Responsibility of Intellectuals: Kobayashi Hideo on Japan at War


November 24, 2005

Responsibility of Intellectuals: Kobayashi Hideo on Japan at War
Responsibility of Intellectuals: Kobayashi Hideo on Japan at War

Responsibility of Intellectuals: Kobayashi Hideo on Japan at War

By Zeljko Cipris

As Randolph Bourne discerned as far back as 1917, a state waging war is readily able to obtain support for its undertaking from sizable numbers of intellectuals. Such factors as jingoism, combative egos, power worship, or considerations of profit and prestige ensure that numerous academics, journalists, writers, and critics will pronounce eloquently in favor of the warring state and exhort their compatriots to back it without question. Although a uniformly pro-war consensus is seldom attained, hawkish intellectuals play an important role in engineering consent and discrediting opposition to official policies. Appreciative of the services rendered by its intellectual myrmidons, the state rewards them, directly or indirectly.

When Japan launched its war against China in the 1930s, it did so proclaiming the loftiest of motives: to deliver peace, stability, and freedom to a chaotic land, and to liberate a troubled continent. A humanitarian intervention fused seamlessly with an imperial mission—the entire affair foreshadowing the sort of grand overseas enterprise that in a later age would elicit enthusiastic approbation elsewhere from a Robert Kaplan or a Michael Ignatieff. One writer explained that “The objective of Japanese expansion is neither the attainment of capitalistic supremacy nor the acquisition of colonies, but the realization of harmony and concord among the nations of East Asia and the promotion of their common happiness and prosperity. [1]”

The Responsibility of the Intellectuals in a time of war

Japanese intellectuals’ response to their nation’s war against China offered few surprises. While a bold handful attempted to swim against the current, many more drifted within the mainstream, and quite a number enthusiastically paddled with the flow toward the distant cataracts. Parameters of dissent were constricted by political, social and legal pressures, backed by police powers, and those who attempted to challenge them paid a heavy price. The majority assented tacitly or overtly to the state’s bellicose project.

Widely considered the finest literary critic of modern Japan, Kobayashi Hideo (1902-1983) combined cosmopolitan learning with cultural nativism. A graduate of the highly prestigious Tokyo Imperial University (now Tokyo University), well-versed both in European—especially French—and Japanese literature, Kobayashi did not confine his commentary to literary matters. He also wrote about other arts, history, culture, and ethics. His high stature as a critic established by the early 1930s, Kobayashi’s lifelong aversions to abstract ideas, and conceptualizing in general, were widely known to his readers, as was his admiration for spontaneous action grounded in an intuitive grasp of reality. In literature, his preferences led him to accord the highest praise to the stories and novels of Shiga Naoya and Kikuchi Kan, which struck him as vigorous, unpremeditated acts, while expressing a low opinion of Akutagawa Ryunosuke’s coolly cerebral short stories. In politics, the militant nationalist Okawa Shumei was more to his liking than any analytic-minded Marxist [2].

In November 1937, Kobayashi’s essay “Senso ni tsuite” (On war) appeared in Kaizo, a leading intellectual magazine. It was a powerful combination: a distinguished critic, an influential magazine, and a timely topic of vital importance. Full-scale war between China and Japan had broken out just four months earlier. Although he often wrote in a dense style, Kobayashi on this occasion made his view unmistakably clear:

If the time comes when I have to take up the gun, I will be happy to die for the nation. I can conceive of no resolution beyond that, nor do I think one necessary. Taking up the gun as a man of letters makes no sense. All who fight, fight as soldiers.

Literature exists for the sake of peace, not war. The attitude of a man of letters toward peace can be infinitely complex, but in the vortex of war, there is only one attitude he can take. A war must be won. If he then notices that the idea that a war must be won is to be found nowhere in literature, he ought to drop literature at once [3].

