The Evolution of a Writer
Maruyama Kenji was born December 23, 1943, in Iiyama City, Nagano Prefecture. He was the second of three sons born to Maruyama Sakon and Hisako. His father Sakon was a high school Japanese teacher and taught in several towns in Nagano Prefecture during Maruyama’s youth, finally becoming a vice-principal before retirement. His mother Hisako had been Sakon’s student, marrying after graduation from high school. She did not hold a job after marriage.
Maruyama did not have a close relationship with his brothers, due largely to differences in age and character. His older brother Shun’ichi was four years his senior. His younger brother Yûzô was four years younger. Maruyama describes his parents and brothers as being most comfortable as part of a group, calling them "typical Japanese" who find comfort under the authority of others and satisfaction in such traditional measures of worth as academic standing and job titles. Conversely, Maruyama has disliked group thinking and action from childhood, spending much of his time alone. He claims that he matured more quickly than other children in school, and on the rare occasions he spent time with them he usually played the role of decision-maker.
Maruyama’s family lived primarily in the Nagano countryside and was largely unaffected by World War II and the ensuing occupation. His father was not drafted into military service due to an oversight by the Ômachi City Office, and though poor, the family lived through the occupation years virtually oblivious to the increased foreign presence in the population centers. The city of Ômachi, where the family lived from shortly after Maruyama’s birth until 1955, is still largely the same as it was in wartime. The population has remained at approximately 30,000, and little new industry has found its way there. Few of the buildings are more than two stories. One train station serves the town, and it is three and one half hours from Tokyo by express. The Japan Alps, covered with snow throughout the year, loom above the town causing it to appear small in comparison.
As a child Maruyama spent a considerable amount of time alone outdoors, walking in the mountains and swimming in the numerous rivers and lakes around Ômachi. The influence of nature is clearly reflected in his fiction. Images of mountains, rivers, oceans, forests, and fields dominate. Few scenes take place indoors. The monkeys that even now wander from forests into the roads are a constant presence in the lives of the characters in the stories. Thus, the apple orchards, rice fields, and forest paths around Ômachi are the settings in which his characters
naturally appear. A childhood spent in the outdoors has taught Maruyama that although man may exist within nature, he can never control it. Life and death are always present, and they cast a constant shadow on Maruyama’s stories. Maruyama writes of his feelings for nature:
I love it because it is full of--overflowing with--the lives and deaths of every sort of living thing, including human beings. The novel that transcends life and death does not exist.
In 1950, Maruyama entered Ômachi Public Elementary School. He fought constantly and lacked interest in studying, and his teachers and parents placed him in a special education class when he was in second grade. He remained in the class through fifth grade. Most of the other students in the class were either mentally or physically disabled, many with tuberculosis, and a normal day at school consisted of little more than rudimentary lessons and playing outdoors. In 1955, his family relocated to Shinonoi City, Nagano Prefecture, and he entered regular classes at Shinonoi Public Elementary School for his final year of grade school. At the time of his transfer, he was still unable to perform simple multiplication.
Maruyama claims he read little as a child, but he cites Melville’s Moby Dick as the one work that caught his attention. He was particularly attracted to the sacrificial figure of Starbuck. Although he did not read extensively, Maruyama believed he had a talent for writing from a young age:
I think it must have been when I was in junior high school. I would look through the books in my father’s library and think that I could produce better work than most of what I saw. However, I had no intention at that time of pursuing literature as a career. The real world held more appeal by far.
Maruyama entered Shinonoi Public Junior High School in 1956. After graduating in 1959, Maruyama planned to enter the Sendai National Radio High School in Sendai Prefecture north of Nagano. Influenced by Moby Dick, he had decided during his final year at junior high school to become a sailor and had heard that the simplest way to find employment on a ship was to take a class-A license as a communications operator. He cites a desire for independence from his parents as another reason for choosing the school. Maruyama did not study for the entrance examination and failed, forced instead to attend Nagano City Public High School for one year while he studied for the next examination. His parents, who by the time Maruyama entered junior high school had low expectations for him, were neither surprised nor disappointed at his academic failure, telling him he was to blame for not studying. Maruyama claims that by that time his parents had no hope for him other than that he not become involved in crime.
