Shūsaku Endō (遠藤 周作 Endō Shusaku, (March 27, 1923 - September 29, 1996) was a twentieth–century Japanese author who wrote about the relationship between East and West from the unique Christian perspective of a Japanese Catholic. Together with Junnosuke Yoshiyuki, Shotaro Yasuoka, Junzo Shono, Hiroyuki Agawa, Ayako Sono, and Shumon Miura, Endo is categorized as one of the Third Generation, the third major group of writers who appeared after World War II.
Endo’s greatest work, Silence, portrays the courage of Japanese Christians in the seventeenth century and graphically describes the torture and persecution they were made to endure. In Japan, where Christianity is the faith of but a small minority, Endo’s novels introduced Christianity to the general public.
Many of Endo’s protagonists are weak and had failed in some important aspect of their lives, and Endo often identified their suffering with the suffering and agonized heart of Jesus. He could portray the dilemma of Christian faith in a literary prose that brought readers to consider existential questions of life.
His books reflect many of his childhood experiences, including the stigma of being an outsider, the experience of being a foreigner, the life of a hospital patient, and his struggle with tuberculosis. However, his books mainly deal with the moral fabric of life. Most of his characters struggle with complex moral dilemmas, and their choices often produce mixed or tragic results. His work is often compared to that of Graham Greene, who personally labeled Endo one of the finest writers of the twentieth century. Endo received nearly every major literary prize in Japan, and was nominated several times for the Nobel Prize for literature.
Endo Shusaku was born March 27, 1923, in Tokyo, as the second son of Tsunehisa, a bank clerk and his wife Iku, a violinist. When Endo was three, his parents moved to Japanese-occupied Manchuria. When he was ten–years–old, his parents divorced and he moved back to Japan with his mother. An aunt convinced Endo and his mother to convert to Catholicism, and he was baptized at the age of 11. Endo was exempted from military duty during World War II because of poor health. He studied at Keio University and in 1949, he received a BA in French literature. He then went to France and studied Catholic fiction at the University of Lyons from 1950 to 1953. He published his first novel “Shiroihito” (White Man) in 1955, earning Endo the Akutagawa Prize for promising young writers. The same year, he married Okada Junko, with whom he had a son in 1956.
In 1958, Endo published “The Sea and Poison,” which won the Shinchosha Literature Prize and Mainichi Shuppan Literature Prize. In 1959, Endo contracted tuberculosis and was hospitalized for two-and-a-half years, during which he underwent three surgeries and lost one of his lungs. Following this illness, Endo’s fiction became more sympathetic towards characters suffering from both spiritual and physical weaknesses, and critics noted that his concept of Christ became more merciful and compassionate.
In 1963, he and his family moved to Machida city, about 30 kilometers southwest from the center of Tokyo. In 1966, his major work, the novel ”Chimmoku” (“Silence”) was published, and received the Tanizaki Junichiro Prize. This fictionalized account of Portuguese priests who traveled to Japan, and the subsequent slaughter of their Japanese converts, is one of Endo’s most powerful novels. In 1967, he traveled to Lisbon, Paris and Rome at the invitation of the Ambassador of Portugal to Japan. In 1969, he visited Israel and America, and in 1971 he received a medal from the Vatican.
In 1977, he became a member of a selection committee for the Akutagawa Prize (the most prestigious literary award in Japan). In 1979 his novel “The Birth Of Christ” won the Yomiuri Literature Prize. In 1980, “Samurai,” a fascinating account of a samurai’s journey on behalf of his shogun to open trade with Mexico, Spain, and Rome, won the Noma Bungei Prize. “Samurai” and “Silence” are considered Endo’s best writing, showing the complexities of the interactions between cultures in a well-told narrative.
From 1985 to 1989 Endo was the tenth president of Japanese P.E.N., and received an honorary doctorate from Santa Clara University. In 1991, he received an honorary doctorate from Fu Jen Catholic University in Taiwan.
In 1995, he was received the Order of Culture from the Japanese government. The same year, he was hospitalized with a brain hemorrhage, and passed away on September 29, 1996.
Endo’s eternal theme was “the Japanese and Christianity.” When he was forcibly baptized as a small boy, he recalled feeling that he had to “make this ready-made suit fit my body or get rid of it and find another suit that fitted…” When he became an adult, he researched deeply into Christianity. He was especially interested in “Kakure Kirishitan,” the “hidden Christian” or “crypto-Christian,” an underground Christian in feudal Japan. “Chimmoku” (Silence 1966), Endo's most famous work, included many details about the “Kakure Kirishitan.” He was led to this theme by the story of his ancestors during the crypto-Christian period, from the sixteenth century to the seventeenth century.
The Jesuit priest Francis Xavier arrived in Kyūshū, Japan on July 27, 1549. He was received in a friendly manner and was hosted by Anjiro's family. Shortly before Christmas, he visited Kyoto but failed to meet with the Emperor. He returned to Yamaguchi in March 1551, where he was permitted to preach by the daimyo of the province. The situation changed when Toyotomi Hideyoshi unified Japan. In 1587, he banned the ruling class from converting to Catholicism because he was told that the missionaries were there to attempt the conquest of Japan. In 1597, 26 Kirishitan followers were executed in Nagasaki.
In 1614, Tokugawa shogunate decided to ban Catholicism. The Japanese feudal government used “Fumie,” pictures of the Virgin Mary and Christ, to test religious loyalty. The officials made everybody trample on these pictures. People reluctant to step on the pictures were identified as Catholics and sent to Nagasaki. If the Catholics refused to change their religion, they were tortured. Execution took place at Nagasaki’s Mount Unzen where many Catholics were dumped into the volcano crater. These persecutions were depicted in Endo’s “Silence.” For Endo, the faith of these ancestors under persecution was connected to his faith and his way of life. Endo recalled visiting this Unzen volcano with his friends. He asked his friend, “If you were told you’d be thrown into this pit unless you gave up your faith in Christianity, how long could you persevere?” Endo experienced a similar situation during World War II, when he suffered to keep his faith under the military government which abhorred Christianity as the enemy religion. He felt the same as the Kirishitan.
One obstacle to the spread of Christianity in Japan was persecution by the feudal government and the military government; the other obstacle was the peoples’ general feeling of fear and anxiety towards Christianity itself. Endo himself felt that the reasons for this anxiety were very complicated. Even in present-day Japan, Catholic and Protestant believers make up only 0.3 percent of the Japanese population. Modern Japanese intellectuals tended to accept Christian ethics and ideology, but not the Christian religion. Christianity influenced modern writers, especially those taught by the Protestant (and Puritan) Uchimura Kanzo, who influenced famous men of letters such as Arishima Takeo, Masamune Hakucho, and Shiga Naoya. After several years, most of these writers abandoned Christianity and became apostates. Some were more interested in the exotic Western culture surrounding Christianity than in the faith itself.
From his youth, Endo had been struggling to understand the difficult relationship between Christianity and the Japanese. He believed he had found another reason why most Japanese intellectuals were not satisfied by Christianity, an insufficiency of “Motherhood” in God. Protestantism depicts God only as a Father. Endo thought that Fatherhood implied rigorous punishment and the detection of “sin” in human beings. He wrote,
“Especially as a Japanese, I get a feeling of loneliness from Protestantism, which is short of 'Motherhood'."
Throughout his life, Endo was longing to find a "Motherhood God" which could fit in with Japanese sensibility.
Endo further believed that Japanese religious feeling not only sought a “Motherhood God” but also embraced “a pantheistic notion of God.” In his last work, Fukai Kawa (Deep River), the hero, a young monk named Otsu, says, "I do not think that God is outside of us, that we have to look up to Him. He is inside of us, indeed He is that greater life that envelops us, as it does the trees and the flowers." This was the Japanese people’s point of view, and Endo's own view of God.
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