In the same didactic tone, Kobayashi reprimands those intellectuals who continue to entertain doubts in the face of what he calls the “simple, all too simple reality of war. [4]” Many writers, he charges, are quick to indulge in undignified contemplation of the way foreign writers reacted to the ‘Great War’ in Europe—when a few literary artists, like Hermann Hesse, even left for neutral territory—and they tend to be critical of the present conflict. Such people, in Kobayashi’s view, are oblivious to reality. Kobayashi chastises these straying minds and lays down the patriotic imperative:

the aimless confusion felt by an intellectual mind upon colliding with the violent actuality of war ought not to be mistaken for criticism of war. There is only one way of getting a grip on oneself: by stopping the bad habit of always wanting to predict the fate of humanity, and reflecting instead on one’s own present life. This should lead to the observation that, the war having begun, one’s irreplaceable life is already no longer one’s own. It is a harsh fact but once a war has started, all those born in Japan no longer possess the freedom to determine their own fate, not even in the name of humanity [5].

Having posited the supreme claim of nationalism, Kobayashi denounces opposition to the war as addlebrained defeatism, and aims a few slaps at Japan’s revolutionary internationalists—who still exerted a lingering if declining intellectual influence in late 1937:

It is our destiny to have been born in Japan. … I am no blind believer in nation and race, but I on no account wish to become a pathological proponent of historical inevitability. Let idle men repeat forever that Japanism is mysticism or irrationalism. I can no longer expect anything from the intelligentsia who, not satisfied with having gorged on enough isms to have damaged their stomachs and grown utterly limp, cannot abandon the pleasure of finding flaws in each other’s rational interpretations of history even after the war has broken out, and are incapable of so much as clearly pronouncing the words “if the time comes, I will happily take up the gun” for fear they might be viewed as reactionaries.

Kobayashi lashes out at what he calls defeatism in an effort to rally intellectuals to the flag:

I am convinced that the present war is a test of Japanese capitalism, and of the Japanese people as a whole. I also think it proper to accept such a test with no hesitation. I do not believe in the so-called defeatist thought which tries to shirk this test. To put it strongly, such a stance cannot even be called thought. …

Casting an unprejudiced eye over the world, where today do we see a country so enviable as to make us want to change our nationality? Further, where do we detect the sprouting of a classless, international solidarity? I would like to think that in such a time no one could seriously believe in defeatism. And yet the defeatist mode of thinking has permeated the general intelligentsia surprisingly deeply. Moreover, it has become not so much a mode of thinking as a psychological inclination. Consequently, when called upon to fight, they grow bewildered, less intellectually than psychologically [6].

Kobayashi heaps scorn on those who regard the present as merely a historical phase and place their trust in the future [7]:

History’s greatest lesson is that only those men made history who did not blindly believe in predictions of future but were vigorously attached to the present alone. …

The present cannot be sacrificed for the sake of a foreknown future. Foreknowledge, in fact, is like a radiant light which visits only the men unflinchingly resolved to deal with the present [8].

To Kobayashi, dealing with the present in autumn 1937 clearly denotes active participation in the war against China. The Japanese government of the time insisted repeatedly that the war was being fought for the sake of freedom, stability, and peace in East Asia. Kobayashi neither questions the truthfulness of the claim nor the nature of the envisioned peace. Having accepted the war’s desirability, Kobayashi concludes by endorsing any means of waging it, and reiterates his willingness to cooperate on the basis of the argument that the end justifies the means:

However clumsy the means of a war’s conduct, it must be affirmed that the end redeems the means. But this political principle is absolutely inapplicable to literature. A writer’s work may be compared to that of a carpenter building a house. Clumsy means end in nonsense. So long as a man of letters remains a man of letters, he is no other than a thoroughgoing pacifist. Consequently, it is natural he should feel a sense of contradiction when the political principle is displayed in the form of war. I do not intend to try to sort out this contradiction for myself. If the time comes when I must die for my compatriots, I trust I will die bravely. I am an ordinary person. I am neither a sage nor a prophet [9].

The modesty, indeed servility, of the final sentences is in keeping with the soldierly, resolute tenor of the entire essay. “On war” is a sharp reminder to writers, critics, and other mental workers that their duty as subjects of the nation-state takes precedence over all else. It makes little difference what the war is about, all that matters is its “violent actuality.” Kobayashi speaks of the huge military onslaught almost as though it were an act of nature, such as a storm, impervious to analysis and beyond human control. What is a storm about? It simply is. A storm must be weathered, a war must be won.

Kobayashi’s article was published at a time when the Japanese government was making a concentrated attempt to direct popular thought and conduct through persuasion and force. The National Spiritual Mobilization Movement had been launched the previous month, and the arrests of several hundred leftwing socialists in the Popular Front Incident were to follow the next. Whatever the impact of Kobayashi’s injunction to conformity, nowhere was it challenged in print [10].