Maruyama was successful on his second attempt and entered Sendai National Radio High School in 1960. Students from across Japan traveled to the school to study for their licenses. As a national school it was heavily funded, making tuition extremely inexpensive and thus attractive to students who did not have enough money to attend private school. As a result of efforts by the Ministry of Education, courses other than those concerning communications were offered to promote a complete education, but those wishing to obtain their licenses concentrated solely on communications. Maruyama rarely studied, however, often turning his tests in blank. In his second year he was given a half-year suspension for poor grades and fighting. The suspension led to dismissal from the school dormitory and repetition of one year. Maruyama reflects on his life as a student:
I violently disliked being constrained, and I suppose I was probably one of those students who has a hard time mustering up any interest in the things he doesn’t like. I remember getting angry at the ridiculous practice sessions we had before one field day. I just went home. In junior high school all I did was fight. I would walk around with a knife and bicycle chain. Even when I went on to high school I was always the violent one. I never studied, and I spent most of my time at the movies. I ended up being treated as a problem child at all the schools I attended.
Maruyama graduated last in his class of eighty from Sendai National Radio High School in 1964 at the age of twenty. He had not been able to obtain the class-A license necessary to gain employment on a ship, but had secured a job as a telex operator at Gôshô Trading Company in Nihonbashi, Tokyo. He later discovered he had been selected because he appeared healthy enough to work the odd hours and frequent overtime required for sending telex messages to countries in different time zones.
Maruyama did not desire to live in Tokyo, preferring the smaller towns and countryside. His academic record was poor, however, and Gôshô was the only place he could find work utilizing the skills he had acquired. The job of telex operator held no allure for him either, but the problem of making a living outweighed his preference for outlying areas. He departed for Tokyo soon after graduation.
Kamiya Fumiko, a new employee from Tokyo, entered the
company at the same time as Maruyama and occupied the desk next to him. They shared a common interest in movies, particularly those of director Kurosawa Akira, and were soon spending most of their time together. The work at Gôshô was monotonous and the hierarchy oppressive, but constant use of the telex machine forced him to develop a clear, succinct style of writing. It was this style that he would employ in his first novella, which he began writing approximately one year after moving to Tokyo.
Maruyama spent a substantial amount of time in the office working on his novella. He claims that he had determined from the documents he had been sending that Gôshô was in financial trouble, and the thought of losing his job prompted him to think of writing as a new, less constraining source of income. The novella was titled "Natsu no nagare", a tense yet detached portrayal of the life of a death row prison guard. The idea had come from stories he had been told by the father of a classmate from Sendai National Radio High School who worked as a security guard at Miyagi Sendai Prison. The father, who had no reason to believe that his discussions with Maruyama would ever reach the public, had described in precise detail the lives of the prisoners
and the particulars of the executions performed in the
After extensive revision, Maruyama completed "Natsu no nagare" in mid-1966. Never having read a literary journal, he asked an acquaintance for advice on where to submit his work. The acquaintance recommended the journal Bungakkai, and Maruyama submitted "Natsu no nagare" on company paper in a company envelope as an applicant for the Bungakkai
Prize for New Authors. From 1816 submissions he was awarded the prize, and "Natsu no nagare" was published in the November, 1966 issue of Bungakkai. On January 23, 1967, he was awarded the Akutagawa Prize for Literature for the same story. At twenty-three he was the youngest person in history to receive this honor. The record remains
Maruyama claims he was not surprised by his immediate success as a writer. After submitting "Natsu no nagare" he read several literary magazines, only to be shocked at what he considered the low caliber of writing. His parents, however, upon hearing that he had received the prizes were convinced that he had stolen "Natsu no nagare" and
submitted it under his own name. Only after subsequent
stories appeared were they convinced otherwise.
Maruyama resigned from his position as a telex operator at Gôshô in March, 1967 to pursue writing full-time. Fumiko left the company at the same time. They were married in May after moving from the company dormitory in nearby Chiba Prefecture to an apartment in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo. That same year he published the short stories "Yukima" and "Sono hi wa fune de" in Bungakkai. He also published the novella "Semaki tamashii no heya" and a collection of short stories featuring the prize-winning "Natsu no nagare" as the title story.
