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A Narrative of Those on the Move: The Case of Takeo Arishima

Inseop Shin


Takeo Arishima, a Japanese writer in the early 20th century, has a style of writing that is distinct from the other writers of Japan at the time. Hiswork demands a deeper contemplation of the conflicts that take placein the borderlands of cultures.This aspect makes up for the apparent limitedness in the quality of Japanese novels in the early modern period characterized by a lack of interest in life outside the national territory. Dealingwith issues concerning migration and Japan’s imitation of the West, A Certain Woman underscores the conflicts at the point of contact between Japan and the West. As the novel focuses on “migration as conflict,” Arishima faces the “mirror,” reflecting the imagined “West.”By using the motif of migration, the novel exposes the Japanese “Western complex,” a blind imitation of the Westthat is mostly obscured in modern Japanese literature. The significance found in the novel is in its view of the West as a mirror reflecting Japan, and conversely using Japan as a mirror to imagine the West. For the heroine of the novel, the people of the United States are the standard by which to measure up oneself. Imagining herself in the way the Americans might look at her, she has internalized Orientalism, a captive of the mirror that is the United States. If the fashionable society of the United States of America is an imagined West, diaspora is the narrative of an individual who has to leave her home behind to settle there. The novel exquisitely links the imagination of “Westimitation-modernization,” a narrative of the nation-state, with the narrative of the individual, suggesting that the territory of the nation-state is fictional. In this context, A Certain Woman is a diasporic novel. By depicting an individual on the move to the West as a model to follow, the novel breaks the pattern of Japanese literature that tends to be content with representing life within Japan. The novel reveals a fictitious aspect of modern Japanese society that tries to efface the inferiority complex of Japan in its desire to imitate the West.


diasporic narrative; diasporic novel; imitation of the West; migration; narrative of nation-state; Orientalism; the Shirakaba-ha

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.13185/KK2017.02811