The following biographical sketch is adapted with deletions and additions from Sachiko S. Schierbeck, Japanese Women Novelists in the 20th Century: 104 biographies, 1900-1993. Copenhagen: Museum Tusalanum Press, 1994, pp. 112-118.

ENCHI FUMIKO (1905-1986) was born in Tokyo on October 2, 1905 and died of heart failure on November 14,1986. Her father was Ueda Kazutoshi (1867-1937), a distinguished Japanese linguist. Her grandmother (of male-lineage) was an avid partisan of Kabuki and a good story-teller. Enchi attended the girls' middle school of Japan Women's University from 1918-1922; she received private tuition in English, French. and Kambun (Chinese literature) until her marriage. She also attended the lectures of Osanai Kaoru. the founder of modern Japanese drama. In 1930, she married Enchi Yoshimatsu. a journalist with whom she had a daughter. She had two major operations, a mastectomy in 1938 and a hysterectomy in 1946.

As a young child Enchi was taken to the Kabuki theatre and listened to the gesaku novels of the late Edo era. A precocious girl, she read everything from the Genji monogatari to Edo gesaku and modern novels in adult magazines. At 13 her reading list included the works of Oscar Wilde, Edgar A1lan Poe, Hoffman. and the writings of lzumi Kyoka (1873-1939), Nagai Kafu (1879-1959). Akutagawa Ryunosuke (1892-1927), and Tanizaki Jun'ichiro (1868-1965), whose sado-masochistic aestheticism particularly fascinated her. Her interest in the theatre was encouraged also by her father. In 1926 her one-act play. "Furusato" (A Birthplace), was published in the journal Kabuki and was received favorably. Another one-act play "Banshu soya" (A Noisy Night in Late Spring, 1928) was acclaimed when it was staged at the Tsukiji Little Theatre. After the birth of her daughter, Enchi turned to novel writing. Her earliest novels such as Kaze no gotoki kotoba (The Words Like the Wind, 1939), Ten no sachi, umi no sachi (The Treasures of Heaven and Sea. 1940) and Shunju (Spring and Autumn, 1943) did not sell well.

During the war Enchi lost property in the bombing and afterwards she made a slow recovery from a cancer operation. In this period. she published little. Around 1951 she reestablished herself as an author writing of the suffering of women. In 1953 the title story of Himojii tsukihi (Starving Days), which had first appeared in serial form in 1951, won the Women's Literature Prize. It is a violent, harrowing tale of family misfortune and deprivation. both physical and emotional. The highly praised novel, Onna zaka (The Waiting Years, 1949-1957) won the Noma Literary Prize. It analyzed the plight of women who had no alternative but to accept the demeaning roles that the patriarchal family system had assigned to them. At the age of 15 the protagonist Tomo is married to a government official. When he becomes an influential man, he begins to have affairs, and persuades the childless Tomo to let him have a young mistress living in their house. Many of Enchi's most memorable characters are mature women who have either lost their reproductive function, or their beuaty, or both and as a result seethe with anger, passion and even erotic desire. With the qualities that society values most in a woman, her sexuality and her capacity to reproduce, absent, she has little on which to base claims of authority or legitimacy. Tomo's husband does not stop the humilation of his wife by placing just one mistress in his household, he adds another. He even stoops to seducing his own daughter-in-law, his brutish son's wife, much to the horror of Tomo and the other two concubines. However, Tomo maintains her position as the mistress of the household, even showing these defenceless young women compassion. On her deathbed, Tomo insists that she does not want her body to be buried; it should simply be dumped into the water. Her husband shudders as he listens to her, realizing at last the torments she has suffered for forty years. The text ends with these two sentences:

His body had suffered the full force of the emotions that his wife had struggled to repress for forty years. The shock was enough to split his arrogant ego in two.

