Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 28, , March 2012

An Unsuitable Job for a Girl:

Violence and the Girl in Two Novels by Sakuraba Kazuki

Lucy Fraser[*]

  1. Sakuraba Kazuki, who has published at least twenty-five novels since her debut in 1996, is hardly ever mentioned without reference to the way in which she has transcended genre boundaries. While her first works were classified as 'light novels' and 'juvenile literature' she has now made the move into mystery fiction and general fiction for adults.[1] The two novels examined here, A Lollypop or A Bullet and An Unsuitable Job for a Girl, certainly remain within a less 'serious' tradition of entertaining fiction; nevertheless they write against violence in subtle and interesting ways. In fact, Sakuraba's exploration of gendered violence and agency seems to succeed because of her engagement with the conventions of these genres, rather than in spite of their limitations. Critical work on 'light' genres such as girls' novels and mystery novels, as well as theories of the shōjo (girl) and intertextuality are particularly helpful in unravelling the specific types of writing against violence that Sakuraba undertakes in these works.
  2. Next to her border-crossing of genres, Sakuraba is almost always discussed with regards to her great love of reading. She is a self-confessed bungaku shōjo (literature girl),[2] and the literature and literary girls she creates reflect her lifelong obsession with reading and books. Sakuraba is a girl reader and woman writer who almost invariably creates girl protagonists. Her interest in entertainment fiction might well descend from a girl-centred tradition: Kan Satoko and Fujimoto Megumi explain in Girls' Novels Wonderland that the category of 'light novel' has been subsuming the genre of 'girls' novels'[3] since the 1990s.[4]
  3. The concepts of girls' reading, girls' intertextuality and girls' friendships are therefore especially relevant to the novels in question. In a recent publication, Girl Reading Girl in Japan, which traces the relationships of girls to reading, editors Tomoko Aoyama and Barbara Hartley identify reading as 'a key tactic deployed' by the contemporary girl (as opposed to the pre-modern musume, or daughter) in her work to 'subvert and resist the structural marginalisation attempted by both the adult male and the woman who acted on his behalf.'[5] Aoyama and Hartley argue that the chapters in their book show the ways different girls, 'through their layered readings of print text, visual images, and three-dimensional practice, engage in highly sophisticated and complex borrowing and interweaving of themes and ideas across texts.'[6]
  4. This concept of girls' intertextuality as related to a process of 'writing back' to patriarchal powers provides a helpful framework to understand Sakuraba's two novels. Several types of intertextuality—what Gérard Genette terms 'transtextual relationships'[7]—are of particular interest. First, there is intertextuality in Genette's narrow sense: that is, a consideration of the significance of the texts that Sakuraba quotes or alludes to. Second, the lack of critical work that has been published on A Lollypop or A Bullet and An Unsuitable Job for a Girl, combined with the nature of Sakuraba's writing has meant that 'paratexts' such as commentaries, titles and contents pages play an important role in this analysis.[8] I also identify the complex ways in which other concepts and mythologies are invoked by the girl characters.
  5. Girl Reading Girl in Japan begins with a translation of Honda Masuko's pioneering chapter in the field of girl studies, 'The Genealogy of Hirahira: Liminality and the Girl.' Writing with an eye on both her scholarly work and her experience as a girl in wartime Japan, Honda sketches the girl's protected sphere that is created through fiction and reading: 'When I was a girl, there was nothing more important than the infinitely rich "world of our own". So those of us who cherished this world joined together and built a small enclosure to protect our secret garden.'[9] Elsewhere Honda writes about an 'imagined (or fictive) community' that girl readers formed through their discussions of girls' novels in the readers' columns of magazines.[10] These textual friendships that developed among readers were also portrayed in the stories they read: Kan and Fujimoto write that friendship between girls is the life and soul of girls' novels.[11] Friendship and private girls' spheres are both important in the analysis discussed here.
  6. Each of the girls' novels in question shares a particularly striking structure, which is discussed in the few academic/critical treatments of Sakuraba's work that have been published. In the openings of both stories, the reader is informed of the violent event that would traditionally be the climax of the narrative. The rest of the story is then narrated in first person, flashback style, filling out the details that lead to this main event. At first glance, this doom-filled structure would not appear helpful in an attempt to write against violence; however, as I will show, Sakuraba's non-traditional chronology underlines the identity and agency she develops in her girl protagonists.
  7. Satōgashi no dangan wa uchinukenai is narrated in first person by middle-school girl Nagisa, who becomes friends with a classmate who is abused and then murdered by her own father. The title literally translates as 'candy bullets don't penetrate.' The novel has not been translated into English, but as is quite common practice, there is also an alternative English title on the cover, A Lollypop or A Bullet, which sets up more of a direct conflict between the two girl protagonists and their worldviews, which I will outline shortly. As we shall see, Sakuraba often employs this device of alternative readings in her work. A Lollypop or A Bullet was first published in bunko (cheaper paperback edition) form by the Fujimi misuterii bunko mystery label which, as the author explains, publishes entertainment fiction for boys and girls.[12] Due to its consistent popularity, it was then republished as a tankōbon (higher quality edition) in 2007 by Fujimi shobō, which publishes 'light novels,' and then re-published again for a more general audience in 2009 by Kadokawa bunko, the umbrella company for Fujimi misuterii bunko and Fujimi shobō labels.
