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From Niigata, Sakaguchi was one of a group of young Japanese writers to rise to prominence in the years immediately following Japan's defeat in World War II. In 1946 he wrote his most famous essay, titled "Darakuron" ("On Decadence"), which examined the role of bushido during the war. It is widely argued that he saw postwar Japan as decadent, yet more truthful than a wartime Japan built on illusions like bushido. (The work itself does not make any claims about the meaning of decadence.)
Ango was born in 1906, and was the 12th child of 13. He was born in the middle of a Japan perpetually at war. His father was the president of the Niigata Shinbun (Newspaper), a politician, and a poet.
Ango wanted to be a writer at 16. He moved to Tokyo at 17, after hitting a teacher who caught him truanting. His father died from brain cancer the following year, leaving his family in massive debt. At 20, Ango taught for a year as a substitute teacher following secondary school. He became heavily involved in Buddhism and went to University to study Indian philosophy, graduating at the age of 25. Throughout his career as a student, Ango was very vocal in his opinions.
He wrote various works of literature after graduating, receiving praise from writers such as Makino Shin’ichi. His literary career started around the same time as Japan’s expansion into Manchuria. He met his wife to be, Yada Tsuseko, at 27. His mother died when he was 37, in the middle of World War II. He struggled for recognition as a writer for years before finally finding it with “A Personal View of Japanese Culture” in 1942, and again with “On Decadence” in 1946. That same year, the Emperor formally declared himself a human being, not a god. Ango had a child at 48 with his second wife, Kaji Michio. He died from a brain aneurysm at age 48 in 1955.
Literary Mischief: Sakaguchi Ango, Culture, and the War, edited by James Dorsey and Doug Slaymaker, with translations by James Dorsey. Lanham, MA: Lexington Books, 2010. (Critical essays by Doug Slaymaker, James Dorsey, Robert Steen, Karatani Kojin, and Ogino Anna; translations of "Nihon bunka shikan" [A Personal View of Japanese Culture, 1942], "Shinju" [Pearls, 1942], "Darakuron" [Discourse on Decadence, 1946], and "Zoku darakuron" [Discourse on Decadence, Part II, 1946].)
For more on Sakaguchi's role in postwar Japan, see John Dower's book Embracing Defeat, pp. 155–157.
- Works available in English:
“Nihon bunka shikan” (1942). Transl. by James Dorsey as “A Personal View of Japanese Culture” in Columbia Anthology of Modern Japanese Literature, ed. by Thomas Rimer and Van Gessel. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002, pp. 823~835.
“Sensô to hitori no onna” (1946). Transl. by Lane Dunlop as “One Woman and the War” in Autumn Wind and Other Stories. Rutland and Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1994, 140-160.
“Hakuchi” (1946). Transl. by George Saitô as “The Idiot” in Modern Japanese Stories, ed. by Ivan Morris. Rutland and Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1962, 383-410.
“Sakura no mori no mankai no shita” (1947). Trans. by Jay Rubin as “In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom” in The Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories, ed. by Theodore W. Goossen. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1997, pp. 187~205.
- English Criticism
Dorsey, James. “Culture, Nationalism, and Sakaguchi Ango,” Journal of Japanese Studies vol. 27, no. 2 (Summer 2001), pp. 347~379.
Dorsey, James. “Sakaguchi Ango,” in Modern Japanese Writers, ed. Jay Rubin (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2000), pp. 31~48.
Ikoma, Albert Ryue. 1979. Sakaguchi Ango: His Life and Work. Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Hawaii, 1979.
Nishikawa Nagao. “Two Interpretations of Japanese Culture.” Transl. by Mikiko Murata and Gavan McCormack. In Multicultural Japan: Palaeolithic to Postmodern, ed. by Donald Denoon, Mark Hudson, Gavan McCormack, and Tessa Morris-Suzuki, 245-64. London: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
Rubin, Jay. “From Wholesomeness to Decadence: The Censorship of Literature under the Allied Occupation.” Journal of Japanese Studies, vol. 1, no. 1 (Spring 1985), 71-103.
Steen, Robert. 1995. To Live and Fall: Sakaguchi Ango and the Question of Literature. Thesis (Ph. D.)--Cornell, 1995.