Original Title: N/A
Author: Sakunosuke Oda (織田 作之助, Oda Sakunosuke)
Translator: Burton Watson
Genres: Literature, Japanese Literature
Rating: ✮✮✮ +½
“We bumbled through the period of our youth in an attitude of ambiguity, understanding things and yet not understanding them, not knowing whether we were young or old.”
Stories in this book:
- Hurray for Marriage, or Sweet Beans for Two!
- Six White Venus
- City of Trees
- The State of the Times
Note: all mentions of ‘Odasaku’ refer to Sakunosuke Oda.
In Bungou Stray Dogs, Odasaku only appears for four episodes, but the effect he has is buried deep. His influence is evident in many different moments throughout the show, particularly in Dazai’s behavior. This relates so well to the authors behind the characters in Bungou Stray Dogs: many of them died tragically while they were very young, whether through disease (particularly tuberculosis) or suicide, but they still left a lasting impression on Japanese society.
Stories of Osaka Life is true to its name and is made up of four stories all taking place in Osaka, Odasaku’s place of birth. Contradicting the ideals made by higher-class citizens – bureaucrats, intellectuals, and social leaders – who were conscious of Japan’s moral state, Odasaku chose to write stories about the merchant class and the sordid aspects of Osaka life, simply because he wanted to. This resulted in a lot of his work being censored, both due to regulations at the time and because of World War II. After those regulations were lifted and Odasaku started to gain in popularity, he was put in the burai-ha, or “hooligan” school of writers, along with Osamu Dazai and Ango Sakaguchi. (Coincidence? I think not. Definitely not.)
I wouldn’t consider these stories obscene, though I am speaking for myself. I can understand why a lot of officials would wrinkle their noses.
What followed was all a dream: the distinctive odor of bodies, the moist sensations, breathless warmth, squirmings, the arms and legs going every which way, the rhythm that drove me senseless…how could I have been so stupid as to think that a woman merely lies there grudgingly and lets herself be manipulated!
^And the thing is, this story (The State of the Times) is supposed to be autobiographical, as one of the characters refers to the narrator as “Oda Saku”. Poverty, infidelity, and crime are also things that are threaded through these stories (though not necessarily all of them). Considering that Japan is a country that holds honor and pride in the highest respect, it makes sense why they would be reluctant to publish subject of this matter.
There are no particular points to any of them; they are, as the title says, stories of people in Osaka. I think this could be a breaking point for a lot of people, and the translation snags on a couple of points. Additionally, the right reader may interpret them in different ways. For instance, in Hurray for Marriage, or Sweet Beans for Two!, a man named Ryūkichi elopes with a geisha named Chōko. Ryūkichi is lazy and doesn’t work, while Chōko is supporting him with her earnings and trying to encourage him into different businesses. There are instances where Chōko is scorned for being unfeminine by other characters (meaning that she is doing work that women at the time weren’t considered capable of doing), and to one person, this may seem sexist – but as the translator mentions in the introduction, Odasaku intended to make fun of the Japanese concept of marriage and the roles of husband and wife. The reader obviously sees how hard Chōko works to keep the two of them on their feet, how she keeps a budget and saves every penny she makes, and that Ryūkichi is the one who should be ridiculed for spending so much of their money. Additionally, in Six White Venus, the main character, Narao, tries to assault a young girl before he realizes what he’s doing and then later attempts suicide because of it.
When he had threaded his way through the pine grove and come out on the sandy shore, it suddenly occurred to him that when a woman became someone’s mistress, that was the kind of vile treatment she would have to endure.
Like I mentioned, how the reader chooses to view the situation determines the outlook, like deciding whether a shade is one color or another.
I like Stories of Osaka Life overall, and I want to read more of Odasaku’s work in the future. Hopefully more translations will appear in the future.