Sacrifice to the deity of Shinkabukiza?
With the deaths of major attractions Kanzaburo Nakamura (1955-2012) and Danjuro Ichikawa (1946-2013), there has been false speculation that this might be a sort of sacrifice to the deity of Shinkabukiza (New Kabuki Theater which was under reconstruction from 2010). Looking back now, the sudden death of Shun-ichiro Sato, (Chuo University Faculty of Economics professor, retired in 2011) in September before last is like a harbinger of the sacrifice to the deity. That is because, the man who continuously wrote about 160 kabuki reviews was, first and foremost, considered a kabuki critic.
“Centered around Utaemon’s Hanjo, a single new space and a single unreality are born on stage, and they encompass the audience as they watch. Oh, it is not a tranquil encompassing. The audience is captured. The insane expression on the hanamichi, smiling while beckoning her illusory child is pathetic. If this is kabuki, then there is no other kabuki. If the others are kabuki, then this isn’t kabuki.”
This was a note on the September 7, 1976 performance of Sumidagawa. From 1973 until 1995, he followed Utaemon Nakamura (1917-2001) and continued penning these kinds of notes. That wasn’t all, He also wrote the following about Shincho Kokontei’s (a comic storyteller 1938-2001) performance.
“I couldn’t hold back my tears when Jinbei, the dealer who sold an odd blazing drum of unknowingly high price said, “Can I take this?” after a buyer put 300 gold ryo in front of him. In one stroke he was depicted as a man of no wealth. Laughter and tears.”
This note was written on December 18, 1974. These make up part of this book’s opening, the Utaemon and Shincho Era.
Actually, these 190 page manuscripts of a living witness were Shun-ichiro’s last work and discovered by his wife after his death.
Shining a light on a little bit of darkness
Shun-ichiro Sato’s main occupation was a German teacher, so there are probably many alumni who were taught by him in the Faculty of Economics. As a German literature academic he studied Thomas Mann and Hofmannsthal, and also published what was leading essays at the time in journals etc. However, he left us without publishing a single book or German translation under his name alone. In this way, he ends as a little bit of darkness, like Professor Hirota in Sanshiro of Soseki Natsume.
Fellow members of the Hakuto-kasen-kai (White Pillar Poetry Society, a linked verse group in which Shun-ichiro was a representative for more than 10 years) moved to collect and put together as a posthumous manuscript collection, not only his final work, the Utaemon and Shincho Era, but also Shun-ichiro’s German literature articles, essays, as well as linked verses. The trouble is, just over 10 articles related to German literature were only ever received by university records. After enquiries to friends, acquaintances and publishers, starting with Chuo University Press, and making a list, in the end about 250 works and jobs were uncovered. A great part of the texts was able to be copied at Chuo University Library, but regarding unaccounted for books and miscellaneous magazines, Chuo University Library’s reference section acquired copies from other universities (Chuo University’s organizational strength is excellent in times like these.) Thereby, while in an anthology form, Shun-ichiro Sato’s work, which covers many areas, has been compiled into one book to shine some light on the darkness.
A sharp soundboard
“The defeated soldier dozes slightly as the moon rises above the peak Shun-ichiro”
Reading the one-line verse, I can feel as if I were looking at a Meiji period ukiyoe painting. This phrase is an example of one he composed in an instant as he received a preceding short phrase at his linked verse group. I can’t go into detail here but, linking verse has a code of laws, and you must sing your own poem while clearing a number of complicated conditions. Here, Shun-ichiro gave a masterly performance. Ai Yazaki, Shun-ichiro’s partner in two ryogin (linking verse between two people) which are recorded in this book, is the director of the Linked Verse Society. He was also a top level composer in linked verse.