With these words, powerful blow was delivered against the patriarchy and its abuses. Anger and resentment long suppressed surfaces with such force that it can shatter a husband's ego. As Nina Cornyetz notes in her study Dangerous Women, Deadly Words

Known as a writer of pyschological fiction, Enchi's narrative project more accurately combined a fiction or archetypes with vacillations between "gestalt" interiority and "individual" interiority. . .For Enchi, "psychological interiority," as written in a text, was both deeply individual and personal but nonetheless inseparable from the collective, sociolpolitical experience of being a woman in modern Japan" (101).

In other words, while Enchi clearly does probe the interior psychological spaces of her female characters, she is also interested in placing them squarely in the current of Japanese history and society. The Waiting Years, in particular, is centered on the period in which the prewar patriarchal political and social order was constructed, i.e., between the 1880s and the 1920s.

In Onnamen (Masks, 1958) Mieko is modelled on the Rokujo Lady who appeared in The Tale of Genji. She is an intelligent woman of great complexity with extraordinary charm whose precious son dies in a disaster on Mt. Fuji. She manipulates her widowed daughter-in-law Yasuko in an attempt to obtain a surrogate for the son she has lost. It is a tale of erotic desperation and complexity. Fond of the using blood as a metaphor for talking about the way women are both linked in solidarity and also regarded as polluted in the male gaze, Enchi finds a way to both collude with dominant representations of females while simultaneously subverting them. One among many of Masks themes seems clear: Japan's matrilineal heritage is reclaimed through blood lineage handed down from generation to generation by and through women and thereby freed from its subordination to the dominant, patriarchal ideology. Doris Bargen has written a wonderful article on Masks called "Twin Blossoms on a Single Branch" (Monumenta Nipponica 46:2 (1991) in which see sees it as "a complex work about love and hate, bereavement and mournings, liminality and transformation. Structually, Onnamen can be imagined as a series of discoveries, as a set of triangular relationships, or as a modern parallel to a major episode in the Genji Monogatari. Thematicall, it involvers the reader in a meditation on revenge, sacrifice and self-sacrifice, and atonement. Seen anthropologically, the novel suggests that obliquely aggresive strategies adopted by Heian women in response to their situation in a polyganous society may still be effective in our time." (147) Her interpretation of Masks notes how not only is the structure tripartite, with each section named after three different types of onnamen or women's Noh masks, and it follows the jo-ha-kyuu developmental pattern in terms of the intensity of plot development, but it is literally teeming with other triads and triangular relations: Yasuko-Ibuki-Mikame, spirit-medium-possessed, Mieko-Yasuko-Harume,Mieko-Togano Masatsugu-her mysterious lover, etc. There are even 3 sets of substitutions occurring in the text: the twins for Aguri's two abortions, Yasuko for the twins, and Harume's baby for Mieko's miscarriage as well as for Akio's loss. Thus, what brings and keeps Yasuko and Mieko together is the quest for a child.

Bargen writes that "Mieko's revenge begins with her refusal to make public her grievance. This first step, motivated by pride, required the sacrifice of whatever female sympathy might have been gained by a show of pain. The second step required further self-sacrifice. Mieko's children became, like Medea's, an instrument of revenge....Mieko fulfills her dark plan by creating a Togano heir who is not at all related by blood to the Togano family. But Mieko had already achieved this feat with her birth of the 'beastly' twins, who are certainly not her husband's and are therefore not Toganos. Had Mieko's aim been revenge, she would have told her husband the horrid truth on his deathbed. She did not....Mieko's quest runs deeper. She is not merely a petty and vindictive woman who seeks to give Togano what he may well deserve. For Mieko, mere revenge is too easily accomplished. It is not so much the destruction of male supremacy as the construction of female power thst is at stake." (163)

Masks is such a complex work; it is, itself, a deep well. Mieko has worn several masks as she has moved through different roles--from disillusioned lover and wearing the Ryoo-no-onna mask, to the end when she dons the Fukai mask, the Deep Woman mask. Or does she ever actually put it on? She stares at it, communes with it as a Noh actor might, her face becoming one with it like "twin blossoms on a single branch" (the title for Bargen's article), but then she drops the mask and must try and cover its face with her left hand while her right arm hangs paralyzed in space. Wow! What are we left with? Is she paralyzed, afraid? Is she facing her own death? Does she feel remorse or regret? Can we know? Or is the power of this novel enhanced by the many rich possibilities for interpretation which the ending allows?

