Brent Lue translates Tomoyuki Hoshino for the PM Press Blog!
All of the following journal entries and essays were selected and translated by Brent Lue, who is currently working on a translation of Hoshino’s first novel, The Last Sigh (or The Last Gasp or The Last Breath) – Saigo no toiki, which was published in 1997. Brent is an undergraduate student in East Asian Studies and Economics at McGill University in Montréal, Canada. He is also an expert baker, singer, actor, and poet/songwriter. (Brent has developed recipes and entire menus inspired by Hoshino's fiction.) Some of his other translations of Hoshino's web journal entries appear on the PM Press Blog (see here, for example). Each entry begins with a link to the original Japanese version (via the date or title).
I know it’s daring of me to use this word, but has not Israel itself committed a “Holocaust” in Gaza and Jenin? Although in sheer numbers this “Holocaust” is incomparable to what the Nazi Holocaust did to the Jews, can we truly say that in terms of quality, they do not share the same structure? Considering the indiscriminate slaughter that has taken place, can one assert that there was not the very urge to try to eradicate the people of Palestine?
Why has the massacre gone this far? Do the memories of the Nazi Holocaust compel them to do so? Do the memories of being subjected to massacre and abuse make them want to repeat it? Even still, there are plenty of examples of this cycle being severed. Or instead, maybe this is just human behavior?
I am fully aware that literature is directly powerless against this sort of reality. That said, I do not believe that literature is useless or unnecessary. However, I am filled with irritation at the present circumstances, where literature exists as an excuse for powerlessness against this reality. In fact, I think that if literature is being extolled as a conferrer of hope while simultaneously fulfilling the role of making things invisible, literature may as well be extinct.
If we express something, we also end up concealing something. Such is the nature of expression. An expression that does not hurt anyone, that does not leave anyone blind is perhaps no longer an expression. What I am searching for is the will to attempt expression-- even while embracing its shameful and guilty qualities.
When I used to teach at university, I had a class called “Thinking about Minorities”. What did I think about “minorities” at that time, you may ask?
Firstly, you do not call a group a “minority” simply because it's smaller. In a class of forty people, if you had thirty people who liked the Wajima sumo stable and ten who liked the Kita no Umi stable, you wouldn’t call those who liked Kita no Umi a minority. Now, if those who liked Kita no Umi were assigned lower grades or ignored in class because they liked Kita no Umi, then you could call the Kita no Umi fans a “minority”. In other words, in the case where the smaller group was the target of violence, oppression and discrimination by the majority, then a relationship of major and minor would be created. A minority is not created by a problem of numbers, but rather by a problem of differential power relations.
And--this part is important--as the majority thinks of their existence as normal (the standard), they do not acknowledge their own actions as constituting violence or oppression. Full-time employees who receive a standard salary end up seeing the irregularly employed or non-status workers as no more than people who “haven’t worked hard enough”. The fully employed end up saying things like “I understand that they’re in a painful position, but I’ve been overworked, I’ve lost sleep due to overtime and yet I’ve still overcome all that; those guys just don’t have the same drive, so it’s no wonder that it’s difficult for them to score full employment”. And so, they stand indifferent, just thinking “I’ve got to work harder”. They are able to forget the difference in their conditions: that exactly because they have homes, savings, and health insurance, they are able to lose sleep and work harder. This is because they think of themselves as normal and average. To be able to go on living without having to even think about how one is able to exist as “normal” or “average” or about one’s own favorable circumstances is the distinctive characteristic of those of the “majority”.
People relegated to the position of minority are always made aware that they belong to the “inferior” side. They are compelled to think 24-hours about how they have no money, no homes, or health insurance. Even if they desire not to, those of the minority are unable to live without being aware that they do not belong to the “normal/standard” group.
Prime Minister Aso is the poster-boy of someone from the majority. Why is it that bureaucrats are wrapped under his thumb, and why is it that he’s able to repeat such inappropriate remarks that make him appear to be someone who doesn’t even know the rules of society? It is because he believes himself to be the ultimate “standard”. One would guess that he has had very few experiences that have made him think about what circumstances have brought him to where he is. And so, he does not understand “ordinary people”, and it is virtually impossible for him to comprehend the troubles of people like the unofficially employed, who are seen one step lower than “ordinary people”, relegated to the lowest strata of society.
I think it's delightful that Departures, a film that interests me, won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. But as the movie theatres are still crowded, it might be a little bit longer before I actually get to see it.
However, I felt uncomfortable when an NHK news announcer compared it to the Nobel Prize, merrily celebrating “the acknowledgment of Japanese cinema by the world”. This mentality of putting the Academy Award and the Nobel Prize on par with each other explicitly shows our world’s current tendency towards searching for celebrations that are ‘refreshing’ like the World Baseball Classic or the World Cup, among other things. Is it truly alright for newscasters to report from the same horizon and face the same direction as public opinion?
Also, the Academy Award is a prize awarded by the inner circle of America’s movie industry--to say that the movie has been “acknowledged by the world” is a mistake. The Academy Award only appears so monumental because within the movie industry, Hollywood is overwhelmingly huge, and its meaning is completely different from international film festivals such as those of Venice, Cannes, and Tokyo. Isn’t this a terribly sad acknowledgement of the thinking that “America = The World”? Further, Japan’s films have already been acknowledged by the world for a very long time. In the end, we must celebrate while understanding that the film was victorious in Hollywood, where the effect of world marketing is enormous. As the NHK is a government-operated newscast, I’d prefer for them to stop with this propagandistic uproar.
I'm disgusted and tempted to see the throngs rushing to the movie theatres as reenacting the “Miracle Banana” or “Natto” phenomena. One woman’s comments in particular on a certain news broadcast clearly showed the mechanism of this conditionally reflexive rush to the theatres. “It was a movie that I thought I didn’t want to see, but after I heard that it won an Oscar, I think I’ll go ahead and see it”, she said. “Go ahead and see it”, and not “I’ll go see it”—it reflects not her individual will to see the film, but rather a certain sense of responsibility. In other words, her comments show an obsession with ideas like “If everyone’s seeing it, I’ve got to, too” and “I’ve got to hold back and not leak any info”. I want us to be able to say directly “I’m not going to watch it if I don’t want to”. I want us to treasure our own personal decisions. If we don’t, we risk forever being unable to shake off our “public opinion dependence”, and our addictions will only further deepen.
While I’m on the subject, even the sales of the original novel have exploded, from the 150,000 copies sold until now to an additional printing of 300,000 in just two days, it seems. This spectacle too, where this same behavior is acted out reflexively and all at once, is just as abnormal. And as long as society continues with its complete lack of self-awareness, it will remain afflicted by this serious obsessive-compulsive disorder.
I realized something strange when the words “Kitahori Maki” came to my lips. She’s an actress on the NHK Taiga Drama “Atsuhime”. Without delay, my partner pointed out, “It’s Horikita Maki. That sort of mistake is embarrassing. You even called Koda Kumi, ‘Koda Miku’ by mistake, didn’t you?”
Now that I think about it, lately I often make the mistake of replacing or switching around words. I remembered the word “TOB” (meaning a corporate takeover bid) as “TBO”, and I was so sure that an “AO Entrance Exam”* was an “OA Entrance Exam”. What makes this shocking is not the fact that I was struck by a bit of memory failure, but rather that this is exact same mistake that my mother makes. Every time my mother would mistake “Garcia Marquez” as “Marcia Garquez” and the like, I would get so frustrated, saying “Why can’t you just remember it properly?”. But now that I well understand that she fully intended to remember it correctly, I’m quite mortified.
What I find mysterious is that her tendency of “remembering words rearranged like an anagram” was so faithfully passed down to me. My partner, who so mercilessly pointed out my own mistake, also inherited a strange habit from her father. Without fail, she will forget to close a drawer when she opens it, and will always leave a single kitchen utensil out even after she’s cleaned up the rest; she always lets her final acts fall by the wayside. She and her father have been living apart for years, and as I’m not convinced that his daily idiosyncrasies rubbed off on her, I start to wonder if this too may be the work of genetics.
In that case, since I’ve been inescapably destined to remember proper nouns inside out, well, I guess I’ll blame that on Fate.
(Tokyo Shimbun, November 7, 2008)
A couple days later, I got a phone call from my mother, who had read this essay…..
“I thought it was Kitahori Maki, too!”
Translator’s Note: An “AO Entrance Exam” (aka. Admissions Office Entrance Exam) is a recently-implemented style of Japanese university entrance exam that has started to gain popularity since its introduction by Keio University in 1990. Unlike general university exams that focus solely on grades, an AO examination includes an interview and emphasizes grades equally with extracurricular activities, personal achievements and other qualifications. AO exams are a popular method of getting into high-profile universities, particularly amongst young celebrities who are unable to attend high school regularly.
-“Hey sempai. What a coincidence. What are you doing in a place like this?”
-“Oh, I love Akihabara. I know a lot about manga, too. How about you? What’s with you and that poor-looking mug of yours? Who’s gonna want to get with that?”
-“It’s the economy that’s doing poorly. That’s why I don’t have a job.”
-“Oh, really. How about a drink then?”
-“Sempai, you’ll want to go to another pricy bar, no? I’m really not in the mood.”
-“Then how does Kita no Kazoku sound? Soy-sauce boiled hokke mackerel sounds really good.”
-“You don’t usually boil hokke in soy sauce…”
-“Oh, really? Well, I am from Kyushu…”
-“See? It’s surprisingly good, isn’t it?”
-“It tastes the way it always does to me...”
-“But anyways, all those guys that graduated in the same year as you are in pretty bad straits now, eh? This recession snuck up on us really nonexpectedly.”
-“Sempai, you mean unexpectedly, right?”
-“Sempai, you really don’t get angry even when you’re criticized, do you. You’re so mature.”
-“It’s because I’m a forward-looking kind of guy. Anyways, let me help you out. First, take this money…”
-“Woah, that’s a whole wad of cash!”
-“Split it between all of you guys. How many of you were there? 80 was it? In that case, it comes to about 12500 yen per person.”
-“That’s really generous of you. But then again, it’s not unlike you at all, carrying all that cash.”
-“The money’s the membership fees for the alumni club. But afterwards I’ll just tell them I used it on a campaign for our very unfortunate juniors and I’ll collect some donations, so just use it. Don’t you worry one bit.”
-“Isn’t that a little underhanded?”
-“It’s fine, I say. You should just give the money to all the guys in trouble ASAP”
-“Um, about the “guys in trouble”…It’s true that I and the other four guys I talked about are out of jobs. I think there’s a couple more of us among our classmates, but it’s not as if all eighty of us are out of jobs. Yoshida, for example, just does housework, always bragging about how he’ll never have to work just because of his parent’s inheritance. Are you going give that guy a share too? He’s coasting!”
-“Oh really. Jeez.”
-“There are those with high salaries, too. If we split the money evenly between everyone, it won’t really be a campaign to “help the troubled”.
-“Alright then, how about just giving it to the guys who are unemployed?”
-“Then that includes Yoshida. Also, like I said before, Kobayashi hasn’t lost his job, but in a way he’s even worse off than we are. With that crappy salary of his, he’s supporting three kids and paying for his parent’s hospital bills; he’s even living apart from his family due to work.”
-“Gotcha. How about if we he have the guys who’re doing fine just voluntarily refuse the cash? Isn’t that brilliant?”
-“You’re always such an optimist, so I guess you can believe everything will go so easily. But if you’re giving away money for free, no one in their right mind’s going to voluntarily refuse. “
-“Hey, you know, in life you need to be carefree sometimes. It’s only more painful if you’re always on edge.”
-“Well duh! I’m out of a job and I have no damn money!”
-“Hey, hey, you’re on edge. Open your heart and be generous. If you do that, they say that luck will come to ya. Here, I’ll give you the opportunity to do just that. I’m going to give you this 1 million yen to distribute freely. As to who you give it to, I’ll leave it to your discretion.”
-“Man, this isn’t a joke. The guys that don’t get any money will complain to me. And in any case, all this cash is the membership money for the alumni club, isn’t it? I’m not even an officer or anything; it’ll be big trouble if I just go out and give out money as I please. You’re making the decision, so you go through with it.
