Written by students of FC1750.06
at Founders College, York University
Before reading Kazuo Ishiguro's novel, I thought there was deep respect for family in Japan, but Jiro, Etsuko's first husband, gives the impression of an after-shock of the new-age movement. People in this movement tend to step over and toss out the old. He makes no attempt to spend quality time with his father, Ogata-San, and uses work as a way of avoiding him. Obviously influenced by the American attitude, Jiro has no sense of personal history. How can he expect his children to respect him when he gets old?
And yet one cannot cherish, without reservations, the values which old Japan represents. Shigeo Matsuda notes that people of Ogata-San's generation indoctrinated their children with "terrible things," namely narrow-minded patriotism and unquestioning loyalty to a pugnacious emperor. As a result, Japan was plunged into the Second World War, which Matsuda describes as "the most evil disaster in her entire history."
In the 1930s when Japan was implementing its aggressive foreign policy, its youth were drafted to fight a war in which they might not believe. Could Ogata-San, as a teacher, have propagated the ideas of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere? Such a mission involved not only the expulsion of America and England from the region but the sacrifice of personal lives to fulfill the destiny of "God's chosen people of Japan." (See "Flowers of Fire.")
Ogata-San is admonished for imprisoning five teachers in 1938 who challenged his "evil direction." Now released, the young men crusade against the fanatical ideology he strives to preserve. One questions if the elderly Japanese gentleman represents a cohesive family lifestyle that his daughter-in-law misses in England or Japan's blind faith in militarism, propelling the country to pillage in the prewar years.
Ishiguro, Kazuo. A Pale View of Hills. London: Faber and Faber, 1982.
Sonu, Hwi. "Flowers of Fire." In Flowers of Fire: Twentieth-Century Korean Stories.
Copyright © 1996 by the authors. Information from this article should be attributed to the authors.