#2: Makoto Fujimura 2016
The Hidden God, December 30, 2016
Painter and writer Makoto Fujimura reflects on his journey through Shusaku Endo’s 1966 novel Silence into Japan’s history of Christian martyrdom. Reading excerpts from his book Silence and Beauty, Fujimura ponders trauma in Japanese history, Japanese aesthetics, his own faith story, Martin Scorsese’s 2016 film Silence, and the way that images and words converge for him, revealing a God hidden in suffering and darkness. Opening conversation with host Lisa Ann Cockrel and film critic Josh Larsen.
- Makoto Fujimura, Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born from Suffering
- Shusaku Endo, Silence
- Martin Scorsese, Silence
- Graham Greene, The Power
- Sen no Rikyū
Lisa Ann Cockrel (host): [00:00:00] Welcome to Rewrite Radio, the podcast from the Festival of Faith and Writing. I'm Lisa Ann Cockrel, the director of the Festival, and I'll be your host.
This is the place you can listen back to conversations we've had with writers and readers as we've celebrated the written word together for over two decades. In each episode you'll hear a session that took place at the festival. It might be a reading, an interview, a lecture, a panel conversation, or something else entirely.
Our sponsors this week are the Calvin Center for Christian Worship, and the Center for Excellence for Preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary. They welcome you to the 30th annual Calvin Symposium on Worship, January 26th through 28th, 2017. You can join 1,500 participants from 25 countries in learning together about strengthening congregational life and Christian witness. Among the many presenters will be artist and author, Makoto Fujimura, a speaker at the 2016 Festival of Faith and Writing. Visit worship.calvin.edu for more information.
Today we'll listen to Makoto Fujimura's talk about Japanese history and literature at the 2016 Festival of Faith and Writing. The novel Silence by Shusaku Endo and Makoto's own faith journey are the subject of his own book, Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born from Suffering. And Makoto was a consultant on Martin Scorsese's film adaption of Silence, opening in theaters this Christmas. To help introduce Makoto's session is Josh Larsen, the film critic and editor of Think Christian, a digital magazine on faith and culture, as well as co-host of Filmspotting. His own book, Movies are Prayers, is due out this summer.
[phone ringing, music]
Josh Larsen: [00:01: 40] Hello?
Lisa : Hi, Josh.
Josh: Hi, Lisa.
Lisa: Where did we catch you today?
Josh: You find me just starting to take deep breaths after the holidays season, Christmas season rush. The office is officially closed today, but I am still wrapping some things up at home.
Lisa: [laughs] 'Kay.
Josh: But, it feels like a break is ahead. I've got my movie top ten list (Lisa: Mhmm) is well-done, and this is a very nice time of year when things finally start to quiet.
Lisa: Excellent. Well, we were going to talk a little about Makoto Fujimura's session at the 2016 Festival of Faith and Writing (Josh: Uh-huh), which you attended and of course in that session he talks about his new book, Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering, which talks a lot about Shusaku Endo's novel Silence, which is the basis for a movie making a lot of top ten lists this year, and you were at that session. Tell me, what were your thoughts about that, what he had to say, and kind of your interest in that book.
Josh: Sure. You know Makoto is like the ideal person to guide through some of these cultural artifacts and the cultural history just because of his heritage, his interest in art, and it opened up so much for me about, just in terms of, you know, what Scorsese was going to be tackling with this upcoming film. I generally, you know, when there's — critics split a couple ways on this when they're adaptations of novels, some of them insist on not reading the novel at all until after you've seen the film, you know give the film a first shot. But when it comes to important books, you know, I was an English major —
Lisa: Ahhh, nice. [laughs]
Josh: — and books have always have been a huge part of my life. So I want to give the book [laughs] the proper deference, and make sure that I've read it — not too — I'm not so worried about the movie being literally faithful in terms of narrative. (Lisa: Sure.) But, I want to have that experience of reading the novel.
Lisa: Yeah, how do you like, in the specific instance and without, you know, obviously giving away spoilers for people who've not read the book or watched the movie yet, can you talk a little about the interplay between the source material, the novel, and the film? You have a sense for Scorsese's approach to that original material.
Josh: Yeah, it's interesting because I think people have a tendency to split Scorsese's films into religious or nonreligious. Obviously he did Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun has a spiritual theme, and now Silence, but for me, and this kind of goes to my approach to films in general and blurring that line between sacred and secular, all of his work has, is very much motivated by a religious moral core. And, you know, even something like The Wolf of Wall Street which is [laughs] a movie of extreme excess to the point where it wore on me a little bit, I think is still motivated by a religious core and so this is sort of Scorese embracing his role as a cinematic priest. You know, he's just wearing it right out front, and there are ways where he captures religious feeling that are beautiful and are wrenching just because of this story of these missionaries facing persecution that I don't think another filmmaker could do quite as powerfully. It's also interesting though Silence is the movie, for me at least, in my experience, was much less mysterious than the book in terms of where it leaves you, just in terms of your faith convictions — and I'm dancing around spoilers a little bit here.
Lisa: Right, right. I, I hear you. [laughs] Yes, I think I know what you mean.
Josh: [00:05:35] I guess I would say, both the (Lisa: Yeah) book and movie are works, are ultimately works of assurance but Endo's book is more mysteriously so. I was very surprised of what a work of assurance Scorsese's movie is, and I'm very eager to hear how Christian audiences take that and, you know, how other audience receive that as well, so. It's a movie I saw a few weeks ago now, it's, you know, obviously, I think it's right around three hours, it's an intense experience, and I'm eager to still visit it again and kind of be able to sit in it a little bit more than just have it right at you in your face. Because although it's a quiet film it really works itself up into this, this fervor by the end that gives you a lot to think about.
Lisa: Yeah. How did, you mentioned that you read Silence, the novel, and then kind of circled back to Makoto's book, Silence and Beauty, to help you kind of think through the novel a little bit as kind of companion. Were there any specific insights or observations that Makoto brought forth that you remember kind of off the top of your head in his book that kind of helped you process the novel or that was interesting to you in thinking about Endo's work?
Josh: Yeah, I mean it's — the book, Endo's book, kind of leaves you hungry for a lot of the context in some ways (Lisa: Yeah.) even though it provides details, and that's what Silence and Beauty really immerses you in, especially the art history of Japan that is maybe taking place around the fringes of Endo's Silence, but is still speaking thematically to what that, to what that narrative captures, so there is a lot there in terms of historical and cultural context, which I appreciated. Also, I mentioned the personal testimony that Makoto works into it, I think that's where his response helped me wrap around, helped me wrap my head around the faith experience of this central priest in Silence who is faced with extreme persecution and his own doubt, and ultimately, his own, you know, test of faith which the book climaxes around after he has been captured. So, I think Makoto brought to light this idea, and there's a point here and I had it marked here in my book, too — I'm going to grab it and see — yeah, here he says, "Endo stands with those sitting the pews who feel inadequate and uncertain, who doubt whether they can be strong, heroic, and faith-filled." And that, you know, I think is another statement of assurance that was good for me to hear, because in my initial reading of Silence it comes to this devastating climax that, that can leave you to feeling a little more lost than that. Does that make any sense?
Lisa: Yeah — oh, absolutely. Yes, having read the book and being at that moment I hear you completely.
Josh: Yeah, you know what part I'm talking about.
Lisa: [laughs] I know what you're talking about. [Josh laughs] Everyone go read the book, you'll know what we're talking about. You know it already.
Josh: Yeah, and I, I loved it when I read it (Lisa: [laughs] Yes, yes). I, you know, I was like, I can't believe this book is giving us this moment of awful honesty (Lisa: Right.) And I'll say, I again, I assume we're talking about the same scene, but — Scorsese gets that one, he, he manages to evoke that with the right use of sound and camera work and imagery, which is what I was hoping for while I was reading Silence, you know. There are other moments I was surprised how literal the film is, and uses voice-over quite a bit, which makes sense 'cause a good portion of Silence are these letters that are first person narrated, but I'm always more looking for movies to do things without words if they don't have to.
Lisa: Yeah, it's a different medium.
Josh: Exactly. And is very much in play in that climactic scene, and, and in other parts of the movie, too, but very much there where I think it's the most important.
Lisa: Wonderful. Well, thank you so much for taking some time to talk with us about Makoto's book, Silence and Beauty, and also about the film, Scorsese's film, Silence.
Lisa: Yeah, we really appreciate it.
Josh: Thank you.
Lisa: [00:10:01] And now, here's Makoto Fujimura on Silence and Beauty at the 2016 Festival of Faith and Writing. A note to listeners: Makoto references projected slides of his work during his talk. You can see much of his work on his website at makotofujimura.com.
Makoto Fujimura: Thank you, thank you. We could go ahead and try the slide, to make sure it's working [chuckling] as I begin this discussion on Endo's work, Silence, and I brought with me, I believe this is the second edition, the Japanese version. The original version of Endo's book. Shusaku Endo wrote this book Silence in, it came out in 1996 in Japan. It was translated some years later in English. By the time I was an undergraduate student at a place called Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania people were talking about this book. And at the time, someone biculturally raised, I was born in Boston, my father is a scientist, and I was born as he was doing his postdoctoral work on generative theory, grammar theory with Noam Chomsky. And my father became famous for bringing the generative grammar theory into Japan. My previous book Culture Kid talks about generativity, so you know where this language came from, and it's literally my DNA embedded.
And I think about my father, who is now 89, retired and, slowed down quite a bit but, his generation and Endo's generation, they’re of the same generation, and there's quite a bit of overlap. Both experienced trauma of the war as a teenager. Both fell orphaned. My father lost his mother, my grandmother, in the war. And Endo, who grew up part of his life in Manchuria, ended up, because his parents got divorced and his mother brought him and his brother to Kobe, where it was his aunt that brought his mother, Endo's mother, to church, Catholic church, in Kobe. His mother and, Shusaku Endo, and his brother were baptized.
He talks about this experience being like entering this faith, like wearing Western clothes [chuckles]. It didn't really suit him, but he knew that this was what he was supposed to do, and so he grew up with this very ambiguous relationship with the Church, but by the time he was a teenager he thought about becoming a priest. So there was much about Endo's life that with this reality of faith hovering around him constantly.
I want to begin just showing images from my studio. This is an upcoming exhibit of Silence and Beauty and this, also coupled with book release, but as I was writing this book, I was also painting and many of the images, this is an image that is seven feet by eleven feet long, so it's a large image that will be featured in my New York show, upcoming New York show in May, the book reading will be on May 5th — it's at a beautiful gallery called Waterfall Mansion on the Upper East side and so, so if you're a New Yorker, here by some reason, please join us. It's up until the end of May, beginning of June and I think they are open to the public, on Saturdays or by appointment.
[00:15:00] So I paint and I write, I've always done that since my undergraduate days or even maybe before. The two seems to be overlapping activities if not a part of the whole. And somebody earlier, when I was presenting on T.S. Eliot, asked me, "So how does imagery work with writing or reading words?" And I said, "To a Japanese, it's the same thing." Because you are looking at Chinese pictographs or kanjis, you see two here, that are highly visual. So to learn to read in Japanese it's to learn this visual language and so in Japanese and many Eastern cultures, writing and painting are really the same training, the same path.
And so it wasn't an unusual thing to be painting while writing a book, but it turned out be a very specific journey of journeying with Endo, Silence, and now with Martin Scorsese whose film Silence is coming out at, hopefully at the end of the year, and I'll tell you more about that in a minute.
Materials I use when Nihonga, I always when I speak, when I invite people into my studio, and so I begin by explaining what I do in the studio and these are pulverized minerals: malachite, azurite, and now you see cinnabar there as well, and Japanese high glue, and gold, and brushes that are particularly made for carrying these pulverized minerals unto the surface. Surface of my work is refractive, there are many layers, many times over sixty layers of under layer goes on before I begin, and it's all done with organic materials, natural materials, and I particularly focus on technique that has, and materials that have been used since sixteenth and seventeenth century. So, even though I have modified to create these large scale paintings, basically the technique that I use is the same technique that Empire [00:17:51] artists use in seventeenth century time when Endo's story of Silence takes place.
Here I am in my Pasadena studio. As John noted I have been appointed the director of Brehm Center and they gave me a beautiful studio to work in, and my job description is to paint [laughter]. And I'm told that I get fired if I'm not painting, so I take that seriously and I go in and you see me working on this painting that will be shown in New York. This is a painting that is two seven feet by eleven so it is seven feet by twenty two feet long. It's called Silence and Beauty. And you cannot see the surface of my paintings when I project them, and it is, it is one of those frustrations I have in public presentations like this that the very image that you are looking at is not the image [laugh] that the painting is about. Sometimes I do this, there's a close-up, and you can kind of see the refractive surface, maybe not, but this is the limitation of digital media.
The reason why I paint the way I do, you might call this a minimalist abstraction, but I think it of as essantiation. I think of this realm of vision that you cannot capture in a digital media. So images are teasers, hopefully to draw people to the real work, real experience of standing in front of a work, and to add to their frustration I also tell people that it might take you twenty minutes for your eyes to adjust so you actually see the refractive, prismatic colors that I embed in the surface of my paintings.
[20:00:00] Now, that doesn't do well in marketing [laughter]. It's not a very easy way to promote your own images on Twitter, but that's the calling that I have and this calling comes actually from my father's research. My father for many years said that in early 1970's he was at Bell Labs, famed pure research facility in Mary Hill, New Jersey. He and his colleagues were working on producing speech, speech reproduction and his colleagues were convinced that in 10 years, this is 1972, in ten years we will have a machine that will speak perfectly — you cannot tell that it is a machine. [audience chuckles]
Right. 2016, this is the best we have [laughter]. My father said for years that human speech, the nuance of human speech, the fact that it doesn't — it conveys more than information, is far more important to speech reproduction than people gave credit for. You cannot segment and dissect speech and stitch it back as if you were cutting up a frog and stitching it back and hope that it jumps again. You can't do that.
He was told that that would be that required that they start over. And he said, "Well, why not start over?" And slowly he got marginalized. [laughs] But he was right. Human speech cannot be reproduced in a way that we segment information, we use empty bits. So and, senses, hearing and vision, are so wonderfully, fearfully — fearfully and wonderfully made. And so, part of my journey, with both this book Silence and my art, Silence and Beauty, has to do with this overlap of the limitations of human technology, communication, missions. Limitations of just how we, even though we try to communicate at the deepest level, how much we fail.
And I think that's a good start to talking about Endo, and this is the born in Princeton, my home, and my studio where I work out of, and I love these flowers that come up in May, and this where I wrote Silence and Beauty. So, I just wanted to show that to you, and of course there, you know, if you're a writer, the day that your book arrives, right? [laughing] There's nothing more joyous and so I wanted to share this photo with you in celebration of the publication of this book. I wanted also to thank IV Press and also Mark Rogers, who insisted I write this book, I'll talk a little more about him in a minute, but IV Press was great to work with, and I was really overwhelmed by their effort to translate my aesthetic into this book. It's not easy and it's not cheap [laughs]. And so I'm grateful for the team, the design team, and studying with the main publisher, main editor, HaoShu and all the rest of the great people that I got to work with.
The book was supposed to be shorter. It kept on growing [chuckles], and they allowed me to keep going, and so it turned out be a book that encompasses my journey of faith, my journey with Endo, but ultimately it's about communication. It's about that reality that we perhaps cannot capture in digital media, but that is critical and also the assumption that we make in communicating what Christians call the Gospel into the world. And that the gap between us and the world, us and our neighbors, is what Endo is ultimately interested in, in a conflict that comes when a foreigner comes into a certain tribe.
[00:25:16] Silence, how many of you have read this book? Okay, I would say about 60 percent — that's good. Okay, so I'm going to assume that you know at least the plot. I hope I don't spoil the experience for you by reading from some of the passages, because I say, right in the beginning that, you know, this journey with Endo is, it's actually important that you know what happens in the story. So, if you don't want to hear what happens in the story, you may not want to be here [laughs].
But if you're going to read Silence, please, please, please read it to the end. By the end, I mean the appendix. Do not miss the appendix. In the Japanese version, there is no designation called 'appendix.' It should not be there, and it's really important that you follow Endo to the end. I write in the acknowledgements this:
"Following Endo's trails is like going into a dark cave. A narrow but deep cave in which available oxygen is limited. But the pilgrimage rewards those willing to journey into the darkness to discover the resplendent chambers filled with jewels with prismatic colors refracting in the dim light."
