On the Kiso Road with Toson

Kiso RoadThis month’s issue of Smithsonian magazine features an article by Thomas Swick on exploring Japan’s historic Kiso Road on foot. Swick is advised by his travel companion, Japan scholar Bill Wilson, to do some preliminary reading and he suggests Before the Dawn, Shimazaki Toson’s classic novel of life on the Kiso Road in the years following Perry’s arrival in 1853. Read the article and view the accompanying photos (including the one shown here) by Chiara Goia.

Before the DawnBefore the Dawn, translated by William Naff, was awarded the 1987 Friendship Commission Prize for the Translation of Japanese Literature. Through the life of the novel’s protagonist, Aoyama Hanzo (based on Toson’s father), a Kiso post official and rural intellectual, the novel depicts the political and social upheavals of mid-19th-century Japan.

“No other book known to me captures the feel of the Meiji period even nearly so well.” —Washington Post

“A vivid demonstration of the richness and ferment of Japan’s intellectual life.” —The New Yorker

“In Toson’s earnest and ambitious attempt to tell the story of one man’s tragedy set against the huge backdrop of the Meiji Restoration, there is an element of nobility and grandeur. And in Naff’s translation . . . this comes through.” —New York Times Book Review

“An impressive revelation of Japanese history and culture from a Japanese perspective.” —Asiaweek

UH Press will publish the definitive English-language biography of Toson, William Naff’s The Kiso Road: The Life and Times of Shimazaki Toson, in January 2011.