During the first year after receiving the prizes, Maruyama became busy with the various side jobs he found were expected of authors. He was asked to write essays and readily complied, believing that it was one of the responsibilities that went with the profession. Requests to write book reviews and participate in taidan, literary discussions between authors or critics that would appear in print, began to increase. Not believing that he had anything of value to teach or discuss, he said and wrote what he believed authors and readers would like to hear. From the beginning he was unhappy with the new lifestyle. Maruyama did not drink alcohol or feel comfortable attending events that he felt had no direct relevance to his work. He was forced to spend much of his time in the company of editors, critics, and other authors at meetings, dinners, functions, and the late night drinking establishments patronized by members of the bundan.
The term bundan refers both to a literary elite and the literary establishment. In a narrow sense, the word denotes a small, exclusive community of professional writers isolated from society. This community is characterized by special mores and lifestyle, and dedicated to the idea of pure literature. In addition to being the elite world in which Japanese authors operate, the bundan is entwined with the publishing industry, with publishers, journals, critics and scholars.
It is in literary journals that writers publish their fiction, essays and book reviews, hold debates, and voice opinions. Bungakkai, the journal in which the major part of Maruyama’s early work would be published, was started in 1933 by Kobayashi Hideo (1902-83), Kawabata Yasunari (1899-1972), Uno Kôji (1891-1961) and other prominent members of
the bundan. It has been one of the standard-bearers for the Japanese literary world since its founding. Authors associated with Bungakkai and organizations like the Japan P.E.N. Club form a tight network, supporting and commenting on the work of other members of the group. Many authors take in deshi, younger writers wishing to study under a more established mentor. Besides the opportunity to study, deshi benefit from the standing and influence of their mentors, making connections and often finding work through them. It is the bundan, in a manner of speaking, that selected Maruyama for the Akutagawa and Bungakkai Prizes and facilitated his rise to success. Why, then, did Maruyama find it so distasteful? Maruyama provides one answer:
When I received the Bungakkai Prize for New Authors and the Akutagawa Prize, I had never even heard of the bundan. I was working as a telex operator at a trading company and was unconcerned with the literary world. Actually, I was more interested in film than literature, and was hoping someday to find a job in that field.
That Maruyama knew nothing of the bundan when he received the awards is surprising. Although many Japanese may not understand the intricacies of the bundan, authors are often in the media spotlight. Book reviews and articles by and about authors and literature appear in newspapers and magazines as well as literary journals. In Japan, authors are treated as experts on a range of subjects due to their status as public figures. They often appear on television talk shows with other public "celebrities" such as politicians, actors, and comedians to discuss current events or popular trends. Although most of his childhood was spent in rural areas not directly influenced by proximity to Tokyo or by television, it is remarkable that a would-be writer would not have been aware of the existence of the bundan.
Maruyama realized quickly what it meant to live as a writer in the public eye. He had attempted to escape from the constrictive lifestyle of the Japanese salaried worker. However, he was forced to reevaluate whether he had actually achieved the freedom he desired:
After a while I realized there was a whole world that revolved around the bundan. Its existence seemed truly mysterious and peculiar to me. The main reason I had aimed to be a writer was because I wanted to live a free, relaxed life without having my butt kicked all the time. I was sick of being a salaryman. I did not want to live the kind of life in which one has to lose the sense of self because of the complicated relationships perpetuated in groups and organizations. But after I had finally succeeded in getting away from one organization I had become part of another. Why, I wondered, had I become a writer?
Tiring of complicated business relationships and the lack of time to focus on writing, Maruyama moved from Tokyo to the town of Achimura in Nagano Prefecture in August, 1968. He had again moved back to the periphery, distancing himself from Tokyo and the pressures there. The prizes had secured his reputation, and his physical and mental distance from the pressure cooker of the literary world did not negatively affect his productivity. In 1968 he published six stories in literary journals. The grim short story "Ganburo" appeared in the journal Fûkei in March of this year. He also published another story collection, Mahiru nari . The title story is an account of a young man from the country and his descent into madness engendered by a disillusioning relationship with a city woman. "Mahiru nari" was clearly influenced by Maruyama’s own unpleasant experiences in Tokyo, and it was the last story he wrote there.
In 1969 Maruyama moved to Nagano City, forced to vacate the public housing in which he and Fumiko had been living to make room for a new teacher at Achimura Public High School. He settled for several years in Nagano City, where his parents were living, then moved back to his childhood hometown of Ômachi in 1972. Though he published frequently, he had little money and went into debt to build a house near an apple orchard owned by his grandfather.
