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Hermann Hesse and Japan

A Study in Reciprocal Transcultural Reception

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Neale Cunningham

Hermann Hesse once stated that his Japanese readers understood him best among all his readers worldwide – a little known fact among readers of Hesse in the West. This book examines Hesse’s reception in Japan and of Japan in the context of a transcultural reception process. It traces the different phases of Hesse’s reception in Japan and contextualises this reception in terms of the regional setting of East Asia and the cultural authority of imperial Japan. The role of transcultural mediators as figurative nodes in the world literature system is analysed, with a particular focus on the key role played by Hesse’s «Japanese» cousin, Wilhelm Gundert. Finally, Hesse’s epistolary exchange with his Japanese readers is unfolded to show how deep affinities arise, which result in the creation of a type of «spiritual» capital. This epistolary exchange, together with the translation of the Zen bible Pi Yen Lu by Wilhelm Gundert, inspired Hesse to write a series of three unique Zen-poems as a means of expressing a lifelong search for transcendence.

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Extract

Figure 1: Jugendgedenken: An exhibition at the Gunma Prefectural Museum of Literature in the spring of 2014. Photo by Neale Cunningham.

Figure 2: Types of correspondence in the Hesse-Japan-Konvolut.

Figure 3: References to Hesse’s major works in the epistolary corpus.

Figure 4: Young Japanese readers inspired by Hesse’s Unterm Rad. Reproduced with permission from the Hermann Hesse-Stiftung in Bern & the Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach.

Figure 5: Japanese reader’s drawing of persimmon tree and rural structure. Reproduced with permission from the Hermann Hesse-Stiftung in Bern & the Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach.

Figure 6: Japanese reader’s drawing of Bodhidharma. Reproduced with permission from the Hermann Hesse-Stiftung in Bern & the Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach.

Figure 7: Japanese reader’s drawing of Ryokan’s dwelling in the bamboo grove. Reproduced with permission from the Hermann Hesse-Stiftung in Bern & the Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach.

Figure 8: Japanese reader’s poem and representation of Buddha. Reproduced with permission from the Hermann Hesse-Stiftung in Bern & the Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach.

Figure 9: Musical composition and drawing of school by a Japanese reader. Reproduced with permission from the Hermann Hesse-Stiftung in Bern & the Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach.

Figure 10: Japanese text and reader’s drawing of a lady in a palanquin. Reproduced with permission from the Hermann Hesse-Stiftung in Bern & the Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach.

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