Mission to China: Writers Writing War

In the summer of the following year, 1938, dozens of writers eagerly accepted the government’s invitation to travel to China at public expense and write about the Japanese offensive. The Pen Corps (Pen butai), organized after an amicable meeting between government officials and leading literary figures, received so many applicants that some had to be turned away. (A few declined the invitation, without repercussions). The authorities, confident that hortatory narratives from the battlefront would boost support for the war and inspire home-front civilians to emulate the soldiers’ spirit of cheerful self-sacrifice, promptly assembled the Pen Corps—including such critically and popularly acclaimed writers as Kishida Kunio and Hayashi Fumiko—and flew it overseas [11].

Kobayashi Hideo traveled to China for the first time in March 1938 as a special correspondent for the mass circulation magazine Bungei shunju. This, the first of six wartime trips to the continent, lasted until December and took him through numerous conquered territories: eastern and northern China, the puppet state of Manzhouguo, and colonized Korea [12]. Kobayashi’s reports on the first portion of his journey appeared in the May 1938 regular and special issues of Bungei shunju.

The two essays, ‘Koshu” ( Hangzhou) and “Koshu yori Nankin” (From Hangzhou to Nanjing), are thematically unified and sequentially linked. Covering only the “pacified” territories, they are ruminations based largely on leisurely sightseeing [13]. A striking feature of the reports is the respect, verging on wide-eyed admiration, with which Kobayashi regards Japan’s fighting men. They seem to embody both nationalism and life of action, values that Kobayashi holds in highest esteem. A guest throughout his travels of the army information section, comfortably lodged and sumptuously feted, Kobayashi clearly rejoices at being in the company of heroes. One of the paragons of heroism is Corporal Hino Ashihei (1907-1960), a writer whom Kobayashi has come to present with the Akutagawa Prize for a recently published novella. The critic and the soldier soon become friends. Impressed by Hino’s passionate eyes, calm nature, and indelibly stained uniform, Kobayashi listens attentively to all the younger man has to say, recording even a tasteless quip as if it were a peerless aphorism. (Hino’s joke is this: “The three attractions of Hangzhou are fires, mosquitoes, and the third I forget. [14]”) In his lofty role as a man of action, it appears, the soldier commands intellectual and moral authority.

A staunch believer in the war, Hino Ashihei would go on to become its best-selling writer, a lovingly lyrical chronicler of the brave lives and tragic deaths of Japan’s imperial grunts. Hino’s immensely successful book Mugi to heitai (Wheat and Soldiers), published in the summer of 1938, would sell about 1,200,000 hardcover and paperback copies (in a nation of some seventy million people), turning its author into a national hero and inspiring a series of haiku as well as a still popular war song bearing the same title [15]. Kobayashi Hideo, a notoriously hard critic to please, praised the book lavishly, locating within it “a traditional spirit which we Japanese recognize with our very flesh. [16]” Fifteen years after the war ended, haunted by attacks over his militarist past and perhaps worn out with efforts to justify his wartime conduct, Hino Ashihei would kill himself.

Like Hino himself, Kobayashi presents the Japanese soldiers as sturdy and cheerful. Sensitive to nature’s beauty, they march carrying peach blossoms. Kobayashi salutes them with his consistently reverent attitude, never referring to them merely as soldiers (heitai) but invariably writing heitai-san, using the honorific suffix. Listening to an officer he has known since childhood talk calmly of the fierce fighting he has taken part in, Kobayashi’s heart characteristically wells up with gratitude.

Kobayashi accords far less respect to the Chinese. They have their attractive aspects—the women sing as they do laundry, and the “astonishingly filthy” children trading in the streets are rated “rather charming”—but on the whole Kobayashi’s Chinese are unimpressive specimens of humanity [17]. A case in point is the oarsman of a rented boat hired to row Kobayashi and his soldier friend Hino during their tour of Hangzhou’s West Lake. This man, the only Chinese adult described in any detail as an individual, is sketched in as hardly more than a filching servant from a kyōgen farce. Carrying his Japanese masters’ wine ashore at various islands, the oarsman surreptitiously drinks it, but vigorously denies the deed. His yellow, emaciated body prompts Hino to observe that Chinese soldiers all look like that, though one notices it only after having killed them. The besotted oarsman, becoming at length incapable of rowing, is abandoned by the Japanese.

