Obituary: Junnosuke Yoshiyuki

Junnosuke Yoshiyuki, writer; born Okayama 1 April 1923; died Tokyo 26 July 1994.

The red-light district of Tokyo, the Yoshiwara, which had existed since around 1600, was abolished under the Prostitution Prevention Law in 1957, though it had already been long in decline. It had always been one of the favourite settings for popular novelists, and Junnosuke Yoshiyuki may be considered as one of the last celebrants of a bygone world of prostitution and a major artist in the depiction of the lives of modern ladies of the night.

His mother was a beautician, his father an avant-garde writer, both occupations that must have influenced the young boy. The family moved from provincial Okayama when he was only three to the capital, Tokyo. Junnosuke entered the English literature department of Tokyo University in 1945, and his writings started to appear in small coterie magazines. But, like many Japanese artists and writers, he dropped out of university, and started working for a scandal magazine. He adopted a Baudelairean 'dandy' pose and frequented the post-war bars, cabarets and 'Gay Quarters'. But he also helped to found a literary magazine, Ashi ('Reed').

The style of life he was leading caused him to develop tuberculosis, and in 1954 he was hospitalised. His enforced leisure helped him to write his first story, 'Shuu' ('Sudden Shower'), which won the Akutagawa Prize and laid the basis for his literary reputation. It describes in detached, analytical style his relations with a prostitute, and is obviously autobiographical in what the Japanese call the 'I Novel' genre. He was linked with other writers of his generation like Yasuoka Shotaro, Shusaku Endo and Shumon Miura in his brilliant evocations of urban life and descriptions of scenery. But there was a deeper purpose in his theme, which was to reappear in nearly all his work. He wanted to study human relationships and their values through the medium of sex and prostitution. The postwar mood of disillusionment made him see the love-lives of men and women as fragile and unreliable, fleeting, irresponsible. He saw behind the masks of convention and conformity and searched deeply into the true sources of human behaviour. A translation of this story can be found in the Penguin New Writing in Japan.

His cool objectivity and mordant black humour found a suitable theme in 'Honoo no naka' ('Among the Flames', 1956), about his sexual adventures in wartime Tokyo. In the same year Yoshiyuki published his first novel, Genshoku no machi ('Street of Primary Colours'), about prostitutes and their clients, both male and females, set in the feverish night-life of downtown Tokyo's strip-joints and houses of assignation. A similar subject is found in Shofu no heya ('The Prostitute's Room') - a striking tale of romanticised sexuality and personal depravity that shocked Japan.

Yoshiyuki became a prolific writer of novels, short stories and collections of interviews, for which he had a great gift. In 1963 he had a great best-seller, Suna no ue no shokubutsugun ('Vegetable Garden in the Sand'). He won the Junichiro Tanizaki Prize in 1970 with his best-known work in the West, Anshitsu ('The Dark Room'), which was translated into English in 1976 and, recently, into French. Yugure made ('Until Evening') was awarded the Noma Literary Prize in 1978.

Yoshiyuki had been ill with cancer for several years, but he bore it with his typical dandyish nonchalance. He kept on working cheerfully to the end on his last novel, Medama ('Eyeballs'), though he admitted to a friend that 'writing this novel is taking all my energy now'. His balanced view of life was echoed in his balanced view of death; he stipulated in his will that no funeral ceremonies were to be held, for 'the dead are too much of a trouble to the living'.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Assistant / Human Resources Assistant

£Neg + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: An HR Assistant / Human Resources Ass...

Talent Community Coordinator

£Neg + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A Talent Community Coordinator is nee...

Business Support - Banking - Halifax - £250 pd

£150 - £250 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - HR - Halifax - £150 - £250...

Geography Teacher

£24000 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform