Shūsaku Endō

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Shūsaku Endō
Endō in 1954
Endō in 1954
Native name
遠藤 周作
Born(1923-03-27)March 27, 1923
Tokyo, Empire of Japan
DiedSeptember 29, 1996(1996-09-29) (aged 73)
Tokyo, Japan
Alma materKeio University
GenreHistorical fiction
Literary movement"Third Generation"
Notable worksSilence (1966)
Junko Endō
(m. 1955)

Shūsaku Endō (遠藤 周作, Endō Shūsaku, March 27, 1923 – September 29, 1996)[1] was a Japanese author who wrote from the rare perspective of a Japanese Catholic. Internationally, he is known for his 1966 historical fiction novel Silence, which was adapted into a 2016 film of the same name by director Martin Scorsese.[2] He was the laureate of several prestigious literary accolades, including the Akutagawa Prize and the Order of Culture, and was inducted into the Roman Catholic Order of St. Sylvester by Pope Paul VI.

Together with Junnosuke Yoshiyuki, Shōtarō Yasuoka, Junzo Shono, Hiroyuki Agawa, Ayako Sono (also Catholic), and Shumon Miura, Endō is categorized as part of the "Third Generation" (that is, the third major group of Japanese writers to appear after World War II).


Soon after Endō was born in Tokyo in 1923, his family moved to Dairen, then part of the Kwantung Leased Territory in Manchuria.[1] When his parents divorced in 1933, Endō's mother brought him back to Japan to live with an aunt in Kobe.[3] Endō was baptized as a Catholic at the age of 11 or 12[4] in 1934.[3] Some say this was brought on by his mother, who had converted to Catholicism after her divorce,[1] while others state the aunt instigated the initiation.[5]

Endō first attended Waseda University for the stated purpose of studying medicine,[1] but later decided to switch to the literature programme at Keio University.[4] His studies were interrupted by the war, during which he worked in a munitions factory[3] and also contributed to literary journals. In 1968, he would later become chief editor of one of these, the prestigious Mita Bungaku.[6]

Endō was among the first Japanese university students to study in France.[7] His studies at the University of Lyon over the 1950–1953 period deepened his interest in and knowledge of modern French Catholic authors, who were to become a major influence on his own writing.[4][5]

Upon his return to Japan, his success as a writer was almost immediate. In 1954, a year after completing his studies in France, he won the Akutagawa Prize for Shiroi Hito (White Men).[8]

Endō married Okada Junko[1] in 1955.[8] They had one son,[8] Ryūnosuke,[5] born in 1956.

Endō lectured at at least two Tokyo universities.[8] In 1956, he was hired as an instructor at Sophia University,[3] and Seijo University assigned him the role of "Lecturer on the Theory of the Novel" in 1967.[6] He was considered a novelist not a university professor, however.[8]

Throughout his life bouts of disease plagued him, and he spent two years in hospital at one point.[8] In 1952, while studying in France, he came down with pleurisy in Paris.[3] A return visit in 1960 prompted another case of the same disease, and he stayed in hospital (in France and Japan) for the greater part of three years.[6] Among other health problems, he contracted tuberculosis,[9] underwent thoracoplasty,[9] and had a lung removed.[8]

While he lost the 1994 Nobel Prize in Literature to Kenzaburō Ōe,[5] he received the Order of Culture the subsequent year.[6] Endō died shortly thereafter from complications of hepatitis at Keio University Hospital in Tokyo on September 29, 1996.[5]

Writing style and themes[edit]

While Endō wrote in several genres,[10] his oeuvre is strongly tied to Christianity if not Catholicism. Endō has been called "a novelist whose work has been dominated by a single theme ... belief in Christianity".[4] Others have said that he is "almost by default ... [labeled] a 'Japanese Catholic author' struggling to 'plant the seeds of his adopted religion' in the 'mudswamp' of Japan".[1] He often likened Japan to a swamp or fen.[11][12] In the novel Silence, an official tells a priest who has apostatized, "Father, it was not by us that you were defeated, but by this mudswamp, Japan." In Endō's stage version of this story, The Golden Country, this official also says: "But the mudswamp too has its good points, if you will but give yourself up to its comfortable warmth. The teachings of Christ are like a flame. Like a flame they set a man on fire. But the tepid warmth of Japan will eventually nurture sleep."[13] Thus, many of Endō's characters are allegories.[10]

He may not be embraced by fellow Christians—Catholics, in particular.[10] Some of his characters (many of whom are allegories) may reference non-Western religions.[10] While not the main focus of his works, a few of Endō's books mention Kakure Kirishitans (hidden Christians).[14] Endō preferred to use the term "かくれ切支丹" instead of the more common "かくれキリシタン".[15]

His books reflect many of his childhood experiences, including the stigma of being an outsider, the experience of being a foreigner, the life of a hospital patient, and the struggle with tuberculosis. However, his books mainly deal with the moral fabric of life.

His Catholic faith can be seen at some level in all of his books and it is often a central feature. Most of his characters struggle with complex moral dilemmas, and their choices often produce mixed or tragic results.

His work is often compared to that of Graham Greene,[16] with whom he shared a mutual admiration: Greene himself labeled Endō one of the finest writers alive,[5] while it is reported that Endo would re-read Greene's novel The End of the Affair before beginning a new work of his own.[12]

Partial list of works[edit]

  • Aden made (アデンまで, "To Aden"): Published in the November 1954 issue of Mita Bungaku, a literary journal of Tokyo's Keio University.[17]
  • 白い人 (White Man) (1955)[8][18]
  • 黄色い人 (Yellow Man) (1955):[3] A novella in the form of a letter written by a young man, no longer a practising Catholic, to his former pastor, a French missionary.
  • 海と毒薬 (The Sea and Poison) (1957):[3] Set largely in a Fukuoka hospital during World War II, this novel is concerned with medical experimentation carried out on downed American airmen.[19] It is written with alternating points of view: the bulk of the story is written with a subjective, limited (but shifting) third-person view; three segments are told in first-person view. Inspired by true events,[20] this novel was made into the 1986 movie The Sea and Poison. Directed by Kei Kumai, it stars Eiji Okuda and Ken Watanabe.
  • おバカさん (Wonderful Fool) (1959):[3] A story about a kind, innocent, and naïve Frenchman visiting post-war Tokyo. Gaston Bonaparte is a Christ-like figure who comes to live with a Japanese family. He befriends a variety of "undesirables" including stray dogs, prostitutes, and a killer. In spite of this unusual behavior he changes everyone he meets for the better.
  • 十一の色硝子 (Stained Glass Elegies) (1959): Translated to English in 1984.
  • 火山 (Volcano) (1960):[6] A novel concerning three declining figures: an apostate Catholic priest, the director of a weather station in provincial Japan, and the volcano on which the latter is an expert.
  • 私が棄てた女 (The Girl I Left Behind) (1964):[6] A story of a young man and his mismatches with an innocent young woman. As Endō writes in the foreword to the English translation, one of the characters has a connection with Otsu, a character in Endo's later novel Deep River.
  • Ryūgaku (留学, "Foreign Studies") (1965)[6] Three linked narratives chart the gulf between East and West. Evoking Paris in the 1960s, 17th century Rome, and provincial France in the post-World War II years, Endō acutely conveys the alienation felt by three Japanese students when confronted by the spiritual values and culture of Europe.
  • 沈黙 (Silence) (1966):[6] Winner of the Tanizaki Prize[6] and Endō's most famous work, it is generally regarded as his masterpiece. Silence has been published in English by Peter Owen Publishers, London. This historical novel tells the story of a Catholic missionary priest in early 17th century Japan, who apostatizes to save the lives of several people, and then becomes a retainer of the local lord, but continues to keep the Christian faith in private. The character is based on the historical figure of Giuseppe Chiara.
  • The Golden Country (1966):[6] A play featuring many of the characters who appear in the novel Silence.
  • Kuronbō (黒ん坊) (1971): A satirical novel inspired by the historical figure of Yasuke, a 16th-century African man who served as a samurai under the daimyo Oda Nobunaga. The novel's title is a Japanese racial slur for black people, equivalent to the N-word in English.[23][24][25]
  • 死海のほとり ("Banks of the Dead Sea") (1973)[3]
  • イエスの生涯 (Life of Jesus) (1973)[6]
  • 口笛をふく時 (When I Whistle) (1974)[6]
  • 鉄の首枷 - 小西行長伝 (Iron Collar - The Story of Konishi Yukinaga) (1977): The biography of Konishi Yukinaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi's Christian protege, who got caught between Christianity and the samurai code demanding blind obedience to his anti-Christian master.
  • 王妃マリーアントワネット (Marie Antoinette) (1979): This book inspired the musical Marie Antoinette by German musical dramatist and lyricist Michael Kunze.
  • (The Samurai) (1980):[6] A historical novel relating the diplomatic mission of Hasekura Tsunenaga to colonial Mexico and Habsburg Spain in the 17th century. In 1613, a small group of samurai together with a Spanish missionary travel to Mexico, Spain, and eventually Rome. The missionary (Pedro Velasco) hopes to become primate of a Catholic Japan, and his mission is to bargain for a crusade to Japan in return for trading rights.
  • 女の一生:キクの場合 (Kiku's Prayer) (1982): A novel set during the final period of Christian persecutions in Japan in the 1860s.
  • 女の一生 (Sachiko) (1982): A novel set in Nagasaki during the years between 1930 and 1945 about two young people trying to find love and dealing with their Catholic faith in a period where Japanese Christians were accused of treason disloyalty to their country and Emperor.
  • 私の愛した小説 (Novels Loved by Me) & 本当の私を求めて (Search for the Real Me) (1985)[6]
  • スキャンダル (Scandal) (1986):[6] Set in Tokyo, the book is about a novelist who comes face to face with a doppelgänger of himself, who engages in lewd sexual activity. While the protagonist attempts to find his "impostor", a journalist dogs the author, searching for a scoop.
  • 深い河 (Deep River) (1993):[6] Set in India, it chronicles the physical and spiritual journey of a group of five Japanese tourists who are facing a wide range of moral and spiritual dilemmas. Working among the poor, sick, and dying, one of the group finds the man that she seduced long ago at college in an attempt to undermine his faith.
  • The Final Martyrs: A series of eleven short stories published in Japan between 1959 and 1985. Translated into English in 2008.



The Syusaku Endo Literature Museum, in Sotome, Nagasaki, is devoted to the writer's life and works.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Olive Classe (2000). Encyclopedia of literary translation into English: A-L. Taylor & Francis. p. 406. ISBN 978-1-884964-36-7. Retrieved November 17, 2011.
  2. ^ Rosenberg, Alyssa (January 5, 2017). "Watching 'Silence' will make you feel terrible. It should". Washington Post.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Williams, p. 225
  4. ^ a b c d Morton, p. 1
  5. ^ a b c d e f Shusaku Endo Is Dead at 73; Japanese Catholic Novelist New York Times. September 30, 1996. Case, Eric.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Williams, p. 226
  7. ^ Hoekema, Alle (March 18, 2010). "La 'Christologie' du Romancier Japonais, Shusaku Endo". Missions Étrangères de Paris: Églises d'Asie-Japon.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h Morton, p. 2
  9. ^ a b Sharma, OP (2006). "Shushaku Endo (1923-1996): his tuberculosis and his writings". Postgrad Med J. 82 (965): 157–61. doi:10.1136/pgmj.2005.037366. PMC 2563703. PMID 16517794.
  10. ^ a b c d Morton, p. 3
  11. ^ Morton, p. 11
  12. ^ a b Philips, Caryl (January 3, 2003). "Confessions of a True Believer". The Guardian. Retrieved June 25, 2020.
  13. ^ Francis Mathy, SJ, of Sophia University, (1974), Wonderful Fool (Obaka San), Tokyo: Tuttle, p. 6, OCLC 1858868.
  14. ^ Morton, p. 8
  15. ^ Emi Mase-Hasegawa (2008). Christ in Japanese culture: theological themes in Shusaku Endo's literary works. BRILL. p. 24. ISBN 978-90-04-16596-0. Retrieved November 19, 2011.
  16. ^ Williams, p. 1
  17. ^ Kirkup, James (September 30, 1996). "Obituary: Shusaku Endo". The Independent. Retrieved May 15, 2020.
  18. ^ Williams, p. 60
  19. ^ Morton, p. 4
  20. ^ Morton, p. 5
  21. ^ McNary, D. "Martin Scorsese Locks Funding for 'Silence'". Variety. Retrieved November 14, 2015.
  22. ^ Jaugernauth, Kevin (August 5, 2016). "Martin Scorsese Says 2016 Release Of 'Silence' "Depends On Paramount"". The Playlist. Retrieved August 19, 2016.
  23. ^ Bridges, Will (2020). "Genre Trouble: Breaking the Law of Genre and Literary Blackness in the Long 1970s". Playing in the Shadows: Fictions of Race and Blackness in Postwar Japanese Literature. Michigan Monograph Series in Japanese Studies. Vol. 88. University of Michigan Press. p. 137. ISBN 978-0-472-07442-6. Retrieved May 13, 2021. ... Kuronbō (Darkie), Endō Shūsaku's (1923–96) 1971 satirical more-fiction-than-history historical fiction of Yasuke and Nobunaga?
  24. ^ Russell, John (1992). "Race and Reflexivity: The Black Other in Contemporary Japanese Mass Culture". In Marcus, George E. (ed.). Rereading Cultural Anthropology. Duke University Press. p. 300. ISBN 978-0-8223-1297-0. Retrieved May 13, 2021.
  25. ^ Berlatsky, Noah (May 2, 2021). "The Real Yasuke Is Far More Interesting Than His Netflix Show". Foreign Policy. Retrieved May 13, 2021.
  26. ^ a b Miller 2009, p. 21.
  27. ^ "野間賞過去受賞作" (in Japanese). Archived from the original on June 22, 2018. Retrieved March 30, 2023.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]