Authors: Shūsaku Endō

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Japanese novelist

Identity: Christian

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Shiroi hito, 1954

Kiiroi hito, 1955

Umi to dokuyaku, 1957 (The Sea and the Poison, 1972)

Kazan, 1959 (Volcano, 1978)

Obakasan, 1959 (Wonderful Fool, 1974)

Watashi ga suteta onna, 1963 (The Girl I Left Behind, 1994)

Ryugaku, 1965 (Foreign Studies, 1989)

Chimmoku, 1966 (Silence, 1969)

Taihen da, 1969

Kuchibue o fuku toki, 1974 (When I Whistle, 1979)

Samurai, 1980 (The Samurai, 1982)

Sukyandaru, 1986 (Scandal, 1988)

Hangyaku, 1989 (2 volumes)

Kessen no tiki, 1991

Otoko no issho, 1991

Yojo no gotoku, 1991 (mystery novel)

Aio chiisana budo, 1993

Dipu riba, 1993 (Deep River, 1994)

Shukuteki, 1995

Short Fiction:

Aden made, 1954

Endō Shūsaku shū, 1960

Aika, 1965

Endō Shūsaku yūmoa shōsetsu shū, 1969-1973 (2 volumes)

Gekkō no domina, 1972

Endō Shūsaku misuteri Shōsetu shū, 1975

Juichi no irogarasu, 1979 (Stained-Glass Elegies, 1984)

The Final Martyrs, 1993

Five by Endo: Stories, 2000


Ogon no kuni, pr. 1966 (The Golden Country, 1970)


Furansu no Daigakusei, 1953

Gūtara seikatsu nyūmon, 1967

Iseu no shōgai, 1973 (A Life of Jesus, 1973)

Seisho no naka no joseitachi, 1975

Tetsu no kubikase, 1976

Watakushi no lesu, 1976

Kirisuto no tanjō, 1977

Ningan no naka no X, 1978

Jū to jūjika, 1979

Haru wa basha ni notte, 1989 (essays)

Honto no watakushi o motomete, 1990

Iesu ni atta onnatachi, 1990

Ihojin no tachiba kara, 1990 (essays)

Kirishitan jidai: junkyo to kikyo, 1992

Kokoro no sunadokei, 1992 (essays)


To Friends from Other Lands: A Shūsaku Endō Miscellany, 1992


Shūsaku Endō (ehn-doh) was born in Tokyo, Japan, but spent his early years in Dalian, Manchuria. After Endō’s parents were divorced, his mother returned with her two sons to Tokyo and together with her sister and her sons converted to Catholicism. This religious conversion was perhaps the single most important event in Endō’s life. He became one of Japan’s most admired and widely read novelists, as well as an important writer for the Christian Western world, where he has been hailed as a significant religious novelist by John Updike and Irving Howe, among others. That he has achieved recognition as a devout Christian in a non-Christian culture generally resistant to Western religious philosophy is all the more remarkable.{$I[AN]9810001207}{$I[A]End{omacr}, Sh{umacr}saku[Endo, Shusaku]}{$I[geo]JAPAN;End{omacr}, Sh{umacr}saku[Endo, Shusaku]}{$I[geo]CHRISTIAN;End{omacr}, Sh{umacr}saku[Endo, Shusaku]}{$I[tim]1923;End{omacr}, Sh{umacr}saku[Endo, Shusaku]}

After World War II, in which he did not serve because of health problems, Endō attended Keio University and completed a B.A. in French literature in 1949. A critical period in Endō’s development as a writer was his postgraduate study in France, from 1950 to 1953, where he came under the influence of such illustrious French writers as Jacques Maritain, François Mauriac, and Georges Bernanos. Endō’s submersion in European culture intensified his appreciation for Christianity’s moral impact on the West and caused him to conclude that there was a spiritual vacuum in Japan. Chronic heart and lung problems ended his stay in France, and he returned to Japan in 1953 to begin an ambitious writing career.

Between 1953 and 1959 Endō wrote fiction that chronicled the religious indifference of the East and articulated the widening disaffection between Eastern and Western cultures. Each work in this period, from Shiroi hito (white men), for which he received the Akutagawa Prize, to The Sea and the Poison, dramatizes what Endō referred to as the Japanese numbness to sin and guilt. Set six months before the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, The Sea and the Poison stands out as particularly stirring and harrowing thematically for its exploration of the inhumane operations performed on captured American pilots during World War II and their impact on two young interns.

