Mark Twain in Japan: The Cultural Reception of an American Icon. By Tsuyoshi Ishihara. University of Missouri Press, 2005. Pp. xix + 178. Hardcover. $34.95. ISBN 0-8262-1590-4.

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The following review appeared 11 October 2005 on the Mark Twain Forum.

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Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by:
Martin Zehr
Kansas City, Missouri

Mark Twain in Japan offers a perspective on Twain studies more unique than even its title implies. Twain scholars are used to successive trends in the analysis and interpretation of Twain's writings in the United States, all which have been predicated, at least implicitly, on the assumption that his writing was grounded on his capacity to divine and express a distinctly American viewpoint of his own culture and history. Professor Ishihara's book, on the other hand, is a case study of the impact of a foreign culture and history on Twain's writings, an impact that, as he illustrates, transforms Twain's writings in a manner and degree rendering them, at times, almost unrecognizable to American readers. The globalization of American popular culture, and its icons, as this book amply indicates, is not a one-way street, but a fluid process that, in our present era of instant worldwide communication, ultimately affects and informs the American view of its own products.

Ishihara's primary focus is the reception of Twain's work by the general public in Japan and the accommodations required of Japanese writers in their respective eras to render these writings acceptable and comprehensible to their readership. In a chapter titled "What Happened to Huck?" he presents a critical examination of Kuni Sasaki's Huckleberry Monotagari (The Tale of Huckleberry, 1921), an early and typical example of what he refers to as the "Japanization" of Twain's writings. This adaptation of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is completely devoid of the vernacular voice of Huck, partly because there was, at the time, no tradition of colloquial speech in Japanese literature. In addition, Huck's voice, as well as his behavior generally, was considered violative of the "genteel" tradition in Japanese literature, much as it was considered "vulgar" by the arbiters of American literary culture in 1885. Thus, the reader of Sasaki's translation, oriented to a juvenile audience, would have become acquainted with a Huck who is "an uncritical sentimentalist," who is incapable of stealing and who, in the penultimate act of rebellion, tearing up the letter informing Miss Watson of the whereabouts of Jim, justifies himself by declaring that "I want to be a good boy." This portrayal constitutes a complete negation of Twain's conception of Huck's struggle representing the clash of a "sound heart and a deformed conscience," in which Huck knowingly rejects the conventional notion of what constitutes, and what he himself recognizes, as the "good." More conspicuous is Sasaki's minimization or complete neglect of Twain's satirical views of slavery and racism. According to Ishihara's analysis, Twain's more vivid depictions of racism were omitted from Sasaki's work, not only out of a presumed deference to his juvenile readers, but as a result of Japan's "long history of racism," toward blacks, as adopted from white American culture, and against minority populations in Japan. Thus, finally, Sasaki's "sugarcoated not the Huckleberry Finn Twain wrote."

The discussion of Jiro Osaragi's "samurai version" of The Prince and the Pauper, titled Hanamaru Kotorimaru highlights a different source of distortion of Twain's work with which English-language readers have not had to contend. This was the imposition, explicit and otherwise, of an obligation to avoid any implied criticism of the nationalistic and militaristic government of Imperial Japan during the '30s and '40s. In this era of anti-American sentiment, Hanamaru Kotorimaru, then the most-published of Twain's works in Japan, was altered to eliminate the democratic and antifeudalistic elements of Twain's original and instead emphasize the hierarchical and tradition-bound values of a pre-war and wartime Japan in which the Emperor is deified. Osaragi, a popular novelist of the period, was likely sympathetic to Twain's attitudes toward social injustice, but, according to Ishihara's account, had to write a story of personal moral development, ignoring the larger implications of Twain's story and any hint of satire. Thus, in the context of Japan's rigid social stratification, Osiragi's prince, Hanamaru, grows mentally and physically as a result of his experience while Tom Canty, in the guise of Kotorimaru, is fearful in his princely role, and concludes that "It's better for a pauper to live as a pauper." Didacticism in service of the political education of Japan's youth is a pervasive value in children's literature of this era, literally dictating the rewriting of Twain's story in a manner that would be unrecognizable, in its essence, to its author. One notable exception to the distortion of Twain's works during this period was a translation of Huckleberry Finn in 1941 by Tameji Nakamura, the edition which was read by nine-year-old Kenzaburo Oe after being described by his mother as "...the best novel for a child or for an adult."

