Shūsaku Endō

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Shūsaku Endō
Shūsaku Endō.jpg
Born (1923-03-27)March 27, 1923
Tokyo, Japan
Died September 29, 1996(1996-09-29) (aged 73)
Tokyo, Japan
Occupation Writer
Nationality Japanese
Citizenship Japan
Genre Novels
Literary movement "Third Generation"
Notable works Silence
Spouse Junko Endo (wife, m. 1955)

Shūsaku Endō (遠藤 周作 Endō Shūsaku?, March 27, 1923 – September 29, 1996)[1] was a Japanese author who wrote from the rare perspective of a Japanese Roman Catholic. Together with Junnosuke Yoshiyuki, Shōtarō Yasuoka, Junzo Shono, Hiroyuki Agawa, Ayako Sono, and Shumon Miura, Endō is categorized as one of the "Third Generation", the third major group of writers who appeared after World War II.


Soon after Endō was born in Tokyo in 1923, his family moved to Dalian, part of the Kwantung Leased Territory in Manchuria.[1] When his parents divorced in 1933, Endō's mother brought him back to Japan to live with an aunt in Kobe.[2] Endō was baptized as a Catholic at the age of 11 or 12[3] in the year 1934.[2] Some say this was brought on by his mother, who had converted to Catholicism after her divorce,[1] while others state the aunt instigated the initiation.[4]

Endō began studying at Keio University in 1943[3] but did not graduate until 1948 because he was drafted into a munitions factory to help the Japanese military fight World War II.[2] Nonetheless he contributed to several literary journals during this period. Later, In 1968, he would become Chief Editor of one of these, the prestigious Mita Bungaku.[5]

His alma mater is not the only university Endō is associated with. He first attended Waseda University for the stated purpose of studying medicine,[1] an interest in French Catholic authors[3] precipitated[citation needed] a visit to the University of Lyon beginning in 1950,[6] and he has lectured at at least two Tokyo universities.[6] In 1956, he was hired as an Instructor at Sophia University,[2] and Seijo University assigned him the role of "Lecturer on the Theory of the Novel" in 1967.[5] He is considered a novelist not a university professor, however.[6]

In 1954, a year after completing his studies in France, he won the Akutagawa Prize for Shiroi Hito (White Men).[6] Endō married Okada Junko,[1] a year later.[6] They are the parents of one son,[6] Ryūnosuke,[4] born in 1956.

Throughout his life periodic bouts of disease plagued him, and he spent two years in hospital at one point.[6] In 1952, while studying in France, he came down with pleurisy in Paris.[2] A return visit in 1960 prompted another case of the same disease, and he stayed in hospital (both in France and Japan) for the greater part of 3 years.[5] It is possible that at some point during his life he may have contracted tuberculosis,[7] underwent thoracoplasty,[7] and had a lung removed.[6]

While Endō wrote in several genres,[8] his oeuvre is strongly tied to Christianity if not Catholicism. Endō has been called "a novelist whose work has been dominated by a single theme... belief in Christianity".[3] Others have said that he is "almost by default... [labeled] a 'Japanese Catholic author' struggling to 'plant the seeds of his adopted religion' in the 'mudswamp' of Japan".[1] It is true that he often likened Japan to a swamp or fen[9] and that many of his characters are allegories.[8] He may not be embraced by fellow Christians–Catholics in particular–however.[8] Some of his characters (many of whom are allegories) may reference non-Western religions.[8] While not the main focus of his works, a few of Endō's books mention Kakure Kirishitan.[10] Incidentally, he used the term "かくれ切支丹" instead of the more common "かくれキリシタン".[11]

His books reflect many of his childhood experiences, including the stigma of being an outsider, the experience of being a foreigner, the life of a hospital patient, and the struggle with TB. However, his books mainly deal with the moral fabric of life. His Catholic faith can be seen at some level in all of his books and it is often a central feature. Most of his characters struggle with complex moral dilemmas, and their choices often produce mixed or tragic results. His work may often be compared to that of Graham Greene.[12] In fact, Greene himself labeled Endō one of the finest writers currently alive at the time.[4]

While he lost out to Kenzaburo Oe the 1994 Nobel prize for literature,[4] he did obtain the Order of Culture the subsequent year.[5] Endō died shortly thereafter from complications of hepatitis at Keio University Hospital in Tokyo on September 29, 1996.[4]

Partial list of Works[edit]