Despite his retreat to the country and a dislike of the trappings that went with the label, Maruyama had become firmly established as a professional writer. By the end of 1972, the year of his return to Ômachi, he had published twenty-five short stories and novellas and numerous essays in literary journals, and ten collections of stories. He had achieved all this by the end of his twenty-eighth year.
Maruyama’s youth and distinctive prose style had, since the beginning of his career, been topics that drew both admiration and criticism. He claims that several critics gave him the credit he deserved for "Natsu no
nagare", but that the majority of them dismissed it as a fluke. Though Maruyama feels that his work was not fully appreciated, it is significant that "Natsu no nagare" was awarded the Akutagawa Prize by a peer committee of writers and critics. Many comments from the committee members were laudatory. Author and selection committee member Inoue Yasushi (1907- ) wrote: "Although Maruyama is the youngest of all the candidates, ‘Natsu no nagare’ leads me to think that he is the most stylistically surehanded."
One of the first to comment at length on Maruyama’s style was Mishima Yukio (1923-1970), one of the best known writers of his generation. Mishima had also served on the selection committee. Although "Natsu no nagare" had not been his first choice for the prize he was nonetheless impressed by the writing:
The prose is well-wrought and manly. This is a nice piece of work. In the prison at the edge of the sea, the polarity of life and death, the everyday lives of townspeople and crime, are contrasted like shadows and light on a bare landscape on a clear summer day. His character development is surehanded as well, especially the detached nature of the wife. And the ending makes its final impression almost casually.
Mishima, however, also commented that the prose was too relaxed for that of a twenty-three year old, lacking the requisite "raunchiness" of the work of other young writers. Maruyama’s cool, detached writing was different from the highly personalized, confessional style that was and is still a literary standard in Japan. Whether or not all critics applauded him, the frequency with which he was able to publish his stories and essays and the quality of the journals in which they appeared were a testament to the fact that the literary world was very interested in Maruyama’s fiction.
The terse, straightforward tone is the salient characteristic of Maruyama’s style in "Natsu no nagare" and other early short stories. The dialogue is direct and simple. The story line is easily followed. Maruyama attributes this to his own instincts but also to the fact
that in Sendai National Radio High School he was trained to write in this style.
The training for those who want to become telex operators involves shutting down the heart and head, concentrating all of the nerves in the body into the tips of the fingers and actually becoming a part of the machine. The fingertips themselves are, to put it simply, of paramount concern to a telex operator. The technique within those fingers is life. Even with the changing times and the switch from Morse to telex, there is no significant change in the basics.
For Maruyama, the instinctive, direct transmission of information through the fingertips is part of the process of writing fiction as well. He claims that there was virtually no difference between the way he reported information as a telex operator and the way he wrote fiction in his early years. The similarity to telex language is immediately apparent upon reading the earlier stories. The narrator, usually third person, remains detached from the emotions of the characters. The dialogue, actions, and the settings themselves relate the story and trigger the desired emotions. The prose flows smoothly and logically, usually in chronological order
Maruyama’s economical style, with its lack of "raunchiness", immediately prompted comparison to the style Ernest Hemingway employed in his short stories. Hemingway is considered by some to have been the first person to bridge successfully the gap between colloquial language and prose. His style, with its concise narrative and uncluttered dialogue, had been shaped in part by his training as a newspaper reporter. Hemingway creates brief, sharp, and at times grotesque depictions of man’s behavior.
Maruyama treats similar themes. Like Hemingway, Maruyama often centers his stories around human strength and weakness, difficult decisions, cruel epiphanies, life and death. Maruyama’s"Sono hi wa fune de" recalls Hemingway’s "Hills Like White Elephants", focusing on abortion, male and female roles, and the human capacity to rationalize anything in order to preserve one’s own comforts. Hemingway’s "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" and Maruyama’s "Mahiru nari" both explore a man’s feelings of inadequacy upon appearing weak in front of a woman and the ultimately self-destructive extremes to which he will push himself in search of redemption. Boxing and the corruption associated with it are themes in Hemingway’s "Fifty Grand" and Maruyama’s "Go-ninme no otoko".