Such a detached, mildly amused view of the Chinese dominates the essays. The natives’ ineptness and lack of dignity sets them implicitly apart from the author and his readers. The Chinese love loitering and parading. Even the night-soil men have their own parade. Kobayashi describes with merriment a procession of firemen preceded by noisy gongs and an unrecognizable fire truck, the men marching out of uniform, barefoot or shod in straw sandals. Only a handful are wearing antiquated brass helmets that seem to belong in an ancient war tale.

One of his excursions takes him to the Great World, a Hangzhou amusement center crowded with Chinese civilians and Japanese soldiers, which allows Kobayashi to be contemptuous of simple magic tricks, “ridiculous music,” and clumsy stagecraft [18]. Only the acrobatics of a child without arms and legs who ends his act by writing the phrase “Peace in East Asia” are spared criticism. The spectacle of a limbless Chinese spelling out the Japanese wartime slogan for the benefit of the imperial soldiers in the audience is not devoid of symbolic irony, but Kobayashi supplies no hint of perceiving any.

Instead, he writes of such lighter subjects as loudly quarreling slum dwellers, monks skilled at extracting tips, and unpromising students struggling to master Japanese. Although the sights he encounters in his urban wanderings are often entertaining, they fail to dispel Kobayashi’s feeling of being immersed in totally alien surroundings:

But whatever procession passed was like a boat going down a river, leaving in its wake only clamor and stench and waves of indistinguishable people. Watching them, I grew dazed. Putting down ten sen and sipping a lingering cup of tea, I felt a solitude I had not known before [19].

The Chinese are ultimately an anonymous, swirling mass in which the author is lost and utterly out of place. Somewhat like Yokomitsu Riichi, whose novel Shanghai had appeared a few years earlier, Kobayashi finds the Chinese reality filthy, chaotic, and profoundly alien. Its people are irrevocably different, down to their defecating habits which Kobayashi coolly surveys from his second-floor room provided by the army information section in Nanjing:

Even the way they wiped themselves was the reverse of ours. Such a custom was bound to produce a certain psychological inclination but it was not clear just what kind of inclination [20].

Even though a Japanese slogan of the period insisted that “ Asia is one,” Kobayashi seems less than convinced.

As for dirt, Kobayashi finds it in abundance. The children are filthy, the streets stink, shantytown inhabitants wear rags. The reader is casually informed that the purpose of a policeman’s white sleevelets is “to protect his clothing when apprehending dirty Chinese. [21]” The remark typifies Kobayashi’s overall attitude toward the Chinese. An observer less obsessed with Chinese filth might have inferred that the white sleevelets are there to make the policeman’s arms visible in directing traffic.

Given the Chinese ineptitude at virtually everything, it is no surprise that Kobayashi holds most objects conceived and created by them in low esteem. He is sharply critical of a poorly executed anti-Japanese poster, and mystified by a superfluously ornamented wall. Hangzhou’s temples and statuary are dismissed as pretentiously vulgar, evoking no sense of beauty in the eyes of one accustomed to Japan’s ancient temples. Like an eighteenth century exponent of National Learning, Kobayashi extols what is Japanese and denigrates the foreign, especially Chinese. The only facet of China capable of eliciting Kobayashi’s enthusiasm is its natural scenery. Hangzhou’s West Lake, he rhapsodizes, is “beautiful as a dream,” with the white magnolia blossoming along its banks “radiant as if ablaze. [22]”

Japan’s war with China receives only marginal treatment in Kobayashi’s narrative. He declines to go to the front out of admitted fear and a sense it would be inappropriate to tour it by car. Nor does he show much interest in visiting the recently captured enemy capital: “I did not much feel like going to Nanjing. Having heard various stories about it, I did not think it offered anything I wanted to see. My expectations proved correct. [23]”

The impact of the war on China’s population goes unexamined except for a brief reference to the gloomy look in the eyes of the Nanjing citizens, a look Kobayashi ascribes to the fact that the city was taken after a fight. He notes the widespread destruction of buildings in Nanjing, Shanghai, and along the Shanghai-Hangzhou railway, but the only human suffering that appears to move him is that of the Japanese. Standing before the grave markers of the Japanese soldiers and residents killed in Shanghai, Kobayashi offers them a silent prayer.

