Sono Ayako: Exploring the Life and Literary Works of an Iconic Japanese Female Writer

  As the only female writer among Japan’s “third group of newcomers” after the war, Sono Ayako (1931-) led the “Era of Talented Women” in Japanese literary circles together with Ariyoshi Sawako in the 1950s and 1960s. Sono Ayako, formerly known as Machida Chihisuko, studied at the Sacred Heart Girls’ School run by the Catholic Church from the age of 5, and spent 17 years of her student life here. Affected by her living environment, she was baptized by Catholicism at the age of 17 and became a believer. During the war, Sono was forced to stop his studies and went to a munitions factory to manufacture weapons. He personally experienced Japan’s defeat and the subsequent democratic reforms. Amidst Japan’s earth-shaking social and historical changes, Sono Ayako entered the literary world as a so-called “war school” writer. Based on her living environment and growth experience, friend and critic Nobuko Tsuruha believes that factors such as family, war, and religion played a decisive role in her literary creation.
  Sono Ayako was born into a family of intellectuals and businessmen. Her father was a top student at Keio University. Her ancestors had lived in Edo since the Bunka and Bunsei era. Ancestors in the family once ran pawn shops in the Nihonbashi area, which gradually helped the tribe develop a lifestyle that values ​​the sense of the seasons and a polite and cautious character. My mother’s ancestors were freight wholesalers along the Hokuriku coast. The coastal freight industry is a dynamic business activity targeting the ocean and is highly mobile. Ayako combines the life genes of two families: on the one hand, she inherited the cautious, sincere and trustworthy character and perseverance and tireless perseverance from her father. This temperament gave birth to works such as “Island of Sacrifice” (1969) and “That Man’s Name is Joshua” (1977). If it is not studied and adapted on the basis of detailed information, imagination alone is Unable to complete these works. On the other hand, she also inherited from her maternal ancestors a fluidity and an adventurous spirit that is unafraid of ups and downs. As long as her work requires her, she will not hesitate to go to Rai Hospital in remote areas of India where water and electricity are lacking for interviews, and she will also go deep into the grass where venomous snakes lurk. She can tolerate bed bugs, lice, high temperatures of 40°C and freezing temperatures of -20°C, and has traveled all over the world. This energetic temperament has become a strong support for his field trips and materials collection.

  Speaking of people who had an important influence on Sono Ayako and her literary creation, we have to mention her mother. Sono Ayako’s mother loved literature and studied Japanese poetry with Mikiko Nakagawa. She had a clear mind and outstanding eloquence. She attaches great importance to the cultivation of her daughter. When Sono was young, his mother entrusted Mochizuki Kuuki, who later became an authority in Mandarin education, to give him writing guidance. By the time he graduated from elementary school, Sono’s writing had matured and he wrote the work “The Land of Peach Blossoms” (1943), although it was only a short work. A short article of more than ten pages of manuscript paper, but this experience laid a solid foundation for her to embark on the path of creation in the future.
  In the eyes of outsiders, Sono Ayako’s life was very smooth. Her father is a director of a company, and she grew up in a high-end residential area in Denen Chofu. She graduated from Sacred Heart Women’s College, where upper-class children gather. When she was in her fourth year of college, she married Miura Jumon, a newly minted writer who graduated from Tokyo University. In the year she graduated from college, her work “The Visitor from a Distant Land” (1954) was shortlisted for the Akutagawa Prize, making her grand debut in the literary world. It is difficult to find any trace of misfortune in her experience. At that time, some people called Zeng Ye a “happy woman.” However, there is a crisis hidden under the seemingly happy surface – Zeng Ye and her mother have been subjected to domestic violence by her father for many years, which has caused great harm to her, and she even still has “sequelae of violence” when she grows up. In some works, Sono’s description of violent scenes is also an expression of his own experience, such as the violence committed by Captain Lynch against Sergeant Rhodes in “The Visitor from a Distant Place”.