  8. A Lollypop or A Bullet opens with a passage labelled 'a newspaper article extract' that reports the discovery of the dismembered body of middle-school student named Umino Mokuzu. Then, the body of the novel begins with a description of Mokuzu, as the narrator Nagisa encounters her for the first time, when Mokuzu joins Nagisa's class as a transfer student. Other students in their class comment on Umino Mokuzu's foreboding name: an expression using the same Chinese characters (kanji), umi no mokuzu to naru, means 'to drown at sea'. In the same scene, Nagisa also learns that Mokuzu is the daughter of a famous singer. In the lyrics of Mokuzu's father's hit song, Nagisa recalls, a man narrates his encounter with a beautiful mermaid; shockingly, the man captures and then eats the mermaid. Sakuraba builds on this first indication of the father's cruelty; Nagisa later witnesses his aggressive behaviour and then learns he physically abuses Mokuzu, so that it gradually becomes clear that Mokuzu's father will be the one to commit the murder that is reported in the newspaper article extract that prefaces the story.
  9. Mokuzu's terrible fate, then, is introduced in the first words of the novel and hangs over all the events. In his commentary published in the 2009 edition of A Lollypop or A Bullet, Tsujihara Noboru describes its structure as that of a Greek tragedy and compares it with Oedipus Rex.[13] According to Tsujihara, Sakuraba employs tragic irony: that is, in Tsujihara's definition, the reader knows the story's dreadful conclusion but the characters themselves do not.[14] Sakuraba complicates her tragedy somewhat by having the narrator share this sense of irony with the reader. Whereas none of the characters know their fate in, for example, Oedipus Rex, in A Lollypop or A Bullet, Nagisa relates events in the past tense after she has experienced the tragedy. Nagisa's awareness that Mokuzu will be killed permeates the entire story, causing her to emphasise certain incidents and lending a sense of impending doom. Also, interspersed in the chronological narration are present-tense descriptions of Nagisa climbing a mountain. The difficult journey that leads up to Mokuzu's unpreventable murder is replicated in miniature in Nagisa's mountain climb; the two timelines merge at the conclusion with Nagisa's discovery of her friend's body at the top of the mountain.
  10. The second novel, Shōjo ni wa mukanai shokugyō, was Sakuraba's first foray into novels for adult readers, published in a major suiri (detective/mystery) series (Sōgen suiri bunko, by Tokyo Sōgensha). Its alternative English title is An Unsuitable Job for a Girl, and I will return later to the implications of this title. An Unsuitable Job for a Girl opens in a similar past-tense style, with this line: 'In the year of second grade at middle school, I, Ōnishi Aoi, thirteen years old, killed two people.… One of them I killed with malice, and the other with a battle axe.'[15] The girl narrator Aoi then introduces a girl from her class, Miyanoshita Shizuka. Parallel to Shizuka's full name, in the smaller furigana script that usually gives the phonetic reading for kanji, we find instead the reading satsujinsha: murderer.[16] As Chieko Ariga points out, this type of smaller-font gloss beside the main text—broadly referred to as rubi—are a 'highly sophisticated literary device'[17] in Japanese literature, in which 'the tension created by the gap between the kanji and rubi contexts creates a more complex semantic space, rendering the reading process more intriguing.'[18] Sakuraba repeats this overlaying wordplay device with even greater incongruence when Aoi refers to 'this girl' (kono shōjo)[19] and the reading for shōjo is given as satsujinsha. In other words, the meaning of the word 'girl' is subtitled as 'murderer.' Sakuraba juxtaposes Japanese and English titles, uses symbolic names for some characters and provides alternative meanings to other names and referents. In this case the jarring combination of a girl's name or the word 'girl' with the gloss 'murderer' serves to reinforce the shocking story and the title's implication.
  11. In An Unsuitable Job for a Girl, Aoi murders her violent stepfather. Later she murders the older male cousin of her school friend Shizuka (because the girls have learned that the cousin plans to murder Shizuka for her inheritance). Each chapter title pre-empts the violent events, taking one of Shizuka's lines in the story about murder weapons: the final chapter, for example, is titled 'Shizuka said, the items to prepare are a battle axe and intent to kill.'[20]
  12. Because of the structure that Sakuraba employs, in each novel the reader is deprived of any chance to hope for a happy ending; his or her interest, rather, lies in discovering how these horrible events came about. Furthermore the powerlessness of children, of girls, is emphasised in both stories, whether that powerless child is murderer, victim, or bystander. These books do not write against violence by providing positive resolutions to potentially lethal situations; they do not even allow the reader to hope for them. Nor, despite the tragic structures, do they simply write against violence by inspiring sympathy for the pitiful, helpless victims of abuse and murder. Rather, they provide complex situations and double meanings in which the most important factor is not the girl's violent fate but her agency, her sense of self, and her friendships. By revealing the main event of violence at the opening of the story, Sakuraba transfers the focus to the details and characters that brought about this event. She strips it of its power in the mystery format as the traditional shocking climax or 'twist' that the plot leads up to.
  13. A popular contemporary novel in English which uses similar methods to reclaim a voice for a girl victim of male violence is Alice Sebold's 2002 work, The Lovely Bones.[21] This story also opens with its haunting piece of violence: the first-person narrator, Susie, describes her own rape and murder. In her examination of dead narrators in contemporary fiction, Alice Bennett situates the novel in the mystery genre and discusses the narrative power shift that is brought about through the restructuring of the traditional murder plot:

      the murder victim is the one who gets to arrange the telling of the story's events to ensure that the murderer is not the creative force shaping the plot's dynamic: his actions are motivated by his own psychological damage and fear, not by a compelling and clever murder plot.[22]

