Yoko Tawada was born in Tokyo in 1960 in a family of publishers. She became interested in German when she was in high school. An overseas travel experience during college made her feel the differences between different cultures. Out of interest in cultural inquiry, after graduating from university in 1982, she went to the University of Hamburg, Germany to take a postgraduate course, and then went on to pursue a doctoral course at the University of Zurich, while working for a publishing company. She traveled between the Japanese and German languages with ease, and published a collection of poems and essays written in both Japanese and German, “There is Nothing Where Only You Are”, and published the first German short story in 1988. “The Beginning of Europe”; 24 works have been created in German so far.
Tawada’s creative genres are diverse and unique, such as short stories/novels, essays, poems, scripts, etc. The awards for a series of works have established her status in the German and Japanese literary circles: from the first Japanese novel “Lost Heel” (1991) began, successively created “the son-in-law of the father-in-law”, “the time of daisy tea”, “the suspect’s night train”, “the name that fell into the sea”, “the bow of the nun and the cupid”, “the snow trainee”, “infinite “Story” successively won the Akutagawa Prize, the Tanizaki Junichiro Literature Award, the Zishibu Literature Award, the Yomiuri Literature Award and other major literary awards; in 2005, he was awarded the German Goethe Medal for outstanding achievement. Entering the 21st century, Dowada’s creation reached its peak.
Researcher Yukiyo Taniguchi believes that “Tawada Yoko is the standard bearer of modern cross-border literature. She is based on the boundary between Japanese and German, creating a sense of language instability and inconsistency, and deconstructing existing symbols and systems.” Dowada embarked on a trip to India at the age of 21, passing through Italy, and finally arrived in Hamburg, Germany. According to her, the purpose of the Hamburg trip is to experience the feeling of being in the gap between the mother tongue and the foreign language (German). She seems to enjoy the creation of this kind of heterogeneous language, such as the first published “Nothing Where Only You Are”, which includes a short story and 19 poems. The structure is Tawada’s original Japanese text and the translator’s German translation. Interlaced. “I don’t want to be a person who is proficient in two languages…nor will I abandon one language and enter another.”
Dowada also translated works while creating in heterogeneous languages. Her translation was influenced by the major of Russian literature that she studied at the university. She was fascinated by Russian literature, and her graduation thesis on the poetess Avmadulina was excellent. This may be related to the large number of Russian literary works translated and introduced in Japan in the early days. For example, the works of Turgenev and Dostoevsky were translated into Japanese in large numbers. Dowada once said that if language is compared to an island, the coastline of this island will continue to change its shape, connecting and separating from other islands from time to time; and the island of language is often washed and beaten by the huge waves of translation. This structure between language and translation is most obviously reflected in the translation between two languages; of course it is not a natural process, but requires an aesthetic perspective to give new vitality to the translation.
Because of her sensitive, fragile, and delicate psychology of women, Tawada Yoko feels the differences in language, the strangeness of the environment, the separation between people, the conflict of ideas constituted by heterogeneous cultures, and so on. This unique personal experience makes her Acquired a creative perspective completely different from other Japanese female writers. She has enough knowledge and experience of the extreme indifference, estrangement and even hostility in the relationship between people in foreign countries, and the relationship between the sexes and family is the most sensitive and prominent in the interpersonal relationship, so her novels are mostly based on this. The two relationships are the entry point.
”Lost Heel” tells the story of “I” who went to a foreign family alone and lived with a husband who had never met. In a peculiar way of expression, the novel expresses the absurd living feelings and living conditions of modern people in the conflict of heterogeneous cultures, as well as the twisted relationship between people. The works set up many metaphorical images such as “losing their heels” (leaving their own cultural system), revealing the spiritual dilemma of modern people. “Snow Trainee” is composed of three parts: “Grandma’s Degeneration Theory”, “Kiss of Death” and “Days of Thinking of the North Pole”. The narrator freely transforms between animals and people, telling the story of three generations of polar bears. The works reflect the changes of the times such as the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall. The polar bears vividly show the various worlds, its narrative perspective that transcends racial restrictions, and the unique charm of coexistence of fantasy and reality. It is loved by many readers. Literary critics Nozaki praised him for his “leisure fantasy and sharp critical spirit.”
Interspersing folk tales or legends in his works is one of the artistic techniques that Tawada Yoko uses. For example, the German folktales in “Two Men”, the Christian legends in “The Legend of the Saint”, and the legends of the Japanese “Crane Wife” in “The Crane Mask Shining at Night” have all become the background stage for her to borrow and transform. Or the finishing touch to the development of the plot. Through the modern interpretation of folk tales, the works have double or even multiple structures, and express deep thinking about the survival of contemporary Japanese women in the superposition, mapping and metaphor of multiple structures.
From the perspective of female literature, Dowada is undoubtedly the representative of contemporary female literature. Japanese modern literature was formed centered on male writers. A large number of male writers pursued individual liberation, explored the laws of modernization, and developed literature with modern consciousness. But they failed to focus on women. In a society where men are inferior to women, women writers have to fight against discrimination from all aspects of society in order to insist on women’s positions, and at the same time compete with male writers for the right to speak in the literary world. Since the 1970s, with the rise of the feminist movement worldwide and the development of the Japanese economy, women’s social consciousness and values have also had room for existence. Female writers are very comfortable with themes that are difficult for male writers to express. They use keen insight to analyze the shortcomings of society from the relationship between husband and wife and family issues. Yoko Dowada is one of the representative figures. She and a group of female writers such as Seiko Tanabe and Banana Yoshimoto have emerged in the literary world with new literary concepts and novel literary techniques, and are regarded as Beckett, Joyce and Kafka’s contemporary spirit is passed down and famous overseas, leading the trend of contemporary Japanese female literature.
