Two books — one old, one new — about caring for the bedridden elderly. My Wife and I (妻と私）by Eto Jun (江藤淳) is one of my favorite Japanese books of all time. Eto debuted in 1956 with a critical study of Natsume Soseki that later won the Kikuchi and Noma Prizes when republished in 1970. One of Japan’s most prolific literary critics, Eto is a giant of post-war Japanese literature. My Wife and I, published in 1999, is a departure from Eto’s academic work. This slim book records his diary of caring for his wife in her last months of sickness before death. Himself suffering from a stroke, Eto then killed himself in their Tokyo home later that year. I first learned of Eto when his suicide note was published in the newspapers while I was in Tokyo. I remember exactly where I was standing when I read it. I was struck by the depth of emotion conveyed in his severely Spartan prose. If you imagine one of the world’s most accomplished men of letters writing, to you, a personal letter on an intimate and painful topic, that is this essay.
Introduction to Nursing Care (介護入門）, the new essay by Mob Norio (モブ・ノリオ) is entirely different. Winner of the 2004 Akutagawa Prize, Japan’s most prestigious prize for short works by new authors, Introduction to Nursing Care is a howling, screaming, raging rant, a literary scream that draws attention to the personal burden of caring for Japan’s rapidly aging population, typically borne by women. Mob Norio, however, a 35-year old young man, speaks with a piercing voice and a completely unique style. Punctuated with rap music expletives (Yo n----!), Norio borrows the self-righteousness and bravado (and rhythms) of rap music as he tears into anyone and everyone who takes that sacrifice for granted. Yet his message is too particular to infer categorical imperatives. This is not a call for social security reform. Nor does he think everyone should care for their grandparents the way he has chosen to care for his grandmother. In fact, he urges children who were abused by their parents to return the abuse to them when the roles are reversed. This is not a considered essay. Introduction to Nursing Care is an electric venting of emotion. Strikingly honest. Supremely confident. Almost maniacally anarchic in it’s assertion of personal authority derived from making a deep personal sacrifice.