-“Look, we’re in an age of decentralization! We delegate duties to everyone, and it’s common to just let everyone do what they can. That’s what’s called independence. I’ll go ahead and cheer you on, but I’m definitely not going to go ahead and spoil you by making your choices for you.”
-“Isn’t your thinking a little off? If you’re going to delegate duties, give me an official position. And then make it so that I have the right to collect money. Then, if you were to tell me that spending it was up to me, I would understand. But with you saying “I can’t choose, so I’ll leave it up to you”, doesn’t that make me just your substitute errand boy?
Where’s this so called independence? There are limits to taking it easy.”
-“I told you, don’t be so edgy. In any case, it seems like you’re misunderstanding me, so let’s meet more occupiedly from now on. I leave it up to you—see ya.”
“It’s occasionally, not occupiedly.”
Translator’s Note: Some background on Japan’s LDP Prime Minister Taro Aso makes this conversation infinitely more funny. Aso has gained notoriety for his lavish outings (such as going out to 32 high-profile hotel bars in the space of one month), frequent misreading of commonly used Kanji (akin to Bush-isms like “nucular” and “misunderestimate”), and his numerous controversial statements, which are frequently offensive--especially to Japan’s ethnic minorities. An avid fan of manga, he has gained popularity amongst younger voters, but has lost public and party support over his insistence on a stimulus package handout program which will give 12,000 yen (124 USD) to each citizen by the end of the fiscal year. An additional 8,000 yen will be given to households for each child 18 years old or younger, and for each elderly person 65 years or older. The ostensible goal of this package is to stimulate consumption and consumer spending to get Japan out of its current savings trap. At the same time, in the face of much opposition from senior officials, he has also proposed to raise consumption taxes in 3 years despite the current Japanese recession, stating that he is sure that the economy will have improved by then.
More information on his economic policy can be found here: http://www.feer.com/economics/2008/november/Mr.-Asos-Cynical-Stimulus, where Nobuyoshi Sakajiri states:
“The plan is also unpopular among the local governments because it leaves local officials with the burden of deciding whether to put an income cap on applicants and disqualify the rich. Governors and mayors also worry about chaos at their municipal offices as thousands of people are expected to rush to the counters to apply for the handout in a short period of time. To make matters worse, March is a busy time for workers at municipal offices as the fiscal year ends.”
A simple google or Wikipedia search on Prime Minister Aso will reveal his very interesting comments on China and Taiwan, his belief in the “pivotal role that Japan had in spreading the Hangul system” and his desire to make Japan a country in which “rich Jews would like to live”…
To Live Alone (an essay written in September, 2002 that appears here)
Back when I was a student and my friends would talk about which one of us would get married first, the general consensus was that out of all of us, I was the absolute least likely to get married. And indeed, I myself agreed. Even if I imagined living together with someone and building a partnership, I couldn’t even grasp the image of myself throwing a regular wedding ceremony and living the life of a husband and wife.
Families are the mere products of chance, and since the time I was in middle school I have felt that “husband and wife” was a formalized human relationship protected by the institution that is marriage. Nowadays, I acknowledge marriage to be a much more complicated and delicate sort of relationship, but my essential feelings of incongruity have not changed.
When I hit the later half of my thirties, I came to see the state of those who are single in a different meaning than I had in my twenties. People who want to get married but for some reason are still alone, people who live together with their partners but aren’t married, people who choose to live alone, people who are divorced, and people who may be married, but in truth, support their hearts by themselves. Suppose that we were to only measure human relationships by the formal definition of marriage protected under the law--any of these examples could be taken as proof that human relationships are starting to become unsustainable.
Two years ago, in my recently published work, Dokushin Onsen, I tried to find ways of living that transcended the image of family with marriage at its core. All of the characters in the novel are single in various ways, and they breathe in the poison of living alone until it becomes completely unbearable. Different than simply being single, their behaviour of aggressively choosing to be single is also the preparation they take on to face their solitude, their poison, head-on.
Needless to say, no one can go on living completely alone. The only way one is able to be cheery and optimistic despite being weathered by an un-healable loneliness is by building deep relationships of trust with someone (or some people), and believing in that experience and its possibilities. In other words, through embarking into the single lifestyle, for the first time, one is able to neutralize the poison of loneliness.