Dr. Graham, this is golden Graham of Princeton Seminary, who was so kind to read the very early manuscripts and advise me.
“Dr. Graham told me in commenting on the early manuscript that it is not so much the details of the journey that we need to focus on, but instead the transformation we experience. In retracing the steps of Endo, I must say I have been transformed greatly. Such a transformation never comes easily. Many times I felt lost, and confused by Endo's complex maps of trauma. But in the end I am convinced that Endo guides us toward the jewels of edification and compassion. Through the dark corridors of confusion and despair. As of this writing, I have not seen the finished Martin Scorsese film version, but going from the fine, faithful script, the orchestration of the tight, disciplined unit at the filming at Taipei, I visited the set twice thanks to the producers, and the knife-edge performance of the actors including Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver playing Father Garrpe drowning in the sea, Liam Neeson as elder priest, I am persuaded that this film will be one for the ages, and I want to particularly thank multiple Academy Award winner Francesca Lo Shiavo. She is the set design director and she was so kind to include me in some of the decisions made in the set.”
Here's Endo. I love this photo. Very funny and comical face as opposed to the seriousness of and the difficulties that he presents in his stories. This is a biography of Endo, probably the best biography. It's unfortunately only available in Japanese, but written by Munei Okato, his major student, his student who became his assistant, who became his collaborator later in life and it's interesting that he chose this photo. The disciple saw his master this way. And it's important to remember this photo as we go through Endo's books.
[00:30:10] And here's Martin Scorsese. Somewhat troubling figure to some maybe [chuckling] to some of you, but I really believe that through this twenty-five-year journey of Silence, he has attained something of a transformation. And I think the film is going to show what a massive filmmaker can do using this tech have a lifelong transformative effect on him. So I look forward to seeing the film.
I start with this image, the image of the martyrs of Nagasaki. Martin Scorsese told me there are two things that he wants to do. One is to honor Endo. The other is to honor the martyrs of Japan. So let me start by reading from this chapter speaking about my journey into Silence and speaking about Martyr's Hill of Nagasaki.
"On a bright morning on December 2002, I had the privilege of standing on the spot called Martyr's Hill in Nagasaki. It overlooks the city's ground zero from a distance of about a mile." That bright morning I visited the memorial of the bombing of Nagasaki and the museum with friends and took a video piece in the pond at ground zero and I later used this is in my New York exhibits called 'Nagasaki Koy'. "The first thing that one sees upon entering the museum is the facade of a church building, white with ashes. Perhaps the type of church that many missionaries would have visited. Its windows are skeletons. Their stained glass is melted into beads on the ground. With that fresh in my mind, I then stood in front of twenty six figures lined up as a horizontal wing of a bronze cross. Marvelously crafted by sculptor Yasutake Funakoshi.
The cross is outdoors on Martyr's Hill. Nagasaki is one one side, the ocean is on the other. My eyes went almost immediately to the two shortest figures—" You can see that in the close-up there "—one slightly higher than the other. The two short crosses belong to St. Ibaraki and St. Anthony, twelve year old and thirteen year old believers. Twenty six men and three children were paraded some four hundred eighty miles from Kelto to this hill to be crucified.
It was the magistrate's logic that it would embarrass them to be taunted throughout their journey. Some bled as they walked, their ears and noses had been caught off in Kelto. On a busy road in Kelto today right by a hospital, one of the first that was established in Kyoto by Christian missionaries, there is a stone that marks where the march began. The story of their arrival at the destination is one of the most remarkable displays of faith. When they arrived at the hill in Nagasaki, crosses were already lined up. As the story goes, one of the two boys said, "Show me my cross." Then the other echoed, "Show me mine."
I stood there trying to imagine what they experienced and for a moment their suffering seemed incalculable to me. Like a beaded stain glass windows, droplets of a melted church on the ashes of ground zero, these two crosses point to the stoic surrender of the Japanese souls that is reflected in the death of the martyrs. I thought about the chaos and uncertainty of my own ground zero experience in New York City, but this, obviously, was the beginning of a greater trauma that went beyond any of my experiences."
[00:35:09] Japan entered this era of persecution in the early seventeenth century, and the history of Japan is, the Japanese history books will depict these two hundred and fifty years as a one event [chuckling]. And many of the books of course talk about Hiroshima and Nagasaki and show images. If you visit Hiroshima as I'm hoping President Obama will do in upcoming days, it is a traumatic experience. But we need to realize today that our trauma of the last century is critical for understanding the trauma of our time. And Endo realized, as he was recuperating from his tuberculosis and he didn't know how many years he will have left on his journey on this earth, he began to walk around Nagasaki trying to conceive a story of Nagasaki. Story of Iku, a woman, a survivor of the bombings, and he would later on write about her but he then encountered something at the municipal museum in Nagasaki as he was meandering the grounds. This was not the fumei, the stepping blocks, but this is the very similar to the one that he saw. The one that he saw had wooden frame around it with footprints embedded on them.
And I encountered fumei as a graduate student studying Nihonga as a national scholar studying seventeenth century art, and as I recount in my book, I had just become a Christian believer, a follower of Christ, and here I was embedded in the cultural realities of Japan, studying seventeenth century art, artifacts, and I have access to museums, temples, shrines, and here I was a brand new follower of Christ asking myself why am I here.
And I entered this exhibit of rinpa screen, seventeenth century rinpa screens — gorgeous, beautiful display of masterpieces of Japanese past, and then I realized there was this small, dark room to the side and I write this:
"I entered the darkly lit exhibit room alone. This studio given to me as a national scholar was a few blocks away from the Tokyo National Museum. In between painting layers, I often wandered into the museum, an imposing building with a Western facade and a Japanese roof, reflective of the nineteenth century major restoration period combining the Japanese past with influences of the West in what is called the imperial crown style. I was studying at the Tokyo National Museum's collection of rinpa, seventeenth century byōbu screens.
And now, after spending time in the main hall, where these majestic pieces were exhibited, I entered one of the smaller exhibits to one side. The display cases were full of what seemed like tablets laid flat. I read the description and learned that these were from seventeenth century Japan, collection of fumei [00:39:17], literally 'stepping blocks.' Fumei were created during the seventeenth century Tokugawa [00:39:25] Shokgunate Christian persecution. They were images of Jesus, of Virgin Mary carved on wood or cast in bronze. Villagers were asked to line up on the beach and one by one renounce Christianity by stepping on these blocks.
Later on, it was the custom of the New Year's celebration, with villagers lining up to pay tributes to the temple and for those suspected to step on the fumei. Individuals who refused or even hesitated were arrested and most likely jailed and tortured.
[00:40:04] I had just come to embrace faith in Christ at the age of twenty seven after several years of spiritual awakening. Now I faced, literally, the reality of Christian faith in Japan. I had just been baptized in a missionary church in Higashikurume, but this fumei encounter was my true baptism into being a Christian in Japan. And what haunted me and continues to haunt me to this day, is that all of the fumei images were worn smooth. The cast or carved images were hardly recognizable due to so many people walking over them. The image of Christ hidden beneath the smooth surface of the fumei serves as an emblem of Japanese faith to this day and the worn surface of fumei also captures Japanese beauty enduring trauma.
Pursuing the aesthetics of Japan, I study as a national scholar for six and a half years, apprenticing under several masters of Nihonga. After being invited to continue my studies as a master of fine arts student, I became the first outsider to be invited into the university's doctorate level lineage program. That is, literally, linked to seventeenth century. By the time I encountered the fumei, I had realized that my path would be quite different from other Nihonga students. While I deeply affirmed Japanese tradition and beauty, I had to assimilate my earlier training in American abstraction and minimalism. Further I now had to live out my new-found faith in Christ.
I began to work in response to Endo's writing and my own encounter with fumei. My first set of works, exhibited at Temaya Gallery in Tokyo was called “Passion Panel Series.” The small, square, minimalistic works were simple layers of pulverized pigments laid over and over and distressed by rubbing them with sandpaper and other materials. In my doctorate thesis, I created an installation using a series of narrow panels on the floor to quote fumei works I used Nihonga methods but the delicate surfaces were precariously installed right on the floor. I called the installation, “The Resurrection.” And this piece, the second version of it, this is now at the Yokohama Museum permanent collection there.”
This is Sotome Nagasaki. It's only about two miles from ground zero, but it's — you have to — it takes about an hour [chuckles], because you go through this hitch-back roads to get up the mountain, and apparently it's where the hidden Christians hid. It was so hard to get to and this is the place where Shusaku Endo stood after his encounter with fumei and looked across and imagined missionaries coming into this harbor, and there is now, in that spot, Shusaku Endo museum [chuckling] that you can visit, and, which I was able to do. And they were very helpful in research for this book.
I want to read you a portion of that passage about Saotome. It's, it's in one of my favorite chapters in this book. The chapter is called, "The Redemption of Father Rodriguez." "Before Endo named his novel Silence, he considered another title. His original title that he submitted to the publishers was Hinata no Nioi, which can be translated as “The Aroma of the Sunshine” or “The Scent of the Sunshine.” His publisher balked at the title, of course, and suggested instead Silence. Endo later complained that this revised title had caused readers to misunderstand the main point of the book. He said this, "I did not write a book about the silence of God. I wrote a book about the voice of God speaking through suffering and silence."
[00:45:13] He noted in his later documentary about the writing of Silence. The discrepancy between the original title and Silence is worth pondering. The Aroma of Sunshine is hardly what one would expect of a novel with the accursed theme of violence and torture. The sun rarely appears. The novel is dominated by darkness, rain, and fog. I began to ponder this discrepancy as I walked around Saotome where Endo first envisioned Silence. It was a muggy, sunny day. Just like in Kyoto earlier, it had rained in the morning, inviting small crabs with orange claws to come out to bathe in the sun, climbing onto the concrete banks of the river flowing in from the ocean.
Japan is Nippon, which is "sun pillar", which has been called the Land of the Rising Sun after its flag of Hi no maru [00:46:16], "sun circle." One can infer that Endo originally planned to refer us to sunshine in this title in order to create a link with a particular psychological reality of Japanese history. He intentionally juxtaposed the image of the sun against the main storyline of darkness, trauma, and the fears that dominated his day and the broad arch of Japanese history.
As he wrote the tale that will become known as Silence, it is possible to that with a title in mind he was mimicking the master he idolized, Graham Greene. Greene's masterpiece, The Power and The Glory, also has a perplexing title. Endo's British contemporary Greene had a profound effect on Endo, even beyond that of Kawabata or any other Catholic writers of the day." Kawabata is the first nobel literature winner out of Japan, a contemporary of Endo. "Greene's endorsement of Endo's Silence, which appears on almost every translated edition of Endo's books, quote, ‘Endo to my mind is one of the finest living novelists,’ end quote, may have had an impact on the writer's international career more than any other single line of endorsement in literary history. Many years after writing Silence while traveling in London, Endo ran into Greene in an elevator.
He recounts later that that encounter and Greene's willingness to offer a deeper friendship, had an impact on his faith in the providence of God. While working on Silence, Endo reread Greene's The Power and the Glory many times. In his notes, he remarked on many overlaps between Greene's novel and the narrative he was working on. A Catholic writer in post-war Japan took his inspiration from another Catholic writer in post-war Britain. Greene opened a path for an objective, steely, and sinister view through the lens of faith. The protagonist in The Power and The Glory is a whisky priest."
If you were there at the dedication this morning, Luci Shaw quoted this whisky priest. We miss her today, don't we? She's such a pastoral presence at these gatherings.
"A whisky priest, a missionary to Mexico whose failures are notable and whose faith is weak. There is neither power nor glory in this character. Yet although Endo and Greene depict humanity at its worst and faith at its weakest, their more insistent theme is that through such a broken lens the light of God's grace and power is refracted into the world. Greene's unnamed padre sees his life and his ministry as utter failure he writes, ‘The glaring worlds lay there in space like a promise, the world was not the universe.’ Somewhere Christ might have died. He could not believe that to a watcher there this world could shine with such brilliance. It would roll heavily in space under its fog like a burning and abandoned ship. The whole globe was blanketed with his own sin.
[00:50:09] That the world could at the same time glitter and be blanket by a fog, crystallizes the padre's experience and the story of Silence. In Greene's novel, too, there is a voice of stillness, of silence. A language filled with despair and pathos. The priest's sense that the whole globe was blanketed with his own sin captures Endo's sense of his own failures and captures Father Rodriguez, Endo's character in Silence, his pain at the end of Silence. But just like the rays of sunshine after a storm, Greene's language and Endo's cleanses the scene clearing the way for grace to operate.
Endo's showing Greene how a Catholic writer could depict the world as blanketed with its own sin. Endo sets the scenes with a bleak assessment of the world, but beyond the fog we may begin to detect the aroma of the sunshine and to see the possibility of the golden country of Japan, a country filled with rice paddies, a muddy swamp now resplendent with golden hues of the abundant harvest. What Graham Greene wrote of his whiskey priest could also be said of Endo's protagonist and even of Endo himself."
This is Graham Greene writing, "He was a man who was supposed to save souls. It had seemed quite simple once, preaching at benediction, organizing the guilds, having coffee with elderly ladies behind barred windows, blessing new houses with a little incense, wearing black gloves. It was as easy as saving money. Now it was a mystery. He was aware of his own desperate inadequacy."
These psychological vacillations fascinated Endo. A priest who struggled with his faith, carrying his shame and lostness into another culture, crossing borders to escape with the same safe hatred and resignation possessed facing his own whiskey bottles, yet navigating boldly into foreign lands. Endo himself desired as a teen to become a priest, and such already identification with priesthood is integrated with jarring, sadistic recounting of trauma. Japanese history, Endo wants readers to remember, is a history of such traumas, centered on the cultural denial of Christ. This historical fact, woven through two hundred fifty years of persecution left an indelible impression, creating vacillating ambiguity and a culture that hides the most valued treasure of the heart."
Okay. So, I spend a lot of chapters actually trying to create a context for, to understand this novel, to understand seventeenth century, understanding Endo, as you heard me read just now. And three figures, one is Yasunari Kawabata, the first nobel laureate. Second is Kenzaburō Ōe, the second nobel laureate in literature out of Japan. I spend a great deal of time comparing with Endo and this is not a book on comparative literature so [laughing], so we decided at the end to put it in the appendix, a lot of it [laughs], but they are important.
So, but I also spend chapters on tea master Sen no Rikyū who is a sixteenth century cultural figure in Japan, seminal to Japanese history, and you cannot understand seventeenth century without the influence of Rikyū, and what we known as Japanese culture, Japanese aesthetic, comes directly out of what he did as an artist, what he did as a cultural figure, and what he did as a leader in a time of feudal wars. So, in order to go into the history and, and the value of Rikyū, and my own personal journey, I spend several chapters on this so I will not spend a long time reading this but I just want to give you a taste of this. And it's in a chapter called, "Hidden Faith Revealed."
[00:55:34] My thesis for the book turned out to be [chuckling] that Japan is a hidden Christ nation. It is not a pagan nation, as Francis Xavier found out in 1520's when he landed in Kagoshima. He immediately noticed that Japanese were different than any other nation that he visited. "That this is a country and culture most assimilated with the gospel," Francis Xavier observed. And, for many years, because of the difficulties of missionaries in Japan, we were so challenged to spread the gospel in the soil of Japan, that we became convinced that this non-Christian nation is so alienated from the Christian message that we need to preach the reality of the gospel, the history of the gospel, the knowledge of the gospel, and so far we haven't done so well.”
And so, I went back to seventeenth century and sixteenth century in fifteen sixty's Kyoto, the capital of Japan, had three hundred thousand Christians. There was this enormous revival after Xavier, Karamian, and after all these Franciscan and Jesuits came in, there's this enormous revival in Kyoto. It affected almost everybody including the warlords, many of whom converted to Christianity. And it was the power struggle that ensued and consolidation of Japan that ensued, that ousted Christianity, only Christianity, they didn't outlaw religion [chuckles]. They outlawed Christianity. So the imprint, this indelible imprint, just like the fumei, of Christ into culture, embossed and debossed, the culture invisibly but powerfully. So I spend half of the book [laughs] explaining myself [laughs] on that audacious statement, that Japan is a hidden Christ nation. And this is the beginning of it, and I'll read this and we'll go into Q&A, maybe I can tease out some of this as I answer your questions. "Hidden Faith Revealed":
Sen no Rikyū 1522-1591, was one of the greatest innovators to come out of Japanese soils. Rikyū lived in an era leading up to the Christian persecution. He was born of a merchant in Osaka in the early sixteenth century. His given name was Yoshiro Tanaka. His later name was Sen no Rikyū in a Buddhist rite. He studied a traditional form of tea under several masters in Sakeyi, Osaka, then at Tokashi Temple in Kyoto. He had a close relationship with a warlord Hideyoshi who eventually ordered Rikyū seppuku demise..."
