Shūsaku Endō

Start Free Trial


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

The second son of End Tsunechisa and Iku, Shsaku End (ehn-doh) was born in Tokyo, Japan, on March 27, 1923. He was taken to Dalian in Japanese-occupied Chinese Manchuria when he was three. When his parents divorced in 1933, he returned with his mother to Kobe, Japan. End Iku converted to Catholicism, and at the age of eleven, under family pressure, Shsaku joined the Catholic Church and took the Christian name Paul; he was taunted by schoolmates because he was a Christian. In 1943, End entered Keio University but left shortly to work for the war effort. Returning to the university in 1945, he studied French literature and graduated in 1948. While there, he published several articles, including “Kamigami to kami to” (the gods and God) and “Katorikku sakka no mondai” (the problems confronting the Catholic author).

In 1950, End was among the first Japanese to study abroad following World War II. In France, he studied the work of various French Catholic writers, first at the University of Lyons and then in Paris, but in February, 1953, illness forced him to return to Japan.

End published two novellas, Shiroi hito (1954; white man), which won the thirty-third Akutagawa Prize, and Kiiroi hito (1955; yellow man). In 1956, he taught at Jochi (Sophia) University, a private Catholic school. Umi to dokuyaku (The Sea and Poison, 1972) for which he received the Shinchosha Prize and the Mainichi Culture Prize, followed in 1957. In 1959, End published the novel Obakasan (Wonderful Fool, 1974) before returning to France to gather materials for a study of the Marquis de Sade. Again, tuberculosis forced his return to Japan, where he was hospitalized for almost three years. During that time, however, he published Kazan (1959; Volcano, 1978). End then published the novels Watashi ga suteta onna (1963; The Girl I Left Behind, 1994), Ryugaku (1965; Foreign Studies, 1989), and Chinmoku (1966; Silence, 1969), and a dramatic version of that novel, Ogon no kuni (pr. 1966, pb. 1969; The Golden Country, 1970). In 1967, he was a lecturer at Seij University before becoming chief editor of the journal Mita bungaku and publishing some short stories. In 1973, the nonfiction books Iesu no shgai (A Life of Jesus, 1978) and Shikai no hotori (beside the dead sea) were published, followed by his novel Kuchibue o fuku toki (When I Whistle, 1979), in 1974.

In 1977, End published Kirisuto no tanj (the birth of Christ), which received the Yomiuri Literary Award, and he garnered the International Dag Hammarskjöld Prize for A Life of Jesus in 1978. He also received the Artistic Academy Award for services to literature. His novel Samurai (1980; The Samurai, 1982) was awarded the Noma Literary Prize. In 1985, End was elected president of the Japan PEN Club, and the next year he published Sukyandaru (Scandal, 1988), which won the Silver Bear Award for Literature at the 1986 Berlin Festival. In subsequent years he received honorary doctorates from Georgetown University, John Carroll University, and Fujen University in Taipei, as well as being selected as a Bunka Krsha (Person of Cultural Merit), one of Japan’s highest honors. His novel Fukai kawa (1993; Deep River, 1994) earned him the Mainichi Cultural Arts Award. In 1995 he was awarded the Bunka Kunsho (Order of Cultural Merit) by the emperor of Japan. End was short-listed for the Nobel Prize in Literature several times.

Plagued by ill health most of his life, Shsaku End succumbed to his final illness on September 29, 1996. He is buried in the Fuch Catholic Cemetery in Tokyo, Japan.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Shsaku End (ehn-doh) was born in Tokyo, Japan, but spent his early years in Dalian, Manchuria. After End’s parents were divorced, his mother returned with her two sons to Tokyo and together with her sister and her sons converted to Catholicism. This religious conversion was perhaps the single most...

(This entire section contains 1273 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

important event in End’s life. He became one of Japan’s most admired and widely read novelists, as well as an important writer for the Christian Western world, where he has been hailed as a significant religious novelist by John Updike and Irving Howe, among others. That he has achieved recognition as a devout Christian in a non-Christian culture generally resistant to Western religious philosophy is all the more remarkable., Sh{umacr}saku[Endo, Shusaku]}, Sh{umacr}saku[Endo, Shusaku]}, Sh{umacr}saku[Endo, Shusaku]}, Sh{umacr}saku[Endo, Shusaku]}

After World War II, in which he did not serve because of health problems, End attended Keio University and completed a B.A. in French literature in 1949. A critical period in End’s development as a writer was his postgraduate study in France, from 1950 to 1953, where he came under the influence of such illustrious French writers as Jacques Maritain, François Mauriac, and Georges Bernanos. End’s submersion in European culture intensified his appreciation for Christianity’s moral impact on the West and caused him to conclude that there was a spiritual vacuum in Japan. Chronic heart and lung problems ended his stay in France, and he returned to Japan in 1953 to begin an ambitious writing career.

Between 1953 and 1959 End wrote fiction that chronicled the religious indifference of the East and articulated the widening disaffection between Eastern and Western cultures. Each work in this period, from Shiroi hito (white men), for which he received the Akutagawa Prize, to The Sea and the Poison, dramatizes what End referred to as the Japanese numbness to sin and guilt. Set six months before the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, The Sea and the Poison stands out as particularly stirring and harrowing thematically for its exploration of the inhumane operations performed on captured American pilots during World War II and their impact on two young interns.

Directly after this End in 1959 published what may be his most characteristic and perpetually popular novel for Western readers, Wonderful Fool, a comic novel that represents a transitional phase in End’s career, moving him beyond the heavy sentimentality and thin characterization of his earlier work and demonstrating increased versatility as a novelist. Its memorable protagonist, Gaston Bonaparte, a failed seminary student who comes self-appointed as a Christian missionary to Japan, exemplifies the trusting, childlike faith in a transcendent deity that End found absent in his native land.

Because relatively few of End’s lighter, more comic novels and of the many historical and theological essays have been translated, it is possible for some to view him as a rather somber, overly moralistic writer. Certainly, if one only knew End’s interpretive biography of Christ, A Life of Jesus, and the historical novels Silence and The Samurai, one would gain a distorted picture of both his range of concerns and his innovativeness as an author. The publication of collected short fiction by End, Stained-Glass Elegies and Five by End, certainly contributes to a more balanced critical perspective. Nevertheless, Silence and The Samurai are rightly regarded as two of End’s major works: Silence won the Tanizaki Prize, and The Samurai the Noma Prize. Both set in the seventeenth century, these dark, carefully plotted novels focus on Japan’s previously often ferocious rejection of and continuing ambivalence toward Christianity. Both these works seem destined to be overshadowed, however, by End’s later novel, Scandal, a work in which the author is fully in control of theme, plot, and character.

Scandal is a tautly written thriller with elements of the supernatural; it recalls the classic tales of E. T. A. Hoffmann and Alexander Pushkin, while at the same time representing a tantalizingly autobiographical fiction with a markedly confessional tone. This novel constitutes End’s clearest and most powerful statement of the dilemma of the Christian writer in Japan. Each of End’s serious historical novels implictly treats the theme of Christianity’s failure to take root in the East. In Scandal, however, he confronts directly his longtime novelistic challenge within the setting of the triumphant, industrialized Japan of the 1980’s. In Suguro, the protagonist of Scandal, End created an alter ego who answers directly this momentous question: In a land in which less than 1 percent of the populace profess belief in Christianity, how can the Christian writer make sensible to his readers the concepts of sin, redemption, resurrection, and eternal life?

Appearing at the end of his life, End’s novel Deep River, the story of a group of Japanese tourists visiting India, represents a spiritual as well as artistic culmination of the writer’s work. Each protagonist is facing a personal or spiritual crisis: Isobe, a widower, having failed to express his love to his wife during her lifetime, believes he might be able to reconnect with her reincarnated soul. Kiguchi, a soldier during World War II, relives his experiences in Burma. The cynical Mitsuko, who once mocked the failed priest Otsu, now seeks him here, where he in turn seeks a “god of many faces” at the spiritual crossroads of Christianity and Buddhism. Finally, Numada, a writer and the author’s persona, is recovering from a serious illness. All meet at the deep and murky Ganges River, where the living and dead converge.

End died in 1996 after a long bout with hepatitis. He once said that when he reflected upon his nation through the eyes of a believing Christian he saw a “mudswamp” that “sucks up all sorts of ideologies, transforming them into itself and distorting them in the process.” The task he set for himself as a novelist sharply distinguished him from most of his colleagues. Not content with mirroring the moral confusion of contemporary Japan, he sought to foster in his fiction the basic doctrines of Christianity—particularly its transcendent, trinitarian God—in ways that subvert the tendency to transmogrify it into something more theologically palatable and therefore impotent. As a result, End’s narrative style is sometimes compared with that of fellow Catholic writer Graham Greene; End’s fallen creatures stumbling their way toward heaven captivate readers in the same way that Greene’s faltering saints do. End’s career, however, raises a more pertinent comparison, with the French Catholic novelist Mauriac. In works such as Wonderful Fool, When I Whistle, Scandal, and Deep River, End created worthy Japanese counterparts to Mauriac’s tortured saints. Haunted by their knowledge of good and evil, the characters must find a way to deal with their sense of sin and guilt. Within their choices, End effectively dramatizes the Japanese reluctance to acknowledge sin as the dehumanizing and debilitating hardness that allows a man or a woman to use others for selfish pleasure or gain.

In his work End thus chose to take his readers directly into the consciousness of the artist who is charged, in Flannery O’Connor’s words, with drawing large and startling figures for the near-blind, lest they miss the obvious truth of their sinful condition before a holy God. From End’s view, the Christian artist in an alien culture must move beyond the voyeurism of secular fiction and self-consciously create contexts in which human sin can be named as such and forgiveness tendered. In many literary circles End was regarded as the most important Christian novelist writing in any language in the late twentieth century.