Endo, Shusaku 1923–1996

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Endo, Shusaku 1923–1996

PERSONAL: Born March 27, 1923, in Tokyo, Japan; died September 29, 1996; son of Tsuneshia and Iku (Takei) Endo; married Junko Okado, September 3, 1955; children: Ryunosuke (son). Education: Keio University, Tokyo, B.A., 1949; Lyon University (Lyon, France), student in French literature, 1950–53.

CAREER: Writer.

MEMBER: International PEN (president of Japanese Centre, 1969), Association of Japanese Writers (member of executive committee, 1966).

AWARDS, HONORS: Akutagawa prize (Japan), 1955, for Shiroihito; Tanizaki prize (Japan), 1967, and Gru de Oficial da Ordem do Infante dom Henrique (Portugal), 1968, both for Chinmoku; Sanct Silvestri, awarded by Pope Paul VI, 1970; Noma prize, 1980.



Umi to Dokuyaku (novel), Bungeishunju, 1958, translation by Michael Gallagher published as The Sea and Poison, P. Owen (London, England), 1971, Taplinger, 1980.

Kazan (novel), [Japan], 1959, translation by Richard A. Schuchert published as Volcano, P. Owen (London, England), 1978, Taplinger, 1980.

Obaka-san, [Japan], 1959, translation by Francis Mathy published as Wonderful Fool, Harper (New York, NY), 1983, reprinted, Dufour Editions (Chester Springs, PA), 2000.

Chinmoku (novel), Shinchosha (Tokyo, Japan), 1966, translation by William Johnston published as Silence, P. Owen (London, England), 1969, Taplinger, 1979.

Ougon no Ku (play), Shinchosha (Tokyo, Japan), 1969, translation by Francis Mathy published as The Golden Country, Tuttle (Tokyo, Japan), 1970.

Iseu no shogai, [Japan], 1973, translation by Richard A. Schuchert published as A Life of Jesus, Paulist Press, 1978.

Kuchibue o fuku toki (novel), [Japan], 1974, translation by Van C. Gessel published as When I Whistle, Taplinger, 1979.

Juichi no iro-garasu (short stories), [Japan], 1979, translation published as Stained Glass Elegies, Dodd (New York, NY), 1985.

Samurai (novel), [Japan], 1980, translation by Van C. Gessel published as The Samurai, Harper (New York, NY), 1982.

Scandal, translated by Van C. Gessel, Dodd (New York, NY), 1988.

Foreign Studies, translated by Mark Williams, P. Owen (London, England), 1989.

The Final Martyrs, translated by Van C. Gessel, New Directions (New York, NY), 1994.

Deep River, translated by Van C. Gessel, New Directions (New York, NY), 1994.

Watashi ga suteta onna (see also below), translation by Mark Williams published as The Girl I Left Behind, New Directions (New York, NY), 1995.

Five by Endo: Stories, translated by Van C. Gessel, New Directions (New York, NY), 2000.

Song of Sadness (originally published as Kanashimi no uta), translated by Teruyo Shimizu, University of Michigan Center for Japanese Studies (Ann Arbor, MI), 2003.


Shiroihito (novel), Kodansha (Tokyo, Japan), 1955.

Seisho no Naka no Joseitachi (essays; title means "Women in the Bible"), Shinchosha (Tokyo, Japan), 1968.

Bara no Yakat (play), Shinchosha (Tokyo, Japan), 1969.

Yumoa shosetsu shu (short stories), Kodansha (Tokyo, Japan), 1974.

France no daigakusei (essays on travel in France), Kadokawashoten, 1974.

Kitsunegata tanukigata (short stories), Kodansha (Tokyo, Japan), 1976.

Watashi ga suteta onna, Kodansha (Tokyo, Japan), 1976.

Yukiaru kotoba (essays), Shinchosha (Tokyo, Japan), 1976.

Nihonjin wa Kirisuto kyo o shinjirareru ka, Shogakukan, 1977.

Kare no ikikata, Shinchosha (Tokyo, Japan), 1978.

Kirisuto no tanjo, Shinchosha (Tokyo, Japan), 1978.

Ningen no naka no X (essays), Shuokoronsha, 1978.

Rakuten taisho, Kodansha (Tokyo, Japan), 1978.

Ju to jujika (biography of Pedro Cassini), Shuokoronsha, 1979.

Marie Antoinette (fiction), Asahi Shinbunsha, 1979.

Chichioya, Shinchosha (Tokyo, Japan), 1980.

