enpaku 早稲田大学演劇博物館

Online Exhibition

Making of Minoru Betsuyaku: From His Unpublished First Play to the Soyosoyo Tribe

Precocious Boyhood

Betsuyaku was born on 6 April 1937 in Xinjing Special City, Manchukuo (present-day Changchun City, China). He lost his father in 1945 just before turning eight years old, and in the following year, he was evacuated to his father’s family home in Kochi City, Kochi Prefecture. At the time of the evacuation, he was held back in year two of elementary school as there had been a one-year gap in his education. After that, he lived in his mother’s family home in Shimizu City, Shizuoka Prefecture before moving to Nagano Prefecture in 1948 at age eleven. There, he was enrolled into year four of Nagano City Joyama Elementary School. Life in Nagano continued until high school graduation. The gyoza restaurant that his mother ran was on track and became economically stable, and at the same time, he was blessed with a teacher and friends, allowing him to live a modest and calm life all the while devoting himself to literature and painting.
It is evident from his literary anthologies compiled as a fifth- or sixth-year elementary-school student that Betsuyaku excelled in literary talent from early on. According to a submission compiled in the literary anthology Sakuranbo (cherry), Betsuyaku started writing poems in his fourth year or so. It is said that he started writing his poems only after first devising the structure, and quite rightly, his poetry and prose from around this time are noteworthy for their splendid composition. The poem ‘Tonbo’ (dragonfly), which he wrote in sixth grade, described the slight quivering of a blade of grass upon which a dragonfly has settled. This aspiration to carefully describe the delicate life of flora and fauna, which one is prone to miss if inattentive, was also integral to his play writing.
His sharp insights into everyday scenery, which would later leave such a mark on his dramatic works, were already budding around this time, as can be seen in two works of prose that he wrote in the sixth year, ‘Aru Obasan’ (a certain lady) and ‘Hitotsu no Mikan’ (a mandarin). ‘Aru Obasan’ described events at an udon restaurant where he had been sent on an errand. Hearing the middle-aged woman working there speaking in a low and lonesome voice, Betsuyaku recalls that he imagined that she was subject to a solitary fate without anyone to depend on and that, ‘She was so pitiable that I wanted to share my happiness with her’. This word ‘pitiable’ also appears frequently in Betsuyaku’s plays and is often used hypocritically to signify actions as if understanding the unhappy circumstances of others.
The word ‘pitiable’ in ‘Aru Obasan’ does not carry that connotation, but less than a year later, Betsuyaku started harbouring a self-consciousness that admonished this innocent sentiment. This is the ‘Hitotsu no Mikan’ compiled in the graduation anthology Soyokaze (gentle breeze). In the middle of an errand, Betsuyaku observes a middle-aged woman carrying a baby on her back and pulling a little boy’s hand picking up a single mandarin from the mud. Initially feeling contempt, Betsuyaku quickly became ashamed of himself. After describing the actions of carefully wiping and peeling the mandarin as if it were something holy, ‘as if an offering’, he writes the following. ‘I fleetingly thought that that is a happy mandarin. Against the early starlit sky, the face of the boy with the mandarin was laughing’.
In Betsuyaku’s work, there are frequent appearances of characters who refuse help extended out of sympathy, instead continuing to patiently endure discrimination and poverty. What is happiness? In the boyhood of Betsuyaku is inscribed the moment when this question started budding, one that he persistently asked in his subsequent creative work.

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