  As mentioned earlier, Zeng Ye’s mother had an important influence on her life experiences and literary creation. Although my mother was a talented woman, her unhappy marriage gave her a strong tendency to die. Unable to endure the harm of domestic violence, her mother twice attempted suicide with Zeng Ye, and even attempted suicide after divorcing her husband. The tenacious vitality given by God allowed her to escape death, and she lived with her daughter until her death. Erich Fromm believed that “both a mother’s love for life and her fear of life are contagious, and both will have a profound impact on the child’s overall development.” While Zeng Ye and his mother were dependent on each other, they also formed what psychologists call an “incestuous symbiosis” relationship. “The so-called maternal love should be the love that liberates the object of love, and should be the love with separation as the ultimate goal, but Ayako’s mother could not leave her daughter throughout her life and was in great pain.” The misfortune of Sono’s original family also gave birth to the inspiration for his literary creation A major theme – parent-child relationship. This creative theme appears in his early novel “Jade Ring” (1959). This work tells the story of a boy who grew up under the constant care of his mother. As an adult, he was still unable to get rid of his attachment to his mother, so he destroyed all kinds of interpersonal relationships and finally disappeared in a foreign country. Afterwards, Sono created many works describing parent-child symbiosis, such as “Imaginary House”, “Hope”, “Cold Windy Courtyard”, etc., all of which exposed the fragility of the family and the egoism of women hidden in the name of maternal love. work.
  Sono Ayako was born at the beginning of Japan’s slide into the abyss of World War II. Her life started with the sound of military boots and she grew up during the war. Therefore, the observation and thinking about the war and Japan’s reconstruction after its defeat naturally became one of the themes of his literary creation. She is good at integrating her life experiences into her creations. The aforementioned “Visitor from afar” was created based on her experience of boarding at the Hakone Fujiya Hotel run by her uncle during high school. This work tells the story of Namiko, a 19-year-old girl who worked as a receptionist at the Hakone U.S. Army Reception Hotel shortly after the defeat. She completely separated the outcome of the war from fate. She received the U.S. occupying forces as “visitors from afar” and interacted with others. In the process of getting along as equals, the story of keenly observing the arrogance and despicability of the victors, the loss of self-confidence and the involuntary pandering of the losers seems to foreshadow the future of post-war Japan. As soon as the work came out, it was selected as a candidate for the Akutagawa Prize that year. Although it was ultimately unsuccessful, its novel and bright style was still unanimously recognized by the judges. Later, in her novels “Dawn”, “Volcano Islands”, “Afternoon Smile” and other works, we can see the harm caused to people by the war and the social picture of Japan’s reconstruction process after the war. Through calm and thorough observation and description, we objectively restore the reality of war and the fate of human beings who are forced to be involved in it.
  Suffering the Tokyo air raid during the war and living in ruins filled with disease and poverty after the war, for Sono, the war can be said to be an unforgettable experience. What is the meaning of war? Why do humans so easily trigger wars and become consumed by them? With thoughts on this series of issues, Zeng Ye created a series of works that explore the nature of war. For example: “Sea of ​​the Dead”, which describes the war through the fate of a transport ship; “Island of Sacrifice”, a documentary that tells the tragic experience of Okinawa girls who became a fierce battleground during the Pacific War; and describes the collective suicide of the islanders of Tokashiki Island “The Background of a Certain Myth”, which depicts the behavior of others; “What Moisturizes the Land”, which tells about the plight of a soldier in the Pacific War who was responsible for the massacre committed by others and was executed as a war criminal; describes “No matter which road we choose, what awaits us “There are only failures and condemnations” in “Red Plums and White Plums” experienced by the Fifth Guards Infantry Regiment, and so on.

