A Word Or Two On Mr. Junji Kinoshita

By Kazumi Shimodate

In the history of Japanese modern literature, the name Junji Kinoshita@ stands out a principal post-war playwright. Ever since its first performance in 1949 the public has especially endeared "Twilight of a Crane (Yuuzuru)" and it goes without saying that it is an excellent work, indeed Kinoshita's crowning achievement. As far as the troupe is concerned, what did Junji Kinoshita mean to us? Kinoshita's direction and ideas concerning dialect were the springboard for our own efforts and indeed were the central pillar. Today, through this letter, as well as sharing a few memories, I would also like to show our heartfelt respect for Junji Kinoshita who continued to support and encourage us ever since the formation of the troupe.

On 30th November last year I read the obituary column for Junji Kinoshita in the newspaper. Later on, one day in February this year, I received a letter from Junji Kinoshita's adopted daughter Tomiko-san which read: "My father passed away on 30th October 2006 aged 92 years and 2 months." Also included was a will from which I have quoted the following passage. "After my death, I ask that no gathering or ceremony such as a funeral or a remembrance service be held, that no grave be made, and that my ashes together with my mother's ashes be scattered in the sea."

The thing I immediately remembered as I read his will was the eulogy Kinoshita wrote for his close friend, Arimasa Mori. "My relationship with Arimasa Mori was purely as a human being. As a philosopher, a rationalist, an instructor, a preacher, or whatever else he may have been I didn't know. The essence of being human, the fun, the richness, the intrigue, the fear, the incomprehensibility, over the span of 32 years and 8 months he made me feel all of these, and then he left. As far as I'm concerned he was a human whose kindness knew no bounds. I think that there is nothing else to add to this. Honestly, nothing else."

The reason that reading the will reminded me of Arimasa Mori is because, after the eulogy, Junji Kinoshita, who had just lost his mother in March 1972, wrote "I spoke with Arimasa Mori about scattering my mother's ashes in the River Ganges." Anyway, through reading that one piece by chance 30 years ago, I remember feeling momentarily really close to the dramatist Junji Kinoshita who had always seemed above the clouds. I, a third year student enthralled with the theatre was simply moved at the greatness of a playwright who could have a relationship with a human like that, who could express human nature like that.

The name Junji Kinoshita I had read or heard always in connection as the writer of "Twilihght of a Crane" but the first time I really became aware of him was in the Spring of my second year at high school, straight after I saw "Romeo and Juliet" with Olivia Hussey in the lead role. Brimming with excitement, I headed straight from the cinema to the nearest bookstore but, as it happens, there was no "Romeo and Juliet" in stock, and so thinking to myself "In that case, anything by Shakespeare will do!" I got hold of "Hamlet" (published by Koudansha). The translator was none other than Junji Kinoshita.

I had always dreamt of becoming a diplomat, but after entering International Christian University the lecture that appealed to me the most was not 'International Relations' with Professor Sadako Ogata, but rather 'An Introduction to English Literature' with Professor Kazuaki Saitoh. Having known only Sherlock Holmes (at the time, that was enough), my eyes were opened thanks to the enthralling lectures of Professor Saitoh to the world of English literature from the time before the early Victorian years when Holmes was active. On hearing Professor Saitoh's high-toned British English when reading a passage of Shakespeare, I started to take notice of Shakespeare and soon enough I found enjoyment in being immersed in the world of literature.

At the time when I was drawn into English literature with Kazuaki Saitou and Junji Kinoshita's Shakespeare, I would often see around campus Professor Arimasa Mori. I only knew him as the author of "Notre Dame Far Away (Haruka naru Noutoru Damu)" and someone with extraordinary French abilities, but the image of him striding head down across the lawn between the main building and the chapel will always remain. The ones who told me of Arimasa Mori's death in Paris in the winter of 1976 were my father (who had come to visit me as I was studying in the UK) and Younosuke Mutsu (the grandson of Munemitsu Mutsu), who by complete chance was on the same plane, in fact, in the seat next to my father, and for some reason got on well enough with my father. I still remember that day clearly.