  14. In this case, the focus of the story is not her murderer's fate, but the legacy of narrator Susie's death, what she describes as: the 'lovely bones that had grown around my absence.'[23] Sakuraba's inversion of the order of events functions much like Sebold's dead narrator, who, in Bennett's words, 'challenges a dead silence at the very centre of the murder mystery and provides a means for the corpse to speak back, rather than just reducing a person to a plot device.'[24] In A Lollypop or A Bullet revealing the murderer early on also denies the reader a cathartic 'closure' of Mokuzu's death at the end of the story. The novel's structure reflects Nagisa's belief that she will grow into an adult without being able to sort out this event in her heart.[25]
  15. Takaki Hiroshi similarly contends that Sakuraba's inverted structure is part of her refusal to allow the story of a human death to be reduced into mere reporting and data,[26] as it is in the newspaper article that opens A Lollypop Or A Bullet. Takaki focuses on the structure of Sakuraba's novel which 'begins from the ending' (it opens with the end of Mokuzu's story and her life) and 'ends with a beginning' (the final chapter reads as a prologue to a bildungsroman about Nagisa and her brother).[27] Even so, he situates the novel within the mystery genre because throughout the story a 'number of small mysteries,' in the form of fantastical-seeming elements, are unravelled.[28] In this way, Takaki states, Sakuraba effectively employs the mystery format to expose the reality behind apparently magical occurrences.[29]
  16. Sakuraba is by no means the first to employ the mystery genre to 'write against' social problems. She began publishing in the late 1990s, a decade that Amanda C. Seaman documents as experiencing a boom in women's detective fiction. Furthermore, Seaman traces a history of social critique in detective fiction in Japan beginning with Matsumoto Seichō's work in the post-war period.[30] Sakuraba debuted amidst the proliferation of translated and local detective fiction by women writers in the 1990s. Her 'writing against violence' sits comfortably next to work by these contemporary Japanese women mystery writers[31] who, Seaman writes, 'critically engage with a variety of social issues and concerns' including 'consumerism and the crisis of identity … sexual harassment and sexual violence, and the role of motherhood in contemporary Japan.'[32]
  17. An emphasis on the mystery fiction genre, though, should not work to discount the mysterious elements of Sakuraba's work that Takaki writes are 'solved.' Many of these elements contribute to what I am proposing are the fictive/fantastical worlds that also ensure that readers construct Mokuzu, Nagisa, Shizuka, and Aoi as 'real people' as opposed to 'plot devices'. There are several examples of these imaginative elements: firstly, the narrator of A Lollypop Or A Bullet constructs her own identity through an extended metaphor of violence that runs through the novel. In response to her older brother's retreat from society (he is a hikikomori, or young recluse) and her family's economic difficulties created by her father's death, Nagisa begins the novel constructing herself as a pragmatist. She explains that she has resolved 'Not to worry about or get involved in anything trivial that isn't related to staying alive;'[33] she is only interested in money and other such 'real bullets.'[34] In a literal enactment of this approach to life, she plans to leave school after junior high and join the defence forces to shoot 'real bullets' at the local base to earn a living.
  18. In contrast, Nagisa's friend Mokuzu builds her identity around a different imaginary concept: the fantastical idea that she is a mermaid princess. There are several aspects to this fiction. Firstly, it seems to be based on her famous father's hit debut song, from many years ago, which is perhaps desirable to Mokuzu because it is seen by the public as 'romantic' and 'elegant'[35] and still used in commercials for products associated with femininity such as makeup and stockings.[36] The song is titled Ningyo no hone (The mermaid's bones), and the lyrics are narrated by a man who falls in love with a mermaid, but in the third verse he makes sashimi from her and eats her.[37] These lyrics combine Western and Japanese mermaid mythologies. Mermaid stories have long existed in Japan and have their origins in Chinese lore; ningyo (comprising the characters for 'person' and 'fish', 人魚) are depicted in early Japanese texts as existing animals with fish tails and human faces.[38] Mokuzu's father's song lyrics are taken from the Japanese tradition: mermaid flesh was believed to endow the person who ate it with eternal youth and longevity, as related in the legend of Yao (/happyaku) bikuni,[39] where a girl accidentally eats mermaid flesh and lives eight hundred years. Legends surrounding the magical properties of mermaid meat were revived more recently in popular culture by Takahashi Rumiko's hit manga (comic books), Ningyo shiriizu (Mermaid series).[40] The series centres around a young man made immortal by mermaid flesh, and follows his encounters with a large cast of characters, but the first episode introduces a shōjo imprisoned by her guardians, whose legs have been crippled by shackles.[41] As I will show, part of Mokuzu's mermaid fantasy also relates to her own disabled legs.
  19. Mokuzu's father's lyrics describing the mermaid as 'beautiful as a dream', draw on Western images of mermaids.[42] The allure of the seductive siren found in Greek mythology, and the ephemeral beauty of her naïve, ill-fated descendants—most famously Hans Christian Andersen's mermaid[43]—were absorbed into the Japanese visual and literary imagination after modern contact with the West.[44] Translations and adaptations of Andersen's fairy tale are still sold in most book shops,[45] and mermaids continue to appear in manga, animation, literature and art—they are usually depicted as beautiful or extremely sexual.[46]
  20. Mokuzu uses her imagined mermaid identity and its associations with her father's song and other mermaid mythologies to position herself as an object of desire and tragedy. She uses Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid (1836) in particular (which Nagisa alludes to early on in the story)[47] to romanticise her experiences of abuse and disabilities. An old injury inflicted by her father means that she cannot split her legs apart, making them reminiscent of a mermaid's tail. The injury makes walking painful for Mokuzu. Andersen's little mermaid bravely endures stabbing pain with each step in exchange for her human legs. Andersen's mermaid turns to foam at the end of his sentimental fairy tale, which becomes a magical escape ability that Mokuzu also claims to possess at will. She also explains bruises from her father's abuse as pollution from the human world that affects the skin of sensitive mermaids such as herself
  21. While the father's abuse of Mokuzu is never directly depicted as sexual, the mermaid fantasy reveals that she is highly conscious of and troubled by her sexual identity. Mokuzu, described as a slender, pale-skinned beauty,[48] introduces herself in front of her class using boku, a boyish word for 'I.'[49] She tells her classmates that she is a mermaid and that mermaids do not have gender distinctions: their bodies are feminine-looking but without genitalia.[50] When she explains to a boy who is romantically interested in her that she cannot open her legs wide, she sniggers and says 'they're locked closed.'[51] Mokuzu uses the mermaid identity to deny adult sexuality, perhaps because she is so conscious of the gaze directed at her conventionally attractive adolescent female body.[52] The mermaid princess role is a more powerful identity and an escape. In a metafictional moment Mokuzu explains the seductive nature of her fantasy, telling Nagisa, 'None of this life is real…All of it is probably somebody's lie. That's why I'm ok. It's all probably an awful lie.'[53]
  22. At first Nagisa is disgusted by Mokuzu's useless imaginary world and by what she calls 'candy bullets': the emotional wounds that Mokuzu is capable of inflicting with her words. However, throughout the narrative she becomes close to Mokuzu and participates in the mermaid fantasy. Finally, Nagisa comes to see these 'candy bullets' as more than an escape; they are another weapon a child might employ in the battle to survive into adulthood:

      I don't think I will forget that right now, when I was thirteen years old, there were other soldiers around too, fighting with their hack weapons and shooting out strange bullets here and there; and that some survived and others died.[54]

  23. Nagisa's interest in only 'real bullets' and her belief in practicality is undermined by her helplessness to prevent her friend's murder, and by the fact that no adults believe her when she reports it. At the same time, her use of the war metaphor transforms this very powerlessness into an act of strength and survival. In other words, children are not just victims: they are bravely fighting to get through the battle to become an adult, resourcefully using whatever strange weapons are available to them. In Mokuzu's case the (unsuccessful) weapon is her constructed identity. By the end of the story, Nagisa continues to conceive of her child's world through images of weaponry and war. However, after she sees her friend's dismembered body in a setting which, as Tsujihara points out, is like a war zone,[55] she rejects her literal plan for 'real bullets'—to join the defence forces after junior high school—and chooses to participate in the normative concept of adolescence. She grows her hair and becomes more girlish, and decides to continue on to graduate from senior high school.[56]
  24. While not a particularly feminist conclusion, it is nevertheless Nagisa's personal choice to reject her former image and change into something new. The girls' conscious negotiations of their identities are emphasised throughout the work. Mokuzu may have become a faceless victim in a newspaper report at the beginning of the story, and at the close Nagisa says that it is not the murder victim but her famous father, the murderer, who is discussed and dissected by the mass media. However, in the novel what is important is Mokuzu's personality and her friendships when she is alive. The significance of the girl protagonists' relationship is echoed in their names: while Mokuzu signifies drowning, Nagisa means 'shore.' She is a place of refuge for Mokuzu, or solid ground to stand on. Their friendship is important. Through narrating her friend, Nagisa (in Aoyama's and Hartley's words) 'subverts and resists' the centralising of the murderer-father and the 'marginalisation' of the girl Mokuzu as a victim. Sakuraba puts Nagisa and Mokuzu at the centre of the story in a complex and compelling relationship.
  25. Friendships and imagination continue to be key concepts in the second novel. There are two distinct private, imaginary worlds that feature in An Unsuitable Job for a Girl: reading and video games. Sakuraba Kazuki, as mentioned, is an avid reader, and in this novel she alludes to a number of existing literary works, all of which relate to the story and encourage intertextual interpretation. Interestingly, the act of reading is referred to derogatorily as a non-masculine activity, by Aoi's stepfather, who tells her,