He asked Rikyū to commit suicide on the tea room that he designed.
"...and ordered the official persecution of Christians to begin. And with the Christian missionaries at hand, his wife Oreki, one of his two wives, who was present actually when he was forced to end his life at the age of 71, was one of the early converts of Christianity when the capital Kyoto took hold of the Christian message. Many Oreki's disciples, Oribe the best known disciple, and five of his seven disciples were known to be either Christians or advocates of faith. This historical reality is important for those interested in the background of Silence, defining the Christ-hidden culture of Japan in a future of how Japan may now be liberated.
[01:00:08] Rikyū gave an architectural structure to this refinement of hiddenness in his design, his own design, of his tea rooms. Through Rikyū's architecture of tea, the missionaries of sixteenth century learned of tea. Rikyū's designed tea house were much smaller in size than most. Traditional tea was part of a banquet culture in China, and consequently many tea rooms were quite large. The smaller size of Rikyū's tea rooms allowed particular focus on the minute particulars of a movement of hands, subtle gestures of the placement of flowers, and often hidden messages behind a choice of utensils or paintings in a room.
Rikyū was first linked to ostentatiously ornate golden room in Osaka that Hideyoshi desired, but then he began to move toward what he called wabi, simplicity as he matured in his aesthetics. His most distinct contribution in, is in the creation of nijiriguchi, a small, square entry port, designed for the guest to enter the tea house. It's through the side of this. Rikyū's nijiriguchi was so small that they forced everyone to bow, and remove their swords in order to enter the teahouse.
Rikyū created a space dedicated to repose, communication, and peace. Deep communication can only take place through a path of vulnerability. In other words, the only way to escape the violent cycle, the age of feudal struggles, is to remove one's sword and then in safety, one can communicate truly. Beauty, one might add, is a gift given through this vulnerability. Beauty that integrates virtue, nature, and religion can guide us into wisdom. This is exactly what Sen no Rikyū mastered. A phenomenon that overlapped curiously with the influx of Christians and subsequent persecution of them. In considering the future of Japan, it is helpful to look at the past at Sen no Rikyū who holds the key to a cultural liberation of Japan. One who lived and died in the realm beyond the persecution years, one who created a distinct Japanese view of aesthetics. Rikyū's language of communication and his unique individualism are primary examples of Japan liberated from fumei culture. He lived toward that independence, a solitary figure in a tumultuous time.”
It's known that Sen no Rikyū presented this black ball, and I'll end with this, to the dictator, Hideyoshi, knowing that Hideyoshi hated black [laughter], and of course that was the beginning of his demise. Rikyū's black ball is emblematic of the beauty of sacrifice, and this beauty, bordering on protest against power is also etched in Endo's work. Just as Rikyū offered Hideyoshi a black tea ball, Endo offers a sinister story of the torturous past in Silence. Both Rikyū and Endo focused on the hiddenness of true communication. It is remarkable that someone such as Rikyū, an ambassador of peace, reached the pinnacle of influence in the midst of a feudal struggle to survive.
It is a testament to Japanese culture that even, or perhaps especially, in time of such struggle, the Japanese highly valued beauty, especially in the visual form. Endo confessed in several of his lectures, "I do not know much about tea." Which I am learning is a clue that Endo was actually interested in the subject [laughter], and was invested in understanding the mystery of what he pretended not to know.
[01:05:01] Actually, after I wrote this, I found out that one of the major sources of the early reports of art of tea was done by Father Rodriguez, Italian priest, that is, no a Portuguese priest, right, that went to Italy to report on tea.
Though Rikyū is not mentioned in Silence, is presence is felt throughout. The most important hidden truth of Father Rodriguez’ journey in Silence, as I've noted, is in the book's appendix [laughter].
Well, I can go on and on, but why don't, we have a little time left, why don't we move into Q&A here. Thank you for your attention, and thank you for Calvin Writer Festival to act as a—[applause]—yes. The book is not even out yet and you can buy it here so [laughing] please—and I'll be happy to sign books afterwards at three, so. If you have any questions, if you could raise your hand, Meg is going to give you a microphone and, yeah. 'Kay, thanks.
Audience member #1: [01:06:32] Silence is like such a sensory, rich novel.
Audience member #1: I went through when I first read it and underlined every time he used sound—
Audience member #1: —and I was startled at the end because basically most of my book was underlined.
Audience member #1: But when I was reading it, it did not seem sensory excessive.
Audience member #1: And then also you described your artwork as essentialist.
Audience member #1: So my question for you is, what are some ways that we can cultivate essentialism as artists and writers in our work?
Makoto: [01:07:08] Oh my goodness. What a question? [laughter] Thank you—wow. I've been thinking about that for a while, and you know, actually Endo carried a sketchbook around with him as he said, you know, "When I am traveling to do research, I know the historical details, all the information that I need, but I am trying to paint images through my words." And so he literally painted images, and you can see these at the museum, he was a pretty painter. [laughs] But you could see what he was trying to get at, and I do spend a chapter talking about the visual language that Endo developed. It's a good point, though, to focus on sound, and how that is also present. And that's something that, yeah, I need to think about.
