Healing Literatures by Contemporary Japanese Female Authors: Yoshimoto Banana, Ogawa Yoko, and Kawakami Hiromi

2019-01-03T14:06:59Z (GMT) by Yuko Ogawa
In this dissertation, I examine three popular contemporary Japanese female writers—Yoshimoto Banana (b.1964), Ogawa Yoko (b.1962), and Kawakami Hiromi (b.1958), who all debuted after the peak of Japan’s bubble economy in the late 1980s. Focusing on the works of these three living authors, I investigate the ways in which they deal with the theme of spiritual and emotional healing, and how they are original in the world of Japanese literature. Since they are all women, in terms of feminist context, I also look into how differently they respond to the gender issues from the prior generation of female authors.

In Introduction, I begin with the examination of how prewar authors dealt with the theme of spiritual healing. Using Snow Country (1937) by the male writer Kawabata Yasunari and “A Floral Pageant” (1937) by the female author Okamoto Kanoko (1899-1939), I discuss the commonality of these two authors, apart from the evident disparities related to their difference in gender. Their stories both end with the description of their protagonist’s spiritual climax, associated with their transcendental leap from their everyday reality. Comparing those prewar authors, I discuss how differently the three contemporary authors approach the same topic. In terms of their common gender, I also address outstanding characteristics of feminist messages delivered by their previous generation of female authors from the postwar to the 1970s, and how our authors are different from the previous ones in terms of their interest in feminism and women’s issues.

Chapter 1 examines the novels of Yoshimoto Banana, the author who debuted before the other two. I begin with an analysis on how her interest in spirituality is related to the social background of the bubble-collapse period between the late 1980s and the early 1990s—in relation, in particular, to the healing boom and the impact of Aum Shinrikyō’s sarin gas attack on Tokyo Subways in 1995. With her critiques on the so-called shin shin shūkyō, newly established religious groups, she claims that spiritual healing should be based on one’s awakening of his or her connection with nature to be blessed. And she stresses and encourages with that awareness to live through everyday reality with hope.

Chapter 2 explores works of Ogawa Yoko. I analyze how she develops her theme of girlhood by examining her earlier works, which recurrently focus on her adolescent protagonists’ anxieties—their fear of separation from their girlhood and their frustration about moving into a sexualized female adulthood. At the end of this chapter, I examine Mīna’s March, a work, which extensively features a young protagonist’s girlhood and her days growing up. Ogawa implies that richness of girlhood—free from sexuality and gender tensions—is the key source for female mental growth.

Chapter 3 investigates stories of Kawakami Hiromi. I begin with an introduction of her essays, which show her core theme of “sakaime” (borderline realm). I examine her earlier stories about relationships between human and nonhuman characters, and as well as her later stories about relationships between two human characters. I consistently find that the “sakaime” opens her protagonists to an animistic vision of a human relationship with nature—a vision which human lives are part of nature’s vast, unsteady, and ever-changing life flows. Ultimately, the animistic sensitivity works for her protagonists’ inner growth.

In conclusion, I summarize the three authors’ differences and commonalities in spiritual and emotional healing and related topic such as female independence, individualities, and the human relationship with nature. I conclude that the three authors responded in a timely and effective manner to the needs of the readers in the contemporary society of Japan.