Shūsaku Endō

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 114

Although Shsaku End wrote first-rate short fiction, he is better known as the leading Roman Catholic writer of Japan and as a novelist and essayist. Of his novels, the best known are Obakasan (1959; Wonderful Fool, 1974), Kazan (1959; Volcano, 1978), Chimmoku (1966; Silence, 1969), Kuchibue o fuku toki (1974; When I Whistle, 1979), Samurai (1980; The Samurai, 1982), Sukyandaru (1986; Scandal, 1988), Dipu riba (1993; Deep River, 1994), and Shukuteki (1995). Two of these, Silence and The Samurai, are historical, the rest contemporary. In addition to these important works, End wrote plays, biographies, essays, diaries, interviews, and accounts of his travels. As for essays, he wrote on morality, religion, art, literature, and history; specifically, he treated of Jesus, Christian martyrs, medieval castles, women and the family, and love.


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Shsaku End wrote several volumes of short stories, about twenty novels, some plays, and numerous essays. He is regarded in Japan not merely as its leading Catholic author but also as one of its most important literary figures. Western critics have compared End with the British authors Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh and with the French writers François Mauriac and Georges Bernanos. Such comparisons, however, are misleading: as a Japanese Catholic, End’s ethos is quite different from any of theirs. In Japan, Catholics are an insignificant minority, and End himself held that Japanese culture and Christianity are incompatible.

End received virtually every important literary prize awarded in Japan: the Akutagawa Prize, the Sincho Award, the Mainichi Press Cultural Award, the Tanizaki Prize, and the Noma Prize. These prizes were awarded respectively for the following novels: Shiroi hito (1954; white man), Umi to dokuyaku (1957; The Sea and Poison, 1972), Silence, and The Samurai. These and other basically serious works are often infiltrated with humor. End has also written straight comic novels such as Taihen da (1969; good grief). His biography of Christ represents Jesus as a maternal and compassionate figure. End was editor of the literary journal Mita bungaku. His Life of Jesus won the Dag Hammarskjöld Prize in 1978. He was scheduled to receive the Culture Prize from the Emperor in 1995 but was too ill to attend the ceremonies at the Imperial Palace and was awarded the prize in absentia. Nominated for the Nobel Prize more than once, he was expected to win in 1994, but lost to his colleague Kenzabur e.

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In Japan, Shsaku End (ehn-doh) is known as a versatile, prolific author of novels, short stories, plays, and essays on history and theology. Only three works in these other genres, however, have been translated into English. Ogon no kuni (pr. 1966; The Golden Country, 1970), a three-act play, dramatizes basically the same historical events as those portrayed in the novel Silence and was first performed in Japan shortly after the publication of the book. End’s best-known work in the West, aside from his novel Silence, is probably his Iesu no shgai (1973; A Life of Jesus, 1978), an interpretive biography that attempts to reintroduce the person of Christ to skeptical Asian readers; it was joined in 1977 by the companion work Kirisuto no tanj (the genesis of Christ), which won the Yomiuri Literary Prize. Juichi no irogarasu (1979; Stained-Glass Elegies, 1984) collects eleven elegantly crafted End short stories drawn and translated from two of his earlier Japanese anthologies. In 1992, a collection of some of End’s short works was published in English as To Friends from Other Lands: A Shsaku End Miscellany.


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Shsaku End’s fiction won for him numerous awards in Japan, including the prestigious Akutagawa Prize, the Mainchici Cultural Prize, the Shincho Prize, and the Noma Prize. In 1981, End was elected to the Japan Arts Academy. He is widely regarded as one of Japan’s most important novelists and during his lifetime was hailed by Western writers such as Graham Greene, John Updike, and Irving Howe as perhaps the most significant religious novelist writing in any language. That End achieved this recognition writing as a believing Christian in a non-Christian culture generally resistant to Western religious philosophy is all the more remarkable.

Of all postwar Japanese novelists, End’s work is the most accessible to the West. This is partly because he explicitly made it his mission to explore and explain the chasm between the two cultures, especially the spiritual abyss that separates them, a theme he pursued from the time his first published essay, “The Gods and God,” appeared in 1947. End’s oeuvre is thus unique in the history of modern Japanese literature, illuminating the struggle of Christianity to survive and thrive in the Orient while providing Western readers with new perspectives for examining their own religious heritage and commitment. Translations of his work have appeared in more than ten languages.


