Kazushi Hosaka*

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Contemporary Japanese Writers

Kazushi Hosaka*

Kazushi Hosaka* 保坂和志

Kazushi Hosaka (1956–)  is the standard-bearer of a group of writers in the generation after postwar baby boomers like Haruki Murakami. This unstructured group might be called the "nothing much happens" school and is represented by many young writers, male and female. Their fiction consists of matter-of-fact expositions of daily life, without any notable occurrences. Something of the flavor of their work can be grasped by comparison not to Murakami but to film director Yasujirō Ozu

Hosaka's debut novel, Purēnsongu (tr. Plainsong), is utterly devoid of dramatic incident. The first-person protagonist is a thirtyish male office worker. We are not told his name. One after another, three people around age 20 turn up at his small (two rooms plus a kitchen) Tokyo apartment: the couple Akira and Yōko, and Shimada, a company employee. The year is 1986. The odd communal life of this foursome quietly unfolds over half a year from the end of winter to midsummer. The narrator may be the eldest, and he may own the place, but he is no leader. He accepts the interlopers without protest. Though fond of a stray kitten, he takes charge of it only after encouragement from Yōko. In fact, all of the characters are passive and none of them assert their individuality; yet a tenuous bond unites them, and out of their conversations and chains of association grow new feelings and actions. The author brilliantly depicts this chemistry. His themes may thus be said to be formlessness, ambiguity, and coincidence.

In Kanbaseishon pīsu (Conversation Piece), the central character bears increasing resemblance to the author himself. This is not to call the work a watakushi shōsetsu, or "I-novel," a genre that flourished at one time in Japan. While the I-novel was noted for a certain tendency to hang one's dirty laundry in public and to exaggerate the decadent aspects of a writer's life, this work in which nothing happens exemplifies peace and tranquility. The narrator has recently moved with his wife and three cats to a 50-year-old house in a residential neighborhood of Tokyo. The light, witty dialogue is one of the book's chief charms. In one memorable exchange, the wife lightly reproaches the narrator for his irresolution, and he responds, "This is one of those times when if you don't know something, you can't try to know it right away; you have to force yourself to stay where you are, not knowing, and dig in and keep thinking." This is Hosaka's own often-stated belief.

Hosaka's critical theory on the formation of the novel, also developed in Plainsong, has come to occupy increasing prominence in his recent writings. For Hosaka, thinking has become almost equivalent to living. The works Shōsetsu no jiyū (The Freedom of a Novel; 2005) and Shōsetsu no tanjō (The Birth of a Novel; 2006) were both serialized in the literary magazine Shinchō. In his preface to the former, Hosaka declares, "To me, a novel is at once something to be read and something to be written, as well as something to be thought about. I spend more time thinking about novels than I do reading or writing them." While the book discusses Hosaka's theory of creative writing, for him it is a true novel. In it he considers the background to the writing of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment and Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, contemplates the novels read by Yasujirō Ozu, and mulls the existence of God while reading St. Augustine's Confessions . . . The result is nothing less than a record, in print form, of Hosaka's own thought processes.

* Purēnsongu (Kodansha, 1990, 221 pages)
* Kanbaseishon pīsu (Shinchosha, 2003, 410 pages)
* Shōsetsu no jiyū (Shinchosha, 2005, 360 pages)