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Tayama Katai: The Girl Watcher (Shjoby, 1907)

*Original: May 1907, Taiy
*Translation: The Quilt and Other Stories by Tayama Katai, trans. Kenneth G. Henshall.
Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press, 1981.
Tayama Katai (1872-1930): Kenysha and, later, naturalist novelist credited with
writing the first I-novel (watakushi shsetsu). His early work was highly romantic,
but with the essay Rokotsu naru bysha (1904; Straightforward Description) he
pointed the way toward the more realistic path he was to follow under French influence.
The injunction to observe strict objectivity and to describe things as they are, deriving
from the early French naturalists Guy de Maupassant and the brothers Edmond and
Jules Goncourt, developed into a major genre in Japanese literaturethe watakushi
shsetsu, or autobiographical novel. His Onna no kyshi was published in 1903,
but Futon (1907; The Quilt) made his reputation. It described in embarrassing detail
the attraction of a middle-aged writer to a young female student. A trilogy of
autobiographical novels, Sei (1908; Life), Tsuma (190809; Wives), and En (1910;
The Bond), fixed the distinguishing form of Japanese naturalism. Inaka kyshi (1909;
A Country Schoolmaster) showed the influence of the Goncourts and of Gustave
Flauberts Madame Bovary. Tayamas essay on his own literary theories, Katai bunwa
(1911; Katais Literary Discourses), introduced into the critical language the
term heimen bysha (plain description), with which he is identified. In later years,
with the decline in the influence of naturalism, he entered a period of personal
confusion from which he emerged with a calm, almost religious attitude, which was
reflected in Zansetsu (1918; Lingering Snow) (adapted from Encyclopdia Britannica
and other sources).
Literary Terms
1. Heimen bysha : Plain/flat/objective/surface/unmediated description;
Tayamas guiding aesthetic concept and key to his technique of sketch-from-life
shaseibun realism; focuses on surface of things, with as little
thoughts/feelings/imagination/subjective evaluation as possible. Tayamas radically
empiricistic motto: I describe my own experiences in reality only as I saw, heard, and
touched them.

2. Watakushi shsetsu : Form/genre of twentieth-century Japanese literature (or

mode of reading) characterized by self-revelation and focus on personal matters from
subjective perspective; author usually read as the central character; emphasizes flat,
unvarnished, and sincere depiction; grew out of the naturalist movement; Tayamas
Futon often regarded as first I-novel; the term first used in the 1920s; Hirano Ken
divided the I-novel into two types: and .
3. Genbun itchi : The principle of unifying spoken and written languages;
modern colloquial transparent style; first advocated in the 1880s; first successfully
achieved in the works of Futabatei Shimei and Yamada Bimy; became the dominant
mode of writing after 1895. By 1910, the principle/style had become so widespread that
the term was no longer used.
Study Questions
1. From what point of view is the story told? Where is the focalization point? Give
2. Describe the style of prose. Is this an example of heimen bysha? If so, how? Is it
an example of genbun itchi? Explain.
3. Describe the setting/surrounding scenery. What sort of area was Sendagaya in the
early twentieth century?
4. Describe Sugita Koj (i.e. his age, appearance, personality, job/workplace, interests,
dreams, literary experience, domestic situation, type in women, anguish, reputation,
romantic history, illness/condition, etc.). Is he a comic, tragic, or tragicomic figure?
5. Describe the final scene. Might his death have been intentional? Explain.
6. Make a list of all the girls (shjo) that appear in the story. Describe their features.
What do they all have in common?
7. Is Sugita aware of how he is viewed by others? Does he care? How does the author

(Tayama Katai) employ ironic distance /dramatic irony in the work?

8. Tayama Katai is often regarded as the first I-novelist. Can you identify any
I-novel-esque features in the work? Explain.

Further Reading
1. Tayama Katai. Literary life in Tky, 1885-1915: Tayama Katais Memoirs Thirty
years in Tky. Translated and introduced by Kenneth G. Henshall. Brill Archive,