Akutagawa and the Kirishitanmono: The Exoticization of a Barbarian Religion and the Acclamation of Martyrdom
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Akutagawa Ryūnosuke, one of the most widely read and translated authors of the Taishō period, wrote some two dozen short stories centered on the theme of Christianity during his brief career. In this paper, I examine these works, known as kirishitanmono, both in the context of the author’s oeuvre and the intellectual environment of his day. The kirishitanmono are examined for a pervasive use of obscure language and textual density which serves to exoticize Christianity and frame it as an essentially foreign religion. This religion becomes a metaphor for European ideology, which is criticized for its incompatibility with East Asian traditions and, in turn, presented as a metaphor for the impossibility of intercultural dialogue. Finally, I examine the image of the martyr, as presented in both the kirishitanmono and other religious stories, in which the convictions of martyrs are elevated as a pure form of ideology in defiance of modernity.