Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 696
Foreign Studies consists of two short stories and a novella that make up what End considered to be a novel. The first story, “A Summer in Rouen,” draws on End’s own often painful experiences when he was a student in France. The protagonist, the Japanese student Kudo, goes to France to study soon after the end of World War II. The middle-class Catholic family with whom he lives immediately gives Kudo the name Paul (End’s own Christian name) and makes it clear that they consider him a replacement for their deceased son, Paul, who had planned to go to Japan as a missionary. Almost from the outset, Kudo realizes that the family has little knowledge of the Japanese and that he does not fit into his new environment either. This theme of alienation and disparity between the East and the West is repeated throughout End’s early work.
The second story, “Araki Thomas,” concerns the title character, a Japanese Christian who studies in Rome during the seventeenth century. Christianity was spreading throughout Japan until 1587, when the nation’s ruler, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, suddenly reversed his tolerant stance and issued an anti-Christian edict ordering all priests and missionaries out of the country. Araki, a seminarian, goes to Macao and then on to Rome around 1600. There, he is treated with great kindness, but like Kudo, he grows weary of having to put on a forced smile to suit other people’s expectations. Before leaving Rome, Araki learns that twenty-six Japanese have been martyred; the Christians in Rome praise him, as if he were one of the martyrs, because they assume that when he returns to Japan he, too, will remain faithful and become one as well. Araki is asked to return to Japan and work, even if in hiding, to keep Christianity alive there.
Upon his return in 1617, he finds the persecution of Christians to be more prevalent than he had expected, and when he is arrested and tortured, he apostatizes, blackening his reputation as a priest. It would seem that his experience with the West has weakened him, highlighting the theme of the Japanese inability to survive in the Christian West. The tone of “Araki Thomas” is that of someone recounting historical fact in a matter-of-fact way.
The book ends with a novella, “And You, Too.” It is about Tanaka, who, like End himself, is a university professor in Japan who has come to France to study the Marquis de Sade. Tanaka hopes to take in all of European culture, but gradually, amid the bleak winter setting in Paris, Tanaka, like Kudo and Araki, feels more and more isolated, both from the French people around him and from a group of Japanese who claim they are having no difficulty in assimilating into Western life. He meets Sakisaka, another Japanese academic who also has trouble reconciling the values of the East with those of the West, and who becomes ill with tuberculosis and returns to Japan feeling that he has failed.
Tanaka determines to climb up to the Marquis de Sade’s castle near Avignon, where he sees a red stain, which, in his imagination, Sade left to provide a link between himself and Tanaka. On his way back, he coughs up blood and realizes that he, too, must return, defeated, to Japan.
End has Sakisaka express his own sentiment when he says that he tried to assimilate in two years the culture that the French had taken two thousand years to develop, but in so doing, his illness is proof of his having lost his fight to understand the alien culture. The character voices End’s own wish not to be like so many other Japanese people, who only drink in the culture superficially and never apprehend the essential nature of the people. Tanaka feels out of touch with his unconscious, a struggle with which End also had to come to terms.
End’s point of view changes during the final twenty years of his writing, mainly because of his reflection on the unconscious in his work. He came to believe that, after all, meaningful communication between East and West was possible at the unconscious level.