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Twelve Views from the Distance

2012
Author:

Mutsuo Takahashi
Translated by Jeffrey Angles

Twelve Views from the Distance

An incandescent memoir of a boy’s coming of age in wartime Japan

From one of the foremost poets in contemporary Japan comes this entrancing memoir that traces a boy’s childhood and its intersection with the rise of the Japanese empire and World War II. In twelve chapters that revisit critical points in his boyhood, Mutsuo Takahashi re-creates the lost world that was the setting for his beginnings as a gay man and poet.

It is magnificent that in this book, Twelve Views from the Distance, the poet Mutsuo Takahashi has managed to achieve firm prose that, while unmistakably the work of a poet, shines with a black luster much like a set of drawers crafted by a master of old. This book is a magnificent collection of sensations and of memories, much like the toys we might find in a dark closet. The part toward the end in which the theme of his ‘search for a father’ crystallizes in a copy of an erotic book radiates a certain tragic beauty.

Yukio Mishima

From one of the foremost poets in contemporary Japan comes this entrancing memoir that traces a boy’s childhood and its intersection with the rise of the Japanese empire and World War II. This is the first English translation of the work originally published in Japanese in 1970.

In twelve chapters that visit and revisit critical points in his boyhood, Twelve Views from the Distance presents a vanished time and place through the eyes of an accomplished poet. Recounting memories from his youth, Mutsuo Takahashi captures the full range of his internal life as a boy, shifting between his experiences and descriptions of childhood friendships, games, songs, and school. With great candor, he also discusses the budding awareness of his sexual preference for men, providing a rich exploration of one man’s early queer life in a place where modern, Western-influenced models of gay identity were still unknown.

Growing up poor in rural southwestern Japan, far from the urban life that many of his contemporaries have written about, Takahashi experienced a reality rarely portrayed in literature. In addition to his personal remembrances, the book paints a vivid portrait of rural Japan, full of oral tradition, superstition, and remnants of customs that have quickly disappeared in postwar Japan. With profuse local color and detail, he re-creates the lost world that was the setting for his beginnings as a gay man and poet.

Twelve Views from the Distance

Mutsuo Takahashi is one of Japan’s most prominent living poets with more than three dozen collections of poetry, several works of prose, dozens of books of essays, and several major literary prizes to his name. He is especially well known for his open writing about male homoeroticism. Five anthologies of his poetry have been translated and published in English, including Poems of a Penisist (Minnesota, 2012); A Bunch of Keys; Sleeping, Sinning, Falling; On Two Shores; and We of Zipangu. He lives in the seaside town of Zushi, south of Yokohama, Japan.

Jeffrey Angles is associate professor of modern Japanese literature and translation studies at Western Michigan University. He is the author of Writing the Love of Boys: Origins of Bishōnen Culture in Modernist Japanese Literature (Minnesota, 2011).

Twelve Views from the Distance

It is magnificent that in this book, Twelve Views from the Distance, the poet Mutsuo Takahashi has managed to achieve firm prose that, while unmistakably the work of a poet, shines with a black luster much like a set of drawers crafted by a master of old. This book is a magnificent collection of sensations and of memories, much like the toys we might find in a dark closet. The part toward the end in which the theme of his ‘search for a father’ crystallizes in a copy of an erotic book radiates a certain tragic beauty.

Yukio Mishima

Twelve Views from the Distance is a wrenching memoir about growing up in southern Japan during the war and just afterwards in an extremely poor family of day laborers. Utterly dependent on his hard-bitten grandmother and his often absent mother, a very promiscuous woman, Mutsuo Takahashi withdraws into himself and lives in his very rich imagination. That he was destined to become Japan's leading gay poet may or may not be obvious from these painful but lyrical memories.

Edmund White

Takahashi’s voice comes through loud and clear. American readers will be intrigued by a language for sexuality that is plain but understated, neither vulgar nor coy.

The Arts Fuse

Structured, according to its original presentation, as a series of related essays, rather than a chronological account, the book is poetically original in its wandering associations and replete with detail. This is an excellent translation of an absorbing and necessary book.

Japan Times

Twelve Views from the Distance

Contents

Note about Japanese Names
Chart of Family Members
Translator’s Introduction

Twelve Views from the Distance
The Snow of Memory
Grandma’s House
Tales of Long Ago
Spirited Away
On Mother’s Back
Heaven and Hell
The Various Types of Sea
Princes and Paupers
The Shore of Sexuality
Skies of Blood
Imagining Father
Communities outside the World

Afterword to the English Translation
Glossary

English Translations of Mutsuo Takahashi’s Writing
Translator’s Acknowledgments