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Campus Now

Autumn Issue (Nov. 2013)


Waseda Literature

From the founding of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences by Shoyo Tsubouchi, the start of the literary magazine “Waseda Bungaku” to the production of countless literary award-winners, editors and researchers, Waseda has placed its mark on the world’s “literature.”
This article examines the tradition of “Waseda literature” which has been created by such cultural intellectuals.
Join us as we investigate the appeal of “Waseda literature” which is the pride of everyone associated with our university.

Three-way discussion

The appeal of Waseda literature that cultural intellectuals discuss

A three-way discussion was held by Professor Toshiyuki Horie (Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences), Professor Hirokazu Toeda (Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences), and Mr. Masashi Matsuie (Waseda graduate, an editor and author). A wide range of topics were discussed including the appeal of “Waseda literature,” its effect on the literary world, and future developments.

People gathering at Waseda

——Thank you for joining today’s discussion. I’ve heard that you are all already familiar with each other. To start, please introduce yourself to our readers and discuss your recent activities.

Toeda: In the undergraduate school, I teach in the literature and journalism studies at the School of Culture, Media and Society—the same department where Mr. Horie teaches. In the graduate school, I teach a course in Japanese Language and Literature at the Graduate School of Letters, Arts and Sciences. My area of expertise is modern Japanese literature. Recently, together with my acquaintances at Columbia University, I edited the book “Censorship, Media, and Literary Culture in Japan” (2012), and wrote the critical biography “Shigeo Iwanami” (2013).

Matsuie: When I was a student, there was no “studies” like the one that you currently teach.

Toeda: The term “studies” refers to developing new areas of learning while engaging in creative discussion. Mr. Horie, in addition to winning the Akutagawa Prize for your work “Kuma-no-Shikiishi” (2001), you have written many other books and are active as a translator and researcher.

Horie: Originally, I conducted research on French literature. While teaching the French language and doing translations, I gradually shifted to writing myself. Mr. Matsuie, after graduating from university, you spent many years working as an editor at a publishing company. Today, you now write books yourself.

Matsuie: After graduating university in 1982, I entered Shinchosha Publishing Co., Ltd. For 28 years, I worked as an editor of literary and academic works. During my 3rd year at university, I applied for the Bungakukai Prize for New Writers and received Honorable Mention. As a result, I had the opportunity to publish a series of short novels. However, I was unable to write any further works and worried over my career path after graduation. Ultimately, I attended university for a total of 5 years. After leaving my job at Shinchosha Publishing, I was finally able to write the first long novel entitled “Kazan-no-Fumoto De” (2012).

Horie: It took me a long time to become an author in the true sense of the word; in other words, to write books which bring me satisfaction. I believe that this perseverance is an aspect of “Waseda literature.”

——“Literature” has been an extremely important part of Waseda ever since Shoyo Tsubouchi founded the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. What is your view of “Waseda literature”?

Toeda: “Waseda literature” is a term of broad diversity and great depth. In contrast to the terms “Waseda University literature” and the magazine “Waseda Bungaku,” it indicates “literature” which was born from some relationship with the environment known as “Waseda.” Of course, in addition to literary figures who get involved in “literature” after graduating from Waseda University or leaving school early, there are writers who are active while possessing some relationship with the magazine “Waseda Bungaku” or the Waseda campus without entering Waseda University. In all, the term “Waseda literature” refers to the appealing works created by people who gather in the “Waseda environment.”

Matsuie: Although more than 30 years have passed since I graduated, the “Waseda environment” remained at the base of my consciousness. When I visited Waseda once per week as a teacher, I was surprised at how my forgotten memories came back. While strolling through campus, I could almost hear conversations that I had once had with friends and older students, and words of advice from my teachers.

Horie: In addition to written works, all faculty members and students give form to “Waseda literature.” It creates a concept of “space”—an idea linked to the architectural office which appears in Mr. Matsuie’s work “Kazan-no-Fumoto De.”

“Anti-elitist philosophy” for creating new ideas

——What is the appeal of “Waseda literature?”

Mr. Masashi Matsui

Matsuie: Waseda literature may exist in unseen form within the “Waseda environment.” For me, climbing the slope which leads to the grounds of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences was part of the ritual of entering this “environment.” Today, from the Toyama Cafeteria to the Toyama Library, the campus offers more places where students can find private time—this makes me a little jealous. When I was a student, I felt like there was nowhere for me to spend time by myself.

