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Barbara Schmidt <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 11 Oct 2005 17:34:12 -0500
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The following book review was written for the Mark Twain Forum by Martin


Ishihara, Tsuyoshi. _Mark Twain in Japan: The Cultural Reception of an
American Icon_. University of Missouri Press, 2005. Pp. xix + 178.
Hardcover. $34.95. ISBN 0-8262-1590-4.

Many books reviewed on the Forum are available at discounted prices from
the TwainWeb Bookstore, and purchases from this site generate commissions
that benefit the Mark Twain Project. Please visit

Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by:
Martin Zehr
Kansas City, Missouri

Copyright (c) 2005 Mark Twain Forum. This review may not be published or
redistributed in any medium without permission.

_Mark Twain in Japan_ offers a perspective on Twain studies more unique
than even its title implies. Twain scholars are used to successive trends
in the analysis and interpretation of Twain's writings in the United
States, all which have been predicated, at least implicitly, on the
assumption that his writing was grounded on his capacity to divine and
express a distinctly American viewpoint of his own culture and history.
Professor Ishihara's book, on the other hand, is a case study of the impact
of a foreign culture and history on Twain's writings, an impact that, as he
illustrates, transforms Twain's writings in a manner and degree rendering
them, at times, almost unrecognizable to American readers. The
globalization of American popular culture, and its icons, as this book
amply indicates, is not a one-way street, but a fluid process that, in our
present era of instant worldwide communication, ultimately affects and
informs the American view of its own products.

Ishihara's primary focus is the reception of Twain's work by the general
public in Japan and the accommodations required of Japanese writers in
their respective eras to render these writings acceptable and
comprehensible to their readership. In a chapter titled "What Happened to
Huck?" he presents a critical examination of Kuni Sasaki's _Huckleberry
Monotagari_ (_The Tale of Huckleberry_, 1921), an early and typical example
of what he refers to as the "Japanization" of Twain's writings. This
adaptation of _Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_ is completely devoid of the
vernacular voice of Huck, partly because there was, at the time, no
tradition of colloquial speech in Japanese literature. In addition, Huck's
voice, as well as his behavior generally, was considered violative of the
"genteel" tradition in Japanese literature, much as it was considered
"vulgar" by the arbiters of American literary culture in 1885. Thus, the
reader of Sasaki's translation, oriented to a juvenile audience, would have
become acquainted with a Huck who is "an uncritical sentimentalist," who is
incapable of stealing and who, in the penultimate act of rebellion, tearing
up the letter informing Miss Watson of the whereabouts of Jim, justifies
himself by declaring that "I want to be a good boy."  This portrayal
constitutes a complete negation of Twain's conception of Huck's struggle
representing the clash of a "sound heart and a deformed conscience," in
which Huck knowingly rejects the conventional notion of what constitutes,
and what he himself recognizes, as the "good." More conspicuous is Sasaki's
minimization or complete neglect of Twain's satirical views of slavery and
racism. According to Ishihara's analysis, Twain's more vivid depictions of
racism were omitted from Sasaki's work, not only out of a presumed
deference to his juvenile readers, but as a result of Japan's "long history
of racism," toward blacks, as adopted from white American culture, and
against minority populations in Japan. Thus, finally, Sasaki's "sugarcoated not the _Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_ Twain wrote."

The discussion of Jiro Osaragi's "samurai version" of _The Prince and the
Pauper_, titled _Hanamaru Kotorimaru_ highlights a different source of
distortion of Twain's work with which English-language readers have not had
to contend. This was the imposition, explicit and otherwise, of an
obligation to avoid any implied criticism of the nationalistic and
militaristic government of Imperial Japan during the '30s and '40s. In this
era of anti-American sentiment, _Hanamaru Kotorimaru_, then the
most-published of Twain's works in Japan, was altered to eliminate the
democratic and antifeudalistic elements of Twain's original and instead
emphasize the hierarchical and tradition-bound values of a pre-war and
wartime Japan in which the Emperor is deified. Osaragi, a popular novelist
of the period, was likely sympathetic to Twain's attitudes toward social
injustice, but, according to Ishihara's account, had to write a story of
personal moral development, ignoring the larger implications of Twain's
story and any hint of satire. Thus, in the context of Japan's rigid social
stratification, Osiragi's prince, Hanamaru, grows mentally and physically
as a result of his experience while Tom Canty, in the guise of Kotorimaru,
is fearful in his princely role, and concludes that "It's better for a
pauper to live as a pauper."  Didacticism in service of the political
education of Japan's youth is a pervasive value in children's literature of
this era, literally dictating the rewriting of Twain's story in a manner
that would be unrecognizable, in its essence, to its author. One notable
exception to the distortion of Twain's works during this period was a
translation of _Huckleberry Finn_ in 1941 by Tameji Nakamura, the edition
which was read by nine-year-old Kenzaburo Oe after being described by his
mother as "...the best novel for a child or for an adult."