Maruyama and Hemingway also seem to have much in common as men. Maruyama, who often fought as a child and a young man, trained as a boxer in high school. He has ridden a motorcycle through deserts in Australia, driven a jeep through the mountains of China, gone on safari in Africa, followed the Oregon Trail in a truck, and traveled deep into the snowy regions of Norway. He accomplished all this without being able to speak English or any other foreign language. The tempestuous, sometimes violent Hemingway hunted in Africa and worked as a war correspondent in Europe.
At the time he began writing, Maruyama had not read Hemingway’s work. However, prompted by numerous comparisons, he soon read the complete works and acknowledges the likeness:
What we call the ‘hard-boiled’ style of writing that Hemingway perfected is exactly the same as telex language in its concise precision. The first real language that I, having started my adult life as a telex operator, learned to use well was this very ‘hard-boiled’ language.
Whereas readers in the West associate authors of tough-minded detective stories like Dashiell Hammett with the term "hard-boiled", Maruyama is using the term in a broader sense. He claims that after reading Hemingway’s work, particularly the short stories, he recognized not only the language, but more importantly the relationship of the language to the stories:
There were directions in which the prose naturally moved, as well as limitations on the worlds he was able to portray. To put it concretely, Hemingway’s short stories, with their air of violent tension, were so effective that they would permit only the style he had chosen...
Maruyama believed, however, that the quality of Hemingway’s work declined as he began to write longer novels in the style he had employed in his short stories, since it was not possible to perpetuate in longer works the high level of tension found in the short stories. Maruyama would eventually act on this insight as his own work lengthened, implementing a process of stylistic change.
For the first few years, however, Maruyama continued to employ the style that he had used since "Natsu no nagare". To attain this clear, succinct language, he would revise every manuscript at least seven and as many as twelve times, cutting out information and dialogue he considered extraneous until he was left with a lean, muscular story. Maruyama expounds on the writing process:
One might describe it as being like jazz with an emphasis on improvisation. But where it differs greatly from jazz is that I do not simply string together images that randomly pop into my head and leave them that way. I take a lot of time to polish the images and sentences born from improvisation, putting them in order and removing all waste to construct a seamless microcosm.
Much of what Maruyama trims is dialogue, which he regards as the most difficult element of fiction to render naturally. When the characters speak, the language is simple and realistic. Maruyama also indicates their silences with an ellipsis. These silences, too, are a medium of communication, conveying meanings and shared understandings. Masao Miyoshi, in his seminal Accomplices of Silence, suggests that: "[Japanese] culture is primarily visual, not verbal, in orientation, and social decorum provides that reticence, not eloquence, is rewarded."
Maruyama began to change his style as he matured as a writer. He states that the first significant change can be found in the novella "Tsuki ni naku", which appeared in Bungakkai in March, 1986. Stylistic experiments leading to this change, however, began to appear as early as 1969 with the publication of the short stories "Ana to umi" and "Tanizoko", published in January and September in Bungakkai. In a 1970 essay in Bungakkai, Maruyama would claim that the difference in his prose was superficial.
He cites a "slight increase in the number of conjunctions" and "avoidance of simple adverbs," but states that he believes no major changes had occurred. It is clear, however, that a stylistic metamorphosis was beginning to take place. The spare prose of the early stories was gradually disappearing, and the new style was dense: some pages are devoid of even a single paragraph indent or a line of dialogue to break up the perfect rectangle of uninterrupted text. Maruyama was beginning to use longer sentences and a greater range of grammatical forms. Vocabulary increased in difficulty and variety.
To a much greater extent than their Western counterparts, Japanese writers use a word repeatedly without variation. The word miru (to look at, to see), for example, is used in situations where authors writing in
English might use such words as "watch", "gaze", "stare", "eyeball", "ogle", or "peer". Although synonyms for the word miru do exist, it would not be unusual to see miru used several times in the same sentence. Maruyama employed a fairly simple vocabulary in his early work. The vocabulary and sentence structure in "Ana to umi", however, do not appear to have
come from the author of works like "Ganburo" and "Yukima". There is only one line of dialogue in the thirty-eight pages of this story, a dreamlike account of a boy obsessed with digging a hole. The tone is reminiscent of the stories of Abe Kôbô (1924-92), and the text reads more like verse than prose. The virtual absence of dialogue in Ana to umi , along with a significantly more complex vocabulary, would eventually become distinguishing features of Maruyama’s prose.