  • 白い人 (White Man)[6] [13] (1955)
  • 黄色い人 (Yellow Man) (1955):[2] A novella in the form of a letter written by a young man, no longer a practicing Catholic, to his former pastor, a French missionary.
  • 海と毒薬 (The Sea and Poison) (1957):[2] Set largely in a Fukuoka hospital during World War II, this novel is concerned with medical experimentation carried out on downed American airmen.[14] It is written with alternating points of view: the bulk of the story is written with a subjective, limited (but shifting) third-person view; three segments are told in first-person view. Inspired by true events,[15] this novel was made into the 1986 movie The Sea and Poison. Directed by Kei Kumai, it stars Eiji Okuda and Ken Watanabe.
  • おバカさん (Wonderful Fool) (1959):[2] A story about a kind, innocent and naive Frenchman visiting post-war Tokyo.
  • 十一の色硝子 (Stained Glass Elegies) (1959) Translated to English in 1984.
  • 火山 (Volcano) (1960):[5] A novel concerning three declining figures: an apostate Catholic priest, the director of a weather station in provincial Japan, and the volcano on which the latter is an expert.
  • 私が棄てた女 (The Girl I Left Behind) (1964):[5] A story of a young man and his mismatches with an innocent young woman. As Endō writes in the foreword to the English translation, one of the characters has a connection with Otsu, a character in the novel Deep River.
  • 留学 (Ryūgaku) Foreign Studies (1965)[5]
  • 沈黙 (Silence) (1966):[5] Winner of the Tanizaki Prize[5] and Endō's most famous work, it is generally regarded as his masterpiece. This historical novel tells the story of a Portuguese missionary, based on the historical figure of Cristóvão Ferreira, in early 17th-century Japan who becomes an apostate under the threat of torture but continues to keep the Christian faith in private. The book inspired the feature film adaptation Os Olhos da Ásia by Portuguese film director João Mário Grilo. Director Martin Scorsese has announced he will begin shooting of his own adaptation of the novel in the summer of 2014.[citation needed]
  • The Golden Country (1966):[5] A play featuring many of the characters who appear in the novel Silence.
  • 死海のほとり ("Banks of the Dead Sea") (1973)[2]
  • イエスの生涯 (Life of Jesus) (1973)[5]
  • 口笛をふく時 (When I Whistle) (1974)[5]
  • 王妃マリーアントワネット (Marie Antoinette) (1979): This book inspired the musical Marie Antoinette by German musical dramatist and lyricist Michael Kunze.
  • 侍 (The Samurai) (1980):[5] A historical novel relating the diplomatic mission of Hasekura Tsunenaga to Mexico and Spain in the 17th century.
  • 女の一生:キクの場合 (Kiku's Prayer) (1982): A novel set during the final period of Christian persecutions in Japan in the 1860s.
  • 私の愛した小説 (Novels loved by me) & 本当の私を求めて (Search for the real me) (1985)[5]
  • スキャンダル (Scandal) (1986):[5] Set in Tokyo, the book is about a novelist who finds himself caught up in the scandal of the title.
  • 深い河 (Deep River) (1993):[5] Set in India, it chronicles the physical and spiritual journey of a group of Japanese tourists who are facing a wide range of moral and spiritual dilemmas.
  • The Final Martyrs (English translation in 2008)



The Syusaku Endo Literature Museum, in Sotome, Nagasaki, is devoted to the writer's life and works.


  • Morton, Leith (November 1994). The Image of Christ in the Fiction of Endō Shūsaku. Working Papers in Japanese Studies 8. Japanese Studies Center, Monash University, Australia. 
  • Williams, Mark B. (21 June 1999). Endō Shūsaku: a literature of reconciliation. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-14481-0. 

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Olive Classe. Encyclopedia of literary translation into English: A-L. Taylor & Francis. p. 406. ISBN 978-1-884964-36-7. Retrieved 17 November 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Williams, p. 225
  3. ^ a b c d Morton, p. 1
  4. ^ a b c d e Shusaku Endo Is Dead at 73; Japanese Catholic Novelist New York Times. September 30, 1996. Case, Eric.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Williams, p. 226
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i Morton, p. 2
  7. ^ a b Shushaku Endo (1923–1996): his tuberculosis and his writings O.P. Sharma. Postgrad Med J. 2006 March; 82(965): 157–161.
  8. ^ a b c d Morton, p. 3
  9. ^ Morton, p. 11
  10. ^ Morton, p. 8
  11. ^ Emi Mase-Hasegawa (2008). Christ in Japanese culture: theological themes in Shusaku Endo's literary works. BRILL. p. 24. ISBN 978-90-04-16596-0. Retrieved 19 November 2011. 
  12. ^ Williams, p. 1
  13. ^ Williams, p. 60
  14. ^ Morton, p. 4
  15. ^ Morton, p. 5

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]