People and Culture
From Literary Study to Cultural Study
Takeshi Oshino , Professor
Graduate School of Letters (Department of Humanities and Human Sciences, Faculty of Letters)
High school : Yamagata Prefectural Sagae High School
Academic background : Graduate School of Arts and Letters, Tohoku University
- Research areas
- Modern Japanese literature, Cultural Studies, Subculture Studies
- Research keywords
- literary theories, modern art theories, media mix, mystery
What kind of research are you involved in?
My research focuses on Japanese literature since the Meiji Period. I have shed light on the characteristics of the works of Natsume Soseki, Miyazawa Kenji, Sakaguchi Ango and other writers representing the Meiji, Taisho, and Showa periods respectively through comparison with their historical background and other contemporary writers. Interpretation and evaluation of works change with the times. Why does their interpretation change? Why did certain works receive a high evaluation that made them find a place in the literary history? I studied the history of appreciation of literary works. My goal is cultural studies that are not limited to literary studies in the narrow sense but also cover social status of literature at the time.
Why has Soseki come to be called a national writer? How has the saint image of Kenji been formed? Why did Ango become popular as an anti-conventional writer? I am interested not only in analysis of the content of their works but also their relation with the culture and ideas of the age beyond literature, and further in the image of writers formed in their media and other environments. For example, photographic portraits of writers have greatly contributed to their impression. Visual images also often determine the image of the work.
How do you carry out your research?
Literature –related books and materials
How we read a work greatly differs depending on the medium we use. Readers who read Soseki’s novel every day as a serial story on Asahi Shimbun that first published the novel must have had an impression different from that on readers who read the novel as a complete book. What illustrations accompany what scenes also changes the impression. Because Kenji was a nameless writer during his lifetime, most of his works including Ginga Tetsudo no Yoru (Night on the Galactic Railroad) were not made public and left as manuscripts. Furthermore, Kenji rewrote his works repeatedly leaving versions with different endings. You may read Ginga Tetsudo no Yoru differently depending on what version you read. Works circulate also through media mix including movies, animations and comics produced based on them.
Novels change their nature due to the influence of visual media including movies. Today, novels such as light novels that use a large number of illustrations rather than words to visually and efficiently express characters and have easy-to-comprehend story development are popular among young people. Importance of illustration was recognized especially during the Taisho Period. Looking at the cover pages and illustrations of boys’ and girls’ magazines at the time, you can see that the prototypes of today’s pretty boys and girls were formed during the period. I continue literary studies as media mix studies, while looking at the characteristics of print media and visual media as well as differences between them. I believe that this approach will enable revaluation of the genres positioned as subculture including comics, animations and games.
What is the future direction of your research?
Subject of past literary studies were mostly pure literature, but the genre concept to classify literary works into pure literature and popular literature is a historical product. Mysteries have not been studied much because they are classified as popular literature for entertainment.
However, detective stories of Edogawa Ranpo, for example, are precious works for social and historical sciences because they truly reflect the culture at that time. I am also interested in the history of mysteries. Why only few Western-style detective stories focused on logical problem solving were written in Japan before and during the war, whereas bizarre and fantastic detective stories were popular? Why serious detective stories started to appear after the war?
Ango has a strong image of Burai-ha writer but he also wrote superb detective stories including The Non-serial Murder Incident (Furenzoku satsujin jiken) just after the war. Not only physical tricks set by the perpetrator against the detectives but also descriptive tricks set by the author against readers provide clues also when reading novels other than detective stories. Kokoro of Soseki is intriguing also when it is read as a detective story where the young protagonist searches for the secret in the past of Sensei.
My goal is to write a history of Japanese mysteries that have a unique history covering also contemporary mysteries featuring detectives with supernatural power.
Reprints of a girls’ magazine before the war and a girls’ comic after the war
(1) Takeshi Oshino, The Aesthetic of Miyazawa Kenji (Miyazawa Kenji no bigaku) Kanrin Shobo, 2000
(2) Takeshi Oshino, Genealogy of Soseki, Kenji, Ango - authority of literature (Bungaku no kenn?: S?seki, Kenji, Ango no keifu) Kanrin Shobo, 2009
(3) Written and edited by Takeshi Oshino and others, Reading Japanese Detective Stories (Nihon tantei shosetsu wo yomu) Hokkaido University Press, 2013