Most of you reading this post have no idea who Rieko Matsuura is. If I had not gone to Japan, I would have no idea who Rieko Matsuura is. In fact, even now, I only know that she is a Japanese writer in her early fifties who wrote a scandalous book back in 1993 about a girl whose big toe turns into a penis. The book in question was a landmark book in terms of dealing with sexuality in Japanese literature, much as Joyce’s Ulysses was a landmark book in terms of dealing with all of human experience, including sex. And, like that book, some people in Japan labeled The Apprenticeship of Big Toe P (its translated title) as little more than pornography, or they tried to categorize it as lesbian literature (which Matsuura-san says she doesn’t mind, though it ignores what she was trying to do). Until I read the book myself, I cannot comment on it (and yes, I will be commenting on it at some point, so look for that review in a few months), though I can comment that Matsuura-san is interested in why sex is always at the center of relationships, and often writes about nonsexual relationships that are just as fulfilling as sexual ones (like masters and their pets in Kenshin, though the dog in question was a woman who wanted to be a dog, and who chose the woman she wanted to be her owner).
Rieko Matsuura looks like a normal Japanese housewife. In fact, she is probably a normal person. Like most Japanese women, she looks much younger than she is, and despite being somewhat attractive, would not stand out in a crowd of people. Also, she either speaks very little English, or (like me with Japanese) is embarrassed to make the attempt beyond a few words.
The lecture consisted of her speaking in Japanese, followed by a translator speaking her words in English. Then she read from the original book (a real treat, since how many times do you get to hear something not written in English spoken in its original language?), followed by Michael Emmerich reading the same passage from his translation, which came out just last year (and is the first–and, so far, only–of Matsuura-san’s novels to be translated into English). The assembled panel then asked her some questions, followed by an opportunity for the audience to ask questions. I wanted to ask her about her views of how sex is handled in Japanese literature today, especially among female writers (like Amy Yamada, who has also been denounced for the way she uses sex in her novels and short stories), and what she thinks of this resurgence of female authors in Japan (unlike Western countries, Japan has had a strong tradition of female storytellers, going back to at least the Heian Period, which is when Lady Murasaki wrote The Tale of Genji). I didn’t, even though it would have been a perfect follow-up to an earlier question about sexuality in Edo Period literature.
I also almost won a door prize: a signed copy of the book (Matsuura-san drew number 24; I had number 23). Instead, I bought a copy and had her sign it. I should have tried some Japanese with her, but I didn’t. And, when she was trying to find a scrap of paper so that I could write my name down (she couldn’t quite catch my pronunciation), I could have just taken a business card out of my wallet. Stupid. Or, as the Japanese would say, ばか (baka).
Anyway, I got my book, I will be reading it soon, and I’ll let you all know what I think. I even plan on taking notes. This event is just another reason why I love this city, and hope that I can continue to support myself living here. Otherwise, it’s back to Connecticut I go, with much less money than when I left.
Here’s the book on Amazon, where you can pay a lot less for it than I did, sans signature:http://www.amazon.com/Apprenticeship-Big-Toe-Novel/dp/4770031165/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1267581871&sr=1-1