Horie: On the other hand, there are some positive things which come from a lack of private space. As a teacher, I entered the school building for the first time in 20 years. When I was a student, I spent my free time at the vending machines on the corners from Building No. 31 to Building No. 33. I vividly remembered my fondness for the lack of private space—the low ceilings and linoleum floor in front of the vending machines. Even today, people still gather in such narrow spaces to create new environments.

Toeda: “Environments” and “somatic sensation” are very important. I sometimes walk to Waseda from the Kudanshita or Iidabashi neighborhoods of Chiyoda City. These walks allow me to relive the sensations of urban spaces from Tokyo’s past. At the very least, from the Meiji Period until the early Showa Period, Waseda was positioned as the “suburbs” separated from central Tokyo (Chiyoda City). Just as portrayed in Mr. Horie’s novel “Kogai E” (1995) which was set in the Paris suburbs, the “suburbs” are a place where many changes take place. Masuji Ibuse, Riichi Yokomitsu and Ranpo Edogawa are the authors who began writing after moving to Tokyo from rural areas. These authors gathered at Waseda in the “suburbs” and gave birth to new creativity. In Waseda, these young people coming to Tokyo felt nostalgia like their home.

Horie: The term “northwest” from the phrase “Northwest of City” refers to the sense of freedom which exists outside the boundaries of central Tokyo (Chiyoda City). In other words, it refers to being an anti-elitist. Although that image seems to have waned recently, the spirit of “anti-elitist philosophy” still exists on campus. In my opinion, maintaining this philosophy is of the utmost importance.

Matsuie: I was born and raised in Tokyo. I felt that I could not compare myself to my classmates who had come from rural areas and lived by themselves at boarding houses and dormitories for students from the same prefectures. I remember how overwhelmed I was by the force of students from rural areas when I went to a party shortly after entering Waseda University. “This is the power of Waseda!” I thought at that time. Waseda is like a salad bowl in which each ingredient stays original and emits its own unique flavor. I believe that this contributes to the appeal of “Waseda literature.”

Horie: Students coming from rural areas possessed a power developed to compensate for their lack of information. There were also many faculty members who grew up in rural areas. I remember there was understanding for a “unique situation” in which students would speak in the intonations of their hometowns, but would use standard Japanese when writing papers.

Toeda: Recently at Waseda, the number of students from the metropolitan area is increasing while the number of students from rural areas is decreasing. This is bad for both the university and for “Waseda literature.” Gathering and interaction among people with different languages and cultures is essential to creating something new. Conversely, the increase in foreign students is a very positive trend for Waseda.

Matsuie: The increase in foreign students will undoubtedly bring new energy to Waseda.

Refining Japanese language through “literature”

Toeda: Recently, many novels written by Japanese authors are being read throughout the world. Some examples are works by Yoko Tawada, Yoko Ogawa and Haruki Murakami. Today, Japanese students can engage in real-time discussion of Japanese novels with their friends from overseas—something that was unthinkable in the past. Japanese literature is steadily spreading throughout the world.

Horie: Although there are some Japanese authors who write directly in foreign languages—for example, Yoko Tawada writes in German—the presence of highly-skilled translators is extremely important. On the other hand, perhaps a factor in the appeal of “Waseda literature” is that our authors do not spend much time studying foreign languages! The study of French literature does not necessarily require students to become absorbed in the French language. When I was a student, studying a foreign language was seen as a tool for “refining Japanese language skills.”

Toeda: The acquirement of foreign language skills is not the only objective of studying foreign languages. It is also required for the process of transforming one’s native tongue into brilliant language.

Horie: It is difficult to define a “skill in language.”

Toeda: A professor at Harvard University once told me the following. “When discussing a skill in language, some people are skilled at speaking while others are good at listening. On the other hand, there are some people who are not good at writing but are skilled readers. Not many people are skilled in all four areas. If you are good at one of the four areas of speaking, listening, writing or reading, then you are skilled at language.”

