AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 77

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Session 77: Life/Writing: Dangerous Pursuits in Japanese and Japanese-American Women’s Literature

Organizer: Lee Friederich, University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA

Chair: Ronald P. Loftus, Willamette University, USA

Discussant: Ronald P. Loftus, Willamette University, USA

Moderated by Ronald Loftus, author of Telling Lives: Women’s Self-Writing in Modern Japan, this panel will trace the ways in which contemporary Japanese women memoirists, novelists, poets, social activists, and teachers continue to extend and invent life writing as a “process of self-discovery” that, as Judy Long puts it, is so often “accompanied by a sense of contestation and risk” (Judy Long qtd in Loftus). Focusing closely on Anata no niwa dewa asobanai (I don’t want to play in your yard), Yuko Hayashi will explore the impact of Ochiai Keiko’s self-referential life novel on the field of discrimination against children born out of wedlock in Japan when it was published in 1991. Novelist and poet Yuko Taniguchi will describe her work and practices as a teacher and mentor at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where she leads creative writing workshops for terminally ill patients who explore their lives and illnesses through life writing. Taking up the question of the literary persona, memoirist and fiction writer Kyoko Mori will present her working definition of the “literary self” in her own works, as well as in works by other American and Asian-American writers in her discussion of Asian immigrant memoirs. Lee Friederich will explore poetry as a form of “life writing” through an examination of Yoshihara Sachiko’s inventive use of personae in her deeply “confessional works,” which will be compared to her American contemporaries, confessional American poets Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton.

Ochiai Keiko’s self-referential life novel Anata no niwa dewa asobanai and Trials of Discrimination Against Children Born Out of Wedlock in Japan
Yuko Hayashi, Japan Womens University, Japan

Ochiai Keiko’s (1945-) self-referential 1991 life novel Anata no niwa dewa asobanai (I don’t want to play in your yard) is Japan’s first autobiographical literature written from the viewpoint of children born out of wedlock and might be said the most politically and socially influential women’s self-writing since the 1990s in Japan. By revealing that this discrimination is not only sexism, but also a human rights issue for children, Ochiai’s writing drew public attention to this discrimination and was cited in an important trial objecting to the government’s policy against nonmarital children for the first time. Contributing to the abolition of discriminatory recording in the resident register, this trial represented a pivotal achievement in the history of action against this type of discrimination in Japan. Anata no niwa dewa asobanai has played a significant role in Japan, where legal discrimination against nonmarital children still continues. My presentation will analyze Ochiai’s life writing and its social influence. First, I will review the history of discrimination against nonmarital children and the transition of the ideology behind this discrimination. Then, I will analyze Ochiai’s life writing and its influence on the trial and public opinion. Ochiai’s life writing is a good example of how feminist autobiographical writing can influence social reform, and this analysis will help us understand how feminist self-referential life writing contributes to the feminist movement.

The Persona in Asian Immigrant Memoirs
Kyoko Mori, George Mason University, USA

My presentation will focus on the importance of the first-person narrator as a literary device in nonfiction. Even in memoirs and personal essays, the narrator is a persona. She or he is not everything that the author is, but a wiser, more concise and eloquent self that the author re-creates on the page. I will first attempt to define what that literary self is by referring to the works of contemporary American nonfiction writers (Vivian Gornick, David Shields, etc.). Then I will consider the persona in Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior. Since that book was so seminal for Asian-American writers of my generation, I will also provide some commentary on how Kingston’s example has influenced my own work. We all use life-writing (journals, diaries, letters to our family) to get at the materials, then through the literary persona, we turn the material into a story.

Healing Through Narrative
Yuko Taniguchi, University of Minnesota, USA

As Sontag (1975) suggests, “[e]veryone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and the kingdom of the sick.” Words in themselves can be rather useless in portraying such a reality, as they cannot carry the weight of difficult topics such as death and dying. Yet giving a shape to our own experience leads to healing. Thus we turn to the power of narrative. A term for healing in Japanese, Chiyu, suggests that healing contains two elements: chi-mending and yu-softening. While chi refers to recovery through repair of a broken or damaged body through procedures such as surgery, yu indicates that our mind and body, hardened and stiffened from the hardship of illness, must be softened to absorb and allow healing. In this presentation, poet and novelist Yuko Taniguchi will discuss narrative as a tool for this softening of our mind through reflective thinking. The presentation will also address the risk and hardship of revising the core of painful topics as well as the inevitability of this process in order for healing to occur. Through literary examples by medical specialist/writers and Taniguchi’s own experience conducting writing workshops for patients, patients’ families, medical students and specialists at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, this presentation discusses what it takes to heal, which ultimately involves a process of realizing, discovering and accepting by traveling within both kingdoms of illness and wellness through narrative.

The Speaking Wound: Personae of Confession in the Poetry of Yoshihara Sachiko
Lee Friederich, University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA

Rejecting an autobiographical approach so often ascribed to their predecessors, contemporary Japanese women poets' inventive use of personae not only cuts deeply across the notion of a unitary identity, but also fulfills a visionary function, providing an imaginative space in which the ongoing liberation of Japanese women continues to be explored. Despite this tendency toward using personae who can in no way be mistaken for the writer herself, however, contemporary women’s poetry remains a powerful form of life-writing that counters the essentialist claim of the shishosetsu writer, for example, that writing can be "unmediated," a transparent window to "truth." Through her powerful use of personae and experimentations in multivocality, poet Yoshihara Sachiko reminds us that the "self-images" she evokes are always incomplete renderings of the self. Rather than being “shaped” by experience, Yoshihara makes use of poetry as a vehicle through which she "shapes" her experience and life. Indeed, Yoshihara is one of many female poets of her generation who approach a vision of what or whom they could become through their use of invented personae. So doing, these poets extend the definition of "experience" to include acts of the imagination as well. Yoshihara's dramatic use of the "confessional" mode will be analyzed in parallel with the poetry of her international contemporaries, confessional American women poets Sylvia Plath, whose work Yoshihara read and about which she wrote, and Anne Sexton, especially in relation to all three poets' ironic use of larger-than-life personae to "confess" their most private dilemmas and wounds.