Yoshida Ken’ichi (1912 – 77) called himself throughout his literary life bunshi, a man of letters. The term bunshi does not simply mean writer: it describes someone for whom writing is his vocation and who is willing to devote his entire life to literature. After his death, the word became obsolete as there were no bunshi left. In his literary career spanning over forty years Yoshida never stopped writing and left a phenomenal amount of work. When he died in 1977, at the age of sixty-five, his wife, Nobuko, asked Kawakami Tetsutaro, Yoshida’s mentor and life-long friend, who was present at the hospital death bed, ‘Why did he die?’ After a moment’s pause, Kawakami replied: ‘Maybe because he wrote too much.’ Soon after his death, his works were published in thirty-four volumes.

Yoshida’s literary career could be divided into three phases. Roughly between 1931 and 1945, which may be described as his apprentice period, he was mainly translating English and French literary works, writing articles whose main purpose was to introduce both new and old European literature and literary trends to the Japanese reader, and running and editing a literary magazine. After the war, his name came to be known more widely because his literary criticism and essays began to appear in various well-known magazines and newspapers and his books were published by large prestigious publishing houses. Nevertheless, his reputation was not entirely due to the merit of his literary work. Most of his readers and publishers were less interested in his writings than in his background as a ‘returnee’ from England, his reputation as an eccentric, and the fact that he was a son of the charismatic Prime Minister Yoshida Shigeru. Most of his best works were produced in his last ten years. He turned out one masterpiece after another: Yoroppa no Seikimatsu (European Fin-de-siecle) in 1969 is a full survey of the decadent literature of turn-of-the-century Europe; Jikan (Hours) in 1976 is a two-hundred page contemplation on time; Gareki no Naka (Among the Ruins) in 1970 is a semi-autobiographical novel on life in Tokyo immediately after the end of the war; and Kanazawa in 1973 is a novel about a man who loves this remarkable aesthetic city.

Yoshida was one of the very few Japanese writers of his time to be bilingual in English and Japanese. Donald Keene once praised his English by saying that no young British person could speak the language better. He made a great contribution to the Japanese literary world by introducing many works of English literature, particularly contemporary novels and poems, which had tended to be overshadowed since the 1920s by French literature. He was the translator of D.H. Lawrence, T.S. Eliot, Evelyn Waugh, E.M. Forster and Graham Greene, writers who now form the core of the canon of modern English literature, and through his translations he attracted to these writers a tremendous number of readers in Japan. Ken’ichi was also a professor of English literature in both the undergraduate and post-graduate schools at Chuo University and he left a large number of works on English literature. Eikoku no Kindai Bungaku (Modern Literature in Great Britain), which covers writers from Wilde and Symons to Waugh and Joyce, is considered one of the classic works on English literature in Japanese. He exerted a huge influence on the appreciation of English literature in Japan, but he could not possibly have done this without his education in English and his encounters and friendships with intellectuals at Cambridge such as Dickinson, Lucas and Rylands.

 

 

Monday 18 March 2013                                   6.45pm

The Swedenborg Society
20-21 Bloomsbury Way (Hall entrance on Barter St)
London WC1A 2TH

Free – booking recommended

Nearest underground station: Holborn
Light refreshments will be provided

This talk will cover the career of the landscape painter Alfred East, from shoe manufacturing in the 1860 and 1870s, to President of the Royal Society of British Artists, Royal Academician, Knighthood and the foundation of the Alfred East Art Gallery in Kettering, Northamptonshire.

Drawing on the diaries kept by East and his travelling companions A.L. Liberty (the founder of Liberty’s store) and C.H. Holme (who was to become the editor of The Studio magazine), the talk will focus on his journey to Japan in 1888-89 sponsored by the Fine Art Society of London. Arriving at Nagasaki, amongst the places he visited were Kobe, Kyoto, Hakone, Yokohama, Tokyo, and Nikko. The talk will cover the attitudes of East and his travelling companions to Japanese art of the period and Hideko Numata’s Japanese perspective on his work. It will be illustrated by reproductions of the artist’s oils, water colours and etchings portraying the country, its people, its temples, lakes and mountains, its blossom and changing weather.

Completing his journey round the world through North America, East repaid his debt to the Fine Art Society with a very successful exhibition of more than 100 of his pictures on his return in March 1890.

Through the Japan Society, East continued to have contact with Japanese culture, visiting diplomats and the artists whom he welcomed to his Westminster studio. East’s involvement  in the literary / artistic club the Sette of Odd Volumes and the Japan Society (of which he was a founder member) in the 1890s and early 1900s  will be presented from the records of both societies. An avid collector of Japanese prints, drawings, pottery, bronzes and netsuke by the time of his death, East had built up a collection of more than 400 items.

Paul Johnson is the co-author (with Professor Kennneth McConkey) of Alfred East Lyrical Landscape Painter (2009). His father was one of Alfred East’s executors in 1913. With a degree in modern history, Johnson qualified  as a solicitor and spent his working life in the spheres of public law and administration.

To reserve your place, please call the Japan Society office on 020 7828 6330 or email events@japansociety.org.uk or submit the online booking form.

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