The years of "American democratization" immediately following the Second World War, in Professor Ishihara's account, are characterized by a form of control, exercised by the American-dominated General Headquarters (GHQ) which, while not as strict as the regime which preceded it, had very real consequences for children's literature in general, and for Mark Twain's writings in particular. In this "cultural climate of democratization," numerous editions of Twain's works were published, and translations of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn supplanted The Prince and the Pauper in popularity in occupied Japan. The impetus for this development was the desire to promulgate the values of individual freedom and rebellion exemplified by the respective protagonists, but, as Ishihara makes clear, the confluence of occupation influences and deep-seated Japanese cultural values nevertheless had a noticeable impact on the Mark Twain with which the post-war generation became acquainted. GHQ's censorship branch, for example, minimized or deleted many of the references to violence in the originals of these two books in an attempt to foster a rejection of the militarism of the wartime era. Simultaneously, in a country where social upheaval and displacement had suddenly appeared, bowdlerization of Twain's books was deliberately focused on the goal of eliminating references that "might help to justify juvenile delinquency among street children." Translators routinely avoided "vulgar" language or portrayals of Huck stealing, as before the war, and Huck even becomes a non-smoker in both books, a reformation most American readers would find mildly abhorrent. The "genteel" culture described by Ishihara also persists in the reluctance to depict expressions of affection, at a time when Japanese filmmakers had undergone a liberation in this regard following their exposure to contemporary American movies. In this period, the democratization represented by Huck and Tom as free spirits is accompanied by open references to the issue of slavery, albeit in a simplistic manner in which hints of irony are still absent, e.g., when Huck decides to "go to hell" in Keisuke Tsutsui's Huckleberry no Boken (Adventures of Huckleberry, 1948), he asserts, without hint of conflict, "All right. I can't let Jim be a slave anymore. Jim is not a slave. He is my friend. I will do whatever I can to help Jim out of slavery." Despite these striking modifications of what most American scholars would interpret as Twain's original intent, the post-war period in Japan is marked by a sharp increase in additions of his work, fostered partly by the intent of the GHQ to use literature as propaganda for democracy. It is notable, however, that the Japanese readers during these years appreciated the release from fanatic nationalism provided by Twain's humor, the wit and implicit ridicule of their own "conventional moral ethics," and even the opportunity to identify with a member of the lower class like Huck, at a time when the majority of the Japanese population was still in the throes of economic privation resulting from the destruction of their industrial infrastructure.

The final section of Ishihara's book is devoted to the impact of a contemporary contribution of Japanese media culture, anime (animation), illustrating the most recent development in the incorporation of American culture and the manner in which this new medium is used to transform Twain's works. Ishihara notes that anime in Japan has, to a great extent, replaced literature as a form of narrative entertainment for children and it is no surprise that the last quarter century has seen a number of adaptations of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The anime version of Huckleberry Finn is as simplistic as his literary predecessors, but at times shows an aggressive side consistent with a cartoon action hero. This Huck is capable, for example, of joining the mob in the final denouement of the King and the Duke, brandishing a stick and jettisoning the abhorrence of violence generally demonstrated by Twain's original. Anime Huck is an uncomplicated antiracist, while Jim demonstrates an independent streak and an openly expressed distrust of the white race and Pap, incredibly, is portrayed in one anime version as an innocent victim of the harsh realities of the American frontier, eliciting affection from Huck. The anime is a form of family entertainment in Japan, thus requiring sentimentalizing of family relationships and simple characterizations. The anime, however, unlike prior Japanese media, is a form created for both a domestic and potential global audience. As such, it has been necessary for its creators to be sensitive to the cultural boundaries of export targets. This requirement has, for example, necessitated particular attention to the portrayal of Jim in a manner which actually de-emphasizes his race, for fear of offending American audiences.

Other modern transmutations of Twain's works, such as the stage version of the American musical Big River, tend to perpetuate some of the qualities seen in the anime and literary counterparts, e.g., the nearly complete neglect of any suggestion of social satire. Nevertheless, Ishihara expresses an optimism regarding Twain's future in Japan, based partly on the appearance in the last decade of serious studies of Twain in academic journals and the founding, in 1997, of the Japan Mark Twain Society. New translations of Huckleberry Finn, finally appearing in colloquial Japanese, and a recently completed translation of the Oxford edition of Twain's works are harbingers of a new era of Twain scholarship with a potential effect on his presentation in popular media.

Mark Twain in Japan includes an extensive appendix of translations and adaptations of his works in twentieth-century Japanese culture as well as Japanese and English-language bibliographies. It is a well-produced volume, typical for the Mark Twain and His Circle Series of the University of Missouri, and well-edited, with one small but noteworthy exception. In the section on wartime Japan, Ishihara notes that "On December 8, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor..." From his side of the International Date Line, Professor Ishihara's dating is absolutely correct, but, under the assumption that the intended primary readership is American, it is a definite proofreader's faux pas to let an important date such as the "Day of Infamy" stand uncorrected or, to be accurate, untranslated.

Finally, the publication of Mark Twain in Japan underscores a growing interchange of Twain scholarship between the United States and regions of the world which were not visited by even the peripatetic Clemens. Another example of this interest was noted at the most recent Elmira Mark Twain Studies Conference, at which six papers were presented in two separate sessions devoted to Mark Twain and his influence in both Japan and China. A century after his death, Mark Twain continues to be widely read and studied, even where obstacles such as idiomatic English, slang, and a Pike County accent present a challenge, one which professor Ishihara has met with a particular eloquence of his own.