BD. Edmund Blunden

166. To Richard Cobden-Sanderson and Cyril Beaumont, 1924-27. Quoted in Benkovitz (188), 1980.

Blunden’s letters to friends and publishers Cobden-Sanderson and Beaumont written during his first stay in Tokyo reveal more than anything his unhappiness in the city, in marked contrast to his published accounts of the same period (see, for example, 18d, 132, 138, and 165c). In addition to letters noted, Benkovitz quotes from or summarises several others written from Tokyo or in passing reference to Blunden’s first stay there. The work includes as well a holograph facsimile in Blunden’s hand of a brief occasional poem, In Ushigome (see 1), which does not appear elsewhere. The letters and manuscripts noted are at the Library at the University of Iowa (see 171c).

a. To Cobden-Sanderson, 9 February 1924. Robert Nichols (Ap) is leaving his post at Tokyo Imperial University, Blunden writes, and he has been asked to take it over. The salary is ‘fair’—it was in fact 900 per year—so he is ready to ‘[project himself] . . . into the bosom of the Japanese’. The invitation had come from Saitô Takeshi (Ap); Blunden probably would not have known that the position had been turned down both by Laurence Binyon and T. E. Lawrence (see BC42).

b. To Beaumont, 2 March 1924. Soon after accepting the post in Tokyo Blunden had second thoughts. Here he writes of his coming ‘exile’ in Japan.

c. To Cobden-Sanderson, 14 July 1924. Blunden records his admiration for the ‘Rembrandtesque’ cottages and other features of the Japanese landscape observed during a recent excursion ‘into the hills & down by the sea’.

d. To Cobden-Sanderson, 15 August 1924. A minor earthquake has awakened Blunden, and he writes with disdain about a request from Cobden-Sanderson to write a ‘vivid description’ of Tokyo: ‘What, of paper lanterns, open drains, flower-like ladies, naked brown labourers, grins and stares perpetual, the Imperial Hotel (about half a crown a minute), [and] the cinematograph theatre?’ In spite of this, Blunden’s poems describing Japan and his reaction to it began to appear in English journals two months later (see 1).

e. To Cobden-Sanderson, 6 September 1924. Includes Blunden’s first mention in the published record of renewed efforts in Tokyo to complete the work that would become Undertones of War (19).

f. To Beaumont, 17 November 1924. In response to a suggestion from Beaumont that he produce a set of poems on Japan, Blunden writes that ‘Japan as presented here in Tokyo is far from inspiring one to poetry—to blasphemy is the direction!’ By 1928, however, Blunden’s Japanese Garland (18) had appeared from Beaumont’s press.

g. To Cobden-Sanderson, 3 April 1925. Blunden complains of the discomfort brought about by his ‘Japanese experiment’: he feels no ‘striving’ and no ‘new orientation’, and though he is ‘support[ed]’ by ‘a few friends’, ‘the rest is not silence, but a useless uproar, signifying nothing’.

h. To Cobden-Sanderson, 5 May 1925. ‘Can I go through day after day in my present ignorant fashion, observing nothing peculiar in Japanese custom, adding no weird word to my vocabulary?’ Blunden asks, and then answers his own question in the affirmative.

i. To Cobden-Sanderson, 28 June 1925. Blunden’s published accounts of his first years in Tokyo praise his colleagues at the Imperial University (see, for example, 132 and 165c) and his students (see especially 18d and 138), but the letters of this period tell a different story. Here he laments that he has come to Japan at all, complains of the teaching conditions, and contends that his answers to questions put to him by colleagues and students do not really matter, because ‘most of the J[apanese] don’t believe an honest answer’ and will ‘stick to their own interpretation’ regardless of what he says.

j. To Cobden-Sanderson, 1 November 1925. Blunden moved from 26 Kitoyamabushi-cho, Uchigome, to the Kikufuji Hotel in January 1925, where he entertained students (see 179e) and completed Undertones of War (19). This letter describes his new lodgings in sarcastic terms (compare to the ‘cheerful little hotel’ recalled five decades later, in 165c). The Kikufuji ‘has its own special features’, a staff ‘constantly altered to suit the latest requirements (of the money-lender opposite), & the entrance has recently been enriched with a new set of lockers for the clogs of the guests; ping-pong may be indulged in downstairs, while, mingling with the mirth of the champions and their numerous advisers, the chimes of the two stately clocks fill the ear and suggest the time within half an hour either way’; guests may supply their own oil stoves or otherwise face ‘the possibility that they will be frozen’, though the management ‘is in touch with a garage stabling an admired motor hearse for the use of departing clients’. The Kikufuji was in fact more boarding house than hotel, a three-storey wooden building in a back alley of the Hongo main street, opposite the Akamon (red gate) of Tokyo Imperial University, for a time the home of both Blunden and Plomer, and during their stay there to various members of the bohemian literati of the city, novelists Hirotsu Kazuo (1891-1968, who lived in the room next to Blunden), Uno Kôji (1891-1961), Tanizaki Junichirô (1886-1965), and drama critic Miyake Shûtarô (b. 1892). In the twenties Uno Chiyo (1897-1996) was a waitress there before beginning a somewhat notorious literary career, and the building was frequented by novelist Akutagawa Ryûnosuke (1892-1927), playwright and later acquaintance of Yeats (see BL124f) Kikuchi Kan (1888-1948), and novelist and playwright Kume Masao (1891-1952). The Kikufuji was destroyed in the firebombing of Tokyo in March 1945.

k. To Cobden-Sanderson, 8 March 1927. Again Blunden complains of his life at the ‘so-called University’, which has no library ‘worth the name’ and students who are too polite to admit that they cannot understand him.

 

 

 

 


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