The little world where these single people, namely those who live alone, those who live together unmarried, and those who try to make families unrelated by blood, gather in an old apartment, repeat a cycle of betrayals and the rebirth of bonds, and mix together to coexist with those who live with traditional views of family, is the “Dokushin Onsen”.
This is not a pipe-dream. I think that instead, compared to reality's ever-present clinging to make-believe, the world of this novel is much more honest.
Translator’s Note: The kanji wordplay of the work’s title, Dokushin Onsen毒身温泉 is of great significance, but is relatively hard to convey in English. In Japanese, the word for “single/unmarried” is dokushin 独身, literally meaning alone+body. Hoshino, however, uses the character dokushin毒身, meaning poison + body.
An essay on the periphery of “The Poison Hotspring of Solitude”
The following is not fiction.
One of the words that I (the author, Hoshino Tomoyuki) personally dislike is the word “Instinct”. When people try to explain gender differences and the family, the origins of peoples and nations, and Nature in general, the word is used so easily and so thoughtlessly. We can see it being used in many ways, from popular beliefs like “Women can’t read maps and men don’t listen” and “women instinctively avoid fights because they bear children” to the proven explanation (at least when it comes to animals) that “when animals are chased, they instinctively choose fight or flight”.
However, while human beings are a type of animal, have we not also surpassed them? The fact is that there are parts of us that are bound by instinct as well as parts that are not. While I do not agree with him on all fronts, the psychologist and psychoanalyst Kishida Shuu explains that “humans are living things with broken instincts-- in order to take every action, they require an image, a dream”. To do anything, we must act consciously; it is impossible for us to act automatically exactly as instinct tells us, or so he says.
While I do not think the truth is quite as extreme as that, I do think that most of the things that are thought to be the workings of “instinct” are in fact not the fault of instinct itself, but rather that of the culture and the mentality imprinted into us since early childhood. For example, while it is certain that sexual desire is an instinctual drive, in the case of people who do not have precise periods of sexual arousal, an unconscious problem is largely involved. As the unconscious is repressed consciousness, it is subtly different from instinct. It is here where the culture that was imprinted and repressed before human beings became aware of themselves (and in the case of individuals, before they achieve self-consciousness) has great influence. The awareness of gender roles, etc. is the very same. Are not culture and instinct being confused, then? As it is mostly impossible to draw a precise border between the two, bringing out the word “instinct” so cheaply is thus directly connected to the attitude of solidifying the status quo.
Again, the problem of exactly what we can be called “instinct” thus arises. I think that the vast majority of those that use the word “instinct” have only grasped but an ambiguous image. Today, we have come to understand that genes are what program humans as living beings. Ever since life was born on the Earth, all living beings have had DNA and genes; humans being no exception, it is certain all living beings on the planet are bound somewhere by a shared, common program.
However, humankind strayed from the course of evolution and gained consciousness. While the mechanism behind how consciousness came to be is unknown, at least as far as I know right now, it seems as if we could call consciousness the result of gaining language. Consciousness is the position where one is able to make things relative. At the point in time where humans gained language, they realized that they were obeying an automatic program, and releasing themselves from it, they rewrote the program with their own hands. Not eating the food right there in front of them, they started making it themselves. We are bound by instinct; however, we are able to release ourselves from it, to oppress it, and to change it.
That is culture. As culture is a man-made program, it is an acquired, second instinct, capable of being revised an infinite number of times. In reality, it is constantly continuing to change and mix together. And doing so, it has arrived at the present. Is it not time then to rewrite these notions of gender differences, family, and race that culture has concocted, with all its irrationalities and harmful abuses? As for those who deny this rewriting of culture, it is that very class of citizenry who find themselves already privileged through the current state of culture.
The above are the things that I am moved by, the things that I continue to reflect upon as I live each day. In fact, I find myself incapable of living without them. As to how this relates to “Dokushin Onsen” and “Dokushin Kizoku” (both included in the Kodansha version of Dokushin Onsen)? I would like to have everyone freely interpret this as they see fit.