the text, which is “written completely in my own idiom, and may not be at all easy for others to relate to.” His sincere search for the self breaks through reality and emerges on the other side, in unreality. This is the source of the imaginative leaps in Fujieda’s works, and their fascination.

The story centers on an ophthalmologist whose wife has been in and out of hospitals for years with chronic tuberculosis. Between accounts of daily life is a long piece of metafiction whose male protagonist is the ophthalmologist’s alter ego. Inspired by the artificial pneumothorax machine used in his wife’s treatment, the protagonist invents a machine that blows air from the eye to the cranium, successfully removing a diseased portion of the brain inside. He describes the treatment meticulously, along with his efforts to increase libido and develop an aphrodisiac to maintain healthy sexual desire and conquer women (he hunts through copious sources from ancient China and manufactures excrement!).

The short work Ikka danran (Happy Family Circle), published together with Head of Air, is a masterpiece. The protagonist, Akira, an extension of the author, walks by a lake to the family tomb built by his late father. He slips inside the concrete room beneath a grave marker and is greeted by not only his father but five siblings who died of tuberculosis when he was a little boy. Now 59 years old, Akira shares with his father a number of things that were too painful to tell him before; for one, he mutilated his penis in order to control the voracious sexual appetite he inherited from his father. The family comforts Akira, who sobs like a child, and together they perform a fire dance for the repose of the dead.

The novel Denshin yūraku (Pleasure of a Country Gentleman) also ends with a dance. The dancers in this case are the bodhisattvas Miroku Bosatsu and Myōken Bosatsu; Daikokuten, one of the seven Gods of Fortune; and various antique tea bowls and dishes. How could such a thing be? One day the narrator of the story, an antique dealer, is visited by Kasumi, who reveals three ways the narrator could increase his business, then dives into the garden pond and disappears. Besides carp, goldfish, and frogs, the pond holds a pile of Korean tea bowls, dishes, sake cups, and the like, none worthy of bearing the signature of their maker; they have been placed there to age and increase their value. Kasumi is in fact a porcelain bowl. Eventually a female goldfish named C and a male sake cup succeed in mating, and all the ceramic pieces begin to speak in the first person. The narrator―who turns out to be Miroku Bosatsu, the bodhisattva who will return in 5.6 billion years for the salvation of humanity―knew the desire of each ceramic piece to leap into the air and change into human form, and was quietly watching over them.

The title story in the collection Kanashii dake (Only Sadness) describes a man’s grief over the loss of his wife of 39 years to tuberculosis. She had been in and out of the hospital and undergone repeated surgery. Once, standing at the foot of the family grave, she murmured, “I hate the thought of going in here.” The man feels deep pity and yearning for his wife, but knowing she rejected the gravesite where he himself is to be buried, he is torn. With his logical approach to life, did he ever sufficiently empathize with her feelings? His thoughts become increasingly fragmented and unsettled, and the novel ends with the line, “Now there is only sadness.”

* Kūki atama (Kodansha, 1967, 227 pages)
* Denshin yūraku (Kodansha, 1976, 214 pages)
* Kanashii dake (Kodansha, 1979, 249 pages)