Critics of modern Japanese literature do not typically consider Shiga Naoya (1883-1971), author of shi-shōsetsu, or fiction centering around the “I,” as either linked ideologically with the Japanese imperialism that developed from the late nineteenth century or as representing it in artistic fashion in his works. Yet the period of composition of Shiga’s only novel-length work, the 400-some-page An’ya kōro, coincides significantly with the period during which Japan built up its colonial rule in Korea (annexed 1910), made attempts at developing an empire in China, and gained control of most of Manchuria, setting up the puppet ruler of its colony Manchukuo in 1932. Shiga first began to put together fictional works focusing on the later hero of An’ya kōro, Tokitō Kensaku, from the late Meiji period (1868-1912); he published the first half of the novel in the mid-Taishō period (1921); and he made the last addition to the novel in 1937, the year of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, which began a war with China and eventually led to the Pacific War. It is not surprising, then, thatShiga’s text shows traces of Japanese imperialism. Traces can be seen in two related episodes: one depicting the adventures of Kensaku’s foster mother and the earlier object of his affection and lust, Oei, in China, Manchuria, and Korea; and the other depicting the journey that Kensaku himself makes to Korea near the end of the novel to bring Oei back safely to Japan. Moreover, both characters see empire in the course of their travels, manifesting different forms of the imperial gaze. By articulating the intertwined destinies of these two Japanese citizens who willingly, in the case of Oei, and reluctantly, in the case of Kensaku, participated in empire, Shiga’s text constructs two imperial subjects.
Janet Walker is professor of Comparative Literature in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Among her research areas are modernity and modernism in Europe and Asia; hybrid modernist poetics and aesthetics in Europe, America, and Japan; the novel: origins and development (sixteenth century to the present); theories and poetics of the novel; dissemination of the novel in the non-Western world. Presently she is a research fellow at the Friedrich Schlegel Graduate School for Literary Studies.