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This volume makes available for the first time in English two of the most important novels of Japanese colonialism: Yuasa Katsuei’s Kannani and Document of Flames. Born in Japan in 1910 and raised in Korea, Yuasa was an eyewitness to the ravages of the Japanese occupation. In both of the novels presented here, he is clearly critical of Japanese imperialism. Kannani (1934) stands alone within Japanese literature in its graphic depictions of the racism and poverty endured by the colonized Koreans. Document of Flames (1935) brings issues of class and gender into sharp focus. It tells the story of Tokiko, a divorced woman displaced from her Japanese home who finds herself forced to work as a prostitute in Korea to support herself and her child. Tokiko eventually becomes a landowner and oppressor of the Koreans she lives amongst, a transformation suggesting that the struggle against oppression often ends up replicating the structure of domination.
In his introduction, Mark Driscoll provides a nuanced and engaging discussion of Yuasa’s life and work and of the cultural politics of Japanese colonialism. He describes Yuasa’s sharp turn, in the years following the publication of Kannani and Document of Flames, toward support for Japanese nationalism and the assimilation of Koreans into Japanese culture. This abrupt ideological reversal has made Yuasa’s early writing—initially censored for its anticolonialism—all the more controversial. In a masterful concluding essay, Driscoll connects these novels to larger theoretical issues, demonstrating how a deep understanding of Japanese imperialism challenges prevailing accounts of postcolonialism.
An all-yellow kite, a half-red and half-purple kite, another with a green circle against a white background-numerous kites, like colored paper strewn every which way, were alternately ascending and sinking all through the sky as they were blown by a strong wind. The sky was big and blue with only two or three scattered clouds, like a typical fall day. The kites swam around freely in the clouds while competing for height with one another.
Among all the kites one dyed deep red had broken away and was climbing higher than any of the others. This red kite seemed to be showing off, bragging "I'm all the way up here" as it danced victoriously higher and higher. One kite that lagged behind at a much lower altitude, with a golden circle against the white background shining in the sun, made several jerky motions diagonally upward. When its string just about crossed the string pulling the red kite in the shape of an x, it plummeted down, and now, like a stray, runaway kite fanned by the wind, spun around the red kite's string, causing it to tangle.
A group of Korean boys standing and watching on the bank shouted out "Wow!" The boy who was flying the kite withthe golden circle revealed a flush of intense pleasure on his face as he strained to reel in the kite string. Trying to keep the kite strings smooth, every so often he struck the string forcefully against his thighs while reeling the bobbin. His kite proceeded to descend unsteadily and then rise up again. As it did so, the string of the red kite stretched high in the sky and then snapped at the point where it got tangled up with the golden circle kite. After its string snapped the red kite started to float out of human control, dragging its broken string along behind it.
The group of onlookers at the bank shouted, "Wow, it really took off!" and scattered quickly like locusts. Another group of boys who were watching at the river's edge, along with a second group that was on top of the hill, a third group that was playing kick the can near the mud wall, and yet a fourth group that was playing spin the top, yelled out seemingly in unison with the group on the bank, "Whooah, it really took off!" At which point all the groups followed along after the billowing kite, intently fixing their eyes on it.
Although the red kite began to drift over to one side of the mountain, the direction of the wind seemed to have altered its path because it suddenly floated in the opposite direction, toward the river's edge. The boys who'd run off in the direction of the mountain ran down the hill in a flurry, following the kite's shifting course. The boys wearing their customary white clothes streamed down the red clay hill toward the kite, forming the shape of a waterfall with white spray. Just then, the kite with the broken string crashed down into the straw roof of a hut and the string got tangled in a poplar tree. The boys wrestled for position underneath the poplar tree and the hut; finally a scuffle broke out to see who would end up with the kite and the string.
It was New Year's Day. Even boys who weren't involved with the excitement of the kite chase still managed to have fun playing games like kick the can and spin the top alongside the mud wall. The soccer-like game of kick the can is played by kicking copper pennies wrapped up in paper. As they play the boys bend their bodies at the hip and grind their teeth intensely. In convulsions, the tip of their tongue hits the side of their mouth and when they kick the money they yell out in Korean "Did ya see that?" and "That one beat yours!" The other boys watching on the sidelines carefully keep score of the money (that looks like white butterflies) by counting aloud "One, Two, Three." They often place bets on the game. Contestants who win thirty pennies can exchange this amount for two pieces of candy; the winner invariably sprints at full speed immediately to the candy store after the game to claim his prize. Even so, the game played with the top was the more exciting game.
Spin the top is played with a top made out of a sharp piece of oak painted with colors such as red, yellow, and purple. Players spin it by wrapping the top with a five-foot-long string which they then pull with a stick really fast, pulling with their right hand and holding the top with their left hand. When this is done correctly, the top should spin around madly on a frozen road, flaunting its complex seven-color design scheme. As the top juts into a piece of ice, it makes a whirring sound and flies away. The boys chase after the tops, slapping them with the whips they've brought. Sometimes the tops crash into each other, giving off sparks.
