The work of Shsaku End is often described as a literature of reconciliation. As a Japanese but also a Christian, End dealt throughout his career with the problem of writing for an audience who did not identify readily with Christian ideas. The Japanese seem to have a sense of religion, at least in the subconscious, but that sense of what End called the “cosmic life” is not articulated as firm dogma as it is in Christianity. End sought to reconcile Western Christianity, with its emphasis on God’s justice, with the Eastern mind that is much more open to a concept of compassion. His books address such themes as the religious indifference of the East; Japanese numbness to sin and guilt; a widening gap in understanding between Eastern and Western cultures; and the struggle between martyrdom and apostasy, acceptance and alienation, and courage and cowardice.
In his early 1947 essay “Kamigami to kami to” (the gods and God), End sees an unfathomable gulf between the Eastern pantheistic world, in which everything is part of a whole, and the monotheistic West, where there is a clear distinction between God and man. In Shiroi hito, End develops a theme to which he will return throughout his career: the individual reacting to unconscious impulses that are incomprehensible. Closely related to this theme is another major motif in his work: the idea that all human beings leave indelible marks on those whose lives they touch, however briefly. Shiroi hito uses the Nazi atrocities in France during World War II to symbolize man’s inhumanity to man. Using the technique of paradoxical inversion, the protagonist comes to view the Nazis’ behavior as exhibiting basic human instincts rather than extreme callousness and of civilization pulling off a mask to expose the real nature of humankind. Later, when Jacque, a young seminarian, catches the protagonist stealing, he continues to send him Christian tracts; the protagonist is dispassionate and hates what he sees as the hypocrisy of people like Jacque, who are willing to die for what they believe, since he feels that they are as prone to evil as anyone else. The protagonist struggles with the question of Original Sin and the fact that human beings are powerless to overcome it.
Prior to a lengthy hospitalization for treatment of tuberculosis, End published The Sea and Poison, a novel which may have been his best effort to delve into the realm of the unconscious. He uses vivisection by the Japanese on American prisoners of war to probe the extremes of human behavior and to seek a satisfactory distinction between sin and evil, as differentiated by a psychologist who influenced End. He views sin as having limits, even as necessary for establishing one’s personal identity. Unlike absolute evil, however, one may be redeemed from sin, whereas there is no potential salvation from evil. In the novel, some of the characters become aware of the concept of sin but are unable to handle it. The protagonist, Dr. Suguru, cannot understand why he so readily agreed to participate in the vivisection; he finds himself responding to the urging of his unconscious and is troubled when he discovers aspects of himself that he never before acknowledged.
With Wonderful Fool, End moves toward emphasizing humankind’s potential for salvation rather than its sin and weakness. He uses the technique of the fusion of opposites, whereby qualities that are traditionally viewed in one way come to be seen as their very opposite. Gaston, the French protagonist who comes to Japan to visit his pen pal, is a simpleminded, weak individual who loves unconditionally, even though that love is not returned and is even abused. Gaston is a Christ figure, and it is significant that he is a foreigner, for at that time love and Christianity are considered incongruities between Easterners and Westerners. The idea of a person being inspired wholly by love is alien to the Japanese mind. When Gaston is abducted by a criminal who thinks this simpleton might be useful to him in avoiding a police dragnet, Gaston is beaten for removing the bullets from the gun that the criminal planned to use to kill again. Even after the criminal’s release from prison, Gaston seeks the man out, determined to save him from the consequences of his sin, and, by extension, to save Japanese society from the elements in it that would prevent Christianity from taking root. In order to learn how to love, the criminal must be loved.
In the same year Wonderful Fool appeared, Volcano, a novel about an apostate Catholic priest and a weather station director in provincial Japan, who has expert knowledge about a volcano, also was published. The Samurai, set in the seventeenth century, is a historical novel that recounts the diplomatic mission of Hasekura Tsunenaga to Mexico and Europe. It marks the peak of End’s struggle with his dual Christian and Japanese heritage. In 1993, three years before End’s death, Deep River, a novel about a variety of moral and spiritual dilemmas that plague a group of tourists traveling in India, was published.
End’s achievement in the short-story genre may equal that of his novels, but because many of his short stories have not been translated into English, they are less well known outside Japan. These stories examine the same themes that are in his novels: the cultural incompatibility of East and West, the struggle to understand Christian faith and belief, and the situation of the Japanese Christian. Perhaps his best-known short-story collection is Juichi no irogarasu (1979; Stained-Glass Elegies, 1984).
First published: Ryugaku, 1965 (English translation, 1989)
Type of work: Short fiction and a novella
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