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“Mapping a Life in Japanese Literary and Cultural Studies” by Professor Paul Anderer (Columbia University)

Report on the Lecture by Professor Paul Anderer (Columbia University)
“Mapping a Life in Japanese Literary and Cultural Studies”

During this event, Professor Paul Anderer, who is retiring from Columbia University—an important partner institution of Waseda University’s Global Japanese Studies Model Unit—lectured on his studies of Japanese literature and culture in which he has been engaged for some 50 years. More than 60 researchers, students, and members of the general public from Japan and around the world came to the venue for the event.

In her opening remarks, Waseda University’s Professor Kimiko Kono introduced Professor Anderer; the commentators David Lurie, a senior scholar and associate professor at Columbia University, Takuya Tsunoda, an assistant professor at Columbia University, and Kyohei Kitamura, an associate professor at Tokyo Institute of Technology; and the members involved in the planning and holding of the lecture event.

The event began in gentle spirits with Professor Anderer describing the lecture as a “personal story,” eliciting laughter.

Professor Anderer was born and raised in an ordinary household in Philadelphia, which he described as not being fertile ground to foster study of Japanese culture and literature. His first encounter with Japan was researching Francis Xavier for an elementary school report, which did not afford an opportunity to read Japanese literature. Anderer had opportunities to encounter Japan on some occasions: He saw images of Japanese kamikaze squads on television, a neighbor who served in the Pacific had a rising sun flag, his radio was made by Sony, and so forth. However, he was never strongly aware of the country. Neither did he have occasion to meet Japanese nationals or Japanese-Americans; he sometimes heard white people utter slurs against people of color, but his policeman father taught him that such attitudes were the product of fear. Anderer’s father was forced to stop working because of ill health, leaving the young man with insufficient money for education. Nonetheless, Anderer’s father was the presence in his life who planted a significant suggestion in the future professor’s head.

As a boy, Anderer maintained good grades but read only the British and American novels that were recommended to him. While passing the days engaged in sports, Anderer also devoted himself to studying for college admissions examinations, ultimately receiving a scholarship. He was more interested in foreign languages than literature, reading Homer and Euripides in the original Greek, and he honed his thinking through linguistics. His particular interest in how the Greek language was written would later be useful when learning kana and kanji.

In 1967, Anderer entered the University of Notre Dame, where he studied existentialist literature—from Kierkegaard to Sartre—under the tutelage of his academic advisor and gained more opportunities to engage with novels, plays, and movies. He was particularly moved by William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury (1929) and Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2 (1963). Around that time, the university established an exchange program that sent students to Japan. Believing it essential to study outside the US, Anderer was quick to apply. Anderer’s recollections of feeling grateful for being able to study abroad while others of his generation were conscripted into the armed services and sent to Vietnam were truly indicative of that time in American history.

In 1968, at the age of 19—recalling Kenji Nakagami’s 1973 short story “The 19-Year-Old’s Map”—Anderer wagered his fortunes and went to study abroad at Sophia University, in whose founding Francis Xavier was involved. After moving into a Jingumae apartment renovated from athletes’ quarters for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Anderer recalled setting out to visit Nakagi on the Izu Peninsula. Of particular salience in those memories was an incident in which, having left shore on by boat, Anderer hit a rock and capsized. Later, Anderer met the novelist Shotaro Yasuoka. The professor said that he spoke about how much he respected the writer’s A View by the Sea (1959) but refrained from mentioning his own “incident on the sea.”

While living as a student in Tokyo, Anderer availed himself of the subway and bicycles to make his way throughout the metropolis, mapping it like a cartographer. Professor Anderer recalled wistfully that his earliest, most profoundly recalled sight was the sudden brilliance of the scenery glimpsed upon exiting the Marunouchi Line subway at Yotsuya Station. After having visited Ameya Yokocho in Ueno, Anderer learned that the alleyway of shops had its roots in a post-war black market from novelist Ango Sakaguchi. In this way, Anderer came to find the intersections between his own experiences and the history of Japan in the immediate post-war era. Much like Shuji Terayama wrote in his work Throw Away Your Books, Run into the Streets! (1967), for Professor Anderer there was a link between his interest in Japanese literature and his own “discoveries” in Tokyo.

