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'.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot