Jun 1, 2013

The Meaning of Being Outdated: The Impression of Kazuo Ishiguro's Novel “An Artist of the Floating World”

I've just finished reading Kazuo Ishiguro's novel “An Artist of the Floating World.”

I love his novels, but I'm used to reading them in Japanese translations. I heard that his English was beautiful, so I wanted to read his novel in the original English version. This time, I tried to read “An Artist of the Floating World” in English.

When I read the conversations in it, I felt kind of strange. In this novel, all characters are Japanese, and obviously they speak in Japanese. But Kazuo Ishiguro wrote their conversation in English, because the entire of this novel was written in English.

The first half of the novel is about an arranged marriage of the daughter of the main character, Masuji Ono. I felt like I was reading the English translation of a Japanese novel like Junichiro Tanizaki's "the Makioka Sisters."

His daughter talked to him like this.

"Forgive me, but I wonder if it may not be wise if Father were to visit Mr Kuroda soon."

She denigrated herself to her father very much. I'm guessing that native English speakers don’t talk with their fathers in such a way. This conversation sounds like a direct translation from Japanese to English. I don’t know if Kazuo Ishiguro can speak Japanese, so I wonder whether he wrote this conversation in Japanese first and translated into English, or if he wrote in English as if he were writing a translation.

There appeared many outdated people in this novel.

Masuji Ono was a retired painter. During World War II, he worked for the military, and he drew many paintings endorsing the Japanese invasion of Asian countries. At that time he believed that he was doing the right thing for the Japanese people, but after Japan surrendered, he was blamed for his responsibility in the war, and no one was interested in his paintings.

Ono’s master drew only beautiful women in the red-light district. Although his paintings used to be quite popular, just before World War II people became to think of his paintings as not patriotic.

Ono criticized and broke away from his master, and then he himself also was criticized by younger generation. In the end, everyone became outdated.

Ono’s master told Ono the following:

“When I am an old man, when I look back over my life and see I have devoted it to the task of capturing the unique beauty of that world, I believe I will be well satisfied. And no man will make me believe I’ve wasted my time.”

Kazuo Ishiguro didn’t make clear if Ono and his master was actually satisfied with their lives.

Everyone must be outdated, when they are old. I wonder if I will be well satisfied.


  1. I was curious, so I Googled:

    When Ishiguro was included as the youngest member of the 1983 best of young British writers, he wasn't a British citizen. He took citizenship later that year as a very practical decision. "I couldn't speak Japanese very well, passport regulations were changing, I felt British and my future was in Britain. And it would also make me eligible for literary awards. But I still think I'm regarded as one of their own in Japan."


    PS: English daughters in upper-class homes addressed their fathers formally in the good (or bad) (depending on your point of view) old days. Nowadays it's a different story. That might be true in Japanese homes, too?

    1. Thanks! So he can't speak Japanese well.

      In Japan, nowadays, daughters even in upper-class never talk with their fathers in such a way.

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