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Ex-wife of author Henry Miller reminisces over their time together

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In 1964, trailblazing American author Henry Miller (1891-1980) celebrated the victory of Grove Press Inc vs Gerstein before the United States Supreme Court. The ruling struck down state obscenity laws, opening the way for unexpurgated literary works by Miller and other authors. 

Miller's works are well known in Japan, with some 30 titles having been translated into Japanese. His seminal work, "Tropic of Cancer" (1934),  translated by Yasuo Okubo, was published in 1953 and reissued in 2005. Another translation of that book, by Yasunori Honda, was published by Suiseisha in 2004. 

Shukan Shincho (Feb 18) noted that as in the U.S., Miller's works were challenged in Japan's courts. In December 1954, Shinchosha published Miller's semi-autobiographical 1949 novel, "Sexus" (also translated by Okubo). Numerous passages were accused of being obscene, and on March 14, 1955, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department and Tokyo District Court officials raided Shinchosha, its printing company and a bookbinding firm. 

As reported in evening edition of the Mainichi Shimbun of March 14, 1955, "Sales of that title had been halted in the United States, but last December Shinchosha published 14,992 copies of a translation by Yasuo Okubo, and the company was in the process of issuing a second edition of 5,000 copies. The descriptions of the most revealing passages were the same as the English original, and 32 passages were found to be in violation [of Japanese statutes]. 

"The president of Shinchosha was quoted as saying, 'In our view, the book must be treated as a work of art.' The head of the National Diet Library, however, disagreed, saying 'I just flipped through the translation, but I think it's natural to get rid of it.' And a Tokyo District Court investigator remarked, 'Generally speaking, it's a lot filthier than Lady Chatterley's Lover.'"  

In 1967, Miller, then age 75, wed Hoki Tokuda, a musician 42 years younger, who at the time was living in California. It was his eighth marriage, and he vowed she would be his "last wife." (She was.) 

Hoki, now age 87, looks back at her three-year marriage to Miller in Shukan Shincho (Feb 18). Standing in front of one of Miller's sketches, Hoki reminisced over old times.

"On our first date I wore a Japanese kimono, and Henry went to show me off to Anais Nin, his former lover, who lived at a big house in Silverlake," Hoki recalls. 

It was from that time that Henry began writing letters to Hoki. 

"While I was with him, I never heard him discuss the issue of obscenity," she tells Shukan Shincho. "What I do remember was how interesting it was to hear him try to speak Japanese. He would turn to me and say, "Good morning, ****, using a four-letter word for female genitalia. But we had no physical relationship. There was a 42-year difference in our ages, and he had been warned by his doctor that his body could not tolerate sex, as the excitement might stop his heart." 

"When gossipy articles began appearing about how Henry was seeing a Japanese woman, some of his fans got quite excited," she added. "You see, a sentence in 'Tropic of Cancer' went, 'What about the dream I had on November 14 of last year?' Well it so happened that November 14 is also my birthday. So people began talking about how he had prophesied his meeting me, and it created something of a stir." 

"He was a person with a cosmological, universal perspective," Hoki recalls. "Events on the earth, when viewed from space, seem small and trivial. In his writings he would mock these with a sneer; I loved it when he did that."  

Miller died of heart failure in June 1980. 

"The last time I met him was just before he died," she recalls. He came to see me at Sanbankan, a bar I had opened in Los Angeles. I could see that he had deteriorated physically and he only stayed for a short time. I wish we could have talked longer. That's something I'll always regret." 

 Among Miller's works in Japanese is "Henrii Miraa no Rabu Retaa: Hoki Tokuda e no Ai to Nikushimi no Kiroku" -- a book of letters to his ex-wife published by Kodansha two years after his death.

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I grew up on an Air Force base and around 1961 I think it was, the Protestant chaplain had requested my friend's father to obtain a copy of "Tropic of Cancer" on his behalf. My friend found the book hidden in his dad's socks drawer and sneaked it out of the house and read some of the juicer passages to us. Really brings back memories. Miller's books were decidedly dirty --- by the criteria of those times --- but he presented sex with humor and elan so it was delightful to read. It kind of strains my imagination, though, to imagine how works like "Sexus" would read in Japanese. Maybe I should try to hunt down a copy. Guess the National Diet Library is probably not the right place to look for it.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

The whole idea of 'sexually dirty' and shouldn't be seen by children or simple minded adults seems even more insane when the mindless mass murder of women and children is in the public press daily and available to the youngest and most vulnerable minds. We restrict knowledge of our most basic behavior on this planet, reproduction, from our children but steep them in our most bestial behavior, the violent mass murders of those disobedient to our Masters. Ah, Human priorities, when seen by a 'rational' mind, perhaps "a mind looking down from space", would be an absolute hoot if they did not demonstrate so graphically our absolute primitiveness and inability to see ourselves as we so sadly are...

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The whole idea of 'sexually dirty' and shouldn't be seen by children

@William,

I've always thought the idea of keeping sexual content out of the view of children was to protect us adults from embarrassing situations. Who wants to be asked by their kids, "Do you and mummy do that?".

If kids want to watch dirty stuff, they should do it out of sight of their parents.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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