Mishima Yukio is known for his creative use of vocabulary and a sometimes deliberately artificial style. 1990 Nobel prize winner Ôe Kenzaburo (1935- ) writes in a dense prose that visually resembles Maruyama’s. However, the new elements in Maruyama’s prose produced results quite different from the effects of Mishima or Ôe. Maruyama’s arsenal of synonyms, lack of dialogue, and long, complicated sentences work to create a hypnotic quality.
Maruyama wrote only five stories between the publication of "Tanizoko" (discussed in the thesis but cut out in order to shorten this introduction) and the beginning of 1972, then entered what he characterizes as a slump that continued for nine years. Though he published an enormous amount during that period, he now believes that he was not devoting sufficient energy to writing, resulting in fiction he considers sub-par.
Maruyama’s financial position was precarious by 1972. He was in debt from a house loan and had refused for several years to accept side-jobs to supplement his income. At the invitation of several universities, he began to give lectures on literature. Setting aside his personal objections he participated in taidan and sat on prize committees. He continued to write but the style was not consistent, his concentration adversely affected by the new projects.
During the first five years of his career, Maruyama had written only short stories and novellas. From 1972, however, he also began working on longer fiction. Kuroi umi e no hômonsha was his first novel. It was followed by the full-length Ame no doragon and Akai me. Maruyama also continued to write short stories and novellas during the seventies, publishing fourteen collections. Nine essay collections appeared between 1975 and 1981. However, it was with the short story "Kawa", a tale of a convalescent and the connections he discovers he has with several customers in a restaurant one evening, that Maruyama claims he began to feel he was writing at his full potential. He again ceased involvement, except for publication of his stories, with literary circles and redirected all his energy toward writing fiction.
From the publication of "Kawa", Maruyama was consistent in the style he used in his fiction. With the exception of Tokimeki ni shisu, Maruyama virtually eliminated dialogue from his work. It was with the novella "Tsuki ni naku" that Maruyama’s style would develop into something resembling what it is today. "Tsuki ni naku" is an autobiographical account of a forty-year-old man whose life is reenacted once every ten years by a blind, lute-playing priest, biwa hôshi, painted on a folding screen in his bedroom. The novella is divided into four sections: spring, summer, autumn, and winter. It is a mixture of verse and prose. Maruyama writes about the new style:
My style changed most obviously around "Tsuki ni naku". From there I made a conscious effort to shape my prose into something more poetic. With the evolution of my style I like to think that the worlds within my novels expanded as well.
The paragraphs in"Tsuki ni naku" are short poetic sequences, none as long as one page. Some dialogue is set off by quotation marks, but most is folded into the text without punctuation. An extremely wide range of vocabulary is employed, and each passage begins with a short sentence establishing the theme to be elaborated upon by the following sentences.
Subsequent works, including Wakusei no izumi , Sasurau ame no kakashi, Mizu no kazoku, and No ni furu hoshi were written in the same vein. With Sennichi no ruri, Miyo tsuki ga ato o ou, and Arasoi no ki no shita de the works become even longer: the shortest is over seven hundred pages long. Maruyama completed an 800-page novel entitled Buppôsô no yoru in March, 1997. It will appear in the April and May editions of the journal Bungei before being published in hardcover. He is currently at work on a new novel.
Maruyama’s work is classified as junbungaku: pure literature. The critical term was created in the Taishô Period (1912-26) to differentiate pure literature from taishû bungaku, or popular fiction. Historically, it has been most closely associated with the shishôsetsu, or the Japanese I-novel. The shishôsetsu, sometimes likened to the German Ich Roman, dates from the end of the Meiji Period (1868-1912) and was associated with the Japanese Naturalist literary movement. The goal of the Naturalists, based very loosely on the work of Emile Zola and the European Naturalists, was to produce a "natural" literature based on sincerity and believability. The author Tayama Katai is credited with writing the first shishôsetsu in 1907: the novella Futon. The narrator, a teacher, provides a highly confessional account of his lust for a young female student. The personal feelings of the main character, a thinly-disguised Katai, are expressed in detail although he does not act on his desires. It was the obvious similarity between author and narrator that shocked readers and proved to be the beginning of a close relationship between the life of the author and fiction.
