Chotaro Kawasaki, the Japanese writer who wrote by candlelight on beer crates

Peripheral author, fundamental referent of the “novel of the self” in the Japan of the 20th century, when Chotaro Kawasaki At the age of 40, he began to live in a shack next to his parents’ house in the small port town of Odawara, an old warehouse that was used to store nets and other fishing equipment. There, under the light of a large candle and on some empty beer crates, the Japanese writer dedicated hours and hours to that job for which he had sacrificed his whole life.

“For the last ten years he has lived in a shack raised with boards and covered with a zinc roof,” he wrote in one of his stories. On windy and rainy nights he ends up soaking wet, despite which he continues to read and write on a table made from beer crates.. He barely has a few brushes and a pen to write with, but thanks to post-war inflation he can live on the meager profits from his writing.”

Claimed by Kenzaburo Oé as an “unrepeatable” author whose work does not age, the Nobel Prize winner once said about him that with his writing he achieved the impossible for others: returning again and again to the same event and making each one of them those times a new story.

Virtually unknown in the West, where it has remained unpublished until nowthe publishing house Fulgencio Pimentel, together with the translators Yoko Ogihara and Fernando Cordobés, rescues his work in the incense neighborhooda title that compiles the stories that the Japanese author wrote between 1925 and 1977.

His style is framed within the Japanese “novel of the self”, a type of confessional and personal literature where the events of the story that is narrated, no matter how unspeakable they may seem, correspond to the events experienced by the author, who tells them openly and without hesitation.

It is in this sense that the life and literary determination of Chotaro Kawasaki, who was born in 1901 into a humble family in Odawara, gains even more strength. Expelled from high school for stealing a book from the library, the writer devoted himself for some time to delivering fish until in 1922 he decided to leave the family job to settle in the Japanese capital.

“He was the firstborn of a family that ran a humble fish market, a guy unable to give up his dream of becoming a writer who had barely left the palanquin where he loaded the fishhad taken off his short kimono without working lapels and gone to Tokyo,” he recalled in 1925 in his first published account.

No title, as it was called, was the chronicle of the relationship between a waitress and a young man with literary aspirations. Like him, Kawasaki had renounced the family legacy and never once again considered his return despite the fact that that almost sickly bet on literature rarely returned him a winning ticket.

Unable to give up his dream

It was in 1929, faced with financial difficulties, that he had to leave Tokyo and return to his home in Odawara. Four years later, his father passed away from stomach cancer, leaving his little brother in charge of the family business. She said goodbye to him with a nice print in The death of my father: “A week before the end, he interlocked his hands to contemplate a little piece of sea beyond the garden, then he put them on his chest and asked to be placed facing the ceiling. He silently prepared himself to die. He did not utter a single word of fear or anguish before an unknown world”.

By then, Kawasaki was already carrying a certain sense of failure, a feeling that, somehow, would end up accompanying him throughout his writing. “It had been ten years since I had left my hometown –he lamented precisely in this text about his father–. In all that time, despite having taken my path, I had not managed to build a reputation, earn a decent living, lead a stable existence, my parents’ last hope, after all, for their rebellious son. He was already in his thirties and still single. He lacked enough talent to make money and the time of hardship we were living had forced me to return to my city on more than two occasions, unable to afford the rent of the room they rented in the guest house in Tokyo where I was staying”.

It was on one of those trips to his hometown, possibly, that Kawasaki showed his father a magazine with one of his stories. “How much do you make on that?” he recounted that he had asked her. “For better or for worse, literature was the only thing I had in life. Merchants are often belittled by people in the culture for their obsession with money. My parents behaved no differently. They understood my vocation as a simple way to earn a living, without much significance. And I ended up developing an inferiority complex with respect to them, precisely because of my way of life, “he reflected in his writings.

Literary difficulties and his service in the war

In 1934 he published his first book and also began collaborating with a news agency. A finalist for the Akutagawa Prize – Japan’s most prestigious literary award – as early as 1936, his anthology Dead flowerswhere he described the drama of the prostitutes in the Tamanoi pleasure district, was well received.

