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Date 2021-04-27


The Vagarant Town In The Suburb of Tokyo: Observed By An Outlander Ong Lao


Huang, Yu-Ting

Graduate Student, Department of Comperative Literature, The University of Tokyo


In 1934, a young man of colonial Taiwan came to Tokyo, in the same year the 3rd enlarged Central Committee of Japan Proletarian Writers Union declared their disbanding. Ong Lao was born and bred in a poor farming village in Jong-hua, Taiwan. Aiming for the inland literary sphere, he came to the empire’s capital, Tokyo, but was rumored to have died in a mental hospital in his early thirties. As a consequence of dying young, he leaves few works and is neglected not only in Japanese but also in Taiwanese literature studies. In spite of this scarcity, we still can piece together the days he spent in Tokyo from his essays like The Vagarant Town In The Suburb of Tokyo. In this essay, we see intellectual vagarants wandering around the suburb, Kōenji, and how much Ong was enthralled by the vagarious atmosphere.

Writers like Lyūtanji Yū and Suzuki Kiyoshi also testified that under the circumstances, most of the proletarian leaders were arrested by coercion in the 1930s, and many of the remainders were gathered in the neighborhood of Kōenji. There were also anarchists gathering around this place, according to Ong’s essay mentioned above. Among them, waitresses, dancers, artists returned from Paris, bobbed hair youths, drunks, Chinese, Manchurians, and people from colonies like Taiwan also were rambling around the town, constituting a cosmopolitan atmosphere in this place.

In essays like Notes on Poems, Ong shows pretension to “be isolated, naïve, ” “always go after the spiritual elegance that distinct from common,” and “listen to music which is alien to others, be fascinated with paintings painted by nameless artists. ” However, at the same time, he insists that a highbrow should care not whether or not people acknowledge him. Despite his pretension, he revealed a strong ambition to advance to the inland literary sphere in his essay The Vagarant Town In The Suburb of Tokyo. However, his hope cannot be easily fulfilled. Like other obscure writers in the Kōenji neighborhood like Nii Itaru, Kamiwaki Susumu, Komatsu Kiyoshi, Ong gains no attention till his end and is forgotten from the history with his ages.

In this report, I venture to treat the vague “Kōenji neighborhood” subject in order to contour its inhabitant and its atmosphere in the 1930s. The unique vagarant atmosphere shaped the character of the Kōenji neighborhood, since it had been actively used in works with certain significance that gives it a ripe meaningful terminology. From Ong Lao’s reflections, one can view the marginal and particular space of Kōenji neighborhood.

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Bulletin of Taiwanese Literature