But the essentiation part may be important because as I began to journey with Endo, you know, there's the form of an artwork, and the content, right, this age-old tension between content and form, and the ideal, I suppose, is to incarnate the content perfectly into the form, and in Endo's language, the form of his language is highly descriptive, highly analytical, journalistic—it is unlike any other writers of his time. And so, he—I think he was very, very important to writers like Haruki Murakami, you know, writers that later came out in more descriptive ways. And in Japanese is notoriously difficult to translate [chuckling], but Endo wrote as if he was writing to the translators [laughter].
He wrote this language, and partly because he was, studied in France, he was one of the first students to study in France after the war, he bought the cheapest ticket possible to travel to Paris, then he ended up in University of Sorbonne, he never finished PhD on French Literature, he was very gifted linguistically, and his mastery of French language allowed him to read, you know, pre-war writers in French language and he was to write his PhD thesis. He never finished it because he contracted tuberculosis, ended up in a hospital in Paris in an isolation ward.
[01:10:21] And I conjecture and speculate in the book, that possibly this language of the script, the scripted language, came out of that time. He realized that in a foreign country, in an isolation room, the only way that he can communicate clearly, was through medical language, descriptive, precise language. And because he endeavoured to do that, probably most likely while laying in bed thinking about how long is he going to live and how much time does he have, probably not long he thought at that time—he ended up living until his seventies—but a young writer, reflecting on the trauma of his age, his own imprisonment in his own body, unable to communicate, he began to describe, what I would think, as this essential form of descriptive language, and so in that sense he is very—an interesting writer to study, both in translated form and in the original language, because you can, he is one of the few Japanese writers that you can do that with. So thank you for that question.
Mediator: [Indistinct] One more question
Makoto: Okay, one more question.
Audience member #2: [01:11:47] Well, hi there.
Audience member #2: Forgive me if I missed something, because I was a little late coming in, but one thing that I've always noticed in your work is there's a lot of integration of, you know, gold leaf or flecks of gold here or there in your paintings, and it's always kind of made me think of like Kintsugi.
Makoto: Yeah, yes.
Audience member #2: The broken pottery with—
Audience member #2: —the gold in the middle.
Makoto: Yeah, beautiful.
Audience member #2: And that has always been an image for me of the Japanese aesthetic in wabi sabi, and, you know, all of that tied together in one image.
Audience member #2: And I was kind of curious how much does that, maybe that image or—
Audience member #2: —that play a role in your work in may be in the process of writing your book because I've always noticed that Japanese has this, or I mean the Japanese culture has this ephemeral aesthetic—
Audience member #2: —which it makes things more timeless than we try to make things that are eternal, so.
Makoto: Yeah, thank you. No, absolutely, Kintsugi actually, it came out of Rikyū's time, you know, and I believe it was Oribe or one of his disciples that broke the master's teapot by accident, and the master, you know, he was petrified, and he went to the master and he said, "I broke your favorite tea bowl," and the master said, "It's okay, I will make something better." You know, and the student thought that he was going to make, literally make something new, and the next time he saw the bowl it was glued together with gold. So Kintsugi literally means stitching with gold, and he served tea in this now new bowl, fixed with gold, and said, "See, it's now better."
It's probably not a real story [laughs], but Japanese tradition has it that when you break something it's a beginning of something new, and it's an opportunity to, not only recreate, but to acknowledge the brokenness, but that in brokenness there is beauty. And I, sorry, I ran out of time to share about what I do in the book, about the broken lantern that is, that is Tegoshi temple, which is a remarkable example of what brokenness can communicate, the hidden power of that to communicate beauty, and communicate silence, and communicate faith. So, I spend a great deal of time talking about this, but ultimately, Endo would have said, "Why fix it? [laughs] Leave it broken, leave it useless."
[01:15:04] When I was, I'll finish with a story, I wrote this series of essays called Refractions, I was traveling around the country advocating for the arts as a national council member, waiting for planes to arrive, and I wrote this book literally traveling, and there are, when you read Refractions you see, it's like a compressed kind of a statements and you can see me going, getting tired, and then coming back and then you know, but the whole premise is a metaphor of refraction, of broken, prismatic minerals, you know, in order to use the minerals you have to break it, you have to destroy the beautiful rock in order to create the layers of prismatic, refractive surface. To create beauty, you have to go through the destructive process.
And somebody wrote to me, a beautiful letter, a very sincere letter, saying that, "I have struggled as a follower of Christ because I have not been able to mirror God's light into the world as I've been discipled to do. My mirror is shattered, completely broken, but when I read your book I saw the possibility that perhaps, even through brokenness, that God can refract his light through me." And I've never forgotten that, and I think that is the way Endo would have talked about, not as directly as I have done just now [laughs], but that, that would be the essence of Endo's character, his writings, and his life. So, thank you very much.
Lisa: [01:17:00] Special thanks to Makoto Fujimura. You can follow him on Twitter @IamFujimura. Thanks also to Josh Larsen. You can read his work at thinkchristian.net.
Rewrite Radio is recorded at the Festival of Faith & Writing, on the campus of Calvin College and produced by the Calvin Center for Faith & Writing. Our team includes, Sarah Bass, Jon Brown, Sadie Burgher, Donald Hettinga, Lew Klatt, Scott Hoezee, Jennifer Holberg, Bob Hudson, Anneke Kapetyn, Carolyn Muyskens, Deb Rienstra, Sarah Turnage, Debbie Visser, and Jane Zwart.
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Thanks for listening to Rewrite Radio, I'm Lisa Ann Cockrel, back soon with more from the Festival of Faith & Writing.