”The Boring Dog Son-in-law” (1992) borrows the framework of folk tales to organically integrate the real world with the fictional world, telling the story of people losing their essence and becoming alien under the dual pressure of the body and spirit. The protagonist Mitsuko Kitamura set up a private school in a small town. She often talks about strange and unclean things. The children are very excited about it and love her very much. The new schoolgirl Fuxiko was bullied by other children, and Mizuko took her in to live with her. One day, a man with dog-like behavior and habits came to town. His name was Taro. He was indifferent to people, but he had a keen sense of smell, especially his reaction to cats and dogs. He slept during the day and was full of energy at night, cooking, cleaning, and then going out until dawn. It was learned from the villagers that at night Taro and Fuxizi’s father entered and exited the gay venue together… The ending of the novel is that Taro and Fuxizi’s father left, and Kitamura teacher also took Fuxizi and left the town.
Folk tales about dog son-in-law have been circulated in many parts of the world, with a certain origin mythology. It can be seen that what Dowada is looking for in his creation is a common and essential model that can represent mankind and give it a worldwide meaning. This work is a subversive experiment on the patriarchal society, and points out that the source of the absurdity and alienation of modern civilization lies in the discourse system derived from power and capital under the control of modern industrial civilization. Dowada uses his rich imagination and creativity to smoothly reveal the feminine standard and the creative intention of deconstructing the patriarchal dictatorship, exposing the obliterated nature of modern civilization and the structure of male discourse power in mainstream society, which is an established social and cultural order. The introduction of heterogeneous elements makes everything that people are accustomed to become unfamiliar, so as to arouse people’s vigilance and thinking about modern civilization, realize the criticism of it and the reconstruction of the ideal non-patriarchal society.
Tawada Yoko is a modernist writer whose work is similar to expressionism. She emphasizes people’s inner feelings and experiences through subjective self-expression. Therefore, most of his works show the characteristics of loss of convention and extreme exaggeration and deformation, and the characters retreat into some abstract concepts and symbols. For example, the German therapist in the novel “Mask” commented on East Asians like this: “Even though he looks amiable, under the mask-like face, no one else knows what he is thinking.” This sentence deeply stabbed the protagonist. Daozi’s heart made her extremely painful. Daozi is regarded as an outlier in the eyes of the whole family because her parents and brothers never considered themselves East Asians. Therefore, although they are all in a family and all Japanese, the phases of the language are different, which makes it difficult to understand and communicate with each other. Daozi, who is losing the “face” of the Japanese, has to wear a Noh mask to gain a “face”-the Noh mask represents the characteristics of the Eastern nation, and Daozi wants to use it to show that he is a “Japanese.” However, the people around still “did not notice that Daozi was Japanese.” Here comes a deep irony: wearing a mask in order to obtain a “face”, but in the end loses the face and the true identity. It can be seen from this that through exaggerated forms of expression, “Mask” shows a world that deprives people of their inherent attributes such as names and faces, a world in which the relationship between self and others is constantly torn and distorted.
Dowada likes to read Kafka’s works written in German, and Kafka is a pioneer in applying postmodernism to literature. Therefore, Dowada’s works also have strong postmodernist literary characteristics, such as rebellious spirit against traditional androcentrism, critical awareness of modern civilization, absurd character images and unreasonable plot designs, etc., which are all about modern society. All kinds of so-called subversion of rationality.
“A Dog Son-in-law Who Enters the Parents”
In addition to experiencing heterogeneous languages and practicing post-modernist literary concepts, Dowada also has a broad international vision and profound thinking about the human community. In her “Lamp-Offering”, this is a work describing the theme of contemporary Japanese social crisis. After the “3.11” earthquake, the social and environmental crisis of isolated island Japan and the survival crisis of residents constitute the main line of the work, and the “presentation of lanterns” constitutes the bottom line of the work. The beginning of the story directly states the unnamed body alienation of the protagonist-although he is a human being, he looks like a human and bird, which clearly shows the author’s crisis consciousness. The narrative time of the whole novel is only one day. It describes things like getting up without name, going to school, and studying at school, in which associations and memories of taking care of his great-grandfather are cleverly interspersed. By delineating the physical strength of the elderly and the fragility of the children, a sharp contrast is drawn to reflect the physical crisis and survival dilemmas faced by the future generation of Japan. In the fictional society of the novel, the old people are deprived of the right to die, but the young people pass away one by one. The frail children have almost no parents, which implies that the human body has changed, the traditional family has disappeared, and the kinship and ethical relationship has changed. All kinds of human survival crises. In addition to the main tone of the human crisis, the wailing of the national political death knell can be faintly heard. Although there are multiple crises described in the novel, the existence of the “Lamp Serving” Society, especially the nameless being selected as the “Lamp Serving” and sent overseas for training, allows us to see a ray of hope in the future, and we can also feel Tawada. Deep humanistic care and compassion for human society.
Yoko Tawada is also a practitioner of literary dissemination. After the publication of the first short story, she began to participate in reading meetings in Germany and actively participated in various reading activities. She is not afraid to cross borders, and she does not refuse to cross fields. She strives for perfection in creation, translation, and research.
As one of the representative figures of contemporary Japanese female writers, Tawada Yoko is shining like a pearl in contemporary Japanese literary circles with his unique heterogeneous language concept, keen female perspective, postmodernist literary practice and humanistic care.