Author Tatsuhiro Ōshiro—who once served as the director of the Okinawa Prefectural Museum & Art Museum—is best known for storytelling that has made Okinawan history and culture accessible to a wider audience. He is credited with reinvigorating the traditional narrative dance form known as kumi odori by exploring themes of cultural hybridity and gender. His masterpiece, The Ryūkyū Disposition: A Novel, relates the buried chapter of world history in which the Ryūkyū Kingdom (present-day Okinawa) was annexed by Japan during its 19th-century modernization campaign.
Ōshiro is no stranger to controversy when it comes to current affairs. The Cocktail Party—which broaches the subject of rape committed by U.S. servicemen—is one example of Ōshiro’s efforts to portray the complexities of life under occupation for the natives of Okinawa, which hosts more than 70 percent of the U.S. military bases in Japan and is the nation’s poorest prefecture. Such works attest to the sense of injustice and betrayal harbored by a cultural group that lost a third of its civilian population in World War II and underwent a forced linguistic shift to Japanese that has resulted in the Okinawan dialect being listed by UNESCO as an endangered language.
Published in 2011, the novella To Futenma takes its title from Air Station Futenma, a U.S. marine base located in Ginowan, a city with a population of just under 100,000. The base has been at the center of a deadlock for two decades: local opponents of the U.S. military presence have organized mass protests aimed at shutting it down, while Tokyo has pushed forward with a relocation plan that would move it to a different part of the island, bringing with it the same adverse effects—aircraft accidents, noise, pollution, crime. Told through the eyes of a young woman who practices the art of kumi odori, To Futenma reveals a family’s intergenerational struggle to preserve their indigenous culture amid turmoil.
– Bonnie Huie
The famous opening line of “Under the Cherry Blossoms” is certain to cross a few minds every spring in Japan.
Widely considered one of Kajii’s major works, the story was first published in December 1928. It appeared in the journal Poetry and Poetics (Shi to Shiron), which set out to introduce readers to contemporary modernist writings from the West through translations and critical discourse. The debut issue had carried an essay by Louis Aragon, and the magazine later went on to publish the work of Paul Valéry and André Gide. The second issue, which featured “Under the Cherry Blossoms,” sought to explore the notion of a poetics beyond verse.
The early work “Lemon” (1925) illustrated a surrealist ethos arisen from the dingy back alleys of Kyoto, and it was in this internationalist context that “Under the Cherry Blossoms” was also conceived. Kajii, who began but never completed a degree in English literature at the top-ranked Tokyo Imperial University (what is today the University of Tokyo), is known to have read Baudelaire’s Paris Spleen in an English translation. A portion of the text was found transcribed in his notebooks around the time when the story was written.
Among such literary coteries Kajii himself founded a journal called Blue Skies (Aozora) while the editors of Poetry and Poetics included at least one bookseller-cum-tastemaker with knowledge of the latest foreign titles. Paris Spleen served as the exemplar of a kind of urbanite experience, the work that many a fledgling author aspired to write when prose poems were the form and decadence the theme of the day.
“Under the Cherry Blossoms” is a stylistically mature work that depicts a coming to terms with mortality and its accompanying dualisms through an exposition of the sub rosa, a revelation that starts with the creeping notion that beneath such beautiful flowers, something lies hidden.
– Bonnie Huie
One of Japan’s most revered mythological creatures, the tengu is believed to inhabit mountainous regions, where it exacts revenge for wrongdoings committed against community members. It is often blamed for abducting people and animals to later return them endowed with heightened senses and abilities, and for playing pranks on priests who have strayed from Buddhist precepts.
The reader is introduced to Keiichi Michihira—an investigative journalist on a journey to unearth the truth behind a series of murders that occurred a quarter-century earlier in Shikamata. Residents of this secluded hamlet are convinced that the culprit is the fabled tengu, and though Michihira is skeptical, their belief compels him to dig deeper, leading him on a wide-ranging investigation from the supernatural to the geopolitical.
The Brooklyn Rail welcomes you to our web-exclusive section InTranslation, where we feature unpublished translations of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and dramatic writing. Published since April 2007, InTranslation is a venue for outstanding work in translation and a resource for translators, authors, editors, and publishers seeking to collaborate.
We seek exceptional unpublished English translations from all languages.
Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry: Manuscripts of no longer than 20 pages (double-spaced).
Plays: Manuscripts of no longer than 30 pages (in left-justified format).