Tokyo Damage Report

Kenzaburo Oe’s Death of a Political Youth

Last year I translated Kenzaburo Oe's novella SEVENTEEN. You can read it here.

Seventeen – besides being funny – is important because it got banned for making fun of the uyoku (the black van militia right-wing guys).  It was translated into English. But what the English version doesn't say, is that the  SEVENTEEN novella is just the FIRST part of a full-sized novel. The second part ("Death of a Political Youth") is even more banned: the original Japanese publishers were warned not to publish it in their literary magazine, so they changed the title and put it out as a super-limited-edition pamphlet – almost a zine.  And Part Two was not at all available in English.

Until now, bitches! 

I'm in your corner. I hooked this up. It's not a pro-quality translation, but it beats the hell out of  translating some dumb anime or translating some corporate contract, which seems to be all that professional translators are capable of. 

This is the shit that the japanese right-wingers don't want you to read!!!

Part two  is based on Otoya Yamaguchi, the real-life assassin of the Socialist Party Chairman (Japanese wiki here). Even though it picks up right where Part One left off, the tone is quite different. Part One was really funny, full of dick jokes, and comical misunderstandings. Part Two is really serious and political, full of long ideological discussions –  almost as if Kenzaburo pulled a Tom Wolfe and hung out with right-wingers all ahthropology-style so he could write about them more accurately .  Death of a Political Youth moves slower than Seventeen Part One, and even gets kind of boring, but that's deliberate. The book is structured as a slow drift from fanaticism into full-blown schizophrenic madness. A gradual grinding descent from political ideology into gibbering hallucinations. And that's not always an easy thing to pull, as a writer.

And yes, it DOES end with the main character hanging himself while jerking off and screaming LONG LIVE THE EMPEROR.


 

CHAPTER ONE

Just as summer was about to manifest, in the sky, in the faraway forests, in the sea, Seventeen – that is to say, myself – felt it in my flesh, as if someone had opened a fire hydrant of gushing water onto the parched pavement of my body.

This particular morning, after the rain, the left-wing National Student Alliance had given up trying to encircle the Diet (congress) building, and we were celebrating by drinking canned beer on the front lawn. I, personally, was drunk on nothing but victory itself. This gave my pleasure an even more lonely feeling. Inside my head, my chest, and the muscles of my whole body, an uneasy, hot feeling was welling up.

The left-wingers had, like stone-age people, torn up pieces of the paved road and thrown them. Looking at the torn-up remains of the road, I beheld a vision, a phantom of the girl I’d stomped to death.

There ought to be more dead bodies laying around her, I thought. 

During the leftist-inspired rioting, during the urban combat, and even in the continual snowfall, we should have used our guns for the glory of The Emperor, shooting them like dogs in the street. Just like the good old days of the “February 26th coup.”

I felt an odd loneliness. An intolerable feeling, like I’d been stabbed in the back.

 

With a cold, hollow feeling gripping me, I took a long, hard look at the Diet building, standing there unscathed and tranquil, full of its own arrogance. This was truly a ‘castle of strangers’  which I was defending. Ever since the May battle,  (see the final part of Seventeen part one – ed.) I felt like we were on the same side as the Diet. But they had drifted back to their old ways, these old men who held our country tightly in their hands; they had become cold and distant to us. I felt like I’d been cooped up in the castle of these strangers for long enough.

I spit in an empty tin can, crumpled it up, and threw it onto the stones which had been ripped from the road. The other fellows in our group, they had already grown used to this fickleness of politicians. I knew I was the only one who was filled with the cold, hollow feeling at this victory party. The used-up, unwanted can made an uneasy, futile sound as it met the cast-off stones.

We began to make our pilgrimage to The Emperor’s Palace, climbing a steep hill,  but morale was low. The aroma of the green April leaves wafting through the late-night air of an exhausted city cast a gloomy pall upon our march. I stared at my reflection in the windows of passing cars, in the puddles, and the shop windows. In the last few months, my body had started developing unstoppably; I was forced to acknowledge my robust growth. Even if I closed my eyes tightly, just by flexing my muscles, I could feel my chest becoming thicker and more manly, feel my flesh getting bigger, as well as “the details:” These too were developing nicely, and firming up. But even contemplating this was not enough to put me in a good mood at that particular time.

But, as soon as we reached the Palace grounds of Miyagi Field, my spirits lifted and euphoria came over me, a fullness of bliss that flowed through my entire body. I have been re-made!