The shishôsetsu would emerge as a dominant form in the Taishô Period. It was generally written from the first person point of view, and based to varying degrees on personal experience. In an attempt at sincerity most shishôsetsu authors wrote exclusively about their own experiences. To find interesting material, many would become involved in sordid or unusual conduct, divulging the details in their work. Confession may have been an objective, but little importance was placed on atonement.
The idea that shishôsetsu and junbungaku were nearly identical continued on after the passing of the Naturalist movement and is still prevalent. The lives of shishôsetsu authors are public; they are discussed on television, in the newspapers, and in fiction of the authors themselves. Most of the work of past and contemporary shishôsetsu writers is deemed junbungaku. In his landmark work The Rhetoric of Confession, Edward Fowler discusses the connection between shishôsetsu and junbungaku and their relationship to Western literature.
Unlike ‘pure literature’ in the West, which calls to mind an author aloof from his writing after the manner of Flaubert or Joyce, ‘pure literature’ in Japan (a category to which the shishôsetsu belongs) is considered inherently referential in nature: its meaning derives from an extraliterary source, namely, the author’s life. The Japanese as readers of shishôsetsu have tended to regard the author’s life, and not the written work, as the definitive ‘text’ on which critical judgement ultimately rests and to
see the work as meaningful only insofar as it illuminates the life.
Maruyama’s fiction is not shishôsetsu. He usually writes in the third person. On the rare occasions when he chooses first person narration, as he has in a few short stories, novellas, and novels, the tone is far from confessional. I (watashi, boku, ore) can be a razor, an echo or a bonsai
tree. Even when the first person narrator is a human, but in cases when the narrator is represented by a first person pronoun, he describes surrounding activity and situations rather than personal feelings and opinions. Unlike most successful authors in Japan today, Maruyama lives far from the literary center of Tokyo, and details of his private life are known to few.
Maruyama is and has always been, however, classified by the media as a writer of junbungaku. Book jackets and advertisements for his novels invariably contain the word. Critics designate him a serious author. Maruyama, who defines his work as junbungaku but decries the shishôsetsu, believes there is no necessary relationship between the two. He states his definition of the terms:
The shishôsetsu is nothing but narcissism. It is the extension of a diary, and the literature of amateurs. A shishôsetsu author might write one good novel, but there are many people capable of one good novel. The mark of a pro is that he can continue to produce novels from his imagination. Shishôsetsu writers are like poor insurance salesmen. They can sell to family and friends; in other words, to the Japanese. They cannot, however, sell outside their own circles... Shishôsetsu may have once had its place in Japanese literature, but the personal experiences of an author are no longer compelling. The lives of readers today are more corrupt and shocking than those depicted in shishôsetsu.... Junbungaku is more difficult to define, but it is first a matter of quality. The writer must pierce deeply into the philosophical. Any work that just leans up against philosophy is an essay. Stories avoiding philosophy completely are popular fiction. Only the fiction that can penetrate through to the heart of philosophy can be called junbungaku.
Maruyama’s ideas about junbungaku and Japanese literature have set him apart from other figures in the literary world. His work is labeled junbungaku along with that of most authors who publish in the better literary journals, but he claims that what they write is not true junbungaku. His books are published by the most respected publishing companies, yet he refuses virtually all invitations to deepen the association by participating in taidan or interviews, or writing book reviews, stating that literature should speak for itself. He refused the Monbushô Cultural Prize for his novella "Tsuki ni naku" in 1986. He was offered the Tanizaki, Yomiuri, and Asahi Shinbun prizes for literature for his novel Sennichi no ruri, but declined all of them. He goes so far in his
efforts to remain on the outside that he has no fax machine or computer. Editors must travel deep into the Nagano countryside to collect manuscripts from him.
Despite his insistence on remaining on the periphery of the literary world, Maruyama is a successful writer. His novels appear first in literary journals, then go on to sell 10,000 to 15,000 copies. He has published seventy-one hardcover editions. His audience appears to be growing, as Sennichi no ruri has sold more in the six years since it was published than any other book besides the story collection Natsu no nagare. Translations of his works have also begun to appear in German,
Russian, Chinese, and Korean. Maruyama’s stories are translated into English for the first time in this thesis.