A recently discovered letter written by novelist Nagai Kafu shortly after the end of the war is providing a rare glimpse of his postwar hardships, experts and his publisher said Wednesday.
Kafu (1879-1959) is known for his lyrical portrayals of urban culture in the early 20th century, particularly the geisha and other denizens of the entertainment districts.
In the letter, dated Aug. 17, 1946, Kafu asks an acquaintance for a futon, saying his own was very dirty. The letter was addressed to the widow of kabuki actor Ichikawa Sadanji, a close friend of his who died in 1940, and asks for Sadanji’s futon as a “memento.”
The letter, which was found in Tokyo, is a new discovery, according to Kunihiko Nakajima, a professor of modern Japanese literature at Waseda University. “Aside from the literary value, it is interesting in that it gives more tangible descriptions of the aspect of his hardships.”
After his house, dubbed Henkikan, burned down in a 1945 Tokyo air raid, the solitary Kafu resided in Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture, with the family of his cousin.
“I cannot study even at night as it is so noisy,” Kafu wrote, referring to the sound of a radio emanating from another room. “It is also difficult for now to build a house in (Tokyo’s) Azabu,” he added, referring to the freeze on savings at the time.
Kafu’s complaint about noise is already known through his diary, “Danchotei Nichijo,” but details about the hardships he faced in his life did not appear in his works.
Nakajima said he can see a weakness in Kafu surfacing in the text of the letter and other aspects of his character as a result of his experience living with the cousin’s family.
“It provides evidence of (Kafu) out of rhythm through living with other people,” he said.
The letter emerged when an antiquarian bookshop in Tokyo put it on sale earlier this year.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.