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Beverly, Elizabeth. “A Silence That Is Not Hollow.” Commonweal 116 (September 22, 1989): 491-494. Claims that End’s writing is inspired by two elemental aspects of his identity: the Japanese culture and Catholicism; argues that End’s embrace of both has often made his life difficult and perilous, but that the labor of fiction has made it bearable.

Cavanaugh, William T. “The God of Silence: Shsaku End’s Reading of the Passion.” Commonweal 125 (March 13, 1998): 10-12. Argues that End‘s work can be seen as a profound exploration of the twisted logic of the Incarnation—the trajectory of God from heaven to earthly flesh and the assumption of weakness by omnipotence; asserts that End weaves together the spiritual anguish of his characters with an embattled and paradoxically orthodox theology.

Gallagher, Michael. “For These the Least of My Brethren: The Concern of End Shsaku.” Journal of the Association of Japanese Teachers 27 (April, 1993). Discusses End’s relationship to religion.

Gessel, Van C., trans. Introduction to Stained-Glass Elegies: Stories by Shsaku End. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1984. An explanation of End’s talents and position as a writer in Japan and the West plus a brief but comprehensive rundown on each of the stories translated in the volume: dates of composition, sources or occasions inspiring the stories, and analyses of their themes.

Gessel, Van C. “The Voice of the Doppelgänger.” Japan Quarterly, no. 38 (1991): 198-213. Gessel examines four postwar Japanese novelists, including End, and notes how the postwar fiction differs from the prewar tradition of the “I story,” in which author and persona are one. He selects End’s Scandal as a model of the new treatment in which the Doppelgänger actually mocks the protagonist who represents the novelist, thus introducing aesthetic distance and irony.

Higgins, Jean. “The Inner Agon of End Shsaku.” Cross Currents, no. 34 (1984/1985): 414-416. Higgins seeks to explain the conflicts that have made End the writer he is: one is the guilt and sense of betrayal he felt toward the mother who persuaded him to become a Christian and his lack of a full acceptance of Christianity; the other is the confusion and dismay he felt in attempting to absorb the extent and richness of Western culture which works against the Japanese grain.

Hoekema, Alle G. “The ‘Christology’ of the Japanese Novelist Shsaku End.” Exchange 29, no. 3 (2000): 230. Reviews several of End’s works and his life in the context of his Catholicism.

Mathy, Francis. “End Shsaku: White Man, Yellow Man.” Comparative Literature Studies 23, no. 1 (1967): 58. A Jesuit, Mathy explores End’s fiction and essays and produces a clear and comprehensive treatment of the cultural conflict between Japan and Western Europe, especially as this conflict relates to religion and notions of beauty and morality. Mathy shows how End has experienced strong opposition between his Japanese heritage and the Christian view of life that he was taught by his mother and by Christian missionaries.

Mathy, Francis. “Shsaku End: Japanese Catholic Novelist.” America 167 (August 1-8, 1992): 66-71. A biographical account of End’s life, from his childhood and his education up through the development of his most important works; surveys End’s work and analyzes the themes presented in two early essays, “God and Gods” and “The Problems of a Catholic Writer.”

Netland, John T. “From Resistance to Kenosis: Reconciling Cultural Difference in the Fiction of Shsaku End.” Christianity and Literature 48 (Winter, 1999): 177-194. Discusses End’s translation of the polemics of cultural difference into art; claims that his works replace a simple binary postcolonial tension with a three-dimensional configuration of Christianity, Easter, and European perspectives.

Quinn, P. L. “Tragic Dilemmas, Suffering Love, and Christian Life.” Journal of Religious Ethics 17 (1989): 151-183. A comprehensive description and analysis of End’s Silence, in which the life of the Portuguese priest, Sebastian Rodrigues, who became an apostate by trampling on an image of Christ to save his parishioners from torture and death by the governmental authorities, is reflected upon in the hope of enriching ethical thought.

Reinsma, Luke M. “Shsaku End’s River of Life.” Christianity and Literature 48 (Winter, 1999): 195-211. In this special issue on End, Reinsma discusses the natural world, particularly the river, as a metaphorical backdrop for his work. Claims that End has shifted from landscapes and waters ravaged by a Father God in his early work to the lush vegetation of his later.

Rimer, J. Thomas. “That Most Excellent Gift of Charity: End Shsaku in Contemporary World Literature.” Journal of the Association of Japanese Teachers 27 (April, 1993). A major historian of Japanese literature reviews End’s work.

Williams, Mark. End Shsaku: A Literature of Reconciliation. New York: Routledge, 1999. An interesting study of End’s fictive technique. Includes bibliographical references.

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