The years of "American democratization" immediately following the Second
World War, in Professor Ishihara's account, are characterized by a form of
control, exercised by the American-dominated General Headquarters (GHQ)
which, while not as strict as the regime which preceded it, had very real
consequences for children's literature in general, and for Mark Twain's
writings in particular. In this "cultural climate of democratization,"
numerous editions of Twain's works were published, and translations of _The
Adventures of Tom Sawyer_ and _Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_ supplanted
_The Prince and the Pauper_ in popularity in occupied Japan. The impetus
for this development was the desire to promulgate the values of individual
freedom and rebellion exemplified by the respective protagonists, but, as
Ishihara makes clear, the confluence of occupation influences and
deep-seated Japanese cultural values nevertheless had a noticeable impact
on the Mark Twain with which the post-war generation became acquainted.
GHQ's censorship branch, for example, minimized or deleted many of the
references to violence in the originals of these two books in an attempt to
foster a rejection of the militarism of the wartime era. Simultaneously, in
a country where social upheaval and displacement had suddenly appeared,
bowdlerization of Twain's books was deliberately focused on the goal of
eliminating references that "might help to justify juvenile delinquency
among street children."  Translators routinely avoided "vulgar" language or
portrayals of Huck stealing, as before the war, and Huck even becomes a
non-smoker in both books, a reformation most American readers would find
mildly abhorrent. The "genteel" culture described by Ishihara also persists
in the reluctance to depict expressions of affection, at a time when
Japanese filmmakers had undergone a liberation in this regard following
their exposure to contemporary American movies. In this period, the
democratization represented by Huck and Tom as free spirits is accompanied
by open references to the issue of slavery, albeit in a simplistic manner
in which hints of irony are still absent, e.g., when Huck decides to "go to
hell" in Keisuke Tsutsui's _Huckleberry no Boken_ (_Adventures of
Huckleberry_, 1948), he asserts, without hint of conflict, "All right. I
can't let Jim be a slave anymore. Jim is not a slave. He is my friend. I
will do whatever I can to help Jim out of slavery."  Despite these striking
modifications of what most American scholars would interpret as Twain's
original intent, the post-war period in Japan is marked by a sharp increase
in additions of his work, fostered partly by the intent of the GHQ to use
literature as propaganda for democracy. It is notable, however, that the
Japanese readers during these years appreciated the release from fanatic
nationalism provided by Twain's humor, the wit and implicit ridicule of
their own "conventional moral ethics," and even the opportunity to identify
with a member of the lower class like Huck, at a time when the majority of
the Japanese population was still in the throes of economic privation
resulting from the destruction of their industrial infrastructure.

The final section of Ishihara's book is devoted to the impact of a
contemporary contribution of Japanese media culture, _anime_ (animation),
illustrating the most recent development in the incorporation of American
culture and the manner in which this new medium is used to transform
Twain's works. Ishihara notes that _anime_ in Japan has, to a great extent,
replaced literature as a form of narrative entertainment for children and
it is no surprise that the last quarter century has seen a number of
adaptations of _The Adventures of Tom Sawyer_ and _Adventures of
Huckleberry Finn_. The _anime_ version of _Huckleberry Finn_ is as
simplistic as his literary predecessors, but at times shows an aggressive
side consistent with a cartoon action hero. This Huck is capable, for
example, of joining the mob in the final denouement of the King and the
Duke, brandishing a stick and jettisoning the abhorrence of violence
generally demonstrated by Twain's original. _Anime_ Huck is an
uncomplicated antiracist, while Jim demonstrates an independent streak and
an openly expressed distrust of the white race and Pap, incredibly, is
portrayed in one _anime_ version as an innocent victim of the harsh
realities of the American frontier, eliciting affection from Huck. The
_anime_ is a form of family entertainment in Japan, thus requiring
sentimentalizing of family relationships and simple characterizations. The
_anime_, however, unlike prior Japanese media, is a form created for both a
domestic and potential global audience. As such, it has been necessary for
its creators to be sensitive to the cultural boundaries of export targets.
This requirement has, for example, necessitated particular attention to the
portrayal of Jim in a manner which actually de-emphasizes his race, for
fear of offending American audiences.

Other modern transmutations of Twain's works, such as the stage version of
the American musical _Big River_, tend to perpetuate some of the qualities
seen in the _anime_ and literary counterparts, e.g., the nearly complete
neglect of any suggestion of social satire. Nevertheless, Ishihara
expresses an optimism regarding Twain's future in Japan, based partly on
the appearance in the last decade of serious studies of Twain in academic
journals and the founding, in 1997, of the Japan Mark Twain Society. New
translations of _Huckleberry Finn_, finally appearing in colloquial
Japanese, and a recently completed translation of the Oxford edition of
Twain's works are harbingers of a new era of Twain scholarship with a
potential effect on his presentation in popular media.

_Mark Twain in Japan_ includes an extensive appendix of translations and
adaptations of his works in twentieth-century Japanese culture as well as
Japanese and English-language bibliographies. It is a well-produced volume,
typical for the Mark Twain and His Circle Series of the University of
Missouri, and well-edited, with one small but noteworthy exception. In the
section on wartime Japan, Ishihara notes that "On December 8, 1941, Japan
attacked Pearl Harbor..."  From his side of the International Date Line,
Professor Ishihara's dating is absolutely correct, but, under the
assumption that the intended primary readership is American, it is a
definite proofreader's _faux pas_ to let an important date such as the "Day
of Infamy" stand uncorrected or, to be accurate, untranslated.

Finally, the publication of _Mark Twain in Japan_ underscores a growing
interchange of Twain scholarship between the United States and regions of
the world which were not visited by even the peripatetic Clemens. Another
example of this interest was noted at the most recent Elmira Mark Twain
Studies Conference, at which six papers were presented in two separate
sessions devoted to Mark Twain and his influence in both Japan and China. A
century after his death, Mark Twain continues to be widely read and
studied, even where obstacles such as idiomatic English, slang, and a Pike
County accent present a challenge, one which professor Ishihara has met
with a particular eloquence of his own.