Shūsaku Endō Endo, Shusaku (Vol. 99) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Shusaku Endo 1923–1996

Japanese novelist, playwright, short story writer, essayist, and biographer.

For further information on Endo's life and works, see CLC, Volumes 7, 14, 19, and 54.

Endo is regarded as one of Japan's premier contemporary novelists and as one of the world's great Catholic writers. Born in Tokyo, Endo spent his early childhood in Manchuria. After his parents divorced, he and his mother returned to Japan to live with a Catholic aunt. His mother soon converted to Catholicism, and at the age of 11, Endo was baptized, an event he later described as the most critical of his life. At the time, however, Endo felt pressured to become a Catholic and compared the feeling to putting on an ill-fitting suit. Endo was uncomfortable with his Catholicism for many years, but instead of abandoning his faith, he clung to it, exploring his doubts and his faith in his writing. Endo battled lung disease his entire life, and because of his ill health was exempted from service in World War II. He studied French literature at Keio University and later became one of the first postwar Japanese students to attend a foreign school, enrolling in the University of Lyon in 1950 to pursue his interest in twentieth-century Catholic fiction. Endo's first novel, Shiroihito (1955; White Man), won the Akutagawa Prize, an award for promising young Japanese writers. Endo was a prolific writer, although not all of his works have been translated into English. He won nearly every major Japanese literary award and was nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature several times before his death at the age of 73.

Much of Endo's work is autobiographical in nature, drawing on his experience as a member of the Catholic minority in a largely Buddhist country. Often compared to such writers as Graham Greene and Francois Mauriac, Endo wrote passionately moral fiction in a realistic style that he frequently embellished with lyricism and humor; much of his writing explored the tension between Western Christianity and Japanese temperament, Eastern and Western morality, and belief and skepticism. Endo often portrayed Japan as lacking spirituality and morality. In his novels Kazan (1959; Volcano) and Chinmoku (1966; Silence), Christian Westerners are unable to survive in Japan, forced to martyr themselves or apostatize. In the same way, in Foreign Studies (1989), the Japanese cannot survive in the Christian West. The Japanese Christians who appear in these stories are alienated from Japan, the Christian West, and even themselves. The struggle between defiance and cowardice, martyrdom and apostasy, consume these earlier works, and the reader is left with very little hope that faith can survive. However, as Endo's faith took root, the characters in his fiction began to embrace their faith. More Christlike characters appear who love even in the face of rejection and betrayal, as seen in Obaka-san (1959; Wonderful Fool). Endo began to express a Christ with compassion for the sinful and weak, a maternal Christianity with the focus on forgiveness. His portrayal of this more maternal aspect of Christianity made it more understandable to an Eastern audience and more compatible with Japanese culture. Endo said that he used short stories to work out an idea or theme which he later intended to develop into a novel, and the seeds of many of his novels can be found in his short fiction.

Endo is perhaps the most popular Japanese writer in the West, and many critics theorize that it is his Christianity that makes his work more accessible to the Western reader. Many reviewers assert that the issues of cultural conflict prevalent in his fiction are universal themes which make his work powerful and substantive. Endo has been praised as courageous in addressing questions of faith and sin in his work, in which his delicate, understated style and his infusion of humor prevent his moralizing from becoming off-putting to the reader.

Principal Works

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Shiroihito [White Man] (novel) 1955
Umi to Dokuyaku [The Sea and Poison] (novel) 1958
Kazan [Volcano] (novel) 1959
Obaka-san [Wonderful Fool] (novel) 1959
Chinmoku [Silence] (novel) 1966
Seisho no Naka no Joseitachi (essays) 1968
Bara no Yakat (play) 1969
Ougon no Ku [The Golden Country] (play) 1969
Iesu no shogai [A Life of Jesus] 1973
France no daigakusei (essays) 1974
Kuchibue o fuku toki [When I Whistle] (novel) 1974
Yumoa shosetsu shu (short stories) 1974
Seisho no naka no joseitachi (essays) 1975
Kitsunegata tanukigata (short stories) 1976
Watakusi no Iesu 1976
Watashi ga suteta onna 1976
Yukiaru kotoba (essays) 1976
Nihonjin wa Kirisuto kyo o shinjirareru ka 1977
Kare no ikikata 1978
Kirisuto no tanjo 1978
Ningen no naka no X (essays) 1978
Rakuten taisho 1978
Usaba kagero nikki 1978
Ju to jujika (biography) 1979
Juichi no iro-garasu [Stained Glass Elegies] (short stories) 1979
Marie Antoinette (fiction) 1979
Shinran 1979
Chichioya 1980
Endo Shusaku ni yoru Endo Shusaku 1980
Kekkonron 1980
Sakka no nikki (diary excerpts) 1980
Samurai [The Samurai] (novel) 1980
Tenshi 1980
Ai to jinsei o meguru danso 1981
Meiga Iesu junrei 1981
Okuku e no michi 1981
Onna no issho [The Life of a Woman] (fiction) 1982
Endo Shusaku to Knagaeru 1982
Fuyu no yasashisa 1982
Scandal (novel) 1988
Foreign Studies (short stories) 1989
The Final Martyrs (short stories) 1993
Deep River (novel) 1994


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

William Johnston with Shusako Endo (interview date 19 November 1994)

SOURCE: "Endo and Johnston Talk of Buddhism and Christianity," in America, Vol. 171, No. 16, November 19, 1994, pp. 18-20.

[In the following interview Endo and Johnston discuss the relationship between Buddhism and Christianity.]

[Shusaku Endo:] Are you still interested in Buddhism, Father?

[William Johnston, S.J.:] Yes, of course. I don't think I'll ever lose my interest in Buddhism.

