Toddler-Hunting in Wartime: Kōno Taeko’s “On the Inside”

Mary A. Knighton


In the postwar 1960s, Kōno Taeko (1926-2015) debuted with shocking stories of alienated modern women whose fantasies of pleasure in sadistic violence, masochism, and pederasty belied their otherwise routine exterior worlds. Kōno's "Todder-Hunting" (Yōjigari, 1961) remains most well known and representative but other works, including the Akutagawa Award-winning "Crabs" (Kani, 1963) that appeared in Lucy North's translated collection, cemented Kōno's reputation and her reception in English as a writer of disturbing psychosexual fantasy. If critics read history into her work at all, it would be in order to note how Kōno's heroines, like their author, emerged with such violent and repressed force on the literary scene precisely because of an unsustainable historical exclusion of women's voices. While this is partially true, it does not tell the whole story. This essay argues that Kōno Taeko's fictional world can best be understood by also taking into account her reputation in Japan as a member of the senchūha, or wartime generation. In short, her wartime experiences in Osaka would go on to shape her choice of career and the kind of fiction she would later write. This essay analyzes in depth "On the Inside" (Hei no naka, 1962), one of the few explicitly autobiographical works published by Kōno around the same time as "Toddler- Hunting," in order to contend that her wartime experiences of factory mobilization and terrifying daily bombing on the so-called "home front" would later shape her stories of violent gender relations, oppressive household institutions (ie seido), and lost childhood. Superimposing the irrational realities of wartime structures over fantasies of normal domestic life in "On the Inside," Kono found a productive locus of  distortion to motivate much of her later fiction.

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