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The Writing of Disaster - Literary Representations of War, Trauma and Earthquakes in Modern Japan


Leith Morton

This book analyzes the literature that emerged from World War II. It also examines the literature that resulted from the two major earthquakes that have struck Japan over the course of over the last hundred years. The small number of volumes previously published examining the literature of war and earthquakes in Japan have almost always focused exclusively on fiction while this volume focuses mainly on poetry. This volume breaks new ground in its attempt to draw together and analyze the literature produced by these tragedies as a single phenomenon. It provides a new template for the literature of trauma produced by such events as the earthquake that accompanied the tsunami and nuclear meltdown in northeast Japan in 2011.

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6. “Sturm und Drang” in Tanizaki Junichirō’s The Makioka Sisters (1948)

Chapter Six


“[…] for my particular grief

Is of so flood-gate and o'erbearing nature

That it engluts and swallows other sorrows

And it is still itself.”

William Shakespeare, from Macbeth

Tanizaki Junichirō’s (1886–1965) long novel Sasameyuki (trans. The Makioka Sisters, 1957) is generally regarded as a masterpiece, both inside and outside Japan.1 The novel was written between 1943 and 1948 and is based upon the real experience and history of Tanizaki’s third and last wife Nezu Matsuko’s family, roughly corresponding to the years 1936 to 1941 (Tanizaki married Matsuko in 1935, and soon moved her two unmarried sisters into their house). This work was a convincing portrait of prewar upper-middle class Osaka society in all its elegance and luxury, so convincing in fact that it was viewed by the authorities as detracting from the increasingly martial tenor of the times, and accordingly the first instalment of the novel was banned in 1943 and the novel was not published in its entirety until after the end of World War II.2 Prominent among the impressively realistic scenes that occur throughout the work, we find a description of a disastrous storm and flood that assailed the Osaka/ Kobe region where the fictional Makioka family lives. This description covers a few chapters about halfway through the novel and is based upon an actual event: the Great Hanshin Flood, although one or two other disasters also may have contributed to Tanizaki’s impressive realization of this event...

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