Persuasions #3, 1981 Pages 7-8
ON BEING A JAPANESE JANEITE
by Keiko Kimura Parker
Joan Austen-Leigh suggested that I write a short article on being a Japanese Janeite. She thought it would be interesting to the readers of Persuasions to read about someone from a different culture who has become a Jane Austen enthusiast.
May I state in the way of introduction that I was born and raised in Tokyo, Japan. My formal education represented that blending of Japanese and Occidental teaching that all Japanese have experienced since the early twentieth century.
Perhaps it was fortunate that I made a special effort in my study of the English language (which starts in Grade Seven in Japan), since that enabled me later to appreciate the subtle nuances of Jane Austen’s writing directly, rather than through translation.
My early teen years were spent mostly in reading German and French literature in translation, as well as Japanese and some English literary works. One of my most vivid memories of those days revolves around the stage productions of The Merchant of Venice and A Midsummer Night’s Dream given at our high school. These stage productions, together with art exhibitions (for instance, the showing of art works from the Louvre) and my hobby of reading, helped gradually to mold my taste.
Thus Western culture did not suddenly burst on and demand of me an enormous adjustment. It was simply part of my being in my formative years. When I entered the Tokyo Women’s Christian University, it was with the express purpose of studying English literature. In the course of four years, I studied many English literary works, but the centre of my attention was Shakespeare, and my published graduation thesis was on King Lear. Specifically, my focus was on “appearance and reality” as seen in King Lear.
No doubt this question was still on my mind when I came to Canada a month after graduation from my university to get married. It was at this point that I came upon Pride and Prejudice. Here was a literary work that dealt with the question of “appearance and reality” from a totally different aspect, expressed with wit, elegance, and insight. Needless to say, I was enchanted, I felt that I had never read any literary work where heart and mind were so happily met.
I went on to read all the other Jane Austen works, and it soon became evident to me that Persuasion was my favourite, with Pride and Prejudice and Emma following close behind.
In fact there really is not that much difference between the East and the West in the realm of one’s feelings. When I read all that Anne Elliot felt and thought in Persuasion, I am reminded of that other famous novel, The Tale of Genji, written by a court lady of 10th to 11th century Japan. Perhaps those familiar with Pride and Prejudice in Japanese will not totally disagree with me when I suggest that there are similarities between the anxieties and joys felt by the Japanese court ladies in the novel, and those felt by Anne Elliot in Persuasion.
An inevitable topic in all Jane Austen novels is, of course, the subject of matrimony. I remember well how my grandmother used to say “I hope someday Keiko will marry the second son of a wealthy family.” (Marrying the second son meant wealth without the onerous responsibilities of the Japanese family system.) Although my grandmother is no match for Mrs. Bennet, one can see the “universally acknowledged truth” of the wish to have one’s daughter or granddaughter for that matter well married!
Recently, Joan Austen-Leigh kindly let me read a copy of a Japanese translation of Pride and Prejudice from her collection. The translation was done by Professor Nakano, with whom I studied English literature at college. It was a unique and interesting experience for me. From time to time, the original passage would come back to me and make the reading of it doubly enjoyable. And then, I thought to myself that wit, humour, elegance, refinement of expression, but above all Jane Austen’s well-regulated mind does “captivate me still”.
(Keiko and her husband John have three children. Their two sons are both scholarship students studying to become career pianists – Jon Kimura Parker (age 21) at the Juilliard School in New York, and James (age 18) at the University of British Columbia. Both boys are winners of Canada-wide piano competitions. John and Keiko also have a daughter Elizabeth Anne Fumiko (age 12) named after the heroines of Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion.)
* (Pride and Prejudice in Japanese)