In this scintillating work of autobiographical fiction, Setouchi Jakuchō recalls with almost photographic clarity scenes from her past: growing up in the Tokushima countryside in the 1920s, the daughter of a craftsman, and in Tokyo as a young student experiencing the heady freedom of college life; escaping to Kyoto at the end of a disastrous arranged marriage and an ill-starred love affair before returning to Tokyo, with its lively community of artists and writers, to establish herself as a novelist. Throughout, Jakuchō is propelled by a burning desire to write and to make a living as a writer. Her memories, sharp and clear, also provide a fascinating picture of everyday life in Japan in the years surrounding World War II.
~ Current ~
Kyohei Sakaguchi is almost unique among Japanese writers today in the way his deeply rooted Japaneseness intertwines his cosmopolitan understanding of intellectual currents in the wider world. Trained as an architect, he combines broad discussions of space, design, and reality with a deep introspection into the workings of his own mind. And he does so with a light touch that is often humorous. Here is a unique sensibility, examined and laid bare, without reservation. Its frank openness would be unusual anywhere. In Japan, it is unheard of.
I translated these two volumes of Kyohei Sakaguchi’s work because I wanted to read them, and translation as the deepest form of reading.
REALITY BREAKAWAY is Sakaguchi’s attempt to grapple with philosophical issues (the nature of reality); understand the nature of his own mind and bi-polar tendencies; and offer an example of coping that can help others. He published his personal cellphone number as a suicide hotline, for example, and designed tiny dwellings for the homeless in his photo-essay ZERO-YEN HOUSE. The fact that he regards his bi-polarism as something to be dealt with rather than “cured,” and sees it as the source of his creativity is an instructive counter position to the Western idea that it is something that, first and foremost, must be medicated.
Sakaguchi’s newly published book DIRT DAYS, grows directly from REALITY BREAKAWAY. In the format of a journal during Covid-19 lockdown (the summer of 2020) he breaks out of his former deep introspection into the world of nature. He still ponders philosophy, he still examines his thought processes regarding creativity, but his fingers are deep in the dirt of his garden. This book lies squarely in the tradition of Western garden books going back to Virgil’s GEORGICS, that combine concrete observations on plants, growing things, psychology, society, and philosophy. The tension of REALITY BREAKAWAY is soothed and eased in DIRT DAYS.
The artwork Sakaguchi created while writing these two books is eye-openingly different. In REALITY BREAKAWAY the fine-lined, black and white, detail-crammed drawings (for which he is best known in modern art circles) gives way to gorgeous lush pastel landscapes in DIRT DAYS.