In striking contrast to this somber note, which concludes the “ Hangzhou” essay, is the brightly cheerful closure of “From Hangzhou to Nanjing.” Viewed from a Nanjing city gate, the sky is clear, the hills and fields beyond the shining stream at the base of the city wall are vividly green. Directly below,

The trenches, dug at six-yard intervals, were strewn with hats, leather belts, birdcages, and other objects that had escaped the flames. The unburied bones of Chinese soldiers stood like sticks stuck in the soil. Sleek, brown thighbones shone beautifully transparent in the sunlight. Vertebrae moistly glistened, as if tarred. Flies swarmed and the luminous air stank [24].

While the sunlit spectacle of recent carnage clearly affords Kobayashi a measure of cool, aesthetic satisfaction, its dimension of human tragedy leaves him entirely untouched. When two Japanese officers climb to the top of the gate for a souvenir photograph, Kobayashi takes it for them, and then returns to the city to dine on pork and beer.

Kobayashi’s serene indifference toward atrocity and his supercilious and disparaging stance toward China and Chinese evident throughout both essays convey a distinct impression that it will be no great loss if large segments of sleazy Chinese culture and dirty de-personalized natives perish before Japan’s armed advance. What is best about China—its natural scenery—will in any case survive.

The Affirmation of the Japanese Heritage

Kobayashi’s travels in China are said to have deepened his confidence in the Japanese culture and tradition, while the war’s progress confirmed his trust in the wisdom of his compatriots. A passage from his essay “Manshu no insho” (Impressions of Manchuria), published in 1939, vouches that the war—officially and euphemistically called the Incident—is in the good hands of a sagacious people:

The Incident has steadily escalated, but the people’s unity has not wavered in the least. What sort of wisdom is it which bolsters this unity? To call it a spontaneous unity inherent in the blood of the Japanese race would be too simple. It is a singular sagacity, a wisdom which, having brought to full maturity a long tradition, moreover a tradition as truly complex as it is simple, forged it amid the precipitous influx of Western culture that followed the Meiji Restoration [25].

In 1940, together with the publisher and author Kikuchi Kan and fifty-two other writers including Kawabata Yasunari and Yokomitsu Riichi, Kobayashi toured Japan, Korea, and Manchuria as members of the Literary Home-front Campaign (Bungei Jugo Undo), a speechmaking troupe organized by Kikuchi to promote patriotism and support for the war [26]. One of the addresses Kobayashi repeatedly delivered, entitled “Jihen no atarashisa” (Newness of the Incident), argues that because the present conflict is entirely without precedent, all available knowledge and experience are not only useless in dealing with it, but may hinder correct apprehension of it. Turning to sixteenth century for illustration, Kobayashi contrasts Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s elaborately planned invasion of Korea and China, which failed despite Hideyoshi’s genius, with Oda Nobunaga’s surprise attack against a superior force at Okehazama, which succeeded due to his intuitive understanding of the situation. Nobunaga is praised for possessing the wisdom to grasp the nature of the crisis directly, without preconceptions. What is to be emulated is Nobunaga’s resolve. “Resolve is that bold leap of our spirit which occurs when theory and conviction become one. [27]”

Though Kobayashi’s examples are new, his intuitionism is not, and the object of the essay, as in the 1937 “On war,” is to stifle intellectual doubts about the war. As earlier, he scoffs at the Japanese intelligentsia who cannot even blow their noses or sneeze without a guiding theory, and reiterates that the “Incident” is a test.

In sum, it may be said that choosing to define himself first and foremost as a Japanese leads Kobayashi to be uncritical of his country’s aggressive policies, while his aversion to ratiocination causes him to adopt a highly abstract, reductionist view of the war. His ethnocentrism results in a chilling insensitivity to horrific atrocities and human suffering.