I don’t trust people who say, “Umm…, I have a lot of hobbies.” Hobby doesn’t reach a satisfactory level. Regardless of whether they are pros or amateurs, those who commit themselves to the strict position in the front of their genre are just applying themselves frantically, and have probably never considered what they are doing a hobby. Shun-ichiro Sato wasn’t a hobbyist, he was just devoted to his own sensitivity. You could say that everything he did was his main job. He was totally absorbed in classical music and in an interview he had on record art, he talked about his finest recording. Not only that, he also set up an interview with pianist Irina Mejoueva and Kichieimon Nakamura, of whom she is a great fan. When Ennosuke Ichikawa directed the Bavarian State Opera’s Die Frau ohne Schatten (The Woman without a Shadow), Shun-ichiro discussed opera and kabuki in detail in the Richard Strauss Society Journal. On the surface he was active in a bewildering number of areas. Nevertheless, lying in the centre of that was only Shun-ichiro Sato, man of letters, himself. Be it Utaemon or Shincho, if he felt something that reverberated in his heart, he would be persistent and follow it to the end. And at the same time, he would apply himself and refine his own sensitivity. Then, for the first time, an extremely personal note would attain the level where it would be comprehended universally as it is. This is of course associated with purchasing books or CDs. These kinds of people support the standard of Japanese literature at the base or near the summit.
More epicurean than achievement-based system
A while ago stricter controls were put in place and university lecturers are now required to produce results of their educational and research activities. I also feel burdened with work everyday, and when I am writing a book or proofreading a translation, there are times where I have to give up on reading a popular book or going to a play or musical performance. Is this not putting the cart before the horse? Didn’t I choose this path because I enjoyed that kind of thing? With hardly a backward glance, among his peers who fell into the trap of greed, Shun-ichiro Sato, who truly lived his life as he wanted to, by giving up on piling up achievements, was able to do as he was pleased. No, it may be the opposite. No matter what path he chose, he could only live this way. In this way, when current and international top artists, troupes, and operas would perform in Japan, and famous art exhibitions would be staged, mainly in Tokyo, from the late Showa era and through the Heisei era, Shun-ichiro Sato could enjoy the Japanese cultural scene to his heart’s content. Is there any greater happiness than that?
Another side as a language teacher
When Sato was waiting for the elevator, a student gave a slight bow in front of him and said, “I was in your German class last year. That story of unreciprocated love was good.” (His essay, Do You Like Unreciprocated Love? about Goethe, Thomas Mann and Lukács is included in this book.) It was a slight deviation from the lesson but remained in his heart. When taking languages, as long as they get the required credits, most students probably don’t care about what teacher they have. If only for conversation they can go to a conversation school near a station, and for grammar they can be taught by graduate school students. But university language lessons aren’t like that. Kunto (薫陶), meaning discipline, is a word he often used, and our training is a process that a training of the teacher is rubbed into the students. Indeed, if the students don’t have a soundboard, it is like casting pearls before swine. So we really want our students to obtain sensitivity and connoisseurship. Anyway, if you look up the name of your teacher on the internet you will know how he or she works. If you search hard enough, you will reap unexpected treasures, like gas borne from shale. Because it is university, it is fine for students to exploit a lecturer’s knowledge.
Several Faculty of Economics students, over a few years and one at a time, read the original “Tonio Kröger” with professor Sato. Not only these few selections but also another alumni, who were able to receive his discipline, would take on this indistinct training in their own way. They were definitely lucky.
Professor of Modern Austrian Literature, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Chuo University
1976 Withdrew from his University of Tokyo Graduate School of Humanities doctorate course in German and German literature
1982 Studied at the University of Vienna and the University of Klagenfurt on an Austrian Government scholarship
1985 Assistant professor at the Faculty of Science and Engineering, Chuo University after working at Okayama University and Yamagata University
1994 – 1996 Visiting researcher at the University of Vienna
2005 Winner of the Robert Musil Medal
Major publication Robert Musil und der genius loci (Wilhelm Fink Vlg.) 2011 Major translations K. Corino’s Robert Musil Eine Biographie 1,2 (rep. translator, Hosei University Press) 2009, 2012. Musil Essence (co-translated, Chuo University Press) 2003, and M.L Roth’s Small Bells of Alsace [Aruzasu no Chiisa na Kane] (Hosei University Press) 2004 etc.
Academic organization memberships include, editorial committee member of the German Literature Society’s German Literature, editorial committee member of the Austrian Literature Society’s Austrian Literature, German Literature Society in Japan Award selection committee chairman, Austrian Literature Award selection committee, and Japan Society for the Promotion of Science grants-in-aid for scientific research judging panel member etc.
Currently working on the Japanese translation of K. Corino’s 3rd volume of Robert Musil Eine Biographie (original work in German, 2000 pages) with nine other co-translators.
Shincho Today Chopin Tomorrow -The Shun-ichiro Sato’s posthumous manuscripts-