Directly after this Endō in 1959 published what may be his most characteristic and perpetually popular novel for Western readers, Wonderful Fool, a comic novel that represents a transitional phase in Endō’s career, moving him beyond the heavy sentimentality and thin characterization of his earlier work and demonstrating increased versatility as a novelist. Its memorable protagonist, Gaston Bonaparte, a failed seminary student who comes self-appointed as a Christian missionary to Japan, exemplifies the trusting, childlike faith in a transcendent deity that Endō found absent in his native land.

Because relatively few of Endō’s lighter, more comic novels and of the many historical and theological essays have been translated, it is possible for some to view him as a rather somber, overly moralistic writer. Certainly, if one only knew Endō’s interpretive biography of Christ, A Life of Jesus, and the historical novels Silence and The Samurai, one would gain a distorted picture of both his range of concerns and his innovativeness as an author. The publication of collected short fiction by Endō, Stained-Glass Elegies and Five by Endō, certainly contributes to a more balanced critical perspective. Nevertheless, Silence and The Samurai are rightly regarded as two of Endō’s major works: Silence won the Tanizaki Prize, and The Samurai the Noma Prize. Both set in the seventeenth century, these dark, carefully plotted novels focus on Japan’s previously often ferocious rejection of and continuing ambivalence toward Christianity. Both these works seem destined to be overshadowed, however, by Endō’s later novel, Scandal, a work in which the author is fully in control of theme, plot, and character.

Scandal is a tautly written thriller with elements of the supernatural; it recalls the classic tales of E. T. A. Hoffmann and Alexander Pushkin, while at the same time representing a tantalizingly autobiographical fiction with a markedly confessional tone. This novel constitutes Endō’s clearest and most powerful statement of the dilemma of the Christian writer in Japan. Each of Endō’s serious historical novels implictly treats the theme of Christianity’s failure to take root in the East. In Scandal, however, he confronts directly his longtime novelistic challenge within the setting of the triumphant, industrialized Japan of the 1980’s. In Suguro, the protagonist of Scandal, Endō created an alter ego who answers directly this momentous question: In a land in which less than 1 percent of the populace profess belief in Christianity, how can the Christian writer make sensible to his readers the concepts of sin, redemption, resurrection, and eternal life?

Appearing at the end of his life, Endō’s novel Deep River, the story of a group of Japanese tourists visiting India, represents a spiritual as well as artistic culmination of the writer’s work. Each protagonist is facing a personal or spiritual crisis: Isobe, a widower, having failed to express his love to his wife during her lifetime, believes he might be able to reconnect with her reincarnated soul. Kiguchi, a soldier during World War II, relives his experiences in Burma. The cynical Mitsuko, who once mocked the failed priest Otsu, now seeks him here, where he in turn seeks a “god of many faces” at the spiritual crossroads of Christianity and Buddhism. Finally, Numada, a writer and the author’s persona, is recovering from a serious illness. All meet at the deep and murky Ganges River, where the living and dead converge.

Endō died in 1996 after a long bout with hepatitis. He once said that when he reflected upon his nation through the eyes of a believing Christian he saw a “mudswamp” that “sucks up all sorts of ideologies, transforming them into itself and distorting them in the process.” The task he set for himself as a novelist sharply distinguished him from most of his colleagues. Not content with mirroring the moral confusion of contemporary Japan, he sought to foster in his fiction the basic doctrines of Christianity–particularly its transcendent, trinitarian God–in ways that subvert the tendency to transmogrify it into something more theologically palatable and therefore impotent. As a result, Endō’s narrative style is sometimes compared with that of fellow Catholic writer Graham Greene; Endō’s fallen creatures stumbling their way toward heaven captivate readers in the same way that Greene’s faltering saints do. Endō’s career, however, raises a more pertinent comparison, with the French Catholic novelist Mauriac. In works such as Wonderful Fool, When I Whistle, Scandal, and Deep River, Endō created worthy Japanese counterparts to Mauriac’s tortured saints. Haunted by their knowledge of good and evil, the characters must find a way to deal with their sense of sin and guilt. Within their choices, Endō effectively dramatizes the Japanese reluctance to acknowledge sin as the dehumanizing and debilitating hardness that allows a man or a woman to use others for selfish pleasure or gain.

In his work Endō thus chose to take his readers directly into the consciousness of the artist who is charged, in Flannery O’Connor’s words, with drawing large and startling figures for the near-blind, lest they miss the obvious truth of their sinful condition before a holy God. From Endō’s view, the Christian artist in an alien culture must move beyond the voyeurism of secular fiction and self-consciously create contexts in which human sin can be named as such and forgiveness tendered. In many literary circles Endō was regarded as the most important Christian novelist writing in any language in the late twentieth century.

