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The Shade of Blossoms
byOoka Shôhei, translated & introduced by Dennis Washburn, Dartmouth College

“Shohei Ooka’s novel about a bar hostess in postwar Tokyo is a bracing alternative to the more familiar geisha stories that have appealed to romantic American readers. . . . In Dennis Washburn’s smooth translation, the novel displays the subtleties of a sector of Japanese culture ruled by sexual courtesies.”
The New York Times Book Review
 

“In its first English translation,  Ooka’s 1961 novel depicts the atmosphere and social mores of Tokyo’s decadent Ginza District of the 1950s. . . . Despite the dry irony of  Ooka’s prose, there is great pathos in this story of the little bar hostess whose circumstances overwhelm her. This edition includes an informative introduction by the translator and an enlightening 1972 postscript by the author.”
Publishers Weekly

Ooka Shohei (1909–88) was a distinguished member of the Japanese literary establishment for more than four decades following the end of the Pacific War. He was a prolific writer and active translator of French literature, most notably the novels of Stendahl. A protege of the influential critic Kobayashi Hideo (1902–83), Ooka secured his reputation with such works as the novel Fires on the Plain and the memoir Taken Captive: A Japanese POW’s Story that recount his experiences as a soldier in the Philippines during World War II.

The Shade of Blossoms, for which he was honored in 1961 with both the Mainichi and the Shincho literary prizes, marks an especially important stage in his development as an artist. In his postscript O–oka describes this story as a novel of manners, and certainly the setting of the novel, the demimonde of the Ginza bar scene in the 1950s, and its subject, the aging bar hostess Yoko, provide a disturbing view of lives at the margins of Japanese society. Ooka’s is a powerfully ethical literature that describes the inner search for meaning and identity in a world where received values have been disrupted by war or by social upheavals. His moral imagination is uncompromising and disturbing, and his emotional intelligence is matched by few postwar writers. A number of his contemporaries, including the novelists Mishima Yukio and O–e Kenzaburo, have expressed considerable admiration for Ooka, ranking him among the finest artists of modern Japanese literature.

Published by Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan
Michigan Monographs in Japanese Studies No. 22
Published 1998, 136 pp.
ISBN 0 939512 87 4, hardback, £22.00
ISBN 0 939512 88 2, paperback, £11.99