Jakucho Setouchi, a Buddhist nun and popular novelist, who was close to Tanizaki, Kawabata and Mishima, died on November 9 in Kyoto at the age of 99. With it is extinguished not only a part of the literary memory of Japan from the post-war period to the present day but also a great feminist, anti-nuclear and pacifist voice, imbued with Buddhist wisdom – a charismatic voice of counter-power, in a ultra-conservative country.
Born on May 15, 1922, under the name of Harumi Setouchi, in a family of merchants of Buddhist articles, she was still a student at the Christian University of Young Girls in Tokyo when she married, in 1943, a professor whom she follows stationed in Beijing. The marriage does not last long. Noticed from her beginnings as a writer in 1957, Harumi rose to fame in 1963 with the story of the romantic adventures at the origin of her divorce: The end of summer (Picquier, 1999) obtained the Prize for Women’s Literature, but caused a scandal.
The novelist will nonetheless persistently pursue the exploration of the theme of women’s freedom. Over the course of biographies devoted to heroines of the Meiji (1868-1912), Taisho (1912-1926) and early Showa era (1926-1989) eras, her work traces both the history of Japanese feminism, of which she was also a link, and the long road traveled by the modern writers of her country. Whether they are the founders of Seito (“Bas bleu”), the first feminist magazine created in 1911, from the militant writer Toshiko Tamura, the anarchist Suga Kanno, Noe Ito, who advocated free love, she describes women assuming, sometimes at the cost of of their life, their freedom of morals and of thought – against the stereotypical image of Japanese wives subject to male authority.
She is also attached to figures of “rebellious women” from ancient Japan or famous Buddhist monks (Hana ni toe, “Ask the flowers”, Tanizaki Prize 1992, untranslated). Its contemporary language version of Said of Genji, work of a lady of the court of the XIe century, also earned him a prize in 1998. Finally, we owe him many stories in the vein of shishosetsu (“Autobiographical novel”), devoted both to her life as an adulterous woman and to her entry into orders (Basho, “Places”, Noma Prize 2001, untranslated) then, with the passing years, to old age and preparation for death. Considered a true “spiritual pillar” by writers today, she was awarded the Order of Cultural Merit in 2006.
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