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Waseda, literature and Waseda Bungaku

Makoto Ichikawa
Associate Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

A dog that trots about finds a bone. Throw a stone and you are sure to hit something.—In these Japanese proverbs, any word could be inserted in place of “something.” When walking through the Waseda neighborhood, it’s clear that the word “Waseda” fits perfectly in such proverbs. (Of course, it would be unacceptable to throw a stone and injure someone!) Of course, “Waseda” is a place name and is accordingly written here and there. Then, there are about 10,000 students in each grade. Indeed, there are a total of 53,000 “Waseda” students on campus when including graduate students. “Waseda” swells to the size of a suburban city when you include full-time and part-time faculty and staff members, as well as alumni who continue to live in the area after graduation.

(Clockwise starting from the upper-left) Masahiro Mita, Kiyoshi Shigematsu, Toshiyuki Horie (photograph by Kiyoshi Mori) and Mitsuyo Kakuta (photograph by Hisaaki Mihara)

In the world of literature, we can meet that “Waseda” with the same frequency. Even when counting only winners of the Akutagawa Prize and Naoki Prize (the two most well-known Japanese literary prizes), Waseda graduates are in a class of their own. In the case of the Akutagawa Prize, which is given to young writers of highly artistic pure literature, there are 30 winners from Waseda University. That list starts with Tatsuzo Ishikawa winning the 1st Akutagawa Prize in 1935, proceeds with Yoshinori Yagi, Tetsuo Miura and Masahiro Mita, includes Yo Hemmi and Toshiyuki Horie, and continues up to Risa Wataya and Natsuko Kuroda. On the other hand, 35 talented writers associated with Waseda have won the Naoki Prize, which is presented to high-quality, mainstay popular novels read by a wide range of people. This list starts with Uko Washio (winner of the 2nd Naoki Prize) and Masuji Ibuse (winner of the 6th Naoki Prize), includes Masaaki Tachihara, Hiroyuki Itsuki, Akiyuki Nosaka, Takashi Atoda and Yukio Aoshima, and continues with Kiyoshi Shigematsu, Mitsuyo Kakuta, Shion Miura and Ryo Asai.

It’s charming that in addition to graduates, this list includes a more than a few dropouts, as headed by Ibuse. Even in the case of dropout winners, Waseda University overwhelms 2nd-place University of Tokyo, which has 20 such winners of the Akutagawa Prizes and 13 winners of the Naoki Prize, and 3rd-place Keio University, which has 9 and 14. Of course, simple comparison among these 3 schools is not possible due to the large number of Waseda graduates (the number of students including undergraduates and graduates is about 30,000 at University of Tokyo and about 40,000 at Keio University). Still, the number of literary professionals affiliated with Waseda University is surprisingly high. This includes winners of prizes other than the two discussed above, prominent authors who have yet to win a prize, poets, literary critics, translators, employees at publishing companies, free writers, book reviewers, editors, literary writers at newspapers, and employees of bookstores known for literature.

Upon reflection, we realize that the first step in modern Japanese literature was indeed taken by a man from Waseda. In 1885, The Essence of the Novel was written by Shoyo Tsubouchi, an instructor at Tokyo Senmon Gakko (later to become Waseda University). Tsubouchi referred to Western literature when making the following statement: “The principle aim of the novel is human emotions. Society and customs follow next.” He proposed novels which were clearly different from the existing Edo literary culture of popular fiction. This is considered the first step in modern Japanese novels. Tsubouchi’s ideas led to Shimei Futabatei’s The Drifting Cloud, the first novel written in a style unifying written and spoken language. Additionally, disciples occasionally referred to as “Tsubouchi children” spread Tsubouchi’s philosophy and influence into various fields. Notable disciples were Hogetsu Shimamura, a Shakespearean translator and founder of shingeki (Western-style drama), Seiji Tanizaki, a scholar of English literature and younger brother of Junichiro Tanizaki, and Mimei Ogawa, a writer of children’s stories. In some ways, we can all say that we are children of Shoyo Tsubouchi. (It should be noted that Tsubouchi graduated from the Department of Political Science at the Faculty of Letters, University of Tokyo. Therefore, he cannot be referred to as pure “Waseda.” Conversely, Soseki Natsume was born in Ushigome Babashitacho and worked as instructor at Tokyo Senmon Gakko in 1892. At that time, Soseki might have been struck by a thrown stone.)