 

[For another article on Enchi click here.]

Nama miko monogatari (The Tale of an Enchantress. 1965) is a tragic historical novel concerning the Empress Teishi. a consort of Emperor lchijo (987-1011). Teishi is described as a strong sensuous woman who dared to defy political power. The work won the 1966 Women's Literature Prize. An aging woman's obsession with young men is the subject of Saimu (Growing Fog, 1976), originally titled Karuizawa. During a short stay at Karuizawa, Sano, a 69-year-old writer, is given a scroll, never to open before her death, by Yukiko Kawahara, over seventy. It tells a tale of religion and eroticism illustrated with pictures depicting the intercourse between a naked miko (holy maiden, virgin shamaness) and a lowly footman. This ritual was carried out at the time of the maiden's purification until she became a grey-haired woman. Lady Kawahara, the inheritor of the scroll, was said to have had affairs with young men all her long life. Every one of them met with mysterious deaths. Sano becomes obsessed by the fantasy of being desired by young men as if she is possessed by the spirit of the Kamono's maiden via Lady Kawahara. In the end, however, the trustful regard of her nephew brings her back to reality, and she burns the scroll.

Enchi is also very well known for the Enchi Genji. a 10-volume modern Japanese translation of the classical The Tale of Genji on which she worked for six years.

In one of Enchi's novels it is said "... In real life, she never knew the moments of happiness through intercourse of the flesh. When a woman realizes that the relationship with her husband is stale, she enters into a fanciful dream world of literary illusions where she experiences the sensuality of her body. For example, the desire of an aging woman writer is aroused by imagining herself as a writer of a classical romance in the Heian period." Her aging characters try to revive their flagging sexuality and spirits with much younger partners. Enchi stresses that the human sexual impulse brings vitality to life and overcomes ageing people's fear of death. Her erotic literary works have been raised for achieving high aesthetic standards.

A special feature of Enchi's writings lies in "using the story-within-a-story device, and juxtaposing the bizarre with the real;" she incorporated elements from the classics, though a critic remarked that she depends too much on her affinity with classical literature. She received all the literary prizes and honours given to writers in Japan, including Bunka Kunsho (Cultural Decoration) in 1985, the highest award made to an individuaI by Emperor Hirohito.

Related Articles of Interest:

1. "Between Osan and Kaoru: The Representation of Women in the Works of Hayashi Fumiko and Enchi Fumiko" by Victoria V. Vernon. Daughters of the Moon: Wish, Will, and Social Constraint in Fiction by Modern Japanese Women, 1988. pp. 137-169.

2. "Echoes of Feminine Sensibility in Literature" Japan Quarterly 35-4, 1988. pp. 410-416.

3. "Enchi Fumiko: A Writer of Tales" by Juliet W. Carpenter. Japan Quarterly 37- 3, 1990.

4. "Enchi Fumiko and a Hidden Energy of the Supernatural" by Wayne Pounds, Journal of the Association of Teachers of Japanese 24-2, 1989. pp. 167-183.

5. Enchi Fumiko's Literature: The Portrait of Women in Enchi Fumiko's Selected Works. By Naoko Alisa Reiger. Gesellschaft fur natur/Volker-kunde Ostasiens. Hamburg 1986.

6. "Eroticism and the Writings of Enchi Fumiko" by Yoko McClain. Journal of the Association of Teachers of Japanese 15-1, 1980. p,p. 32-46.

7. "The Medium of Fiction: Fumiko Enchi as Narrator" by Van C. Gessel. World Literature Today: 62-3. 1988. pp A Literary Quarterly of the University of Oklahoma. 380-385.

8. "Twin Blossoms on a Single Branch: The Cycle of Retribution in Onnamen" by Doris Bargen. Monumenta Nipponica 46-2. 1991 . pp. 147-1 71 .

9. Dangerous Women, Deadly Words by Nina Cornyetz (Stanford University Press, 1999).