The Greatest Japanese Writer You’ve Never Heard of


The luminous, gentle tone of these passages is central to Inoue’s art. Leon Picon, in his 1965 introduction to The Counter­feiter and Other Stories, says that “human pathos and suffering, loneliness and isolation, oriental fatalism and Buddhistic concepts of predestination form dominant strands in the fabric of virtually all of the writing of Yasushi Inoue,” and while I can’t exactly disagree, I am certainly dissatisfied with the dated cliches, and suspicious of the capitalized Orientalisms on display here. The note in The Sh̄wa Anthology is surely closer to the center of the truth, characterizing Inoue’s work as “the examination of the faintest ripples of cultural interchange between Japan and the outside world, ripples often created by lonely individuals who remain essentially nameless and faceless in the annals of official history.” I would say—aware that my own reflections will no doubt seem time bound and off-key in a few decades, not to mention the centuries that are Inoue’s usual time scale—that Inoue’s great theme, spanning his historical, contemporary, and autobiographical works, is how the life you lead is not your real life. What we think of as our personal struggles—our decisions, desires, deliberations, the choices we make and the things we do—are less real, less to be trusted, and perhaps ultimately less important than the wider forces of historical destiny or the cultural past or the way we started to feel as a child, or simply the fact that other people are not who we think they are, and nor are we.

more from Damion Searls at The Quarterly Conversation here.