Kekkonron, Shufunotomosha, 1980.

Sakka no nikki (diary excerpts), Toju-sha, 1980.

Endo Shusaku ni yoru Endo Shusaku, Seidosha, 1980.

Meiga Iesu junrei, Bungei Shunju, 1981.

Onna no issho (fiction), Asahi Shinbunsha, 1982.

Endo Shusaku to Knagaeru, PHP Kekyujo, 1982.

Fuyu no yasashisa, Bunka Shuppakyoku, 1982.

Enishi no ito: bunshu, Sekai Bunkasha (Tokyo, Japan), 1998.

Also author of Watakusi no Iesu, 1976, Usaba kagero nikki, 1978, Shinran, 1979, Tenshi, 1980, Ai to jinsei o meguru danso, 1981, and Okuku e no michi, 1981.

SIDELIGHTS: Of all leading twentieth-century Japanese novelists, Shusaku Endo is considered by many critics as the most accessible to Western readers. Endo's Roman Catholic upbringing is often cited as the key to his accessibility, for it gave him a philosophical background shaped by Western traditions rather than those of the East. Christianity is a rarity in Japan, where two sects of Buddhism predominate. As Garry Wills explained in the New York Review of Books, "Christ is not only challenging but embarrassing [to the Japanese] because he has absolutely no 'face'…. He will let anyone spit on him. How can the Japanese ever honor such a disreputable figure?" While strongly committed to his adopted religion, Endo often described the sense of alienation felt by a Christian in Japan. Most of his novels translated into English address the clash of Eastern and Western morals and philosophy, as well as illustrate the difficulty and unlikelihood of Christianity's establishment in Japan.

John Updike wrote in the New Yorker that Endo's first novel in English translation, Silence, is "a remarkable work, a somber, delicate, and startlingly empathetic study of a young Portuguese missionary during the relentless persecution of the Japanese Christians in the early seventeenth century." The young missionary, Rodrigues, travels to Japan to investigate rumors that his former teacher, Ferreira, has not only converted to Buddhism but is even participating in the persecution of Christians. As Updike noted, "One can only marvel at the unobtrusive, persuasive effort of imagination that enables a modern Japanese to take up a viewpoint from which Japan is at the outer limit of the world."

Rodrigues is captured soon after his clandestine entry into Japan and is handed over to the same jailer who effected Ferreira's conversion. Rodrigues is never physically harmed but is forced to watch the sufferings of native converts while repeatedly being told that his public denouncement of Christ is the only thing that will save them. At first he resists, anticipating a glorious martyrdom for himself, but eventually a vision of Christ convinces him of the selfishness of this goal. He apostatizes, hoping to save at least a few of the Japanese converts by his example. This "beautifully simple plot," wrote Updike, "harrowingly dramatizes immense theological issues."

Endo sought to illustrate Japan's hostility toward a Christ figure in another of his translated novels, Wonderful Fool. Set in modern times, this story centers on a Frenchman, Gaston Bonaparte. Gaston is a priest who longs to work with missionaries in Japan; after being defrocked, he travels there alone to act as a lay missionary. Completely trusting, pure-hearted, and incapable of harming anyone, Gaston is seen only as a bumbling fool by the Japanese. At their hands he is "scorned, deceived, threatened, beaten and finally drowned in a swamp," reported Books Abroad contributor Kinya Tsuruta. "In the end, however, his total faith transforms all the Japanese, not excluding even a hardened criminal. Thus, the simple Frenchman has successfully sowed a seed of good will in the corrupting mud swamp, Endo's favorite metaphor for non-Christian Japan."

Wonderful Fool was seen by some reviewers as Endo's condemnation of his country's values. "What shocks him …," noted a Times Literary Supplement contributor, "is the spiritual emptiness of what he calls 'mud-swamp Japan,' an emptiness heightened by the absence of any appropriate sense of sin…. [But] is it not, perhaps, too self-righteous to ask whether Japan needs the sense of sin which the author would have it assume?" Addressing this issue in a New Republic review, Mary Jo Salter believed that "ultimately it is the novelist's humor—slapstick, corny, irreverent—that permits him to moralize so openly."

