This is not hell, nor am i out of it: Noma hiroshi’s waga tō wa soko ni tatsu

James Raeside

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article explores some of the principal themes of Wagatō wa soko ni tatsu, a quasi-autobiographical novel by the post-war Japanese writer Noma Hiroshi. The story covers a few days in the life of Kaizuka Sōichi, a student at Kyoto University in the mid-1930s, and centres on the internal struggles, both intellectual and emotional, of the hero. The opening chapter contains a battle of hells, in which Dante’s The Divine Comedy is pitted against The Essentials of Salvation by the tenth-century Japanese priest Genshin. Kaizuka attempts to use his knowledge of the Western literary tradition to free himself from the fears of hell which his Buddhist upbringing has inculcated in him, and which in turn symbolize the restrictions of traditional Japanese society and ideas. This article begins with an analysis of this ‘hell debate’, and then traces the references to the two hells and to Dante and Genshin in the ensuing narrative, showing how they are used to reflect the nature of Kaizuka’s intellectual and emotional dilemma. The close of the book finds its hero groping towards a form of Buddhist teaching, that of Shinran, which he can reconcile with his socialist and individualist ideas. In this way Dante is replaced by Shinran, just as Genshin was ousted by Dante.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)195-215
Number of pages21
JournalJapan Forum
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Dante
  • Marxism
  • Noma Hiroshi
  • Post-war fiction
  • Shinran

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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