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Top>People>Lessons from a late-blooming literary figure


Mr. Jiro Asada

Mr. Jiro Asada [Profile]

Lessons from a late-blooming literary figure

Mr. Jiro Asada

Continue resolutely on your path. The Chinese characters for this phrase are engraved on a section of Chuo University Suginami High School.

This phrase was chosen by Jiro Asada as a message to current students. Asada graduated from Suginami High School 40 years ago.

In February of last year, as part of celebrations for the 125th anniversary of Chuo University, a written monument of author Jiro Asada was donated and erected at Chuo University Suginami High School. The monument was a graduation present from the 45th graduating class of Suginami High School. This is the first written monument of Asada. After the unveiling ceremony of the monument, Asada conducted a lecture which was attended by all students at the school. The monument has the phrase "Continue resolutely on your path," which is taken from the Analects of Confucius, engraved on it in calligraphy. The monument is also engraved with a passage from Sokyu-no-Subaru, one of Asada's best-known works.

Continue resolutely on your path

This phrase was taken from Chapter IV of the Analects of Confucius. It continues with "Master's way all comes down to sincerity and benevolence." Although many interpretations exist for the original Chinese phrases the meaning can be summarized as follows: Follow one course of action through to the end. The path of outstanding human beings lies in wholeheartedness.

In his well-known work Sokyu-no-Subaru, Asada has the Chinese general Li Hongzang discuss these words this phrase. The written monument at Suginami High School is engraved with this section of the book, which also closely resembles Asada's way of living.

"It is very important to carry through and complete a single goal," says Asada. "When people are young, they want to try many different things, and that's perfectly fine. However, in the end, people who complete a single goal are successful in life. Young people should find that single goal as soon as possible and then concentrate all of their efforts on completion. This is a good way of living."

Asada wanted to become a novelist ever since he was a young child. He likes books, and says his aspirations began with his fondness for novels and stories. Asada felt that writing his own book would be even more interesting than reading. Ever since that realization, he has truly concentrated all of his effort on writing a vast number of books. Asada says that he has never felt the desire to become something other than an author. He has truly moved forward in the spirit of Continue resolutely on your path.

However, in this world, things never go as planned. Despite continuing to submit manuscripts from a young age, Asada sold his first piece of writing at the age of 35. He was 39 when his first book was published. Asada will turn 60 this year, which means that only about 20 years have passed since he published his first book.

Even so, those 20 years have been very fulfilling for Asada. Although it took time for his talents to be recognized, his many years of paying dues laid the foundation for a rapid rise to prominence. After publishing his first book, he won literary prizes such as the Yoshikawa Eiji Prize for Best New Author, the Naoki Prize and the Shiba Ryotaro Prize. Last year, Sokyu-no-Subaru was adapted into a television drama through joint production between Japan and China.

Searching for a satisfactory answer regarding the death of Yukio Mishima

When discussing the major impetuses which motivated Asada to become a writer, it is impossible to omit the death of Yukio Mishima.

Asada's parents divorced when he a young child. Both of his parents then established separate households, and Asada stopped receiving financial assistance immediately after he finished compulsory education. He then decided to attend Chuo University Suginami High School, which at that time had tuition fees equivalent to public high schools despite being a private high school. Asada attended school while working to pay his tuition. Naturally, his financial situation made it impossible for him to attend university. Asada decided to enter the Japan Self-Defense Forces, an odd choice for someone aspiring to become an author. The biggest reason for this decision was the presence of Yukio Mishima.