(from left) Shoyo Tsubouchi, Hogetsu Shimamura and Mimei Ogawa

With assistance from a group led by literary critic Sanae Takata, who was the first President of Waseda University and later became the Minister of Education, Shoyo Tsubouchi established the Waseda University School of Letters, Arts and Sciences (named the Department of Literature at that time) as a place for cultivating a new generation of literature. Similarly, it was Tsubouchi who founded Waseda Bungaku, an early literary magazine for broadly disseminating Waseda wisdom throughout society. Although I would like to say that the literary figures introduced earlier in this article were involved in this magazine, it actually wasn't so. Indeed, while the literary magazine Waseda Bungaku has rich history and tradition, it was by no means a large medium. This is evidenced by how Natsuko Kuroda's a b Sango, winner of the Waseda Bungaku Prize for New Writers and the 138th Akutagawa Prize announced in January 2013, was the first prize received by Waseda Bungaku for the first time in 54 years.

The main reason for this low profile is that Waseda Bungaku is a non-profit magazine operated by a university. As such, it has focused on introducing the latest overseas literature (Through cooperation among Yukio Suzuki, Ryo Nonaka and Naoki Yanase, it was Waseda Bungaku that attempted to translate Irish author James joyce's experimental full-length novel Finnegans Wake, a work which was said to be untranslatable. He is the representative of the world literature in the 20th century. This topic will be discussed further in the 2nd installment of this series by Professor Hajime Kaizawa (Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences), who conducts editing.) and featuring ambitious criticism on innovative literary ideas within Japan. (The major event at the beginning was Waseda Bungaku being the first source to implement criticism through extensive joint review for Katai Tayama's The Quilt, which is said to be first of Japan's naturalist literature.

When operation does not place focus on sales, there is, as a general rule, no publication of books which have great significance in terms of profit and impact since they are widely known due to being stocked in bookstores for a long period of time and going through repeated additional publishing. (The best-selling work originally published in Waseda Bungaku was most likely Noriko Minobe's I Never Sit with My Elbows on the Table, which was responsible for a boom in female university student-authors at the end of the 1970s and was made into film. The book is published by Kodansha Ltd. Another book published by Kodansha Ltd. was Mieko Kawakami's Myself and a Toothache, her first work nominated for the Akutagawa Prize. Natsuko Kuroda's a b Sango was also published as a book by Bungeishunju Ltd.) Even when read mainly by literary aficionados, writers and other people involved in literary production, there were almost no instances in which Waseda Bungaku became the publisher for a best-selling book or the medium for a popular novel. (Therefore, even though Masaaki Tachihara and other winners of the Naoki Prize were involved in editing of Waseda Bungaku, they had no relation to the Naoki Prize being received by works printed in the magazine.

Works born from Waseda Bungaku. From left Noriko Minobe's I Never Sit with My Elbows on the Table, Ryuji Morita's Street Children, Mieko Kawakami's Myself and a Toothache, and Aoko Matsuda's Stackable

Tokuyoshi Hiraoka served as the 8th editor of Waseda Bungaku

Another reason for the low profile of Waseda Bungaku is that there is a traditional editing policy of not overemphasizing Waseda. This is shown as Tachihara's declaration that “If you are choosing between a Waseda graduate and a Keio graduate with the same ability, choose the Keio graduate.” One way of thinking is that a magazine bearing the name “Waseda” should prioritize writers from Waseda. However, such a publication would lack social credibility and be of little meaning to the growth of overall Japanese literature. Even so, there should be no discrimination against writers from Waseda. Instead, there should be hope that Waseda writers will display their ability which surpasses that of writers from Keio University, the University of Tokyo, and even from throughout the world. (Therefore, the previous policy implies that if Japanese literature and overseas literature displays the same ability, then the overseas literature should be published.)

On the other hand, writers from Waseda were also expected to surpass their own origin and perform in outside publications such as Mita Bungaku (published by Keio University) and commercial literary magazines of major publishing companies. (Of course, they were also hoped to develop into writers known worldwide.) From the 1990s, while majoring in literature at the School of Letters, Arts and Sciences I, Mitsuyo Kakuta studied under Professor Emeritus Tokuyoshi Hiraoka (deceased), who was editor of Waseda Bungaku at that time. Kakuta's writing was selected for the university magazine Sousei which published outstanding works from the department. Although Kakuta continued her friendship with officials after graduating, her works were published in commercial literary magazines outside of the university. While he was a student at Waseda, Kiyoshi Shigematsu served the position of student editor at Waseda Bungaku requested by Hiraoka. After graduating, Shigematsu worked at a publishing company and then handled the production of Waseda Bungaku as editor-in-chief. However, more than 20 years passed before he published his work in Waseda Bungaku. Toshiyuki Horie, who won numerous literary awards and now teaches as Professor at Waseda, had his debut work published in Waseda Bungaku when he rewrote his graduation thesis into a short essay and submitted it to the magazine. Nevertheless, he truly found his stride as a writer in a serial publication of magazine by Hakusuisha after returning from studying abroad in France. In this way, Waseda Bungaku discovered new talent and cultivated that talent in various ways, setting the foundation for big success in a broader world (in terms of a medium with strong advertising power and sales power). On the other hand, Waseda Bungaku also did its best to start the careers of talented writers from outside of Waseda University. Some prominent examples are Mieko Kawakami, who later won the Akutagawa Prize for her work Breasts and Eggs, Ryuji Morita, who became a best-selling author thanks to his novel Delicious Water, and Aoko Matsuda, whose work Stackable was nominated for the Mishima Yukio Prize. This editorial policy of Waseda Bungaku remains the same even today.