Louis Allen suggested in the Listener that Endo "is one of Japan's major comic writers." Praising the author's versatility, Allen went on to write: "In When I Whistle, he explores yet another vein, a plain realism behind which lingers a discreet but clear symbolism." When I Whistle tells two parallel stories, that of Ozu and his son, Eiichi. Ozu is an unsuccessful businessman who thinks nostalgically of his childhood in pre-war Japan and his youthful romance with the lovely Aiko. Eiichi is a coldly ambitious surgeon who "despises his father—and his father's generation—as sentimentally humanist," explained Allen. The parallel stories merge when Eiichi, in the hopes of furthering his career, decides to use experimental drugs on a terminal cancer patient—Ozu's former sweetheart, Aiko.

Like Wonderful Fool, When I Whistle presents "an unflattering version of postwar Japan," noted Allen, adding that while Wonderful Fool is marked by its humor, "Sadness is the keynote [of When I Whistle], and its symbol the changed Aiko: a delicate beauty, unhoused and brought to penury by war, and ultimately devoured by a disease which is merely a pretext for experiment by the new, predatory generation of young Japan." When I Whistle differs from many of Endo's novels in its lack of an overtly Christian theme, but here as in all his fiction, maintained New York Times Book Review contributor Anthony Thwaite, "what interests Mr. Endo—to the point of obsession—are the concerns of both the sacred and secular realms: moral choice, moral responsibility…. 'When I Whistle' is a seductively readable—and painful—account of these issues."

Endo returned to the historical setting of Silence—the seventeenth century—with The Samurai. This novel—his most popular work among Japanese readers—is, like Silence, based on historical fact. Whereas Silence gave readers a Portuguese missionary traveling to Japan, The Samurai tells of a Japanese warrior journeying to Mexico, Spain, and finally the Vatican. The samurai, Hasekura, is an unwitting pawn in his shogun's complex scheme to open trade routes to the West. Instructed to feign conversion to Christianity if it will help his cause, Hasekura does so out of loyalty to the shogun, although he actually finds Christ a repulsive figure. Unfortunately, by the time he returns to Japan five years later, political policy has been reversed, and he is treated as a state enemy for his "conversion." Finally, through his own suffering, Hasekura comes to identify with Jesus and becomes a true Christian.

Geoffry O'Brien judged The Samurai to be Endo's most successful novel, giving particular praise to its engrossing storyline and to the novelist's "tremendously lyrical sensory imagination" in a Village Voice review. Washington Post Book World contributor Noel Perrin claimed that The Samurai functions well as an adventure story but maintained that "Endo has done far more than write a historical novel about an early and odd encounter between East and West. Taking the history of Hasekuru's embassy as a mere base, he has written a really quite profound religious novel…. It is calm and understated and brilliantly told. Simple on the surface, complex underneath. Something like a fable from an old tapestry…. If you're interested in how East and West really met, forget Kipling. Read Endo."

In Scandal, Endo relates the self-referential story of Suguro, an aging Japanese-Catholic novelist who, upon receiving crowning accolades in a public ceremony, is accused of leading a double life in the brothels of Tokyo. Haunted by his striking semblance in a portrait displayed in a sordid hotel, and hounded by Kobari, a muckraking journalist, Suguro immerses himself in the Tokyo underworld to pursue his doppelganger. Here Suguro is introduced to Mrs. Naruse, a sadomasochist nurse who engages the author's lurid yearnings and arranges for him to view his double as he engages in sex with Mitsu, a young girl. The distinction between reality and illusion becomes ambiguous as Suguro discovers his shocking other self and struggles to reconcile the moral dichotomy. According to Charles Newman in the New York Times Book Review, "Suguro is left with a knowledge more complex than that of a moral hypocrite and more human than that of a writer who had commonly confused the esthetic dualism with the spiritual," reflecting instead "the irreducible evil at the core of his own character." In the end, as Louis Allen observed in the Times Literary Supplement, "The sure grip Suguro thought he had on his world is gradually pried loose. His relationship to his wife is falsified, and his art is seen to be built on self-deception. He realizes that 'sin' and the salvation which can arise from it are somehow shallow and superficial things." Nicci Gerrard praised Scandal in the London Observer, writing that Endo "is fastidious and yet implacable in exposing the dark side of human nature and is painstakingly lucid about unresolvable mysteries."

Foreign Studies, originally published in Japan in 1965, is a collection of three tragic stories that portray the reception of Japanese students in Europe, reflecting En-do's own education in France. The first, "A Summer in Rouen," describes a Japanese student's stay with a Catholic family in post-war France. Kudo, the student, is viewed as a reincarnation of the hostess's dead son and is even called by his name. Unable to express himself because of his poor French and taciturn nature, K udo retreats into quiet misery among his European sponsors. The brief second piece, "Araki Thomas," anticipates the themes of Silence and The Samurai in the story of a seventeenth-century Japanese student who travels to Rome to study theology. Upon his return to Japan, however, a changed political climate and torture induce Araki Thomas to apostatize his new religion. As a result he suffers from his dual betrayal of self and his fellow Christians who continue to receive punishment.