      Really. You're like your real father… He was argumentative too, and spiteful. Weak, and worked at the co-op even though he was a man! He put on airs, reading books all the time. But it was all talk. He couldn't do anything.[57]

  26. The friendship of the schoolgirl protagonists, Shizuka and Aoi, is structured around the act of reading, which is their shared girls' sphere. In their first real encounter, Shizuka—who is a library monitor—recommends a book to Aoi titled 'Why do people want to die?,'[58] which moves her to tears because it reminds her of the death of her father and her own response to crisis.[59] When the girls meet again Aoi asks Shizuka to lend her a book: she hates her stepfather and would like to read something about an annoying father being murdered.[60] Shizuka enthusiastically returns with recommendations including Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment[61] and Richard Hull's The Murder of My Aunt.[62] Apart from concerning the murder of unlikeable authority figures, both reflect the unusual back-to-front structure of Sakuraba's novel, and expand on its themes.
  27. First, Crime and Punishment begins with the planning of a murder, with both murderer and victim identified: it explores the idea of murdering someone who seems to deserve it, as Aoi's abusive stepfather does. Second, The Murder of My Aunt is detective fiction like Sakuraba's work and shares the inverted whodunit structure: instead of a murder victim and the search for the murderer, in this novel the murderer and his intended victim, his aunt, are introduced, and the story then describes his various attempts to kill her. While Aoi and Shizuka cement their friendship through discussing these books, the importance of female friendship is also alluded to by, in Genette's terms, the 'paratextual mention'[63] in the novel's title: An Unsuitable Job for a Girl refers to P.D. James' crime novel, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman.[64] Sakuraba's title is given in Japanese on the dust jacket and in English opposite the contents page, another act of overlaying as well as a more direct gesture towards the English-language novel. In James' story, a young female private detective ends up helping another woman to cover up her murder of a violent patriarch; 'the strength of [the] female allegiance' is something that makes this possible.[65]
  28. In An Unsuitable Job for a Girl, the girls' friendship as established through intertextuality continues when reading is put to one final use by Shizuka: to construct a fantastical identity that Aoi can relate to. In order to win sympathy from Aoi, and receive her help in murdering her cousin, Shizuka pretends to be, like Aoi, a victim of domestic violence. Based on the fact that her cousin actually does intend to kill her, Shizuka paints herself as a pawn in a mysterious and diabolical plot. We learn later that her story is actually a passage she has memorised from Woman of Straw, a 1964 thriller novel by Catherine Arley that was adapted into film in the same year.[66] Significantly when Aoi discovers Shizuka's lie, she understands her motivation, and their friendship survives the betrayal. In fact, Aoi ends up helping Shizuka to murder her evil cousin anyway, to protect her and to vindicate Shizuka's faith in her abilities and her construction of Aoi's identity:

      I'm not scared of you [Shizuka tells her cousin, after he has attacked her].… I'm not scared of you at all. Because Ōnishi Aoi is here. Aoi is going to kill you too, for me.… You didn't know, and no-one else knew. I was the only one who knew, but my friend, Ōnishi Aoi, is an exceptional girl. No-one knows, but Aoi is a real-life murderer! She's amazing, right?[67]

    Aoi then kills Shizuka's cousin because, she says, she wanted to live up to her friend's expectations.
  29. While the story is introduced as that of two girls committing murder, here too we find violent male authority figures and a dearth of 'true' and 'good' biological fathers.[68] Aoi has a stepfather who sometimes physically abuses her and her mother. He has also caused the death of a young woman; Aoi's role in his death could therefore easily become a simple story of justified revenge. Similarly, Shizuka's cousin has murdered their grandfather and intends to murder Shizuka. It is as if the helpless girl victim in A Lollypop or A Bullet has been handed a weapon and been given a chance to defend herself against the patriarch's abuse. However, Sakuraba does not allow a simplified tale of girl's revenge against violent father figures. In fact she shows murder to be an unsuitable job not just for a girl, but for anyone. The act of murder causes irrevocable damage to the murderer: even Aoi's selfish, abusive stepfather is haunted and destroyed by the death he has caused.
  30. Violent actions committed by young people today are often blamed on the culture of violence surrounding contemporary entertainments. The girl-murderer in this story is in fact a gamer, who obsessively plays in arcades and on handheld machines, as well as collecting and playing fantasy card games. While reading forges Aoi's bond with Shizuka, some of her gaming is social and other aspects provide her with a 'secret garden,' her jealously protected personal space. After she has killed her stepfather, for example, she escapes alone every day to secluded spots to play her handheld games, which distract and soothe her.
  31. Another of the games Aoi plays involves a fictive community that she shares with a boy, rather than a girl. This is and arcade game called doragon kurōsā,[69] in which, she explains, 'You pick a dragon you like and raise it, make it strong' over a period of time, and then send it to fight other people's dragons.[70] The battles cannot be conducted alone: two people must raise the dragon and compete together. So while this is a game of violence, it also involves nurturing. In other words, Aoi and the boy (who she secretly likes) are raising an imaginary child together. The dragon is also an alter ego for Aoi:

      It grew so strong, and when it found a weakling it would fly like it was hungry for blood, and would beat it down, in my place. That was my form when I went into battle mode. A strong, transformed me. My own little dragon.[71]

  32. While violent games might often be reported as bad or alienating influences on young people,[72] in the novel they are a means for socialising. More importantly, the dragon game does not influence Aoi so much as provide a vocabulary to express the rage that she already experiences, which she calls bōryoku no kōdō (literally 'violent actions') and overlays in furigana as 'battle mode.'[73] Her identity as a gamer does not protect her from remorse nor remove her from the harsh reality of what she has done. In the first page of the novel, she says:

      I just don't get it. Why, when I see boys of my generation who have been arrested for juvenile crime—and they're not macho sporty types but rather skinny with glasses—why are they totally aloof and not shaking?

      Is that the gamer's mentality?

      But I'm a gamer too.[74]

    So again, communal fictive worlds, whether they be developed through imagined identities, reading, or electronic games, are key to Sakuraba's complex and problematising portrayal of different acts of violence involving contemporary girls.
  33. I conclude with the thought that using violence as entertainment does not necessarily preclude the ability to write against violence. In fact, 'writing against violence' appears to be a very suitable job for this particular woman writer of entertaining fiction. The stories discussed here have grown out of tradition of 'light novels.' They are easy to read and captivating: Sakuraba has a careful sense of dramatic timing that maintains tension throughout her whole story. However, the works still speak out against the acts of violence that they narrate. The name of Sakuraba's website, Scheherazade, is telling.[75] Perhaps the writer feels an affinity with this fictional female figure, another avid reader and entrancing storyteller who tells tales full of violence in order to prevent the violence of a misogynistic king.


    [*] Thank you to Professor Kan Satoko, Dr Tomoko Aoyama, and Takeuchi Kayo for introducing me to Sakuraba Kazuki, and for their enlightening comments on Sakuraba's work. This paper was presented as part of a panel on 'Women writing/fighting against violence in Japanese culture', with Dr Tomoko Aoyama and Emerald King.


    [1] Sakuraba gained popularity through her Gosick series of light novels (13 vols, Tokyo: Fujimi shobō, 2003–2011). The novels have since been adapted into manga (comic books) and an animated television series, and the first two novels in the series have been published in English translation by Tokyopop.

    [2] Sakuraba Kazuki, Interview. 'Sakka no dokushomichi: no. 54' in Web hon no hanashi, 28 April 2006, online:, site accessed June 30, 2010.

    [3] According to Kan and Fujimoto, the term 'girls' novels' covers a broad genre that developed in conjunction with the establishment of the new education system in the Meiji period (1868–1912). While originally espousing the 'good wife, wise mother' role, the genre developed into stories that used girls' own words and ideas. The term applies to translated Anglo-American novels as well as Japanese works for girls. See Kan Satoko and Fujimoto Megumi, '"Shōjo shōsetsu" no rekishi o furikaeru,' in "Shōjo shōsetsu" wandārando/Girls' Novels Wonderland: Meiji kara heisei made, ed. Kan Satoko, Tokyo: Meiji shoin, 2008, pp. 5–23, p. 6.

    [4] Kan and Fujimoto, '"Shōjo shōsetsu" no rekishi o furikaeru,' p. 22.

    [5] Tomoko Aoyama and Barbara Hartley, 'Introduction' in Girl Reading Girl in Japan, ed. Tomoko Aoyama and Barbara Hartley, London and New York: Routledge, 2010, pp. 1–14, p. 2.

    [6] Aoyama and Hartley, 'Introduction,' p. 5.

    [7] Gérard Genette, Palimpsests: Literature in the Second Degree, trans. Channa Newman and Claude Doubinsky, London: University of Nebraska Press, 1997, p. 1.

    [8] Genette, Palimpsests, p. 3.

    [9] Honda Masuko, 'The genealogy of Hirahira: liminality and the girl,' trans. Tomoko Aoyama and Barbara Hartley, in Girl Reading Girl in Japan, ed. Tomoko Aoyama and Barbara Hartley. Routledge: London and New York, 2010, pp. 19–37, p. 36.

    [10] Honda Masuko, 'The invalidation of gender in girls manga today, with a special focus on Nodame Cantabile,' trans. Lucy Fraser and Tomoko Aoyama, US-Japan Women's Journal, vol. 38 (2010): 12–24, p. 14.

    [11] Kan and Fujimoto, '"Shōjo shōsetsu" no rekishi o furikaeru,' p. 20.

    [12]Sakuraba Kazuki, 'Author's afterword,' Satōgashi no dangan wa uchinukenai/ A Lollypop or A Bullet, Tokyo: Kadokawa shoten, 2009, p. 190.

    [13] Tsujihara Noboru, 'Kaisetsu' [Commentary], in Satōgashi no dangan wa uchinukenai/A Lollypop or A Bullet, by Sakuraba Kazuki, Tokyo: Kadokawa shoten, 2007, pp. 193–201. p. 196.

