Professor HASHIMOTO, Yorimitsu 《Comparative Literature》

Interviewer/Planner: Rieko Kunimoto (3rd year specializing in Aesthetics and Literature), Minori Sugihara (3rd year specializing in Art History)

Reason for Studying Comparative Literature

hashimoto_yorimitsu.jpg Sugihara : What kind of study is comparative literature?

Hashimoto : I’ve always liked to think that literature is similar to things like pork rice bowls (katsudon). It seems like it has been here forever, but in fact, much of it was created after the 19th century. Additionally, like ramen, it originally came from a foreign country, but ramen today is acknowledged as Japanese. Just as there’s curry rice in Japan, England has an Indian dish called chicken tikka masala. We have Japanese foods made from imported ingredients, and traditional Japanese food (Kaiseki) has been made into course meals. Sushi has been part of the Japanese culture since the Edo period and yet, after becoming internationally popular, these internationalized dishes have been imported back to Japan. You can look at any Japanese food and closely connect it with foreign countries, and I feel like it is the same with literature and art in any country. In comparative literature, we do not just look at a certain country’s literature, but we connect it with several countries and follow the process, and boundary crossing, of its formation.

Kunimoto : Could you please tell us the reason that you decided to follow through with your studies of comparative literature?

Hashimoto : To be honest, I have not acquired any educational degrees in the field, and I do not necessarily have a concrete job, so I cannot say I am an expert, but the reason I wanted to become a researcher is because of Osamu Tezuka. In 1977, when I was still seven years old, his complete works were published, and my father would buy me the series in small bunches, starting from the first volume of “Kimba, the White Lion.” His reason for this was that Osamu Tezuka’s works were interesting. I quickly became hooked. Many of Osamu Tezuka’s works are adaptations of stories from novels and movies. He famously turned Faust into a manga three times. He quoted another work of Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther , in Phoenix, Vol. Future, which was done in a remarkable manner. I was so intrigued by the scene where the mad scientist, Dr. Saruta, who has lost all hope after his long years of research fail, begins to read the first chapter of Goethe. Dr. Saruta was so different from Shibasaburo Kitasato and Edison. Now that I look back to the story at this age, I can see that Dr. Saruta was an adaptation of Professor Faust. The New Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio is one of Osamu Tezuka’s short stories about himself, writing from his experience of reading Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio . Tezuka believes that his copy of Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio in his house is something out of his imagination, and he decides to read it out of curiosity only to find that instead of being scary, it is a sensual book. Osamu Tezuka manages to connect this to the Japanese Fox Wife and creates a story out of it. This has motivated me, and I became infatuated with studying and researching materials such as these that have been cooked up into a beautiful book.

I’ve always thought European novels were amazing, but I cannot help myself loving Chinese and Japanese literature. I remember having trouble choosing my area of focus, as comparative literature did not exist at the time. That was when I came across two books, Orientalism by Edward Said, and Yellow Peril Story by Bunso Hashikawa. I realized that I wanted to research the ways in which the East was presented in Western Literature and decided on English Literature. I soon had a bitter realization that if I spent my time analyzing the books that I loved, it would not give me enough passion and knowledge to talk about or discover something interesting, and that thought lead me to read all books, regardless of whether or not they had been reviewed in the past.

I found out through Yellow Peril Story that in the late 19th century, a book came out that specifically focused on how the East was a threat. This threat became a positive aspect for Japan at the time and was adapted affirmatively. The stories influenced Japan’s nationalism and Pan-Asianism. Although it was pulp fiction, and not very interesting, once I was able to look at the entire picture, my findings were fascinating. In Orientalism, Said interpreted that the West was unconsciously prejudiced towards the East, but that prejudice provoked Japan’s identity to become powerful, and that was how Japan seemed to have become more of a threat towards the Western societies, as written in the English work Yellow Peril . The interaction and connection between these two cultures was so intriguing to me. This is what I believe to be a bit similar to the re-importation of sushi from West to East.

The Student Life of Professor Hashimoto

Kunimoto : What were you like when you were a student? We heard that you created a Fanzine (magazine published by fans).

Hashimoto : That is quite embarrassing. Just like my peers, I never really went to classes, but I was always cooped up at the library, focusing on writing in order to publish a magazine of reviews and translations. As my funding source, I published and sold magazines every year that solely provided information pertaining to the literature classes at the university. We studied and researched the classes that students took, writing in our reviews that this class is easy if you read the teachers’ dissertation, this language class does not require analysis work, or this class is difficult to get credits in, but it is really interesting. Our “purpose” was to inform students about which classes would be a good fit for them and which classes would be able to provide them with the information they needed. I think they stopped publishing it after we graduated.

The most embarrassing thing about it was that one of my former teachers, Prof. Naohiko Fuji—I skipped most of his classes and was quite self-absorbed while asking questions when I was there—had seen this magazine we had made and told me he was glad that it contained no personal animosity towards professors. When I came here, I was appointed to the position that was in charge of introducing the Department of Literature. I knew it was some cynical sign. Once you start playing for the other team and become a teacher, it helps you realize that the repetitive classes and foreign language classes are all necessary in education. I could never be like Prof. Fujii. I remember borrowing many books from him, and now when I borrow books from the General Library, I find that some of them were donated to the library by him. I remember him reminding me, “Don’t become too smart now.” It was then that I realized that simply receiving information just wasn’t going to do.

About the Department of Literature

Sugihara : What strengths do you think literature students have? We do not necessarily learn skills that we can use straight after graduating and entering society.

Hashimoto : I think there is an advantage to that. If you present yourself to a company, explaining that you have certain skills in technology, the minute technology changes and evolves, it all becomes pointless. Of course literature students have strengths, as this introduction to the Department of Literature demonstrates. You’ve planned and researched everything required to set this up. Moreover, that is a skill. I feel that literature students have the ability to take a step back from society and see it for what it is, like a niche; you can discover the nooks and crannies and find interesting things that weren’t being shown in the light yet. We need people who can lead us and say, “this is the way, that is the way.” However, that can also lead to the destruction of society. You see it all the time in scenes of movies where people are in a panic. The thing is, we need people who can also take a step back and ask, is this the right way?

A Final Message to Literature Students

Try to become someone who can cook up something “delicious." It is always fun to go to a buffet and walk around the streets, only eating the things that you like, but it is important to start your training right with the kitchen knife, learning how to sharpen it, to create something beautiful. It’ll help you not to judge something based on your personal likes and dislikes, but it will help you understand how incredible things are made. Once you understand, that is when you can start to create your own. The Department of Literature will help you to understand from point zero and teach you the meaning of culture and society in order to mold your own. Maybe one day you could teach your experiences too, through the Introduction of the Department of Literature. To all high school students, I hope that you will even aspire to become a member of the editorial committee of the literature department.

Excerpt from Introduction of Osaka University School of Letters, 2012-2013 . The interviewers’ years are presented as they were at the time of the interview (October 2011).