Following the end of the war, Kobayashi was sharply attacked by progressives for his collaboration with militarism, but the US occupation authorities never charged him with any offense [28]. Having been one nationalist among many—and hardly the most extreme at that—Kobayashi incurred little censure from his compatriots, and his reputation as a brilliant critic remained largely unscathed. He made money as an antique dealer, traveled to Europe, wrote essays, gave lectures, made broadcasts, took part in dialogues with writers, artists and scientists, and wrote about golf. His books like Watashi no jinseikan (My View of Life) and Kangaeru hinto (Hints for Thinking) became bestsellers. He resumed writing about Japanese and European artists and thinkers, and in 1967 was decorated by Emperor Hirohito with the Medal of Culture (Bunka Kunsho) in recognition of his stature as the founder of modern criticism in Japan. By this time Kobayashi was “a philosopher, a guide to the appreciation of the remarkable things in the world,” “an almost mythical figure” “lionized everywhere. [29]” Although a number of Japanese, including such arguably far more profound critics and writers as Karatani Kojin and Nakagami Kenji, did not hold his work in high esteem [30], Kobayashi continued for the rest of his life to enjoy the favor of the highest spheres of Japanese society.

Despite his long-lived prominence as an influential cultural critic acclaimed for “creating a distinctive style of his own” and for his “skillfully and imaginatively written” criticism [31], Kobayashi never—even through silence—expressed a hint of dissent concerning the dominant elite’s exercise of economic, political, and military power. His conviction in the uniqueness and ultimate inexplicability of historical events may have helped induce him to conform to an apparently immovable reality. Adamantly antagonistic toward any kind of systematic critical thought and contemptuous of various isms, Kobayashi seemed unaware of the superficiality, chauvinism, conventionalism and elitism that permeated much of his own criticism. Wittingly or unwittingly, Kobayashi had become a quintessential establishment intellectual, a traditionalist aesthete oblivious to the glaringly ugly depredations of a plutocratic socioeconomic system.

In 2003 an exhibition called “The Heart in Search of Beauty,” displaying paintings and antiques from Kobayashi’s art collection, celebrated the hundredth anniversary of his birth [32]. The exhibit was sponsored by the government and financially supported by the Kajima Corporation which constructs skyscrapers, dams, and nuclear power plants in Japan and overseas. The long, cordial relationship between Kobayashi and established power seemed to transcend even his death.

In the years since Kobayashi Hideo shuffled off this mortal coil, intellectuals everywhere have continued to confront the question of state power and critical responsibility. As in Kobayashi’s day, the choice to embrace the status quo places the intellectual on the questionable side of the grim barricade that continues to divide humanity against itself. Hurtful enough during peaceful periods, a decision to be passive or complicit in times of war can contribute to disastrous ends. For an infinitely more vitalizing alternative, we might consider a Harold Pinter, an Arundhati Roy, an Oda Makoto [33], and countless other less well known but no less precious oppositional intellectuals throughout the world.


[1] Tatsuo Kawai, The Goal of Japanese Expansion 1938; reprint, Westport: Greenwood Press, 1973), 67. For historical and cultural background to the period, see the Introduction in Ishikawa Tatsuzo, Soldiers Alive ( Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2003), 1-54. For a look at the work of Japanese antimilitarist writers like Kuroshima Denji, Oguma Hideo, Kaneko Mitsuharu, and Ishikawa Jun, see the following: Kuroshima Denji, A Flock of Swirling Crows & Other Proletarian Writings (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2005), Oguma Hideo, Long, Long Autumn Nights: Selected Poems of Oguma Hideo (Trans. David G. Goodman. Ann Arbor: Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan, 1989), Kaneko Mitsuharu, Shijin: Autobiography of the Poet Kaneko Mitsuharu (Trans. A.R. Davis. Sydney: Wild Peony, 1988), Ishikawa Jun, The Legend of Gold and Other Stories (Trans. William J. Tyler. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1998). See also:

[2] Kobayashi was especially impressed by Okawa’s “common sense and unwavering eye for history.” See Edward G. Seidensticker, “Kobayashi Hideo” in Donald H. Shively, ed., Tradition and Modernization in Japanese Culture (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971), 441. Kobayashi flirted with Marxism in his youth, but soon veered to the right. Thanks to Mark Driscoll for pointing out that Kobayashi’s oeuvre is filled with purloined elements of leftist thought, prominent among them a vulgarized version of praxis theory. A useful discussion of Kobayashi may be found in Yoshio Iwamoto, “The Relationship between Literature and Politics in Japan, 1931-1945” (Ph.D. diss., University of Michigan, 1964). For a succinct summary of Kobayashi’s thought, see the last three pages of Harry Harootunian’s essay “America’s Japan / Japan’s Japan,” in Masao Miyoshi and H.D. Harootunian, eds., Japan in the World (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1993), 196-221. A number of Kobayashi’s essays are available in English in Paul Anderer, ed. and trans., Literature of the Lost Home: Kobayashi Hideo—Literary Criticism, 1924-1939 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995). Two more of Kobayashi’s essays can be read in J. Thomas Rimer and Van C. Gessel, eds., The Columbia Anthology of Modern Japanese Literature, vol. 1: From Restoration to Occupation, 1868-1945 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005). The translations in the present essay are my own.

