Set against the modernization of Japan and World War II, the personal diary of Jun'ichiro Tanizaki's early years offers a moving look at one of Japan's modern novelists.
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Paul McCarthy is Professor Emeritus of Comparative Culture at Surugadai University, Saitama, Japan. He has translated Tanizaki's “The Little Kingdom,” “Professor Rado,” and A Cat, a Man, and Two Women, which won the Japan-America Friendship Commission Prize. He co-translated with Anthony H. Chambers the story collections Red Roofs and Other Stories and The Gourmet Club, a Sextet, also by Tanizaki. He has translated short story collections by Nakajima Atsushi (The Moon over the Mountain, with Nobuko Ochner) and Kanai Mieko (The Word Book), 101 Modern Japanese Poems, and two volumes of Shiba Ryotaro‘s Clouds above the Hill.
The earthquake struck at around two o'clock in the afternoon when the exchange was very crowded, with groups of rice dealers filling the streets and the shops and offices that lined them. I had just come back from school and was having a dish of sweet bean paste and shaved ice in the kitchen. As soon as I felt the quake, I dashed outside. The streets in the back section of the rice dealers' area, where our shop was, were much narrower than those in other parts; and I was terrified of being crushed if the houses on either side collapsed. I ran for my life to the wide road that separated l-chome and 2-chome and stood right in the middle of the intersection where one turned off on the way to the Tanizaki Printers.
Only then did I notice my mother: had she been with me all along, or had she only now caught up with me? I found her hugging me tightly as we stood there together. The first violent up-and-down movement had ceased, but the ground was still undulating in great, slow waves. From where we stood huddling together, the surface of Ningyo-cho Avenue about one block away seemed to rise and sink, over and over again. My face was pressed against my mother. Her kimono had come open at the neck, and the whiteness of her breasts blocked the fearful scene before me. Suddenly I became aware that I had a writing brush gripped tightly in my right hand. (I had, I know, been eating an ice when the earthquake came and, throwing it down, had dashed out of the house. How, then, did this brush come to be in my hand? Why had I picked it up, and when?...) As we stood in the middle of the intersection, holding on to one another as we swayed back and forth, I began to move the brush, tracing lines in black ink upon my mother's breasts.
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