Republishing message by Masaaki Tachihara (February 1969 issue of Waseda Bungaku): “If I have drafts from a Waseda writer and a Mita writer, assuming that the quality of writing is the same, I will choose the work of the Mita writer.”

Even from a commercial perspective, the editorial policy of Waseda Bungaku sometimes appears as perverse in regards to the easily-understood love for one’s school or sense of distance from one's alma mater. However, the magazine's editorial policy is based on the principle of examining the essence of literature and setting ideals. When Tsubouchi wrote The Essence of the Novel in 1885, only 3 years had passed since the founding of the Tokyo Senmon Gakko and there was no market for novels. Therefore, the establishment of modern literature was basically unrelated to commercial appeal and Waseda University. If that's true, then the independence from commercial business and academics which was the spirit of Shoyo Tsubouchi's era is still continued today, 130 years later.

(From left) Waseda Bungaku Volume 10, #1; Waseda Bungaku #5, which contains the Akutagawa Prize-winning a b Sango by Natsuko Kuroda; Waseda Bungaku #7, the latest issue; Granta Japan with Waseda Bungaku 01, the birth of joint editing with a venerable British literary magazine.

Still, as stated in the introduction, there are ultimately a large number of people related to Waseda in today's literary circles. Even as the result of prioritizing ability, it is a natural process that numerous people related to Waseda are having their writing published. That is the reflection of fact which is difficult to assess: many current students at the University of Tokyo and Kyoto University are studying IT (this is the same attitude taken by University of Tokyo students Tsubouchi and Soseki when they aspired to write modern novels which were a “new technology” in the Meiji Period), while many students at Waseda still aspire to write literature, as if there were something “anachronism” about our university. At the same time, it seems that Waseda students pursue literature as something which is universal and unchanging, free of the influence of temporary social conditions, trends and utility. The pursuing itself is like literature. This affinity for literature is apparently also related to Waseda University's progressive spirit which espouses freedom from existing authority and constraints. Ultimately, it can be said that there is unexpected nearing of neutrality and the essence of Waseda, two concepts which were out of balance in the past.

WB, the Waseda Bungaku free paper

Among the many current Waseda students and alumni who are “within a stone's throw” (I am one of those alumni), today's Waseda Bungaku is becoming accessible to both individuals with a deep love of Waseda and individuals who are indifferent to Waseda but love literature. It can be inferred that the time of Waseda Bungaku is coming.

Recently, Waseda Bungaku has been published irregularly. From this August, Waseda Bungaku will grow as a quarterly magazine through distribution cooperation from Chikuma Shobo publishing, a mid-sized publishing company which has an acclaimed history in the collection of literature, books of humanity, and paperbacks. In March of this year, GRANTA JAPAN with Waseda Bungaku, the Japanese version of the prominent British literary magazine GRANTA, has been published through joint editing with the British editing department. Translation support for this project is provided by the Read Japan Program (The Nippon Foundation), a Japanese group which facilitates the overseas expansion of Japanese literary works. Distribution support is provided by Hayakawa Publishing Inc., which has rich experience in publishing science fiction and mystery novels.

In conjunction with these advancements, in addition to the quarterly published Waseda Bungaku and special editions of the free literary paper WB which target Waseda alumni, current students and ordinary readers, we have started publishing the Waseda Bungaku Club Newsletter, which provides information on preferred admissions to literary lectures and other events held by Waseda Bungaku and Waseda University. We are also starting projects to make literature from Waseda, Japan and the world more accessible to individuals who are familiar with literature or had past involvement. Please join our efforts to make Waseda Bungaku the literary magazine upon which readers cast their glance they are sure to hit Waseda Bungaku, even if no stones are thrown.

The Waseda Bungaku Club Newsletter publishes essays submitted by members

Makoto Ichikawa
Associate Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

Makoto Ichikawa is a literary critic. He graduated from the Waseda University School of Letters, Arts and Sciences I. He completed courses at Kinki University Graduate School of Literature and Cultural Studies. He is appointed as Professor at Waseda University in 2013. Areas of expertise include modern Japanese literature and media theory. He has been involved in the literary magazine Waseda Bungaku since 2000, transforming the magazine into a critical review of literature, attaching the first-ever CD-ROM for a literary magazine, and establishing the magazine as a free paper. His written works include Why Didn’t Haruki Murakami Receive the Akutagawa Prize? (GENTOSHA INC.). He holds positions including book commentator on the TBS information program Osama no Buranchi (Brunch with the King).