Horie: The same holds true for literature. Some people are proficient readers. Other people are good at writing despite being poor readers. Even when the fundamentals are the same, each person displays their talents in different areas. For example, students who read proficiently but cannot write a coherent thesis might be successful as an editor who reads with great care. If students are able to understand their areas of proficiency while studying at Waseda, they will have successful careers no matter what occupation they choose.

“Literature” born from severe freedom

——Waseda has produced countless “literary” professionals. How do you view Waseda’s influence on the literary world?

Matsuie: There are an amazing number of Waseda graduates in the publishing industry. At “Shincho Crest Books,” I was surprised to learn that many of the top salespeople and reviewers had studied at Waseda. The same was true for many editors at the magazine “Geijutsu Shincho.” However, I never looked at my affiliation with “Waseda” as an advantage while working. Upon entering working society, each person must rely solely upon their own ability.

Horie: There is no sense of belonging in “literary” circles. There is nothing like unique color. Many Waseda faculty members are graduates of other universities. “Waseda literature” does not hide in the confines of our university; rather, it actively seeks to incorporate outside influences.

Professor Hirokazu Toeda (Faculty of Letters, Arts and Science

Toeda: It is meaningless to rely upon one’s affiliation with “Waseda.” This is readily apparent when going overseas.

Matsuie: There are many Waseda graduates who have become successful authors. A few examples are Haruki Murakami, whose books are read throughout the world, Yoko Tawada, who is active in Germany, and Mr. Horie. One thing that all these authors have in common is that they have blazed their own trail.

Horie: Each author has arrived in their current position by working in their own style. Although the “essence of Waseda” may be felt afterwards, it is in no way a starting point. Furthermore, the influence of literature is not readily apparent. Although students are unaware at the time, they are influenced by the books which they read at university, the place where they read those books, and the words and expressions of teachers. This influence gradually becomes apparent with the passage of time.

Toeda: Although Waseda does not conduct education with the objective of producing famous authors, Waseda graduates have won the Akutagawa Prize and Naoki Prize more times than those from any other university. As a result, it is true that Waseda has great influence on the literary world.

——How does the “freedom” of Waseda act upon “literature”?

Matsuie: During my 5 years at university, I learned firsthand that I had to blaze my own path in life—no one was going to do it for me. Within the “freedom” of Waseda, students must discover how and what to study, as well as a focus for directing their energy.

Toeda: When Mr. Horie and I were students, no one was forced to go to university. Rather, there was a “free” atmosphere in which kindred spirits gathered at university, held discussion with faculty members, and sought to gain something from the experience.

Horie: Even so, “freedom” at that time was quite server. Professor Tokuyoshi Hiraoka, an instructor of French literature, is famous for saying the following to his students: “You come to class every week, but when do you learn?” In other words, students who did not come to class were not viewed as lazy; rather, it was expected that students became absorbed in some sort of outside activity. The freedom at that time was like a coherent and silent pressure within an unbridled environment. That was the freedom which existed at Waseda. I hope that today’s students are conscious of inheriting that freedom.

Matsuie: I know that Waseda students will not let anything interfere with their discovery of interesting things.

Toeda: In my opinion, Waseda literature is realized through the “freedom” of creating diverse expressions while interacting with a variety of phenomena, instead of specializing solely in something.

The future of “Waseda literature”

——What are you doing to ensure the existence of “Waseda literature” in the future?

Horie: Compare the state of being alone while also having connections with others and the state of being completely alone from the very beginning. These two types of solitude have different qualities. These different qualities also affect the reception of written works. Moreover, when reading early modern Japanese literature, there is sometimes a lack of understanding towards the lack of freedom in everyday life. In addition to reading today’s written works, it is necessary to maintain a dialogue with past authors and works. The future must be an extension of the past.

Matsuie: Recently, I hear the term “communication ability” everywhere I go. I believe that students should make time to hold dialogue with themselves while at university. While at university, I sometimes ate and spent many hours at the library alone. There is no need to seek company from fear of being alone. Time spent by yourself will produce thankfulness for the presence of others.

Professor Toshiyuki Horie (Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences)

Horie: It seems that students today are afraid of devoting their time to a single pursuit. I often hear students asking for shortcuts—“How should I study?” “How many years will it take?” Instead of looking for a quick fix, it is important for students to find a method which works for themselves. It is not a question of efficiency. That’s why I stress the idea of going outside of the system or going to the suburbs, in other words, “anti-elitist philosophy”.

