Bungaku: I think that translates as “Literature.”

Notice how often I have to insert “I think” into my sentences? That’s probably gonna continue for this entire trip.

Nothing special today. Just the second day of school. Today’s class: Japanese Literature After 1945. We mostly watched scenes from documentaries about the occupation period of Japan. They were American-made documentaries, showing things like General MacArthur’s arrival in Japan, where he surveys the landscape for a good long moment, looking side to side, puffing on a long corn-cob pipe and wearing his big aviator sunglasses. There were scenes from places like the Ginza district, which became a mostly Americanized shopping district after the war, as well as a few scenes showing the destruction of some areas of Tokyo, or other cities. One of the documentaries showed American soldiers giving out chocolate after chocolate to the swarms of children that surrounded the foreigners and stuck their hands out and practically trampled one another for another piece of candy. Even an older woman was trying to get in on the action. Many in the class laughed at these images, as the documentary intended for them to be light-hearted images. The music also guided you to this kind of emotional reaction.

The first author that my professor brought up right after showing the documentaries was a man named Nosaka Akiyuki, and his book “Grave of the Fireflies.” He was one of the first to write about the problem of post-war street children. In Japan, many were orphaned due to the bomb-raids over all of the major cities, as well as the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Consequently, there was an explosion of young kids living on the street. Japan was in turmoil, the entire infastructure of Japan (both physical and societal) was being re-constructed.  These kids were forced into being beggars. Japan also had an extreme shortage of food.

So yeah, the chocolate wasn’t just a treat — it was food.

I had read somewhere that during the post-war period there were many people digging in restaurant trashes for scraps, like raw fish and meats, and creating their own makeshift grills in order to cook these scraps. Apparently, this was a time when there was quite a lot of fugu poisoning. People were dumpster diving and finding fugu organs, then grilling and eating them. And that was it.  Apparently, even when you eat the safely prepared sashimi, it starts to numb your lips and tongue, which is just a hint of the poisonous effects — which is supposed to be the reason why people enjoy it.

Fugu is the Japanese pufferfish. I’m sure everyone’s heard of it: the organs are highly poisonous, and if the fish is not prepared correctly it can shut down your respiratory system. The training required to prepare fugu is supposed to be quite lengthy and expensive, and the final test of the trainee is that they have to prepare the fish as sashimi and then eat it. I wonder if there were any burnouts in fugu-preparatory school who skipped classes because they were too busy partying, and then failed. Hungover at their final exam?: Extreme Fail.

So yes, not much else to report. Just feeling the need to write something down. I’ll leave with another picture. This was in a mall near Takadanobaba Station.

At this mall the staff have a strict passive-aggressive policy towards the customer.


2 responses to “Bungaku: I think that translates as “Literature.”

  1. Along with the happy music in the documentary about the chocolate-giving soldiers, was there any of that fantastic voice over that characterized the period? Like, “Say there fatty! Let someone else get a treat!”

    And as to MacArthur, whenever I see footage of him in his shades, with his pipe, heroically wading ashore somewhere, I can’t help but recall the words of Bart Simpson, “Much as I hate that man right now, you gotta love that suit.”

  2. The documentary was narrated in Japanese. But it was from that time period, so there was probably instructions from the American command as to what should be said (and what couldn’t be said). We haven’t as of yet learned what exactly was censored by the American authorities. The only thing our professor has mentioned so far was the reduction of Kanji characters to be learned and the sort of outlawing of old-style Kanji. Pretty interesting. This class is already shaping up to be my favorite one.

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