"Yukio Mishima is an author who taught me invaluable lessons regarding the beauty of the Japanese language," says Asada. "On November 25th, 1970, a time when I was in limbo after graduating high school, Mishima attempted to start a coup at the Ichigaya Camp of the Japan Self-Defense Forces. He then committed suicide through ritual seppuku. Although this event took place many years ago, people had stopped performing ritual seppuku long before that time, and the event was quite shocking. I searched for the reason behind Mishima's actions, scouring through newspapers and magazines. However, no matter which teacher I consulted or which newspaper I read, I could not find a satisfactory answer. Everyone was simply lamenting the incident without understanding the reason. Since no one would answer my questions, I decided to search with my own eyes. That was the biggest reason that I entered the Self-Defense Forces, and I learned a great many things. I realized what Mishima may have been thinking at that time, and I realized the literary and political meaning of his death. Of course, my current position prevents me from discussing such matters and I have not written about them anywhere. However, I can state with great certainty that my core as a writer is formed from the convictions and decisions which I made during my time in the Self-Defense Forces. Therefore, I believe that I might not have become an author if I had not confronted the death of Yukio Mishima.

The spirit of Continue resolutely on your path can be glimpsed in how Asada refuses to compromise and goes to great extents to confront a problem.

Fervent aspiration to write Sokyu-no-Subaru

Since last year, NHK has broadcasted a drama based on okyu-no-Subaru. Asada wrote this full-length novel when he was still completely unknown. The work took a year and a half to complete. The manuscript for Sokyu-no-Subaru numbered 1,800 pages and was a candidate for the Naoki Prize. However, the book failed to win the prize because it was too long.

"I wasn't concerned with whether anyone read the book or if it won any awards," says Asada. "I just wanted to write it. The reason for my fervent desire to write the book was that Chinese literature was the first impetus which motivated me to become an author. I remember when I first encountered Chinese poetry during my time in junior high school. I was awed that such beautiful writing existed in the world."

Ninety-nine percent of famous Chinese poets were government officials and politicians who had passed the Imperial Examinations for employment in public service. Therefore, in order to understand Chinese literature, it is necessary to study Chinese history at the same time. Asada's interest in Chinese poetry led him to study Chinese history. This knowledge created the basis for his work. It was Asada's aspiration as a Japanese writer to compose a novel set in China. More specifically, instead of writing about the thoroughly documented Three Kingdoms or the preceding Warring States Period, Asada wanted to write a historical novel about the more recent period from the late Qing Dynasty to the beginning of the Republic of China. Sokyu-no-Subaru was the result of this desire. Although adaptation to TV drama was thought to be very difficult due to the grand scale of the work, a dramatic version was realized through cooperation with China.

Asada drink absolutely no alcohol. He says that time spent drinking and being intoxicated is a waste.

He also spends almost no time exchanging emails. It is amazing how he always finds time for 4 or 5 hours of reading every day by eliminating what he has defined as "wasted time" from his lifestyle.

The spirit of Continue resolutely on your path exists behind the late-blooming of this prominent literary figure. Through his unyielding mental energy and power, he has created outstanding literary works for future generations to enjoy.

Mr. Jiro Asada
Born in Tokyo in 1951. Graduated from Chuo University Suginami High School in 1970 and then joined the Japan Self-Defense Forces. Afterwards, continued to submit manuscripts while working a variety of jobs including employment in the apparel industry. In 1991, his work Chikatetsu (Meturo) ni Notte was awarded the Yoshikawa Eiji Prize for Best New Author. Tetsudoin (Poppoya) was awarded the Naoki Prize in 1997, Mibugishiden was awarded the Shibata Renzaburo Prize in 2000, Ohara Meshimase was awarded the Shiba Ryotaro Prize and the Chuokoron Prize in 2006, Chugen-no-Niji was awarded the Yoshikawa Eiji Literary Prize, and Owarazaru Natsu was awarded the Mainichi Shuppan Cultural Award in 2010. His numerous other written works include Sokyu-no-Subaru, Tsubakiyama Kacho no Nanoka-kan, Bara Nusubito, Tsukigami, and Yuebae Tenshi. Sokyu-no-Subaru was adapted into a television drama (25-part series) through joint production between Japan and China. NHK broadcasts the drama in both Japanese and Chinese.