From the morning, (when I recite the Imperial Rescript on Education), until the final moment of pleasure, (when I say my prayers to an Official Photo of His Highness, which dazzles my eyes), my life at Imperial Way Faction Headquarters is always accompanied by a feeling of brilliant light, thanks to The Emperor.

If I ever start to feel loneliness, I remember that I am a Child of The Emperor, and am once again filled with bliss. And if that moment of bliss is clouded by the thought that I have no real-world connection to The Emperor, well, such a thought is just one of the many deceptions of this grey and fallen world.

It’s not necessary for me to be friends with Him, only to see the world through His eyes and hear it through His ears. And the Imperial senses should not be wasted on considering petty, worldly affairs. Those affairs are for selfish people, and I loyally serve The Emperor with all my heart and soul, devoid of selfishness! That’s why those Commie teachers at my school call me a lazy, talentless youngster. 

Merely because I have better things to do than pay attention – or even attend – classes. 

His Highness is my blazing summer sun. He comes to warm me up far before “real” summer arrives. He is the blazing orb around which my private world revolves, with the radiant heat of the summer sun.

So you could say I’m on “Imperial Summer Vacation” every school day.

Only for His sake will I put my engine into “full throttle position.” Other than that, I must carefully stockpile my energy.

In the Imperial Way Party’s newsletter, there is an “Introducing the New Members” column.  What follows is the column about myself. I never dreamed that another person (the editor) could peer into my inner depths and see me as I saw myself.  It was the first time in my life that such a miracle occurred! Not counting, of course, the trivial moments-of-being-understood of childhood.  Ever since I fell into the clutches of the polluted devil called  “self-consciousness,”  I never dreamed that anyone would write things like the editor wrote about me:

“Seventeen is a youngster, but his activity displays a dauntless courage. He kicks the “leftist atoms” into pieces. He knows no fear, since we have taken him under our wing and made a warrior out of him. He’s the only person we have allowed to join at such a young age, but he is training hard to catch up to the general membership, and we have considerable hope that he will continue his remarkable progress. Although he seems very docile and taciturn in his daily life here at Headquarters, he is polite and thoughtful.  Someday he will spread his wings and fly.  After all, the talented person doesn’t need to show off. High-school seniors across Japan would do well to learn from his example!”

I was born into an intellectual, bourgeois family, which is the worst environment for a young warrior such as myself, who has the soul of a blue-collar man. It’s only because I live here at Headquarters that I was able to become the honorable person described in the article.

But recently, the Conservative Party Cabinet switched factions. And public opinion soon followed their new party line. Once again, the problem was Ampo (the treaty which allowed American bases to exist in Japan).
 
 If the leftist scum could block even one delegate from the treaty negotiations, they could declare victory. That’s why they tried to encircle the Diet Building. One of the students at the leftist encampment was reading a whiney, tearful poem called, “Japan Has Become Wack!”  My “private summer sun”, which had actually been late to show up – later than real summer, in fact – began to brighten as I heard the poet’s hysterical weeping. And soon it was glowing with a brilliance as radiant as the shine on my uyoku armor, which I polish daily, as one should!
 

TO BE CONTINUED.

7 comments Tags: , ,

7 Comments so far

  1. Alex October 13th, 2010 11:01 am

    Nice, been looking forward to this :)

  2. z.v. wheels October 14th, 2010 4:08 pm

    translations, makin' beats, how do you find
    all the time?
    thanks again!

  3. Roy Berman October 14th, 2010 5:15 pm

    I had actually been planning to do this myself someday, so awesome job for doing it first!
     
    And BTW, I have that official English version of Seventeen and it definitely does say there was a sequel. At least, I remember that my edition said so, although I don't have it here in Japan to check.

  4. Steve October 15th, 2010 12:02 pm

    "but it beats the hell out of  translating some dumb anime or translating some corporate contract, which seems to be all that professional translators are capable of. "
    More like it's the only thing people will pay professional translators a living wage to do. Well, that and Haruki Murakami novels. I'm sure some translator dude who thought his life would be full of translating culturally and politically sensitive works was crushed to find out that you can't really bank on it.

  5. 7575 June 3rd, 2011 6:12 am

    Got a copy of the original text? Would love to see how it's written.

  6. admin June 3rd, 2011 5:05 pm

    @7575: sure, here it is: ttp://azure2004.sakura.ne.jp/

  7. Reid October 15th, 2017 11:56 am

    When is the next part coming out? It has been approximately seven years or so.

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