    [14] Tsujihara, 'Kaisetsu,' p. 196.

    [15] Sakuraba Kazuki, Shōjo ni wa mukanai shokugyō/ An Unsuitable Job for a Girl, Tokyo: Sōgensha, 2007, p. 11.

    [16] Sakuraba, An Unsuitable Job for a Girl, p. 12.

    [17] Chieko Ariga, 'The playful gloss: Rubi in Japanese literature,' in Monumenta Nipponica, vol. 44, no. 3 (Autumn, 1989): 309–35, p. 320.

    [18] Ariga, 'The Playful Gloss,' p. 321.

    [19] Sakuraba, An Unsuitable Job for a Girl, p. 47.

    [20] Sakuraba, An Unsuitable Job for a Girl, p. 215.

    [21] I am very grateful to Dr Carole Hayes for suggesting this comparison to me.

    [22] Alice Bennett, 'Unquiet spirits: death writing in contemporary fiction,' in Textual Practice, vol. 23, no. 3 (2009): 463–79, p. 467.

    [23] Alice Sebold, The Lovely Bones, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2002, p. 320.

    [24] Bennett, 'Unquiet Spirits,' p. 468.

    [25] Sakuraba, A Lollypop or A Bullet, p. 188.

    [26] Takaki Hiroshi, 'Owari kara hajimaru monogatari, hajimari de owaru monogatari—Satōgashi no dangan wa uchinukenai o megutte,' in Kuritika / Critica, vol. 1 (Summer 2006): 203–09, p. 205.

    [27] Takaki, 'Owari kara hajimaru monogatari, hajimari de owaru monogatari,' p. 204.

    [28] Takaki, 'Owari kara hajimaru monogatari, hajimari de owaru monogatari,' p. 205.

    [29] Magic tricks are a theme in the novel; one of the small mysteries that Takaki is referring to is Mokuzu's use of sleight of hand to 'disappear' in front of Nagisa. Her disappearing trick is later explained, but then it is repeated when Mokuzu genuinely 'disappears' when she is murdered.

    [30] Amanda C. Seaman, Bodies in Evidence: Women, Society and Detective Fiction in 1990s Japan, Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2004, p. 6.

    [31] Seaman's focus on the way mystery genre conventions shape these women writers' social critiques is helpful. However Sakuraba might lie outside of her target texts: whereas Seaman focuses on detective fiction as 'a reflection on and critique of modern urban life.' See Seaman, Bodies in Evidence, p. 2. Another interesting aspect of Sakuraba's novels is that they are often set in small country towns or rural areas far from urban/cultural centres.

    [32] Seaman, Bodies in Evidence, pp. 1–2.

    [33] Sakuraba, A Lollypop or A Bullet, p. 9.

    [34] Sakuraba, A Lollypop or A Bullet, p. 17.

    [35] Sakuraba, A Lollypop or A Bullet, p. 9.

    [36] Sakuraba, A Lollypop or A Bullet, p. 8.

    [37] Sakuraba, A Lollypop or A Bullet, p. 9.

    [38] Ningyo are listed as a type of fish in 倭名類聚鈔 (wamyōruijujō), the first Chinese-to-Japanese dictionary dating from around A.D. 931–937, and since then have appeared in historical accounts, essays, collections of folktales, and more (a detailed history is found in Tanabe Satoru, Ningyo, Mono to ningen no bunkashi 143, Tokyo: Hosei University Press, 2008).

    [39] Shida Gen, 'Yao bikuni,' in Nihon mukashibanashi jiten, ed. Kawabata Toyohiko et al., Tokyo: Kōbundō, 1994, lines 1 and 2, p. 964

    [40] The manga were published in 14 episodes in Shōnen Sunday magazine from 1984, re-published in book editions (see 'Ningyo wa warawanai [zenpen]' in Takahashi Rumiko, Ningyo no mori, Ningyo shiriizu vol. 1. Toyko: Shōgakukan, 2003), and adapted into an animated television series.

    [41] 'Ningyo wa warawanai [zenpen]' in Takahashi Rumiko, Ningyo no mori, Ningyo shiriizu vol. 1. Toyko: Shōgakukan, 2003.

    [42] Sakuraba, A Lollypop Or A Bullet, p. 8.

    [43] Andersen's heroine is a pretty, innocent young mermaid who sacrifices herself when her beloved prince marries another woman. See Hans Christian Andersen, 'The Little Sea Maid,' in The Complete Fairy Tales, trans. H.P. Paull, W.A. Craigie and J.K. Craigie, London: Wordsworth Editions, 1997, pp. 78–100.

    [44] Andersen's story was first introduced in Japan in 1904. Beautiful mermaids appear in illustrations, especially in the Taishō period (1912–1926) romantic style, for example in work by artists such as Takehisa Yumeji and Tachibana Sayume. See Tanabe, Ningyo, pp. 68–78. Examples of more seductive sirens appear in Tanizaki Jun'ichirō's short story 'Ningyo no nageki', and its controversially erotic illustrations. See Ningyo no nageki, Majutsushi, 1917, Tokyo: Chū;ō kōron, 1978.