Near the mud wall on the road that runs alongside the river, Ryuji and Kannani had been fixated on the tops for some time. Each side had put their team's tops into play and the players were running circles around the tops, grunting with all their strength as the tops let out their whirring sound. The spectators cheered in unison, calling out the names of the boys who were competing.
The Korean boys were having a great time with the tops. To make sure their New Year's poncho-like dorumaki didn't get mussed up, they tucked up the hem and fastened it with a piece of red and purple cloth. These overshirts fluttered lightly like holiday ribbons as the boys ran around the tops. Even the many boys who weren't able to wear the special New Year's black clothing and had to wear summer-like white clothing cut out of coarse cloth put on special rubber shoes just for the holiday occasion. One boy who had on these shoes he was only allowed to wear two or three times a year frolicked about with particular glee. Still another boy was singing a song in Japanese called "It's a New Year" that he learned at the Japanese-style New Year's party at school.
Completely isolated from the frolicking Korean boys, all Ryuji could do was squat down and watch them, disconsolately holding his chin up with his hand. He felt particularly sad because they ignored him completely. Even though he implored the kids "Let me play, will you?" they continued to ignore him. Whenever there were older Korean boys playing, they angrily called him "Jap" in Korean. Even on the rare occasion when they did allow him to play, all the Korean boys would gang up on him and he invariably ended up totally defeated and humiliated. Ryuji thought that this was because of his Japanese clothes and Japanese geta clogs. He decided to wear the poncho-style shirts that the Korean kids wore, so that whenever he got a chance to play with them he'd be dressed exactly like them. But it didn't stop there; he also wanted a top of his very own, just like the kind the Korean kids had. Even though up until now his father had bought him whatever he'd asked for, he put his foot down in the case of the top and adamantly refused to buy him one. His father admonished, "Don't pay any attention to those Korean games." So the day before New Year's Ryuji decided to make a top all by himself. He cut off a piece of wood from an apricot tree and tried to whittle it into the shape of a top, but as soon as he tested it out, it spun around only two or three times and fell over. Then he tried to whittle it again to make it spin more effectively, but it turned out as skinny as a pencil. To make matters worse, while he was doing all this he cut his index finger and bled all over the place.
Ryuji tried to stop the bleeding by sucking his finger, but as soon as he did blood started to ooze quickly out of his thin skin. When he tasted the bittersweet blood on the tip of his tongue he felt an inexplicable loneliness. "Doesn't it hurt?" Kannani asked as she brought her face close to him. Her oil-free, braided hair tickled him, and they heard a song off in the distance:
He's clearly the best! The very best groom in the world He'll be so happy and proud When he meets his sweet bride Covered with ashes from her crown to her feet.
Even though a drunk was singing it, the voicing was melodic and peaceful. Kannani said, "Look, it's the groom's procession," and jumped up abruptly as she ordered Ryuji, "Hurry up! Let's go see!" Ryuji obeyed and took off running after Kannani. The wedding procession appeared to be heading in the direction of the road by the Kakomon River. When Ryuji caught up with Kannani, she was already chatting excitedly with another girl who'd been following along at the tail end of the procession. "Ryuji, I just heard that this is her sister's wedding," Kannani said, pointing at the Korean girl Onyonna.
As she was saying this she was already heading down toward the river, dragging Ryuji along by his sleeve. Although the river was frozen over, because the surface of the ice was rough, they hardly slipped at all. They ran across the ice to the other side of the river and then looked back to the procession.
The procession passed slowly along the opposite riverside. At the very front an old man with a ruddy face was carrying a red, purple, and white flag and was keeping time with the rhythm of his singing. A palanquin carried by married Korean men swung wave-like from left to right, filling the entire road. The custom was for these male porters to advance by swinging the carriage back and forth, oscillating from left to right. A big umbrella that stretched all the way from the front to the back covered the palanquin. Young, unmarried men carried this umbrella and they staggered forward under the weight of it, trying to keep in rhythm by swaying their heads back and forth. "They'll circle around Kakomon," Onyonna said and dashed ahead to get to the front of the procession. To Ryuji it appeared that Kannani and Onyonna were talking about all the wedding outfits, speaking in a super-fast Korean.
After Kannani showed off her pale pink blouse, Onyonna proudly displayed her purple ch'ima skirt, saying delightedly, "This is the first time I'm allowed to wear this pretty skirt my parents bought for me, cuz it's the day of my sister's wedding. But still, wait 'til you see how beautiful my sister's outfit is! Don't you think it would be great to wear such gorgeous clothes even just one time?" At that point, the procession passed through a small gate with an aphorism written on it in big Chinese characters that predicted: "The first day of spring brings good fortune."