  Another important factor that provides nourishment for Sono Ayako’s literary creation is religion. Sono’s encounter with religion began in his childhood – the Pacific War that began in 1941 was the direct material for him to understand the meaning of religion. She witnessed the tragic scenes of air raids in Tokyo, the miserable conditions of people starving and the inhuman treatment suffered by nuns from hostile countries. She experienced being forced to evacuate to Kanazawa, suspending her studies, working in factories, manufacturing weapons and participating in the war in disguise. Waiting for a series of depressing lives. “Yesterday’s leaders are today dew on the guillotine, and textbooks that were regarded as truth a day ago were blackened under the instructions of teachers who feared the American troops stationed in Japan”… What I saw and heard during the war and Japan’s post-defeat politics and economic drastic changes, gave Zeng Ye the understanding that “war is a test from God equally accepted by all those involved, and a blessing that prompts them to reflect.” From this, it is not difficult to see the profound influence of Catholicism on his thoughts. In addition, during the day-to-day interactions with the foreign nuns at Sacred Heart Women’s College, she was deeply influenced by the nuns’ attitude of “always doing their best for the assigned work no matter what” and their optimistic and optimistic spirit even after being innocently imprisoned. This fundamental attitude towards life left an indelible mark on her heart. From the late 1960s to the 1970s, Zeng Ye created a large number of religious novels as well as essays and documentary literature based on the Bible, such as “The Unnamed Monument”, “The Wounded Reed”, “Floating in the Universe”, “The Sound of Falling Leaves” and “Absent” “Room”, etc. His indifferent attitude towards life and the process of questioning to reconstructing cognition of religion can also be traced in his works.
  Noboru Shimi believes that “In the undercurrent of Sono’s literature, there is the recognition that ‘human beings are humble existences and life is bleak.'” This stems from the fact that when she was 13 years old (during the war) she witnessed being unable to fight against fate. And the fragility and sadness of those who lost their lives in the war. Therefore, Zeng Ye’s literary creation is full of a rigorous and humble understanding and care for human nature, which is mainly reflected in his concern for social reality. She has created many excellent works that truly reflect the contemporary Japanese society, which can be summarized into the following four categories: First, the condemnation of the worship of the emperor. For example, in “Kokichi’s Lighthouse”, it criticizes individuals’ ignorant and blind obedience to the theory of emperor supremacy under the control of traditional feudal morality. Second, criticism of war crimes. For example, “A Dream of Spring Grass” describes the repentance of an old man who appears to be kind and kind, but in fact has committed numerous war crimes; “Only Seeing the River” condemns the serious disasters brought to the Japanese people by the militaristic policy of Japanese militarism. Third, it reflects the personal situation under cold reality. For example, in “Pickled Pickles”, while expressing sympathy for the ordinary “little people”, it ruthlessly satirizes the selfish and selfish nature of people who are glamorous on the surface. Fourth, pay attention to the fate of women. For example, the novel “The Destruction of Love” tells the story of a girl who went from a girl full of beautiful hope to a housewife who was bullied and ignored, and finally ended her life in despair. The fate of women in the work is undoubtedly a true portrayal of women’s lives in Japanese society. While Sono criticized the capitalist system that caused their tragic lives, she also expressed the strong desire of women under heavy pressure to be liberated.
  As a female writer who entered the literary world after the war, Sono Ayako’s creative themes are different from the fields such as “men, money, ideological suppression, and conscious liberation” that other pre-war female writers who were influenced by proletarian literature focused on. Her “writing “Weapons are the cognitive power of how to view an individual’s way of survival.” For her, it is important to “use the eyes and mouths of raptors to dig out the truth buried in daily life and construct it into an illusory world.” Therefore, some commentators believe that “Zeng Ye’s literature bears the misfortune of those who know it.” The characters’ calm and thorough gaze on life and the meticulous observation of human nature can be traced back to Mochizuki Kuuki’s teaching on his writing method in his early years – “you can see before you write”. Zeng Ye has gradually formed his own unique creations. style.
