Biographies of modern writers
Short biographies of modern writers, with more detailed accounts in some cases. Where extra information has been provided, it is classified in up to four categories: life, translations, studies (mostly book-length or chapter-length in size), and online links.
Although personal judgments are incorporated, much of the content is culled from such common, useful, and inexpensive reference sources as Shakaijin no tame no kokugo hyakka (Encyclopedia of the Japanese Language for Working Adults, published by Taishūkan Shoten), Shin shōsetsu kokugo benran (Illustrated Handbook of the Japanese Language, Newly Revised and Updated, published by Tōkyō Shoseki), and -- yes -- the Japanese version of Wikipedia. Shinchō Nihon-bungaku jiten has occasionally been consulted for purposes of verification and amplification.
During Yasuoka’s childhood, his father, an army veterinarian, was transferred frequently, giving the family an unsettled existence and causing Yasuoka to develop a distaste for schooling. Yasuoka failed miserably in college entrance exams for three years, finally winning admission to Keio University in 1941.There he fell under the spell of the so-called Aesthetic School (Tanbi-ha) of Japanese authors, modeling his own lifestyle on theirs. This period of his life became the basis for his later novel Warui nakama (Bad Company, 1953).
Yasuoka was conscripted in 1944 and briefly served overseas, but was sent home after developing tuberculosis. After the war, he began to write fiction while suffering from spinal caries. His short story Garasu no kutsu (The Glass Slipper) made a strong impact on the Japanese literary world when it was published in 1951. Yasuoka was awarded the Akutagawa Prize on the basis of Inki na tanoshimi (A Melancholy Pleasure, 1953) and Warui nakama (Bad Company, 1953), both of which draw heavily on Yasuoka’s own experience to depict the slightly perverse personality of the youthful narrator. This concern with concrete everyday life created a break with the gloomily abstract concerns of previous writers, earning Yasuoka (along with such other writers as Kojima Nobuo, Endō Shūsaku, and Shōno Junzō) the appellation Dai-san no Shinjin ("Third Generation of New Writers").
Yasuoka developed an autobiographically oriented style which he used to portray society from the standpoint of an “underachiever” (rettōsei), taking the side of the underdog to lay bare falsehood and hypocrisy. Kaihen no kōkei (A View by the Sea, 1959), dealing with the death of Yasuoka’s mother in a mental hospital, received the Noma Literary Prize; Maku ga orite kara (After the Curtain Fell, 1967) won the Mainichi Cultural Prize. Yasuoka’s other writings have ranged widely, from Amerika kanjō ryokō (A Sentimental Journey through America, 1962), which turns out to be much more than a simple travel journal; to such critical works as Shiga Naoya shiron (A Private Reading of Shiga Naoya, 1968); to Ryūritan (A Tale of Wanderers, 1981), which traces the Yasuoka family tree back to the end of the Edo period. Recent award-winning works include Hate mo nai dōchūki (The Never-ending Traveler’s Journal, 1996, Yomiuri Literary Prize) and Kagamigawa (The Kagami River, 2000, Osaragi Jirō Prize).
The date given for Yasuoka's birth is the one that appears in his family register. The Japanese Wikipedia quotes a source in which Yasuoka puts his own actual date of birth at April 17 or 18.
- A View by the Sea. Trans. Kären Wigen Lewis. 1984. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992. Contains six short stories.
- "Bad Company." Trans. Kären Wigen Lewis. In The Showa Anthology, ed. Van C. Gessel and Tomone Matsumoto, Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1985. A lighly revised version of the translation in the collection above.
- "My Uncle's Graveyard." Trans. Mark Jewel. Japanese Literature Today, 17:5-13 (1992). A short story in a periodical, but well worth reading.
- "Prized Possessions." Trans. Edwin McClellan. In Contemporary Japanese Literature, ed. Howard Hibbett, New York: Knopf, 1977.
- The Glass Slipper and Other Stories. Trans. Royall Tyler. Champaign, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 2008.
Gessel, Van C. The Sting of Life: Four Contemporary Japanese Novelists. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989. Contains a chapter on Yasuoka.
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