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In Session: Sickness, State, and Subjectivity in Modern Japan
2: Bungei Shunjū and Writers Writing Illness
Friday, March 26, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
University of Massachusetts, Amherst, United States
In 2017, the Bungei Shunjū publishing group released a book called Nokosu Kotoba, a collection of 17 essays by writers, editors, and translators whose work has appeared in the pages of their journals. These essays, some in the form of diaries, chronicle the authors’ experiences with cancer from diagnosis to treatment to remission or death. The authors range from Setouchi Jakuchō (b.1922) to Inoue Hisashi (1934-2010) as well as many others. This kind of essay, known as the tōbyōki or struggling with illness narrative, has become popular in Japan. The term first came into the popular vocabulary in the 1920s and has taken on new life with the jibunshi or life writing movement of the 1960s and 70s.
In this presentation I will look at a brief history of authors writing about illness in the magazines of the Bungei Shunjū publishing group, paying particular attention to the 1960s and the work of Takami Jun (1907-1965) and the contemporary proliferation of illness narratives. Next, I will focus on the collection, Nokosu Kotoba, and its authors. These authors experience a range of treatment options from standard biomedical treatment of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation to kanpō (Chinese medicine) and other alternative medical approaches. I will discuss the differences between the 1960s and the present in terms of medical approach and the content of their essays. I will also explore why the press becomes a vehicle for discussing one’s health and what purpose these essays serve.