Aki Shimazaki, the Chronicler of Inconvenient Aspects of Japanese Society

Maxton Karamalla

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This research looks at the work of Aki Shimazaki, the Japanese-Canadian author who writes about Japanese society and history through fictional narratives in French. The main aim of this research is to investigate the role of Shimazaki as a chronicler of ‘inconvenient’ aspects such as war memory, gender roles and the idea of 'otherness'. In her three pentalogies: Le Poids des secrets (1999-2009), Au Cœur du Yamato (2006-2013) & L’Ombre du chardon (2014-2018), Shimazaki explores these sensitive issues through the eyes of Korean residents, Japanese Christians as well as atomic bomb survivors and an array of marginalised protagonists thus shedding light on how these aspects of life are viewed from a perspective outside of mainstream/indigenous Japanese society. This thesis sets out to examine the contribution of Aki Shimazaki to modern French literature. The main aim of this investigation is to analyse Shimazaki’s three pentalogies Le Poids des Secrets: Tsubaki (1999), Hamaguri (2000), Tsubame (2001), Wasurenagusa (2003), Hotaru (2004), Au Cœur du Yamato: Mitsuba (2006), Zakuro (2008), Tonbo (2010), Tsukushi (2012), Yamabuki (2013), and L’Ombre du chardon: Azami (2014), Hôzuki (2015), Suisen (2016), Fuki-no-tô (2017), Maïmaï (2018). This dissertation is divided into five chapters: Chapter 1 - ‘Aki Shimazaki in the context of Translingualism’ will analyse the role Shimazaki plays in the translingual literary genre vis-à-vis other Franco-Japanese writers; Chapter 2 - ‘The Legacy of the Second World War’ delves into questions surrounding the trauma suffered by the survivors of the war and the impact that this experience has had on their future; Chapter 3 - ‘Zainichi Identity in Japan’ explores the sensitive topic regarding Korean residents in Japan and their experience traced through the life of the protagonist Yonhi-Mariko in Tsubame; Chapter 4 - ‘Aki Shimazaki’s Japanese Otherness’ focuses on Japan’s Christian minority and how Christianity plays a prevalent role in Shimazaki’s narratives; Chapter 5 - ‘Suicide, Sexuality and Family: the presence of Dazai and Mishima in Shimazaki’s novels’ examines the prominent influence of two well-known Japanese authors in Shimazaki’s writing, and thematic parallels are drawn between their work and her novels. By examining Shimazaki’s unique binary role as an insider and an outsider, this research will evaluate the importance of Shimazaki’s work on re-examining Japanese stereotypes and realities. In Chapter 1, Shimazaki’s writing will be compared to other Franco-Japanese writers such as Akira Mizubayashi and Ryoko Sekiguchi in order to investigate whether there are any parallels and divergences that can be drawn in light of translingualism. Although these Franco-Japanese writers criticize Japanese society for being rigid, each writer has a very distinctive style and relationship with the French language thus setting Shimazaki’s work apart. Furthermore, as a translingual writer Shimazaki occupies an unparalleled role because she deconstructs and reconstructs the French language to give it a uniquely Japanese flavour. In Chapter 2, questions regarding why a contemporary writer such as Shimazaki needs to write about the Second World War are raised. The effect that the war has left on Yukiko in Tsubaki (1999) and Tsuyoshi in Zakuro (2008) is profound and this continues to haunt the new generations in their families as intimate secrets are revealed. The third Chapter brings to light the suffering of the Korean-Zainichi residents in Japan and opens up the debate regarding this relatively unknown community to French-speaking readers. By so doing Shimazaki exposes shortcomings of Japanese society and opens the debate onto an international arena. Chapter 4 explores why Shimazaki decided to dedicate three of her novels (Tsubame, Hamaguri and Tonbo) to plots that revolve around Christianity in Japan. This analysis leads to the deduction that Shimazaki wants to alert us to the long and complicated relationship between the Christian minorities and Japanese society. The final Chapter looks at the links that can be made between the well-known Japanese authors Ozamu Dazai and Yukio Mishima to Shimazaki’s novels. The role of secrecy and traditions in Japanese society are examined through Dazai and Mishima’s philosophies with regards to familial woes and suicide in Japan. Shimazaki, by openly mentioning these writers in her novels, pays homage to their literary contributions to Japanese literature and at the same time puts emphasis on the need to discuss suicide, sexuality and family ties in a repressive Japanese society. In conclusion, this thesis will examine the unique role that Shimazaki plays as a chronicler and mediator between Japanese society and the French-speaking world with her complex storylines that expose Japanese realities in order to open the debate about very sensitive topics that have been limited to Japanese literature and domestic deliberation.
Original languageEnglish
  • Davis, Colin, Supervisor
Award date1 Apr 2020
Publication statusUnpublished - 2020


  • Modern French literature
  • Franco-Japanese
  • Translingulism
  • Translingual writers
  • Aki Shimazaki
  • Japanese War
  • Christianity in Japan

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