Fumiko Enchi (円地 文子, Enchi Fumiko, 2 October 1905 – 12
November 1986) was the pen-name of Fumiko Ueda, one of the most
prominent Japanese women writers in the
Shōwa period of Japan.
1 Early life
2 Literary career
3 Postwar success
4 Later life
5 Partial list of works
5.2 One-act plays
6 See also
9 External links
Fumiko Enchi was born in the
Asakusa district of downtown Tokyo, as
the daughter of distinguished
Tokyo Imperial University philologist
and linguist Kazutoshi Ueda. Of poor health as a child, she was unable
to attend classes in school on a regular basis, so her father decided
to keep her at home. She was taught English, French and Chinese
literature through private tutors. She was also strongly influenced by
her paternal grandmother, who introduced her to the Japanese classics
such as The Tale of Genji, as well as to
Edo period gesaku novels and
to the kabuki and bunraku theater. A precocious child, at age 13, her
reading list included the works of Oscar Wilde, Edgar Allan Poe,
Kyōka Izumi, Nagai Kafū, Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, and especially
Jun'ichirō Tanizaki, whose sado-masochistic aestheticism particularly
From 1918 to 1922, she attended the girl's middle school of Japan
Women's University, but was forced to abandon her studies due to
health. However, her interest in the theatre was encouraged by her
father, and as a young woman, she attended the lectures of Kaoru
Osanai, the founder of modern Japanese drama. Her plays took
inspiration from Osanai Kaoru, and many of her later plays focused on
revolutionary movements and intellectual conflicts.
Her literary career began in 1926, with a one-act stage play
Birthplace (ふるさと, Furusato) published in the literary journal
Kabuki, which was well received by critics, who noted her sympathies
with the proletarian literature movement. This was followed by A
Restless Night in Late Spring ( 晩春騒夜 Banshun sōya), which was
published in the September 1928 issue of the magazine Women's Arts
(女人芸術, Nyonin Geijutsu) and performed at the Tsukiji Little
Theatre in December 1928. In this play, two female artists, Kayoko and
Mitsuko, are caught up in a conflict on their different perspectives
towards art and politics. This was Enchi's first play to be produced
In 1930, she married Yoshimatsu Enchi, a journalist with the Tokyo
Nichi Nichi Shimbun, with whom she had a daughter. She then began to
write fiction but unlike her smooth debut as a playwright, she found
it very hard to get her stories published. Although from 1939, the
Tokyo Nichi Nichi Shimbun began publishing a serialization of her
translation of the Genji Monogatari into modern Japanese language, her
early novels, such as The Words Like the Wind (Kaze no gotoki kotoba,
1939), The Treasures of Heaven and Sea (Ten no sachi, umi no sachi,
1940) and Spring and Autumn (Shunju, 1943) were not a commercial
success. She also continued to struggle with her health, having a
mastectomy in 1938 after being diagnosed with uterine cancer, and
suffering from post-surgical complications.
In 1945, Enchi's home and all her possessions burned during one of the
air raids on
Tokyo towards the end of the Pacific War. She had a
hysterectomy in 1946, and stopped writing till around 1951.
In 1953, Enchi’s novel Days of Hunger (ひもじい月日, Himojii
Tsukihi) was received favorably by critics. Her novel is a violent,
harrowing tale of family misfortune and physical and emotional
deprivation, based partly on wartime personal experiences, and in 1954
won the Women’s Literature Prize.
Enchi’s next novel was also highly praised: The Waiting Years
(女坂, Onna zaka) (1949–1957) won the Noma Literary Prize. The
novel is set in the
Meiji period and analyzes the plight of women who
have no alternative but to accept the demeaning role assigned to them
in the patriarchal social order. The protagonist is the wife of a
government official, who is humiliated when her husband not only takes
concubines, but has them live under the same roof as both maids and as
From the 1950s and 1960s, Enchi became quite successful, and wrote
numerous novels and short stories exploring female psychology and
sexuality. In Masks (Onna men, 1958), her protagonist is based on Lady
Rokujo from the Genji Monogatari, depicted as a shamanist character.