    [45] These range from picture books for children written in the phonetic hiragana script, to heavier volumes for older readers, such as a new edition translated by a professor of literature and illustrated by a prominent embroidery artist. See Hans Christian Andersen, Ningyohime, trans. Kanehara Mizuhito, illus. Kiyokawa Asami, Tokyo: Little More, 2007.

    [46] Some examples include the eroticised, girlish mermaids in illustrations by Higami Kumiko. Images available at Higami Kumiko saito (2002), online:, site accessed 17 October, 2011; the intensely kawaii (cute) mermaids in the manga series Māmeido merodii pichi pichi pitchi (Mermaid melody pichi pichi pitch), Yokote Michiko and Hanamori Pink, 7 vols. Tokyo: Kōdansha, 2003–2005; and the inverted mermaid (human legs and fish upper half) in Kurahashi Yumiko's highly sexualised literary parody of Andersen's story 'Ningyo no namida,' in Otona no tame no zankoku dōwa, Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1984. Various online searches using the keyword māmeido (loan word from the English 'mermaid', as opposed to the Japanese ningyo) turn up advertisements for a number of semi-pornographic photo collections, hostess bars, and the like.

    [47] Sakuraba, A Lollypop or A Bullet, p. 12.

    [48] Sakuraba, A Lollypop or A Bullet, p. 12.

    [49] Sakuraba, A Lollypop or A Bullet, p. 12.

    [50] Sakuraba, A Lollypop or A Bullet, p. 13.

    [51] Sakuraba, A Lollypop or A Bullet, p. 154.

    [52] Another of Sakuraba's novels, Shōjo Nanakamado to shichinin no kawaisō na otona (Tokyo: Kadokawa shoten, 2009) explores issues of beauty and ugliness in depth through the character of a beautiful high school girl who is ostracised and troubled.

    [53] Sakuraba, A Lollypop or A Bullet, p. 159.

    [54] Sakuraba, A Lollypop or A Bullet, p. 188.

    [55] Tsujihara, 'Kaisetsu,' p. 200.

    [56] Sakuraba, A Lollypop or A Bullet, p. 187.

    [57] Sakuraba, An Unsuitable Job for a Girl, p. 55.

    [58] Sakuraba acknowledges this work. Shimozono Sōta, Hito wa dōhite shinitagaru no ka: 'Jisatsu shitai' ga 'ikiyō' ni kawaru toki, Tokyo: Bungeisha, 2003 in note 257 after the end of the story, but does not list the other novels mentioned.

    [59] Sakuraba, An Unsuitable Job for a Girl, p. 20.

    [60] Sakuraba, An Unsuitable Job for a Girl, p. 68.

    [61] Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment, Penguin Classics, London, New York: Penguin, 2003.

    [62] Richard Hull, The Murder of my Aunt, New York: International Polygonics, 2001.

    [63] Genette, Palimpsests, p. 4.

    [64] Sakuraba's Japanese title mirrors exactly the Japanese title in translation, Onna ni wa mukanai shokugyō, trans. Koizumi Kimiko, Tokyo: Hayakawa shobō, 1987.

    [65] P.D. James, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, London: Faber and Faber, 1972, p. 203.

    [66] Catherine Arley, Woman of Straw, London: Fontana, 1964. The film starred Sean Connery and Gina Lollobrigida, dir. Basil Dearden.

    [67] Sakuraba, An Unsuitable Job for a Girl, pp. 248–49.

    [68] A lack of admirable father figures and an excess of ineffectual mother figures is a characteristic feature of many of Sakuraba's novels, and invites further exploration. Both of the novels discussed also depict well-meaning male authority figures (a teacher in A Lollypop or A Bullet and a policeman in An Unsuitable Job for a Girl) who fail in their attempts to prevent tragedy.

    [69] The game's name is given in katakana, the alphabet used for foreign loan words. The first word of the (apparently fictional) game's name refers to 'dragon' and kurōsā: could be 'closer' (nearer) or 'closer' (someone who closes/finishes).

    [70] Sakuraba, An Unsuitable Job for a Girl, p. 33.

    [71] Sakuraba, An Unsuitable Job for a Girl, p. 58.

    [72] The mass media in Japan has reported/supported several 'moral panics' about the negative social effects of video games, manga, anime (animated films), and other such products associated with the figure of the otaku (geek/fan/obsessive collector). Aoi's quotation in this paragraph makes reference to such media coverage; one of the most notorious incidents was the case of Miyazaki Tsutomu, a serial killer whose murder of young girls was linked to his large collection of film and anime. For a discussion of another shōjo writer in the context of Miyazaki's crimes, see John Whittier Treat, 'Yoshimoto banana writes home: shōjo culture and the nostalgic subject,' in Journal for Japanese Studies, vol. 19, no. 2 (Summer 1993): 353–87.

    [73] Sakuraba, An Unsuitable Job for a Girl, p. 44.

    [74] Sakuraba, An Unsuitable Job for a Girl, p. 11.

    [75] Sakuraba Kazuki, Sakuraba Kazuki ofisharu saito: Scheherzade, 2004, online:, accessed 30 June 2010.


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