[3] Kaizo, November 1937, 220.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 220-221.

[7] Ibid., 221.

[8] Ibid., 222.

[9] Ibid., 223.

[10] Those who disagreed with Kobayashi may have expected some such “patriotic” call from him, and felt it not worth the trouble and risk to respond. Already the previous year, 1936, the Marxist writer and critic Nakano Shigeharu had dismissed Kobayashi as an “out-and-out reactionary” and a worthless critic to boot. See Donald Keene, Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature of the Modern Era, vol. 2, Poetry, Drama, Criticism ( New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston), 598-600.

[11] Iwamoto, “The Relationship between Literature and Politics in Japan, 1931-1945,” 270-271; Richard H. Mitchell, Censorship in Imperial Japan (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983), 295; Donald Keene, Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature of the Modern Era, vol. 1, Fiction (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1984), 927. For a revealing account of Kishida Kunio’s experience as member of the Pen Corps, see J. Thomas Rimer, “Paris in Nanjing: Kishida Kunio Follows the Troops,” in Marlene J. Mayo, J. Thomas Rimer, eds., with H. Eleanor Kerkham, War, Occupation, and Creativity: Japan and East Asia, 1920-1960 (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2001), 176-187. A roster of the writers who participated in the Pen Corps appears in Miyoshi Yukio, ed., Nihon bungaku zenshi (Tokyo: Gakutosha, 1978), vol. 6, 259. For a fairly extensive (though at times flawed or clumsily written) discussion of literary responses to the war, see Zeljko Cipris, “Radiant Carnage: Japanese Writers on the War against China” (Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1994).

[12] Keene, Dawn to the West, vol. 2, Poetry, Drama, Criticism, 603; Ariyama Daigo, “Senso bungaku sakka no senso taiken” in Yasuda Takeshi and Ariyama Daigo, eds., Kindai senso bungaku (Tokyo: Kokusho Kankokai, 1981), 36. See also Joshua A. Fogel, The Literature of Travel in the Japanese Rediscovery of China 1862-1945 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), 287-290. Some of Kobayashi’s trips to the war-torn continent lasted as long as six months, his last was in 1944. Many other literary figures were traveling through the occupied territories around the same time, prompting a later historian to comment: “Not unlike a year’s study in Europe or the United States in earlier years, a visit to the empire bestowed cultural legitimation on those who aspired to the high arts.” See Louise Young, Japan’s Total Empire: Manchuria and the Culture of Wartime Imperialism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 267.

[13] Tsuzuki Hisayoshi correctly calls Kobayashi’s dispatches from wartime China “sightseeing reports” (kenbutsuki). See Tsuzuki Hisayoshi, Senjika no bungaku (Osaka: Izumi Sensho, 1985), 20.

[14] Kobayashi Hideo, Gendai bungaku taikei 42 Kobayashi Hideo shu (Tokyo: Chikuma Shobo, 1965), 437. Hangzhou, located on West Lake (Xihu), is famed for its beauty in Chinese lore, and was widely admired by Japanese Buddhists and other travelers over the centuries.

[15] Miyoshi Yukio, ed., Nihon bungaku zenshi, vol. 6, 228. The lilting, melodious gunka (war song) “Mugi to heitai” is available in virtually any karaoke bar, and wartime copies of Hino’s books sell inexpensively in many second-hand bookstores. Hino’s other wartime bestsellers include Tsuchi to heitai (Earth and Soldiers, its movie version filmed on location in China), Hana to heitai (Flowers and Soldiers), Umi to heitai (Sea and Soldiers, also known as Kanton shingunsho, March into Guangzhou), and the short narrative “Tabako to heitai” (Cigarettes and Soldiers). Shortly after the end of the war, at Hiroshima station, a recently demobilized soldier who had lost his younger brother in the war informed Hino Ashihei that he and his comrades were wondering when Hino was going to get around to writing Kane to heitai (Money and Soldiers). Growing afraid of getting thrashed by other embittered soldiers who had gathered around, a stunned Hino—who had always considered himself a loyal supporter of the troops—fled the scene. (See Keene, Dawn to the West, vol. 1, Fiction, 924-925). For more on Hino, see David M. Rosenfeld, Unhappy Soldier: Hino Ashihei and Japanese World War II Literature (Lanham, Boulder, and Oxford: Lexington Books, 2002).

