Lady Chatarei gives Japanese a taste for DH Rorensu

Omae ga hoshiinowa omanko nandana. Jein fujin ni omanko ga hoshii to ittemina. Jon Tomasu to Jein fujin no omanko da! - ... Suruto kanojo no yureru chibusa ga, kataku tsukkitta penisu ni fure, itteki no ekitai ga tsuita.*

Words like these do not normally make it into family newspapers, and until a few weeks ago they could not have been seen anywhere. They come from Chatarei Fujin no Koibito, last and most famous novel of the great modernist Rorensu. Forty-seven years after a scandalous trial, the adventures of Konii, her paralysed husband, Kurifoodo, and the lusty Meraazu with his mighty Jon Tomasu, have once again become widely available to large numbers of Japanese readers.

The book is, of course, Lady Chatterley's Lover, currently enjoying a new lease of life in a long-censored Japanese translation. Since its unexpurgated publication at the end of last year, it has sold more than 200,000 copies and closed the circle on one of the country's oldest and most celebrated literary controversies.

Official Japanese attitudes to obscenity, as many Western visitors notice, are a jumble of messy contradictions. Last year a British diplomat was jailed for three years for bringing home child pornography which he had purchased - quite legally - during a posting in Tokyo. But censors have only just begun to relax the regulations which forced film distributors to obscure all depictions of pubic hair with fuzzy grey blobs.

Violent, sexually explicit comics (like the one about a predatory superhero, with the helpful title Rape Man) are the staple reading of bored commuters. Yet shunga - erotic prints by 18th century wood-block artists - are routinely excised from exhibitions and catalogues of their work. Just as Japan's history has swung between bristly xenophobia and a promiscuous openness to foreign influences, so public morality combines unabashed tolerance with Victorian prudishness.

Lawrence's work reached Japan during one of the country's most relaxed intellectual periods - the 1920s, when young Bohemians listened to jazz and talked European literature in French-style cafes. A young novelist named Sei Ito, a devotee of Proust and James Joyce, translated the unexpurgated Lady Chatterley at a time when, even in English, it was available only in pirated American editions. The rise of militarism in the 1930s and Japan's catastrophic war prevented its publication; with the defeat of the Imperial Army and the new freedoms of American occupation, however, the moment finally seemed right.

But Ito and his publisher, Hisajiro Oyama, found themselves the victim of another historical about-turn. Chatarei Fujin no Koibito was finally published in 1950 as Japan was becoming a mustering-station for troops headed for the Korean War. Fearful of a Communist revival, the Americans revived many of the powers of the pre-war interior ministry. One of its first targets was the pornography which found a ready market among the thousands of GIs stationed in Japan. At the centre of the campaign, 10 years before the famous Lady Chatterley case in Britain, was the trial of Chatarei Fujin.

The hearings lasted through two appeals and eight years. Finally, the Supreme Court convicted Ito and Oyama, and fined them 100,000 yen each, enough to ruin the publisher. "It was a great strain for my father," says his son, Rei Ito, himself a translator and Lawrence scholar. "He was a sensitive man, and throughout the war he had worried constantly that he would be forced to stop writing by the censors. Now he faced the humiliation of being labelled a pornographer. We got anonymous letters saying things like, 'I hope you die - you did this for the money!'" Ito's future success as a writer, however, was sealed, and he even published a fictionalised account of the case, The Trial, to be reissued this spring.

So traumatic was the trial that, until last year, publishers would only put out the Ito version with 80 pages of excisions. New translations were made, but all except one (a little-known version quietly published in the 1970s), contained cuts. Then last year, Rei Ito translated the rude bits and completed his father's work. "Shortly before my father died he said to me that one day the time will come when the complete manuscript can be published," says Rei Ito. "When the publishers asked me, I wondered if the world really needed one more irrelevant book. But I'm getting old too, and the year before last I had cancer. My father had been thinking about Lady Chatterley's Lover just before he died. Now that it is complete I do feel a sense of relief."

Theoretically the Supreme Court's ruling remains in place, but in the age of Rape Man, even the most conservative public prosecutor would be hard pressed to make a case. "When I went into bookshops, and saw the expurgated translation on the shelves, it was like finding a prehistoric Coelacanth still swimming around," says Rei Ito. "Now the Coelacanth has disappeared. I'm rather sorry to see it go."

*[Mellors, addressing his John Thomas] "'C--t, that's what tha'rt after. Tell Lady Jane tha wants c--t. John Thomas, an' th' c--t o' Lady Jane!- ' ... Her hanging, swinging breasts touched the tip of the stirring, erect phallus, and caught the drop of moisture."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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 General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links