Anderer was especially entranced by the culture of Shinjuku in the late ‘60s. The professor mentioned that the Kinokuniya bookshop was the spot where, more than anywhere else in the world, he felt the attraction of books. On becoming a university professor, Anderer would encounter Heike Monogatari and Noh, and then modern literary figures such as Junichiro Tanizaki, Yasunari Kawabata, and Yukio Mishima. A line heard countless times in classes, “Natsume Soseki is a famous novelist,” led Anderer to read Kokoro (1914) and later to become acquainted with the novel’s English translator, Edwin McClellan, and with literary critic Jun Eto. Anderer enjoyed bargain-hunting at the Kinokuniya bookshop for translations of Japanese literature and Penguin Books editions. Anderer had read Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire (1947) for a class, and this led to an interest in stage works by Eugene O’Neill, Ibsen, and Chekhov. Reading western literature while in Japan may seem contradictory, but, for Professor Anderer, it was akin to engaging while in Japan not in karate but in his favorite sport of rugby.

The professor recalled how, through his studies, he keenly felt how fortunate he was to be graced by the culture that Japanese writers and readers had created since the Meiji Era and yet started to comprehend how it would not be an easy task to understand with fluency and accuracy “Japanese” and “foreign languages” in the narrow senses of those terms.

Another place that attracted Anderer was the Shinjuku café Fugetsudo. The professor talked about how, when Donald Richie—known for his studies of Japanese cinema—visited Sophia University, he taught him not only about films but also about the underground culture of Shinjuku. Professor Anderer pursued his studies in the same milieus that Shuzo Takiguchi, Gozo Yoshimasu, Juro Kara, and other avant-garde artists who came to represent post-war-era Japan gathered.

In discussing his choosing of Naoya Shiga as the subject of his master’s thesis, Professor Anderer spoke about how the plot of Shiga’s short story “Night Fires” (1920) overlapped with his own experience of learning of the death of his best friend in an accident. Remembering the playground swing scene from the first Akira Kurosawa film, Ikiru (1952), that Anderer watched around that time, the professor noted that, although it appears that we choose the works that we read and view ourselves, sometimes they seem as if by happenstance to rise from the recesses of our minds—stories respond to circumstances in our lives and choose us to confer on us consolation and hope, as though providing that which we seek.

After returning to the US in 1969, Anderer transferred to the University of Michigan, where he studied with Edward Seidensticker and William F. Sibley. For the topic of his undergraduate thesis, Anderer chose to do a comparative study of Osamu Dazai’s No Longer Human (1948) and Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya (1897). At this time, Anderer’s guiding light was Soseki’s Kokoro, which he had read during his stay in Tokyo. Deeply impressed by the research of Japan scholar Edwin McClellan, who translated Soseki’s Grass on the Wayside (1915) and Shiga’s A Dark Night’s Passing (1921–1937), Anderer planned to continue his studies at the University of Chicago, but he suffered the sudden loss of his father in 1971. Although he almost abandoned further studies for the sake of his family, Anderer decided to go on to Chicago, after all, because of the strong urging McClellan. Professor Anderer said that he felt gratitude toward McClellan for the experience of studying under him and helping to shape him into the scholar he is today.

Another mentor of Professor Anderer was Jun Eto. Professor Anderer described Eto as a critic and intellectual with unbending ideals, a teacher who acted with generosity, and a figure brimming with inspiration. In 1975, Anderer met Kojin Karatani at Eto’s residence, which touched off a long intellectual relationship. Analogizing them with his stance toward his research subject of author Hideo Kobayashi, Professor Anderer spoke highly of Eto and Karatani’s greatness as critics.

As the result of Professor Anderer’s 50 years of scholarly activities, the many students he tutored are now serving as researchers and educators around the world. Professor Anderer also expressed his gratitude for the opportunity he had at Columbia University to collaborate with Edward Seidensticker, Donald Keene, Professor Haruo Shirane, Professor Tomi Suzuki, Associate Professor David Lurie, and others, for his robust collaborative relationship with Waseda University established via Ryusaku Tsunoda, and for the roles that Keene, William T. De Bary, and Waseda University’s Professor Hirokazu Toeda played in leading that collaboration. He also expressed his gratitude toward his wife, Mia, whom he met at the University of Chicago and has lived his days with since, and toward the city of Tokyo, which 50 years ago inaugurated his “travels.” With that, Professor Anderer concluded his lecture.

The interweaving of Professor Anderer’s personal history and his sorrow at the losses of his father, best friend, and mentors with recollections of post-war Japanese social and cultural history truly resembled the methods employed in his book Kurosawa’s Rashomon: A Vanished City, a Lost Brother, and the Voice Inside His Iconic Films (2016; Japanese translation by Kyohei Kitamura published by Shinchosha in 2019).

Senior Scholar and Associate Professor David Lurie began the commentary portion of the event by looking back at Professor Anderer’s accomplishments while touching upon the collaboration between Columbia University and Waseda University—from the perspective of someone who studied under the professor and is now his colleague. Lurie discussed Professor Anderer’s works Other Worlds: Arishima Takeo and the Bounds of Modern Japanese Fiction (1984; originally published in Japanese in 1982), Literature of the Lost Home: Kobayashi Hideo-Literary Criticism, 1924-1939 (1995), and Kurosawa’s Rashomon. He talked about how each book was, in its own way, revolutionary, how Professor Anderer has held various positions at Columbia University and made great contributions to education there, and also about his own experience studying under the professor.

From a similar standpoint, Professor Takuya Tsunoda stressed the importance of Professor Anderer’s “Kurosawa Seminars” while comparing the ways in which Anderer’s method of film studies had transitioned from semiotics to phenomenology. Professor Tsunoda also described how the studies of Akira Kurosawa discussed in Professor Anderer’s seminars have been compiled into a book, which has been translated into Chinese and Japanese—the latter edition including a foreword by film director Zhang Yimou—and how very valuable it is to be able to experience those seminars again.

Associate Professor Kyohei Kitamura, the Japanese translator of Kurosawa’s Rashomon described his “mysterious connection” with Professor Anderer: Jun Eto was affiliated with the Tokyo Institute of Technology, and Professor Anderer studied there as a research student. Kitamura was simultaneously engaged in writing his own book Bi to Hakai no Joyū: Kyo Machiko [Actress of Beauty and Destruction: Machiko Kyo] (2019) and translating that of Professor Anderer. When Machiko Kyo passed away, Kitamura was allowed to compose a eulogy for the lead actress of the film Rashomon while working on the book Kurosawa’s Rashomon. It was film historian Inuhiko Yomota, who contributed a blurb for Kitamura’s book, who recommended that Kitamura be the translator of Professor Anderer’s book. Based on this series of events, Kitamura described the significance and innovativeness of the translation for film studies and the study of Japanese literature and culture.

During the question and answer session, there was a question about the phrase “high-resolution criticism,” a coinage by Associate Professor Kitamura. Because of the advancement of today’s digital technology, Kitamura replied, it is now possible to study subjects in great detail, with the potential to ensure objectivity more accurately.

Next, Kitamura asked Professor Anderer about the prospects for future research projects. Professor Anderer responded that he was interested in digging deeper into the cultural history and firsthand experiences of the ‘60s discussed during the lecture, as well as interested in Jun Eto’s criticism from the ‘50s.

Finally, Professor Lee Sung-si of Waseda University gave some closing remarks. Professor Lee first described author Ryotaro Shiba’s evaluation of Professor Anderer. According to Professor Lee, Shiba wrote in Gaidō o Yuku 39: Nyū Yōku Sanpo [Walking Along City Streets 39: A Stroll in New York] (1994): “I enjoyed seeing [in 1985, then-]Assistant Professor Anderer darting his way through the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street… He was handsome and looked so sharp that one wanted to say so out loud; it was a sudden glimpse, but he was reminiscent of an Edo-born kagatobi.” Kagatobi means “a man like the old firefighters of Edo.” Professor Lee said that, looking at the slides of a Professor Anderer in his youth during the lecture, Shiba’s wonderful description seemed quite true. Noting Professor Anderer’s writings on Takeo Arishima, Professor Lee also discussed the profound meaningfulness of the method of studying a culture from the periphery or standing atop a borderline and thereby showing off a world not visible when one is right in the middle of that culture. He once again expressed his gratitude to Professor Anderer, and the lecture event came to a close.

Event Overview:

Date and time: June 21, 2019 (Fri.), 4:30 pm to 6:00 pm

Venue: Conference Room 1, 3rd floor of Building 33, Toyama Campus, Waseda University

Lecture by: Paul Anderer (Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Columbia University)

Opening remarks by: Kimiko Kono (Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University)


David Lurie (Associate Professor, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, Columbia University)

Takuya Tsunoda (Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, Columbia University)

Kyohei Kitamura (Associate Professor, Institute for Liberal Arts, Tokyo Institute of Technology)

Closing remarks: Lee Sung-si (Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University)


Hitomi Yoshio (Associate Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University)

Kim Young-Long (Lecturer, Waseda Institute for Advanced Study)

Organizer: Hirokazu Toeda (Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University)

Mioko Sato (Guest Lecturer, Waseda University Research Council)

Kaori Shiono (Associate Professor, Waseda University)

Sponsored by: Waseda University Global Japanese Studies Model Unit, Top Global University Project

Co-sponsored by: Waseda University Research Institute for Letters, Arts and Sciences and the Ryusaku Tsunoda Center of Japanese Culture

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