The inside of the reception house was jam-packed. Women servers were carrying dishes cooked in a stove below the floor heater to eight or nine guests sitting together on a wooden floor. A stew made from meat, bean sprouts, and Chinese cabbage, bowls of udon noodles, and rice cakes had been laid out beforehand, awaiting the arrival of the guests. Ryuji and Kannani wondered where the bride was. They looked around, but before they could identify her, Onyonna showed up with corn cakes she'd brought from the kitchen. After she handed two cakes to each of them she dragged them to the mud wall so they could see the bride. "You can see her from here, can't you?" Onyonna asked Ryuji in polite Japanese and smiled. From where they now stood, a little higher than the house floor where they'd been standing before, they were able to see clear into the room behind the stove and the floor heater.
When they peered in they saw the bride sitting on a long rug with her right leg drawn up to her chest and her left leg tucked underneath her. Her hands were gathered up and clasped together inside her wedding dress and her eyes were tightly closed. Her bright golden crown and rainbow-colored collar were especially pretty.
Onyonna explained: "Today's the third day. She's waiting with her eyes closed in that position until the groom shows up." Kannani inquired, "And when he finally comes ... ?" Onyonna responded, "She'll have him open her eyes." As she sighed and shut her eyes just like the bride, Kannani mused, "That's really sweet. I wish I could be a bride." Onyonna, whose eyes were in the same shut condition as Kannani's, burst out, "It costs 50 yen! Fifty yen is what my sister cost." She explained, "The place that owned my sister made him pay 50 yen; the groom had to pay for her." As she grabbed hold of him under the arm, Kannani inquired, "Hey, Ryuji! Would you buy me for 50 yen?" Ryuji responded, "Sure I would, when I grow up." Then Kannani teased him by loudly exclaiming, "I doubt if Ryuji will have 50 yen when he grows up." Then she shifted her attention back to the bride. Onyonna advised her, "If you become Ryuchan's bride, make sure there's no money involved. Aren't you two sweethearts the most famous couple in this city?"
Kannani brought the loose ends of her sash up to her face, which had turned crimson. Totally embarrassed, she ran as far away from them as she could, ending up next to a mud wall; she shrank down into a crouch and whimpered, " Onyonna's so mean."
But Onyonna wouldn't stop: "Ryuji's Japanese, so he doesn't need any money to marry somebody. But anyway, it doesn't matter cuz when Ryuji grows up he'll have lots of money because he is Japanese. Kannani, you'll be one happy wife married to a rich Japanese. Won't you, Kannani?" As Onyonna kept teasing Kannani, she cast a mischievous eye toward Ryuji and laughed. Ryuji cursed her: "You little devil!" Ryuji pretended to sound angry, but his face turned red instantly; one could see he was blushing uncontrollably from the embarrassment.
While Ryuji ran as fast as he could away from the two girls toward the small gate, a strange feeling of delight sprang up excitedly in his body. Suddenly, though, his anger returned even stronger than it was to begin with and he lashed out at a stone with his foot.
He's clearly the best! The very best groom in the world.
He heard the drunk's wedding song around the corner of the house and figured the procession was coming their way. Rushing out to meet it, Kannani and Onyonna were just a little bit behind Ryuji, and farther behind them trailed relatives of the newlyweds who'd joined the crowd after the procession started. The bride-groom appeared from a carriage in the center of the procession, helped along by the guiding hands of the escorts. Family members of the bride strewed sacred ashes from the back of the procession and danced amid them as if the ashes were flakes in a snowstorm. The ashes scattered all over the place and accumulated even on the bridegroom's black crown and on the shoulders of his purple full-length cape. At that point, family members of both the bride and the groom bowed to each other. Just as the bridegroom was stooping down to pass underneath the small gate, Ryuji and Kannani heard another melody being sung, the piercing memory of which they'd be forced to recall over and over.
Ryuchan and Kannani are totally strange Falling for a Korean slut puts all Japanese to shame.
A group of Japanese grade school kids suddenly appeared rounding the corner from an out-of-the-way path. They seemed shocked and embarrassed to see Ryuji and Kannani so unexpectedly.
"Well, well, look who we bumped into: the famous couple," said a middle school bully with big, round eyes named Katchan. Older than the other kids, he seemed to be the ringleader. So when he picked up a small stone and threw it, about seven or eight grade school kids followed suit and threw stones in the direction of Ryuji and Kannani. The stones missed them, but because Ryuji and Kannani were by this time fairly close to the procession, the stones that suddenly seemed to be coming from all directions struck some of the people in the procession.
A group of angry Koreans in the procession responded to the stoning as they jumped out of the crowd toward the Japanese school kids.
"Who do you think you're talkin' to, idiot Yobos?"3 was the parting phrase the Japanese boys left them with as they took off quickly back down the path. The Koreans in the procession only wanted to scare the Japanese kids and didn't chase after them.
Ryuchan and Kannani are totally strange Falling for a Korean slut puts all Japanese to shame.
Excerpted from Kannani AND Document of Flames by Yuasa Katsuei Copyright © 2005 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
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