The Influence of English Literature and Language on Ōe Kenzaburō, Murakami Haruki, and other Japanese Novelists
- Masahiko AbeMasahiko AbeGraduate School of Humanities and Sociology, University of Tokyo
Ōe Kenzaburō and Murakami Haruki are known for their persistent interests in various authors of world literature, especially those writing in English. From their early days, they read novels in English, a custom that helped them to distance themselves from traditional Japanese literature; they thus cultivated modes of writing free from the aesthetics and ways of thinking cherished by their predecessors. Several authors had great impacts on their literary views; in Ōe’s case it was William Blake, in Murakami’s F. Scott Fitzgerald. The styles of both Japanese authors were influenced by their encounters with the English language. The issue is not purely linguistic; alternative modes of writing inevitably bring about changes in narrative styles, moods, characterization, and even a fundamental sense of values that underlies the fictional world. Ōe and Murakami unmistakably played definitive roles in postwar Japanese literature. Their responses to the world that surrounded Japan after the war offer a way to understand the psyche of the Japanese people in the 20th and 21st centuries.
American influence can be observed in many other novelists writing after the 1980s, too, including Yasuo Tanaka’s Somewhat Crystal (Nantonaku Kurisutaru), together with Murakami Ryu and Yamada Eimi. The novel is often seen to mark the onset of postmodernism in Japan, as it presents an extreme case of consumption-oriented life, which, combined with fascination with imported cultural icons, typifies Japanese reception of the West, particularly America. Significantly, Tanaka’s novel was endorsed by the conservative critic Jun Etō and led to the nullification of the border between traditional and popular literatures.