On my return from the UK my head was painted solely with the colour of Shakespeare, and following the advice of Professor Saitoh to 'not bother with critiques and the like, but read and read again the original works' I spent my waking and sleeping hours in my rudimentary flat in Higashi Koganei engrossed in Shakespeare. But amongst everything, the one I idolized was Junji Kinoshita. If he were giving a lecture at Waseda University I would go, and if there was a rumour that he was talking at Tokyo University, I would go back to Hongou. That's what I was like. The first time I directly saw and heard him was when I participated in 'A Study Group of Our Language' that was held in the small lecture room of the Iwanami Hall in Kanda Jinbo Chou, and it felt like I was having a dream seeing National Treasure-like people such as Yoshio Nakano, Junji Kinoshita, Yasue Yamamoto, Juukichi Uno sat at the lined up tables as if it was an everyday occurrence.

At that time, my first impression of Junji Kinoshita was the same as that which author Sue Sumii (the writer of "The River Without a Bridge (Hashi no nai kawa)" who I think was over 90 years old) had of Junji Kinoshita who was 10 years her younger, and here I have dared to quote a part of the discussion that took place.

The double image of Junji Kinoshita having a solemn appearance and voice are strong but, on reading the following story that took place with Arimasa Mori who lived with him for 6 years in the Tokyo University's YMCA Hall, one can feel a more playful and amiable character.

"At around three in the morning Arimasa Mori comes into my room saying, 'Hey I've done it! Can you see? Yeah?' And whilst boasting that crossing eyes this far was unheard of, he did all he could to cross his eyes so much that almost the whole of the pupil had disappeared. I answered him back by wiggling my ears; and it's experiences like this I feel we shared almost everyday."

When the troupe was established, I had buried myself in Junji Kinoshita's great works and learnt what he thought about Shakespeare and the use of dialect. That was because I thought that the future of the troupe rested in the ideas of Kinoshita. The first time we received a letter from him was just before the first performance of 'Romeo and Juliet', and it was a postcard which said 'Saw you on TV. Was impressed by your passion.' I was so overjoyed I felt like jumping up and down. Also when I was publishing my study on Junji Kinoshita, he allowed me to send him my clumsy theories. I knew his voice and face very well, but I was never able to talk him face to face. However, one evening just before we started 'Macbeth' we suddenly received a fax from Junji Kinoshita which consisted of a newspaper cutting of a big article about us from the Mainichi Shimbun, by the side of which was written the following message in rather shaky handwriting 'Your theatre troupe is causing a stir in Tokyo. 'Macbeth' Anow that's good!' Good luck!' and I remember being so happy I wanted to cry. I wanted to meet Junji Kinoshita many times when I was writing my paper on him, and if I worried, he would always appear in a dream and we would have a very complex discussion. As unbelievable as it is, on waking in the morning I would relate child-like to Haruko 'Last night I dreamt that I took a walk with Mr. Kinoshita and we talked and talked', and I even talked about the dream with my students at University whilst ignoring my lecture. On returning home Haruko would tell me 'There's a letter for you. Who do you think it's from? ..From Kazu-chan's lover, of course, Mr. Kinoshita!'

To me Junji Kinoshita was an idol. And now my guide is no longer in this world. I really do miss him. If only I could have met him and spoken with him once. However, rather than feel sadness, I am grateful for the happiness I found through Junji Kinoshita, and in idolizing him. In any case, I would like to keep learning so I can, one day, honour his spirit with a book called 'Junji Kinoshita and Shakespeare', and I would like to keep creating Shakespeare that widens the possibility of using dialect as an artistic technique just as he once advocated.


@Names in this essay have been put into the western order of Christian name followed by surname. Also, the honorific term 'sensei' or teacher has been left out. In Japanese 'sensei' is used for anyone with a skill that is being passed on or learnt, which is not always simply a teacher in the western sense. In the original, the name Junji Kinoshita is often but not always followed by 'sensei', so the reader should bear in mind the respect that the writer intended.

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