Natsuki Ikezawa*

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Contemporary Japanese Writers

Natsuki Ikezawa*

Natsuki Ikezawa* 池澤夏樹

Natsuki Ikezawa (1945–)  is the son of novelist Takehiko Fukunaga and poet Akiko Harajo, who were members of the same literary coterie. He studied physics in college before dropping out to travel around the world, then began writing poetry and producing translations, including the Japanese subtitles for the Greek film The Traveling Players by Theo Angelopoulos. In 1984 Ikezawa turned to writing novels. Today one of Japan’s foremost writers, he has won an array of awards, including the Akutagawa Prize and the Tanizaki Jun’ichiro Prize, and had several of his works translated into foreign languages. His writing is distinguished by the fusion of a scientific approach, backed by his knowledge of physics, with a poetic sensibility.

Subarashii shinsekai (Wonderful New World), which received the 2000 MEXT Award for the Arts, is a meditation on civilization set deep in the Himalayas and told from the point of view of Rintaro Amano, an engineer at an electronics firm. Rintaro’s wife works for a nongovernmental organization involved with environmental issues, and through her, he learns that the fictitious village of Namlin, Nepal, is in need of a small wind-powered generator for irrigation. Rintaro, a lifelong company man, studies whether the project would benefit his firm and whether it would even be possible to manufacture a generator that could operate maintenance-free in an area without technicians. With the cooperation of his boss and colleagues, he leaves for Namlin to study wind patterns. Encountering the culture of this terra incognita, he finds himself becoming powerfully attached to the people, even as he communicates by email with his wife and ten-year-old son in Japan. Eventually he is overtaken by mysterious events, and his son must travel alone to Nepal to save him . . . From the description of the generator design to the evocation of the stunning Himalayan landscape to the exploration of Tibetan Buddhism, here is a work that brings into full play the author’s range and sensibility.

Ikezawa was born in Hokkaido, and his work Shizukana daichi (The Quiet Land), which received the Shinran Prize, is a novelistic history of the interaction between the indigenous Ainu of northern Japan and settlers from the other islands. Soon after the 1868 Meiji Restoration, Saburo Munakata and his younger brother Shiro, sons of a samurai family from Sumoto on Awaji Island, move with their parents and sister to the Shizunai area of Hidaka, Hokkaido, home to the Ainu. The brothers are befriended by an Ainu boy named Oshiankuru and, owing in part to his father’s lack of prejudice, grow up with their hearts open to the Ainu people, acquiring their customs and language. As an adult, Saburo learns modern methods of farming and animal husbandry from an American on a government-run farm in Sapporo. Armed with this knowledge, he works with Ainu to create a livestock farm, turning his back on the discriminatory wajin (Japanese). The Munakata ranch produces horses and a variety of crops, overcoming difficulties to achieve success. But the wajin are envious, and soon the mastermind of Hokkaido settlement begins a campaign of open harassment. Hokkaido―known as Ainu Mo Shiri (“peaceful land of human beings”) in the Ainu language―is a land of diversity that has embraced multiple cultures and peoples; all that, the author reminds us, was lost by the hand of our ancestors.

Completely unlike these two works is the 2005 novel Kippu o nakushite (The Lost Ticket), a fantasy for children. Itaru Toyama, a boy in elementary school, boards a train to purchase stamps for his collection. But when he reaches his destination, he realizes that he has lost his ticket, which means he cannot exit the station. Unsure what to do, he hears a little girl calling out to him and follows her to a room inhabited by other children who have lost their tickets. From that day on Itaru becomes one of them, a “station kid” who lives within the confines of the station and protects the boys and girls who go to school by train. Itaru is not homesick and finds life as a station kid enjoyable, but one little girl, Min-chan, weighs on his mind. She is always sad and never eats. Learning that Min-chan died in a train accident, Itaru and the other station kids do all they can to be sure that she gets to heaven.

*Subarashii shinsekai (Chuo Koron Shinsha, 2000, 591 pages, MEXT Award for the Arts)

*Shizukana daichi (Asahi Shimbun Publications, 2003, 688 pages, Shinran Prize)

*Kippu o nakushite (Kadokawa Shoten, 2005, 293 pages)