[16] Shively, ed., Tradition and Modernization in Japanese Culture, 451.

[17] Kobayashi, Gendai bungaku taikei 42Kobayashi Hideo shu, 442.

[18] Ibid., 444.

[19] Ibid., 443.

[20] Ibid. 449. Japanese Modernist writer Yokomitsu Riichi (1898-1947) traveled in China during the 1920s and published his novel Shanhai ( Shanghai) serially between 1928 and 1931. See Yokomitsu Riichi, Shanghai (Trans. Dennis Washburn. Ann Arbor: Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan, 2001).

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid., 434, 435. Many Japanese writers, including Hino Ashihei, were impressed by the beauty of China’s landscape, but Pen Corps writer Hayashi Fumiko (1903-1951) was not. In her book The Battlefront she concedes that Chinese territory (which she openly wishes to annex) is desirably fertile and sporadically enchanting, yet insists that its “filthy soil,” muddy rivers, and landscape resembling “a heap of rotten fruit” cannot compare with the “purple hills and crystal streams” of her homeland. See Hayashi Fumiko, Sensen (Tokyo: Asahi Shimbunsha, 1938), 15, 108, 196, 200.

[23] Kobayashi, 447.

[24] Ibid., 452.

[25] Ibid., 466.

[26] Fukuda Kugao, “Bungei Jugo Undo” in Kokubungaku kaishaku to kansho, special issue (May 1982), 561-562. As the war in China escalated into an even wider military conflict after 1941, Kobayashi would also deliver addresses before such government-sponsored organizations as the Japanese Literature Patriotic Association and the Greater East Asia Writers Decisive Victory Assembly. In late 1943 he helped plan the third meeting of the Writers Decisive Victory Assembly in Nanjing. See Keene, Dawn to the West, vol. 2, 603, 607.

[27] Kon Hidemi, ed., Bungei Jugo Undo koen shu (Tokyo: Bungeika Kyokai, 1941), 41.

[28] Keene, Dawn to the West, vol. 2, 603.

[29] Ibid., 608-610. Deeply impressed by the presumed quality and breadth of Kobayashi’s criticism, exemplified by his work on such figures as Dostoyevsky, Mozart, and 18 th century Japanese writer and scholar Motoori Norinaga, Professor Keene contends that “Kobayashi typified not only the critics but all the best Japanese writers of the twentieth century.” (Ibid., 613).

[30] See Karatani Kojin and Nakagami Kenji, eds., Kobayashi Hideo o koete (Tokyo: Kawade shobo, 1979). The book’s title is a playful reference to “Kindai o koete” (Overcoming Modernity), a famous symposium held in the summer of 1942 at the prestigious Kyoto Imperial University (now Kyoto University) at which Kobayashi Hideo was a prominent participant. Karatani and Nakagami’s book is entitled “Overcoming Kobayashi Hideo.”

[31] Keene, Dawn to the West, vol. 2, 582, 587.

[32] See

For a sample of Kajima Corporation’s vision of architectural beauty, see

[33] For a Japanese writer’s brief essay on Oda Makoto, see

Zeljko Cipris teaches Japanese language and literature at the University of the Pacific in California. He is co-author with Shoko Hamano of Making Sense of Japanese Grammar, and translator of Ishikawa Tatsuzo’s Soldiers Alive and of Kuroshima Denji’s A Flock of Swirling Crows & Other Proletarian Writings. The present essay for Japan Focus, a revised and expanded version of a paper presented at a 2004 AAS conference in Seattle, is dedicated to Shane Satori and Ljubomir Ryu. Posted at Japan Focus, November 10, 2005.

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Volume 3 | Issue 11

Article ID 1625

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