What aspect of Buddhism interests you most?

The meeting of Buddhism and Christianity. The dialogue. Aren't you interested in that?

I certainly am. In Europe and America scholarly studies of Japanese Buddhism keep appearing….

Dialogue is the great discovery of the 20th century. Dialogue between nations, dialogue between capital and labor, dialogue between husband and wife—and dialogue between Buddhism and Christianity.

Little by little the dialogue is getting under way. A while ago in Sophia University I heard Buddhist monks chanting the sutras during Mass instead of Gregorian chant. If that had happened 20 or 30 years ago, there would have been an awful rumpus. But tell me, when did you first get interested in Buddhism? Was it before the Second Vatican Council?

Yes. The pioneer was Father Lassalle [Enomiya Lassalle, S.J.]. He influenced me a lot.

He built the Zen center outside Tokyo. But apart from Lassalle there wasn't much interest before the council. What makes people interested in Buddhism today?

Meditation is highly developed in Buddhism and modern people are looking for meditation. Often they don't find it in their own religion.

But when Lassalle began, it must have seemed heretical for Christians to practice Buddhist forms of meditation.

Not heretical, but progressive.

But what did the other missionaries think? I suppose they were indifferent. Or did they not think it was dangerous?

Some considered it dangerous. But aren't modern people attracted by danger? Don't they like risk?

[Laughing] There was a stage in the Japanese church when we thought we had to avoid all risks. But you seem to have done away with that idea. Was it because of the Second Vatican Council?

Of course. But you yourself are known for your interest in inculturation. There can be no inculturation of Christianity in Japan without dialogue with Buddhism.

Yes, but my efforts at inculturation got me into trouble with my fellow Catholics. [Laughing] You seem to have escaped. I wonder why…. Anyhow, I'm joking…. Thanks to people like you, we can talk freely about dialogue with Buddhism. In fact Japanese Catholics are now very happy with the idea. I have no doubt that dialogue is a very fine thing. But it has its limits. After all, when we Christians talk to Buddhists and learn from them, we must know where to draw the line. I would like to hear something about that.


There are vast differences between Buddhism and Christianity. Buddhism talks about abandoning the self. It talks about getting rid of all attachments and it even claims that love is a form of attachment. We can never say that. Moreover, the Buddhist approach to evil is quite different from ours. Then there is the question of reincarnation versus resurrection. Again, Buddhists claim that the Buddha is working dynamically at the core of our being, and we say that the Holy Spirit is working at the core of our being. Are we saying the same thing or are we saying different things? There are endless questions.

Yet I believe that you yourself have the basic answer. When I was in the United States a few years ago I heard a Catholic priest say that the interesting thing about Endo is that he is fascinated with the person of Christ. He is always talking about Christ, struggling with Christ, trying to understand Christ, experiencing the presence of Christ. Now it seems to me that the main thing for a Christian in dialogue with Buddhism is a deep commitment to Christ and the Gospel. If this is present, other problems will solve themselves. Besides, when we come to dialogue, we must distinguish between Christianity as a living faith and Christianity as theology. The living faith is expressed in the prayer and worship of the people who say, "Our Father, who art in heaven" or recite the Jesus prayer. This does not change. Theology, on the other hand, is reflection on religion at a given time and in a given culture. It changes from culture to culture and from age to age, as we have seen so dramatically in the 20th century. Our task at present is to create an Asian theology.

I agree with that completely. Theology has been based on Western thought patterns for too long. We Japanese were taught that it was dangerous to depart from them. That was good medicine, but like all good medicine it had unpleasant side effects. But, as you say, if our commitment to Christ is firm other problems will be solved. But in the West, particularly in California, people are fascinated by oriental thought. They are interested in Zen, in esoteric Buddhism and in the Buddhist...

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Sonni Efron (essay date 30 September 1996)

SOURCE: "Shusaku Endo; Japanese Novelist, Humorist," in Los Angeles Times, September 30, 1996, p. A22.

[In the following essay, Efron gives a brief overview of Endo's life and career.]

Shusaku Endo, the Roman Catholic novelist who has been called the Japanese Graham Greene, died Sunday after a long illness. He was 73.

Endo was one of Japan's most acclaimed novelists and had a wide international following. He won nearly every major Japanese literary award, had at least nine books translated into English and other languages, and was nominated several times for the Nobel Prize for...

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Francis Mathy (essay date 8 August 1992)

SOURCE: "Shusaku Endo: Japanese Catholic Novelist," in America, Vol. 167, No. 3, August 8, 1992, pp. 66-71.

[In the following essay, Mathy traces the relationship between Christianity and Endo's work throughout his career.]

Shusako Endo, the 1989 winner of the Champion Award, conferred each year on a distinguished Christian person of letters by the editors of the Catholic Book Club, a subsidiary of America Press, is duly recognized both in Japan and abroad as a "Catholic novelist." The award citation carefully avoided this phrase and stated merely that "his Roman Catholic heritage has charged his...

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Reviews Of Endo's Recent Work

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 March 1990)

SOURCE: A review of Foreign Studies, in Kirkus Reviews, Vol. LVIII, March 1, 1990, p. 288.

[In the following review, the critic asserts that Endo's stories of isolation in Foreign Studies are universal to the problems of communication between different cultures.]

An accomplished piece of writing—as well as an instructive insight into Japanese reactions to Western religion, culture, and the tolls these reactions can exact.

European in setting, except for a brief interlude in Japan, the novel is divided into three complementary sections, which illustrate the theme...

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Further Reading

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


Mathy, S.J., Francis. A review of The Final Martyrs. America (19 November 1994): p. 28.

Discusses the themes found in Endo's The Final Martyrs which can be traced to Endo's other work.

(The entire section is 67 words.)