Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Jakucho Setouchi

A few days ago the Japan Times published a fascinating article on the Buddhist nun Jakucho Setouchi. Who's that you ask? Never heard of her? Then perhaps you've heard of the novelist Harumi Setouchi, author of Natsu no Owari (The End of Summer) [follow this and other book title links to Amazon.com]. Ms. Setouchi was the head priest at Tendai-ji in Shoboji, a small town in northern Iwate from 1987 to 2005. She often speaks there and at various other places in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures. A few years ago I even saw her in a shoe shop on Odori in Morioka but I was too shy to go in and meet her!

It seems she is now going about speaking on the novel Genji Monogatari which is celebrating its 1,000th anniversary this year. In 1996 she translated the story into modern Japanese which has also been made available in an English translation. While it is a fine story and I am happy to see it made more accessible to modern readers, there is one thing about it I find upsetting. The title. It is called, The Tale of Genji: Scenes from the Worlds First Novel.

Who ever claimed it was the world's first novel and why is the myth repeated so often? This kind of leaves the ancient Greek and Roman novelists out in the cold! Granted nothing much has survived from the period except fragments, but I can definitely recommend the Metamorphoses of Apuleius which has survived entire and will come out in a new translation next year. It is only about 800 years older than Genji Monogatari and has more sex scenes in it!

One of the comments that surprised me in the Japan Times article was when Ms. Setouchi said, "Apart from me, nobody writes really honestly about their own experiences. Nobody writes about their most embarrassing things or things they never want others to know." I find it quite curious she would say such a thing. Numerous examples spring to mind of people who do just that. But read the article for yourself and learn about a famous and fascinating resident of Iwate.

Living high: living deep; Jakucho Setouchi a most unlikely nun
Japan Times - October 5, 2008

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