Matsuie: Today, all of society starts by looking for a conclusion. Conversely, for students who want to follow their own path, there is still freedom at Waseda. I hope that this freedom will be preserved. After all, once students graduate from university, they will enter a society where there is nothing to depend on but themselves.

Toeda: Waseda is the perfect environment for learning that nothing can be accomplished without first cultivating personal ability.

Horie: Students are naïve when entering university. Through trial and error, they awaken to the world around them. Indeed, the appeal of Waseda is how our school teaches students to “open their eyes and see their surroundings.”

Toeda: In addition to authors, Waseda has produced a variety of literary professionals from editors to proofreaders, critics, researchers, and teachers at junior high schools and high schools. This is a source of great pride for our university. I hope that this tradition will continue in the future.

Horie: Ultimately, both students and faculty members teach and are taught while they continue learning what, in a certain meaning, will not end during their lifetime. The greatest advantage of Waseda is that our faculty members are currently engaged in research and do not rest on their laurels of past study in a certain field. In particular, Waseda has a large number of active writers. Interaction with such instructors spurs students to dream of writing their own works. Furthermore, by seeing their instructors struggle with their writing, students learn that some things cannot be understood even after countless years of study.

Toeda: It is important to convey our experiences to younger generations.

Matsuie: Without realizing anything, the tradition of Waseda has cultivated “Waseda literature.” Today is an age of rapid change. However, there is no need to align our axis with that of society. Instead of giving detailed instruction, Waseda University takes a step back so that students can think and act independently. Although this approach may make parents feel uneasy, no one is going to constantly take care of their children after they enter society. While at university, it is important for students to develop the initiative of blazing their own path. I hope that Waseda University will maintain the same firm position that it has taken in the past.

——Thank you very much for your time today.

Masashi Matsuie

Born in Tokyo in 1958. Author and editor. After graduating from the School of Letters, Arts and Sciences I, Waseda University, entered employment at Shinchosha Publishing Co., Ltd. Involved in the publishing of the overseas literary series “Shincho Crest Books” and the quarterly journal “Kangaeru Hito.” After serving as an editor for “Kangaeru Hito” and “Geijutsu Shincho,” left Shinchosha Publishing in 2010. In 2009, Appointed as Special Visiting Professor at Keio University. In 2012, published his debut long novel “Kazan-no-Fumoto De” (Shinchosha Publishing Co., Ltd.). In 2013, won the 64th Yomiuri Prize for Literature. His recent works include “Shizumu Francis” (Shinchosha Publishing Co., Ltd., 2013).

Hirokazu Toeda (Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences)

Born in Tokyo in 1964. Graduated from the School of Letters, Arts and Sciences I, Waseda University. Completed the Doctoral Program in Japanese literature at the Graduate School of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University. Served as Assistant Professor at Otsuma Women’s University and Associate Professor at Waseda University before assuming his current position in 2003. Won the Utsubo Kubota Prize for Literature in 1994. His recent works include “Shigeo Iwanami—Live Humble, Dream Big” (Minerva Shobo, 2013), “Intersection of Film and Literature” (author and editor, Shinwasha, 2011), “Survey of Magazines during Occupation—Literary Edition” (co-author/editor, Iwanami Shoten Publishers, 2009-2010), and “Masterpieces Can Be Made—Yasunari Kawabata and His Works” (NHK Publishing Inc., 2009), etc.

Toshiyuki Horie (Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences)

Born in Gifu Prefecture in 1964. Graduated from the School of Letters, Arts and Sciences I, Waseda University. Studied in the Doctoral Program at the Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology, the University of Tokyo. Studied in the Doctoral Program at the University of Paris III. Served as Assistant Professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology and as Professor at the School of Science and Technology, Meiji University before assuming his current position in 2007. Published his debut novel “Kogai E” in 1995. Has won numerous literary awards including the 2001 Akutagawa Prize for his work “Kuma-no-Shikiishi,” the 2004 Tanizaki Prize for his work “Yukinuma to Sono Shuhen,” and the 2013 Mainichi Literary Prize for his work “Furiko de Kotoba wo Saguru Yo Ni.”