The third and longest story in Foreign Studies, "And You, Too," is generally regarded as the most significant. "And You, Too" conveys the acute psychological pain caused by acculturation. Tanaka, a Japanese student, visits Paris in the mid-1960s to study literature, in particular the writings of the Marquis de Sade. His prefer-ence for European writers is the source of scorn among the other Japanese expatriates, except for a failed architecture student whom he befriends until tuberculosis forces the friend's premature departure. Isolated and disconsolate in Paris, Tanaka ventures to Sade's castle near Avignon where, in a highly symbolic denouement, he wanders about the ruins and coughs blood onto the snow as he leaves, signifying his final inability to reconcile the cultures of East and West and his imminent return to Japan. As John B. Breslin noted in a Washington Post Book World review, Endo's prefatory comments for the English translation indicated his belief that "East and West could never really understand one another on the deep level of 'culture,' only on the relatively superficial level of 'civilization.'" Marleigh Grayer Ryan praised the collection in World Literature Today, writing that "the three pieces taken together constitute a strong statement of the abyss that separates the Japanese mind and the sensibility from the West."

The Final Martyr is a collection of eleven short stories produced by Endo between 1959 and 1985. However, as Karl Schoenberger qualifies in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, "these are not short stories at all, but rather character sketches and rambling essays in the confessional zuihitsu style," some with extensive footnotes that display Endo's incorporation of historical detail. As several reviewers observe, the collection reveals Endo's frequent use of the short story to develop themes and characters for later novels. Joseph R. Graber writes in the San Francisco Review of Books that "The Final Martyrs is a fascinating study of how the writer's mind works." The title story, originally published in 1959, describes the persecution of nineteenth-century Catholic villagers in southern Japan and foreshadows the novel Silence. Here the central figure is a weak-minded villager who renounces Christianity under torture and experiences acute guilt as he betrays both state and God. Endo also offers unabashed autobiographic examination in "A Sixty-Year-Old Man," written upon the author's sixtieth birthday, which describes an aging Catholic writer's lust for a young girl he encounters at the park. In the final story, "The Box," Endo contemplates whether talking to plants encourages their growth as he recounts wartime events revealed in an old box of postcards and photographs. Paul Binding concludes in a New Statesman and Society review, "It is Endo's triumph that his sense of the totalitarian power of suffering does not diminish his insights into quotidian, late twentieth century urban life—and vice versa."

In Deep River, set in India along the Ganges, Endo describes the spiritual quest of Otsu, a rejected Catholic priest who carries corpses to the funeral pyres, and a Japanese tourist group, including a recently widowed businessman who pursues the reincarnation of his wife, a former soldier who survived the Burmese Highway of Death during World War II, a nature writer, and Mitsuko, a cynical, divorced woman who once seduced and spurned Otsu. Through their experiences Endo explores the transcendent wisdom and salvation of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Catholicism, symbolically reflected in Mitsuko's characterization of God as an onion. Robert Coles commented in the New York Times Book Review that "Endo is a master of the interior monologue, and he builds 'case' by 'case,' chapter by chapter, a devastating critique of a world that has 'everything' but lacks moral substance and seems headed nowhere." Praising the novel as among Endo's most effective, Andrew Greeley wrote in the Washington Post Book World that "this moving story about a pilgrimage of grace, must be rated as one of the best of them all."

The Girl I Left Behind, written some thirty-five years earlier but not published until a year before its author's death in 1996, recounts lifelong encounters between Yoshioka Tsutomu, a Japanese salesman, and Mitsu, a simple country girl whom he seduced as a college student. Though Endo himself acknowledges the immaturity of this early work in an afterword, the sentimental story adumbrates the author's skill for characterization and powerful Christian allusions, here represented by Mitsu's Christ-like goodness and charity. Confined to a leprosarium managed by Catholic nuns until informed of her misdiagnosis, Mitsu learns to live among the lepers and devotes her life to their care. Despite its noted awkwardness and technical shortcomings, P.J. Kavanagh regarded the novel as "remarkably convincing" in a review for the Spectator and a Publishers Weekly reviewer concluded that Endo's writing is redeemed by "moments of sparkling intelligence and clarity."



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