BibliographyBeverly, Elizabeth. “A Silence That Is Not Hollow.” Commonweal 116 (September 22, 1989): 491-494. Claims that Endō’s writing is inspired by two elemental aspects of his identity: the Japanese culture and Catholicism; argues that Endō’s embrace of both has often made his life difficult and perilous, but that the labor of fiction has made it bearable.Cavanaugh, William T. “The God of Silence: Shūsaku Endō’s Reading of the Passion.” Commonweal 125 (March 13, 1998): 10-12. Argues that Endō‘s work can be seen as a profound exploration of the twisted logic of the Incarnation–the trajectory of God from heaven to earthly flesh and the assumption of weakness by omnipotence; asserts that Endō weaves together the spiritual anguish of his characters with an embattled and paradoxically orthodox theology.Gallagher, Michael. “For These the Least of My Brethren: The Concern of Endō Shūsaku.” Journal of the Association of Japanese Teachers 27 (April, 1993). Discusses Endō’s relationship to religion.Gessel, Van C., trans. Introduction to Stained-Glass Elegies: Stories by Shūsaku Endō. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1984. An explanation of Endō’s talents and position as a writer in Japan and the West plus a brief but comprehensive rundown on each of the stories translated in the volume: dates of composition, sources or occasions inspiring the stories, and analyses of their themes.Gessel, Van C. “The Voice of the Doppelgänger.” Japan Quarterly, no. 38 (1991): 198-213. Gessel examines four postwar Japanese novelists, including Endō, and notes how the postwar fiction differs from the prewar tradition of the “I story,” in which author and persona are one. He selects Endō’s Scandal as a model of the new treatment in which the Doppelgänger actually mocks the protagonist who represents the novelist, thus introducing aesthetic distance and irony.Higgins, Jean. “The Inner Agon of Endō Shūsaku.” Cross Currents, no. 34 (1984/1985): 414-416. Higgins seeks to explain the conflicts that have made Endō the writer he is: one is the guilt and sense of betrayal he felt toward the mother who persuaded him to become a Christian and his lack of a full acceptance of Christianity; the other is the confusion and dismay he felt in attempting to absorb the extent and richness of Western culture which works against the Japanese grain.Hoekema, Alle G. “The ‘Christology’ of the Japanese Novelist Shūsaku Endō.” Exchange 29, no. 3 (2000): 230. Reviews several of Endō’s works and his life in the context of his Catholicism.Mathy, Francis. “Endō Shūsaku: White Man, Yellow Man.” Comparative Literature Studies 23, no. 1 (1967): 58. A Jesuit, Mathy explores Endō’s fiction and essays and produces a clear and comprehensive treatment of the cultural conflict between Japan and Western Europe, especially as this conflict relates to religion and notions of beauty and morality. Mathy shows how Endō has experienced strong opposition between his Japanese heritage and the Christian view of life that he was taught by his mother and by Christian missionaries.Mathy, Francis. “Shūsaku Endō: Japanese Catholic Novelist.” America 167 (August 1-8, 1992): 66-71. A biographical account of Endō’s life, from his childhood and his education up through the development of his most important works; surveys Endō’s work and analyzes the themes presented in two early essays, “God and Gods” and “The Problems of a Catholic Writer.”Netland, John T. “From Resistance to Kenosis: Reconciling Cultural Difference in the Fiction of Shūsaku Endō.” Christianity and Literature 48 (Winter, 1999): 177-194. Discusses Endō’s translation of the polemics of cultural difference into art; claims that his works replace a simple binary postcolonial tension with a three-dimensional configuration of Christianity, Easter, and European perspectives.Quinn, P. L. “Tragic Dilemmas, Suffering Love, and Christian Life.” Journal of Religious Ethics 17 (1989): 151-183. A comprehensive description and analysis of Endō’s Silence, in which the life of the Portuguese priest, Sebastian Rodrigues, who became an apostate by trampling on an image of Christ to save his parishioners from torture and death by the governmental authorities, is reflected upon in the hope of enriching ethical thought.Reinsma, Luke M. “Shūsaku Endō’s River of Life.” Christianity and Literature 48 (Winter, 1999): 195-211. In this special issue on Endō, Reinsma discusses the natural world, particularly the river, as a metaphorical backdrop for his work. Claims that Endō has shifted from landscapes and waters ravaged by a Father God in his early work to the lush vegetation of his later.Rimer, J. Thomas. “That Most Excellent Gift of Charity: Endō Shūsaku in Contemporary World Literature.” Journal of the Association of Japanese Teachers 27 (April, 1993). A major historian of Japanese literature reviews Endō’s work.Williams, Mark. Endō Shūsaku: A Literature of Reconciliation. New York: Routledge, 1999. An interesting study of Endō’s fictive technique. Includes bibliographical references.
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