The past month has been filled with all sorts of interesting and important news stories. Here’s our media roundup, where we compile some of the top articles that cover everything from an award-winning short story collection smuggled out of North Korea to relevant reflections on the injustices of WWII Japanese-American internment camps to intriguing and somewhat grotesque artistic expressions of Japanese salarymen. Get your fill below:
11/17: Remembering the forgotten woman of Japanese modernism
Chika Sagawa was one of the first Japanese poets to break free from the traditional Japanese poetic forms like tanka and haiku, instead shifting into a modernist approach that more potently evoked the complexities of modern Japan in the 20th century. This article delves into her influential works, her life, and poses the question: why isn’t Sagawa a more well-known literary figure?
“Chika Sagawa is an anomaly in the history of Japanese poetry. Born in Hokkaido as Aiko Kawasaki in 1911, she became one of Japan’s first modernist poets, refusing to use the traditional poetic forms of tanka and haiku. The nation was changing in the early 20th century — Westernizing, nationalizing, militarizing — and she built new poetic forms to express this shifting landscape. The world she created was one where horses go mad and women turn blue; where ‘the sky has countless scars’ and ‘eyes are covered by clouds.’”
11/18: Hiroaki Ito expresses the plight of Japanese salarymen through art
Japanese businessmen are called salarymen in Japan and for years they’ve been the butt of jokes. Younger generations ridicule their corporate obedience and lack of independence. And they’re an easy target because they don’t fight back. They just quietly take the abuse. Japanese artist Hiroaki Ito’s recent works evoke the existential struggles these workers face everyday.
“Hiroaki Ito is a salaryman himself and in his spare time has dedicated the last 5 years to painting the trials and tribulations of Japan’s workforce. One of his signature motifs is the apologizing salaryman and women, with several of his paintings depicting the various levels of apology all the way to the most extreme: the dogeza (hands and knees on the ground, head lowered to the floor).”
11/22: The new generation of manga artists in china and Sekai Manga Juku
While manga originates from Japan and is almost synonymous with Japanese culture, a new generation of manga artists in China are contributing to the art form and spreading its creation beyond the islands of Japan. The article below is the story of Qi Mengfei, a doctoral student at the Cultural Studies of the Beijing Center for Japanese Studies whose childhood infatuation with Japanese manga has led her to research, teach, and create manga.
“I was born in the 1980s and grew up reading Japanese manga. The dream of many children in my generation was to become manga artists and draw the stories we created in our heads to our heart's content. At the time of the university entrance exams, however, I did not have the courage to apply to an art degree course, which seemed like the shortest route to realizing my dream of becoming a manga artist, and instead entered the School of Foreign Studies, Anhui Normal University. This decision would turn into a 10-year long detour.”
11/25: Haruki Murakami’s new non-fiction book, Absolutely on Music
Murakami’s new work is more of a conversation between him and Seiji Ozawa, the former conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, that meditates on the nature of music. Over a two-year period (2010–2011), Murakami and Ozawa sat down to listen to and reflect upon matters as diverse as various recordings of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto, Brahms’s First Symphony, the music of Gustav Mahler, and the joys of conducting with Leonard Bernstein, whom Ozawa worked under in the 1960s.
“Mr. Ozawa’s friend Haruki Murakami, the novelist and perennial popular favorite for a Nobel Prize in Literature, hatched the notion of engaging him in a series of conversations about music, with a view to publication. ‘He liked the idea immediately,’ Mr. Murakami writes in an introduction.
The two talked from November 2010 to July 2011, generally while listening to recordings, including several by Mr. Ozawa with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, of which he was music director from 1973 to 2002, and the Saito Kinen Orchestra, which he founded in 1984.”
11/29: ‘Mifune: The Last Samurai’: How Japan’s greatest actor changed cinema across the globe
Steven Okazaki’s new documentary pays tribute to Japanese matinee idol Toshiro Mifune, whose iconic performances in films like Seven Samurai and Rashomon still influence cinema today.
“Toshiro Mifune was the first Japanese — or, for that matter, Asian — actor to become an international action star. Born in 1920, he became one of the few Japanese known to foreign film fans, with the director who made him famous, Akira Kurosawa, being another.
But while the films Mifune made with Kurosawa in the 1950s and ’60s defined his image for many — the untamed, impetuous warrior of ‘Shichinin no Samurai’ (“Seven Samurai”) or the scruffy, canny ronin (masterless samurai) of ‘Yojimbo’ — he worked extensively with other directors at home and abroad. The results, such as Steven Spielberg’s widely panned 1979 World War II comedy ‘1941’ or the highly rated but culturally tone-deaf 1980 mini-series 'Shogun,' may not have revealed his best work, but they insinuated his name even deeper in the Western popular consciousness. When he died in 1997 at age 77 he had appeared in nearly 170 feature films.”
12/5: Short stories smuggled out of North Korea given PEN Translation award
"The Accusation," a short story collection smuggled out of North Korea - and translated by Man Booker International Prize-winner Deborah Smith - has been selected to receive a PEN Translation award from English PEN.
“Samantha Schnee, a trustee of English PEN and chair of the Writers in Translation committee, said: ‘At a time when xenophobia seems to be on the rise around the world, it’s increasingly important to build bridges between nations. The ten titles chosen to receive PEN Translates grants will be translated from nine different languages by award-winning translators; through these texts readers will be able to travel to nine different countries on four continents, greatly broadening our understanding of the world and the lives of others who may seem, at times, so far away as to be alien.’”
12/9: The hidden heart of Natsume Soseki
Recently, the 100th anniversary of the death of Natsume Soseki (1867-1916), a novelist widely regarded as one of the greatest writers of modern Japan, came to pass. This article reflects on and dissects the psyche of one of the country's greatest modern writers.
“Often regarded as one of the country’s representative 'national authors' — a man whose face adorned the ¥1,000 note between 1984 and 2004, and whose works have been a staple of school textbooks for decades — Soseki has come to symbolize Japan’s past struggles with modernization and Westernization. Under intense government pressure to become Japan’s preeminent expert in English literature and imbued with a self-defined mission to produce a revolutionary “theory of literature,” Soseki succumbed to paranoia and anxiety in his mid to late 30s. He later wrote that the entire Japanese nation was being forced into the collective equivalent of a nervous breakdown by having to assimilate several centuries of Western civilization in the course of a few short decades.”
12/12: At 92, a Japanese-American reflects on the lessons of internment camps
Amid all the talk of a potential registry for all Muslims in the United States, many Americans are drawing parallels to the wrongful and unjust mass internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. This unethical political maneuver will always haunt American history as an unprecedented and decidedly un-American injustice. Many Japanese-American victims of this internment are speaking out against the current political rhetoric surrounding Muslims and pointing to their own experiences as testaments to the iniquity of such rhetoric put into action. The article linked below tells the story of Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga's experiences as a young woman sent to an internment camp
“When the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga (then Aiko Yoshinaga) was a senior at Los Angeles High School.
She remembers the day the following spring that her principal took the Japanese students aside and said, ‘You're not getting your diplomas because your people bombed Pearl Harbor.’ Japanese-American families on the West Coast were rounded up and sent to internment camps.
She says she worries now, when she hears people talk about creating a registry for all Muslims in the United States.
‘We haven't learned from all these lessons!’ she says. ‘It's happened once, and unless you are careful it could happen again.’”