  Yuriko Miyamoto, a representative writer of proletarian literature and a famous female writer, once wrote in her diary: “To build a happy and healthy family, you must also achieve your own career. Most women hope to take care of both. This is They share the same aspirations, but it is very difficult to realize these, and women need to be determined to dedicate themselves to one of them.” It can be seen that in the early post-war period, influenced by the democratization reforms in the United States and vigorously promoting gender equality, the “male-dominated” background was still In Japan, where the main family structure is “household and housewife”, not being dependent on men and taking advantage of their own strengths to occupy a place in society are not something that all women can easily achieve. As a female writer active in the literary world, Sono Ayako pursues self-deepening with a positive and tolerant attitude, and personally practices the coordinated development of family and career, presenting to readers and the public the spiritual character of female independence and self-improvement.
  Since the 1980s, Sono Ayako has begun to turn her attention more to Japanese family education and the living conditions of the elderly, and has created a series of works about parent-child education and the lives of the elderly, such as “In Search of the Aesthetics of Old Age” (2006) , “Starting from Despair” (2012), “Virtue in Old Age” (2016), etc. “Starting from Despair” provides readers with sincere educational maxims through 22 rich sections, that is, how to cultivate healthy and happy children in an era when academic education is generally valued. The theme of the first section of the work is: “Children will not grow up as their parents want”, which directly points out the independence of children, that is, parents should not impose their own ideas on their children; in section 17, it also proposes “mastery”. “Simple psychology and application” point of view, its concise and practical educational concepts and methods reflect the writer’s sincerity and patience. The opening chapter of “In Search of the Aesthetics of Old Age” points out: “People do not suddenly reach old age or old age, but they get there after a long period of time. In this way, before becoming an elderly person, people need to do some things in advance Be prepared. Before death comes, where and in what kind of scenery do you plan to live?” Regarding the question of how to live, she clearly expressed her views: “I think there is nothing more joyful than discovering the meaning of life. , things that make people dizzy. And the ability of discovery cannot be learned in compulsory education or famous universities. If it must be said, reading widely, understanding sorrow, understanding gratitude, abandoning egoism, enjoying everything, etc. are very important. It will be of great benefit to reach that state.” It can be seen from the above writings that Zeng Ye has always been concerned about the living conditions and spiritual world of modern people. After the “3.11 Earthquake” occurred, Sono encouraged the people and soothed their injured hearts in different ways. For example, he published an article in the “Journal of the Atomic Mechanics Society of Japan” to comfort people and alleviate their concerns about the earthquake through the knowledge obtained from professional doctors. Concerns about the effects of radioactive materials.

  Zeng Ye continued to write until his later years. From novels, essays to beautiful articles, his creative content covered a wide range of content, always conveying a positive and optimistic spirit and an open-minded and transparent state of mind inadvertently. For example, her ultra-short story “The Last Man” (2017) uses the concept of raising questions and then solving them to paint a tranquil picture of modern people facing the issues of old age and death. The novel consists of two parts: “Ghost Branch” and “The Long Gray Wall”. In “Ghost Department”, the nearly 60-year-old heroine Hatsune takes her 85-year-old mother to the hospital for medical treatment. The mother is anxious about her mild illness, but although the daughter “understands that the elderly cannot live long and have no disasters, her own heart “Somewhat cold”, but limited by “social etiquette”, cannot let it go in the context of “there are still treatments”… In “The Long Gray Wall”, the 64-year-old Hatsune met two priests during a tour , one seems to be around 70 years old, while the old man is 92 years old. The younger one expressed his intention to provide for the older man until his death, and he also tidied up the cemetery where many believers were buried, decorated it with marigolds, creating a “even the dead are still alive” Be loved” atmosphere. This undoubtedly cleansed Miku’s soul. It is not difficult to see Zeng Ye’s wisdom in life and peaceful state of mind from this short work. As she stated in the article “Everyone is always fighting with themselves” (1986), although she suffered many physical and mental blows and endured a lot of pain along the way, to this day “she does not feel at all… In the high-tech era, the individual spirit is in a distorted state.” She “enjoys” the current life with an inclusive attitude, providing readers with a lot of life wisdom and highly infectious works.

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