So did its later title, bare tree (1939), where he was inspired by the film director Yasujirō Ozu to build one of his characters. The Japanese filmmaker, whom he had once met at a spa, had a peculiar relationship: both shared, for almost a decade, their attraction to the same geisha, which led the writer to compose a series of stories under the title ozu-series.

Later, he narrated on the edge of the road“one of his classmates won the Akutagawa Award and became a celebrity in the world. He was not so lucky. He lost his job, he was abandoned, he sank into darkness. He hardly received two or three commissions from literary magazines throughout the year and they paid him very little money. The situation forced him to recognize how limited his talent was.”

In the 1940s, during the Pacific War, he was recruited to clean ditches and carry crates. “Before receiving the mobilization order, he dedicated himself to writing novels, but, since that was not enough to eat, he also collaborated with a news agency, and thus he barely supported himself,” he recounted in Private–. After living in Tokyo for a while he had returned to his hometown, where he had settled in a shack. (…) From time to time he received settlements for the rights to his novels and, barely drinking alcohol, subjected to persistent poverty that had ended up becoming an existential condition for him, he spent his days “.

However, at that time, the economic precariousness and the policy of restricting the use of paper imposed by the Japanese Government throughout the country made the agency he worked for begin to reject his texts. “That’s when he was called up. Whatever happened, he thought, at least they would feed him. Mistaking the draft for unemployment assistance, he showed up in Yokosuka after saying goodbye to a couple of friends.

The years of success, a fashion author

From 1950, things improved for Kawasaki, who came to refer to his vocation as a “literary fanaticism”. Not in vain, following that youthful dream had led her to live precariously in more than one period of his life. But with the end of the war, and the prosperity of the publishing industry, the wind changed course for the writer, who finally achieved the desired popularity, although that did not make him change his austere habits.

“At night, under the light of a thick candle, I wrote by hand about the rogues, about their nocturnal adventures, their feelings, their life hidden in the light of day, as if they had no other choice,” he said. skin contact and returned to Makocho, the prostitute district, where I struck up a few passing relationships, writing his reservations about my fifty-year-old bachelor days paying prostitutes and living in a shabby shack. For some reason, my writing caught the attention of some onlookers and I made a name for myself. I dare to say that I was even a bit fashionable“.

were the years of Mako Cho (1950), a book of stories set in the pleasure district of Odawara, based on his own encounters with prostitutes. “For a long time Ogawa had only been a being set aside in a corner, but at last he was beginning to enjoy a certain recognition earned by persistence -he would tell later-. He was around fifty and still had a little money left over after eating his chirashidon always”.

He continued, yes, living in his little corner with a zinc roof and writing his novels under the light of a thick candle, but something had changed. “One month of July, already over sixty years old, she stopped writing about her relationships with women and with prostitutes. He married a woman thirty years youngerrented two rooms attached to a ryokan, two kilometers north of Kamonomiya station, and there he formed a new, twilight family. For better or worse, the reality of people’s lives surpasses any attempt of the imagination, “she reflected.

Later he would publish successful titles such as The marriage of a bachelor Y The Thirty Year Old Widow (1962), related to his married and family life. At the age of sixty-five, the writer suffered a stroke that left the right half of his body paralyzed. “It wasn’t serious, though. He was admitted to the hospital unconscious and remained there for two months. Before being discharged she could already walk with the help of a cane and had no speech difficulties. He just felt a dull pain, like an electric shock in the middle of his body that went first to his head and then down to the tips of his toes, “she described.

Despite this, he did not stop writing. “When he was unable to hold her pen with his right hand paralyzed with pain,” she shared, “he would grab it with his left and carry on.” In the last years of his life he gained recognition in the form of various literary awards.

Trapped by the vocation of literature, it was in the first of his stories, in No title, when Kawasaki wrote one of the sentences that, in part, summarized its entire essence. “When she was in her humble three-tatami room in the guest house,” she had said, “he would forget about Oyasu, he grabbed his pen without thinking about anything else and was excited about the possibility of writing something goodeven if it was only once”. That enthusiasm, for better or for worse, accompanied him throughout his life. And there were many times when he achieved it. He died in 1985 of pneumonia.

We want to give thanks to the author of this short article for this remarkable material

Chotaro Kawasaki, the Japanese writer who wrote by candlelight on beer crates