After losing her son in a climbing accident on Mount Fuji, she
manipulates her widowed daughter-in-law to have a son by any means to
replace the one she lost. One of the quote from the book says, "A
woman's love is quick to turn into a passion for revenge--an obsession
that becomes an endless river of blood, flowing on from generation to
The theme of a shamanist appears repeatedly in Enchi’s works in the
1960s. Enchi contrasted the traditions of female subjugation in
Buddhism with the role of the female shaman in the indigenous Japanese
Shinto religion, and used this as a means to depict the female shaman
as a vehicle for either retribution against men, or empowerment for
women. In The Tale of An Enchantress (Nama miko monogatari, 1965), she
sets the story in the Heian period, with the protagonist as Empress
Teishi (historical figure Fujiwara no Teishi, also known as Sadako), a
consort of Emperor Ichijo. The novel won the 1966 Women’s Literature
The Waiting Years and Masks, The Tale of An
Enchantress is considered to be her third work to be directly
influenced from The Tale of Genji.
In A Tale of False Oracles (1969-1970), Enchi writes of female mediums
and possession by spirits.
Three of her stories were selected for the
Tanizaki Prize in 1969: Shu
wo ubau mono; Kizu aru tsubasa; Niji to shura
Another theme in Enchi’s writing is eroticism in aging women, which
she saw as a biological inequality between men and women. In
“Growing Fog” (Saimu, 1976), an aging woman becomes obsessed with
a fantasy in which she can revitalize herself through sexual liaisons
with young men. Enchi's works combined elements of realism and erotic
fantasy, a style that was new at the time.
Enchi was made a
Person of Cultural Merit in 1979, and was awarded the
Order of Culture
Order of Culture by the Japanese government in 1985. She was elected
Japan Art Academy
Japan Art Academy shortly before her death on November 12,
1986, of a heart attack, suffered while she was at a family event in
1986 at her home in the Yanaka neighborhood of Tokyo. Her grave is at
the nearby Yanaka Cemetery. Few of Enchi's works have been translated
out of Japanese.
Partial list of works
Kaze no gotoki kotoba (The Words like the Wind, 1939)
Ten no sachi, umi no sachi (The Treasures of Heaven and Sea, 1940)
Shunju (Spring and Autumn, 1943)
Onna Zaka (The Waiting Years, 1949–1957), English translation by
John Bester. Kodansha. ISBN 477002889X
Onna Men (Masks, 1958), English translation by Juliet Winters
Nama miko monogatari (A Tale of False Fortunes, 1965), English
translation by Roger Kent Thomas. University of Hawaii Press.
Saimu (The Colours of Mist, 1976)
Furusato (A Birthplace, 1926)
Banshu sōya (A Restless Night in Late Spring, 1928)
Enchi Genji, a translation of
The Tale of Genji
The Tale of Genji into modern Japanese.
List of Japanese authors
^ a b Rimer, Thomas J (2014). "The Columbia Anthology of Modern
Japanese Drama". New York: Columbia University Press: 170.
access-date= requires url= (help)
^ Kano, Ayako (2006). "Enchi Fumiko's Stormy Days: Arashi and the
Drama of Childbirth". Monumenta Nipponica. 61 (1): 59–91.
^ Enchi, Fumiko. Masks.
^ Gessel, Van (Summer 1988). "The "Medium" of Fiction:
Fumiko Enchi as
Narrator". World Literature Today. 62 (Contemporary Japanese
Literature): 380. access-date= requires url= (help)
^ McCain, Yoko (1980). "Eroticism and the Writings of Enchi Fumiko":
32–46. access-date= requires url= (help)
Cornyetz, Nina. Dangerous Women, Deadly Words: Phallic
Modernity in Three Japanese Writers, Stanford University Press, 1999.
Kano, Ayako (2006). "Enchi Fumiko's Stormy Days: Arashi and the Drama
of Childbirth". Monumenta Nipponica. 61 (1).
McClain, Yoko. "Eroticism and the Writings of Enchi Fumiko." The
Journal of the Association of Teachers of Japanese, Volume 15, Number
1, 1980 pp. 32–46. ISSN 0885-9884
North, Lucy. "Enchi Fumiko." Modern Japanese Writers, Ed. Jay Rubin,
Charles Scribner's Sons, 2001. pp. 89–105.
Rimer, J Thomas (2007). The Columbia Anthology of Modern Japanese
Literature: From 1945 to the present. Columbia University Press.
Rimer, J Thomas (2014). The Columbia Anthology of Modern Japanese
Drama. New York: Columbia University Press.
Schierbeck, Sachiko. Japanese Women Novelists in the 20th Century.
Museum Tusculanum Press (1994). ISBN 8772892684
Fumiko Enchi at J'Lit Books from Japan (in English)
The Waiting Years (Onna Zaka) at JLPP (Japanese Literature
Publishing Project) (in English)
ISNI: 0000 0001 1053 184X
BNF: cb13619972b (data)