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Join Ogai Mori to Walk in Tokyo with a Map

Kunihiko Nakajima
Professor (Modern Japanese Literature), Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

A Reinterpretation of 2D landscapes

In the late 1880s, or the end of the second decade of the Meiji era, when Shoyo Tsubouchi continued attempting literary innovation, a type of novels called political novels emerged based on Freedom and People's Rights Movement. One of the masterpieces, Plums in the Snow [Secchubai] (1886) written by Teccho Suehiro, begins with an episode in which "a heavy rain the other day broke a cliff in Uguisudani behind Ueno Museum, revealing a stone monument from inside" on the Diet's holiday in the 173rd year of the Meiji era (2040 A.D.!). This is followed by an elaborated introduction of the story that this monument was for commemorating a person who dedicated himself to the establishment of the Diet, and a book about his achievement was finally found in "a library in Ueno." The story then goes on as if the content of that book is described. When I read this novel for the first time as a student, I found the setting of a mysterious thing emerging from a cliff to be intriguing.

There are many modern Japanese novels describing Tokyo. A variety of pleasant things found in them stems not only from the names of many places and abundant depictions of those scenes showing up in the story. Those scenes are embedded in the narrative structure deeply, and interpreting them is also a joyful adventure. Ogai Mori (1862-1922) also wrote many works describing Tokyo, and his memorable pieces include a full-length novel entitled A Young Man [Seinen] (1910-1911), with an opening that features Jun'ichi Koizumi, an aspiring novelist, walking in Tokyo without any difficulty with a Tokyo Grid Map [Tokyo Hogan Zu] in hand, despite it being his first visit to Tokyo from a rural area. In fact, Ogai himself-who learned from western urban maps-invented the Tokyo Grid Map (1909), and it consists of a large single-sheet map and a folded book with an index for finding a place using a town name. This map is indispensable for me when reading novels written in the Meiji era (it was reprinted once by the Museum of Modern Japanese Literature).

While it is a pleasure to read the opening of A Young Man and walk in Hongodai with the main character, I sometimes feel unfortunate when I find no information on the undulating land in the Tokyo Grid Map. Indeed, major cities in Europe have few highs and lows, and the location of a monument indicates the relation between the center and the developed peripheral areas straightforward. To know the Tokyo described in the story, however, we really need a map showing the undulations. It reminds me of the appearance with clear contour lines on a 1/5000 topographical map by the General Staff Office, and a 1/10000 topographical map by the Land Surveying Department, both created in the same era. Jun'ichi Koizumi walks from Nezu Jinja Shrine toward Dangozaka observing the surrounding scene. His eyes catching a variety of things mean that his mind and body are stable. For example, "when I see a house with palanquin-style walls on the left side, I found a gate plate showing the name of a certain Mr. Mouri," and he looks into it, thinking "this must be the house of Oson." In this way, Ogai inserted his own house, where he would live since 1892 until he died, in his own work. Subsequently, this novel describes his mind becoming unsettled, and the scene also starts to change.

The year 2012 is the 150th anniversary of Ogai's birth, and the Bunkyo Ward of Tokyo will renew and reopen the memorial museum of Ogai Mori at the same place in November. While the location of Dangozaka-ue is important, my interest is focused on the geographical conditions in the surrounding area. When I call some of those conditions to mind-the edge of Hongo Plateau, the top of a slope, and the surrounding cliffs-an image appears in my mind like a 3D computer graphic, in which Ogai and the figures in his novels emerge vividly. Tokyo is a city with more undulations than we think. Such rolling hills create a certain drama. Recently, Noriyuki Minagawa's Walk in the Tokyo "Bowl" Topography [Tokyo "Suribachi" Chikei Sanpo] (2012) and a special issue of Tokyojin magazine entitled Tokyo Topography Walk [Tokyo Chikei Sanpo] (August 2012) were published as well. People seem to want new interpretations of landscapes.

Links between Ogai and Kafu

Ogai died on July 9th, and his tomb is located just in front of Osamu Dazai's tomb in Zenrinji Temple in Mitaka, where a memorial service is held to commemorate Dazai's death on June 19th as the Cherry Memorial (Otoki). By a strange coincidence, July 9th is also the death anniversary of Bin Ueda, who is known for his brilliant translation of European poetry. Loving and respecting these two icons, Kafu Nagai wrote in his diary Diary at Danchotei Room [Danchotei Nichijo] that he wanted to pass away on the same date. Kafu Nagai was also very sensitive to the topography of Tokyo. His essay entitled Fairweather Clogs [Hiyorigeta] -which was written in the early Taisho era (1915), and which has the subtitle Also Known as the Record of Walking Alone in Tokyo [Ichimei Tokyo Sansaku Ki] -contains the full names of places in Tokyo that Kafu loved and valued. Interestingly, its unique taxonomy of places includes the item "Cliff." He considers "the side surface of the high land ranging from Ueno to Dokanyama plateau and Asukayama hill" as "the most pictorial example of a cliff," and beautifully depicts the impression of "a single straight road running from near Nezu Gongen Shrine to the top of Dangozaka slope." And what he talks about next is his memory of Ogai's house called Kanchoro, which was located at 21 Sendagicho ahead this road. As Kafu writes "Standing by a handrail on the second floor, I can see the sea far beyond the roofs in the town," Kanchoro-Ogai's study room on the upper floor-was a place that commanded a view of the landscape from a high altitude as well as a unique space that ruled modern Japanese culture. Poetry parties held there were even attended by Takuboku Ishikawa and Mokichi Saito, along with Hiroshi Yosano and Nobutsuna Sasaki.

Since 1920, Kafu Nagai lived in Henkikan, a house in Azabuichibeicho. It was just behind today's Izumi Garden Tower next to the subway station Roppongi-itchome. While there is nothing at all that reminds us of the past, due to a newly built road, the place is located at a high altitude looking down the town below our eyes. The undulations generate psychological emotion. The low land at the base of the cliff was, as a matter of fact, the outskirts of a ghetto in the past. His masterpiece A Strange Tale from East of the River (1937) also has a scene where the main character looks down Tamanoi from the top of a bank. It seems that Kafu learnt this overhead perspective from Ogai. Both Ogai and Kafu, however, had not lost mental tension at such a height. The scenes of altitude gaps in a familiar land, and the existence of cliffs hidden in those scenes, tend to generate the sense of extreme tension among literary people. That is because the spatial cliffs might change into psychological cliffs at any moment to bring about something that threatens us. I believe that modern Japanese literature is a trajectory of sensitively perceiving, and attempting an endless fight against, the existence of cliffs inside the human mind, so to speak.

Kunihiko Nakajima
Professor (Modern Japanese Literature), Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

[Brief Biography]
Born in Tokyo in 1946. Graduated from the doctoral program, Waseda University. PhD in Literature. Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University, and a board member of the Museum of Modern Japanese Literature. Analyzes modern literature from the perspective of correlation with fine art, music, and other arts. Major publications include Sensitivity Seen in Modern Literature [Kindai bungaku ni miru kanjusei] (Chikuma Shobo, awarded Yamanashi Literature Award); and Letters from Soseki Natsume [Natsume Soseki no tegami] (co-authored, Taishukan Shoten). Editorial board member for the Complete Collection of Hakushu [Hakushu zenshu] and the Complete Collection of Kafu [Kafu zenshu] (Iwanami Shoten).