Earnest Hoberecht

The journalist who wanted to fly

By William Wetherall

First posted 15 August 2006
Last updated 5 September 2006

Jacket and spine of Tokyo romansu
Japanese edition, October 1946
Drawn by Foujita Tsuguharu (1886-1968)
Cover of Tokyo romansu
Japanese edition, October 1946
Drawn by Togo Seiji (1897-1978)
Jacket of Tokyo Romance
English edition, copyright 1947
Asia is my beat
First edition, 1961

Tokyo Romance

Aanesto Hooburaito [Earnest Hoberecht]
Tokyo romansu [Tokyo Romance]
Translated by Okubo Yasuo [Yasuo Okubo]
Tokyo: Kobarutosha [The Cobalt Co.], 1946
229 pages, softcover with jacket (Kobaruto sosho)

Earnest Hoberecht
Tokyo Romance
New York: Didier, 1947
212 pages, hardcover

Fifty Famous Americans

Aanesto Hooburaito [Earnest Hoberecht]
Gendai Amerika jinbutsu den [Fifty Famous Americans]
Translated by Okubo Yasuo
Tokyo: Masu Shobo, September 1947

Asia Is My Beat

Earnest Hoberecht
Asia Is My beat
Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1961
199 pages, hardcover

Earnest Hoberecht (1918-1999) was, by all accounts, a character. He the sort of colorful journalist that don't come out of J schools. He was also a proud Oaklahoman and romantic who wanted very much to be a novelist.

For a few years in Japan right after the Pacific War -- until James Michener visited the country in the early 1950s and set the record straight -- many Japanese were under the impression that Hoberecht was another Hemingway, Faulkner, Lewis, Fitzgerald, or Buck.

Asked what he thought of Hoberecht, Michener told a gathering of college students that he had not been able to "keep up with the younger German writers" (Newsday, 1957). The audience laughed, and afterward a graduate student, who was writing a thesis to prove that Hoberecht was America's greatest novelist, told Michener he was surprised he didn't know that Hoberecht was an American.

Had Hoberecht (pronounced "hobright") not followed MacArthur to Japan at the end of the Pacific War as a United Press correspondent, the world would probably never have known about his aspirations to write fiction. As it is, the world, its memory mercilessly (or mercifully) short and selective, can barely recall Hoberecht's name, much less the titles of the two novels he published in Japanese -- the first of which outsold by a factor of ten its later English edition. The second, which Hoberecht had written much earlier and was prouder of, has never seen the light of day in English.

28 October 1946 Time review

Time Magazine reviewed Tokyo Romance in its 28 October 1946 issue. The review can be retrieved from TIME Archive on Time's website. I have also reproduced it here.

Nipponese Best-Seller

Posted Monday, Oct. 28, 1946

A United Press correspondent in Tokyo named Earnest Hoberecht had time on his hands. Nobody in Japan, he noted, had written a Hucksters, an Egg & I or an Amber for the postwar Japanese trade. He decided to do it himself.

Last week a Tokyo publisher brought out the result, a richly corned-up novel called Tokyo Romance. It had a U.S. correspondent for a hero, a Japanese movie queen for a heroine, a faint flavor of Madame Butterfly, a happy ending. Overnight, it became a bestseller: booksellers gobbled the first printing (100,000 copies), and yelled for more.

Author Hoberecht's plot was simple, sentimental and surefire: in captured Jap strongholds in the Pacific, War Correspondent Kent Wood found faded pin-up pictures of an almond-eyed cinema star (who looked a lot like Movie Actress Yetkiko [Yukiko] Todoroki, good friend of the author). Later, in Tokyo, they met and fell in love. But they had to woo in secret, for her studio forbade fraternization. When another correspondent was murdered by a former Nazi spy, Hero Kent Wood was suspect. His girl friend tossed away her chance for a big role by confessing that she was with him at the time of the murder. She was fired, married her American and they went honeymooning at Atami hot springs. A telegram came from her studio: in view of her "democratic sacrifice," all was forgiven, and the big role was hers after all. Fadeout.

Quivering Detail. Most of the action took place at the "Tokyo Correspondents' Club" at No. 1 Shimbun Alley, the official billet for foreign correspondents. Hoberecht got most of its residents, and even its houseboys, between his covers. Added attraction: some sensuous illustrations by Artist Tsuguharu Fujita, billed as the first kissing scenes ever to adorn a Japanese novel. Since Japanese are unaccustomed to Western-style embraces, Hoberecht went into what he calls "great, quivering detail." (To one hot-blooded chapter the publishers added a solemn subtitle: The Ethics of Kissing) Last week, as his royalties piled up from Tokyo Romance (240 pp., 18 yen or $1.20), Hoberecht was rolling in yen -- which he could not spend outside Japan. A publisher was hounding him for rights to an English-language edition. (Hoberecht wrote his book in English, got a Japanese friend to have it translated.) A Tokyo newspaper wanted to run the book as a serial, and two of Japan's three leading cinemakers were bidding for the screen rights. If he were asked to play the hero's role, said Hoberecht, he "probably wouldn't refuse." And he certainly would want to pick the leading lady.

From the Oct. 28, 1946 issue of TIME magazine

Todoroki Yukiko played Sayo in Kurosawa Akira's "Sugata Sanshiro" (1943) and "Zoku Sugata Sanshiro" (1945). She also appeared in Mizoguchi Kenji's "Musashino Fujin" (1951) and Ichikawa Kon's "Seishin kaidan" (1955), among films.

Perfect love story for early postwar Japan

Tokyo Romance reads more like a plea for ending taboos about mixed marriage than as a novel. It is so boring that one can't put it down -- simply out of curiosity about how an obviously competent writer of reportage handles plot and character.

The ultra simplicity of the story -- of true love between an American journalist with a jeep and Japan's most popular movie star -- makes it ideally suited as a guidebook for readers who want to know what American-style love is all about, at least in Japan.

As a result of the novel's popularity, Hoberecht became a celebrity. Another novel (see below), and a non-fiction work on famous Americans, were published in Japanese, and a number of men's and women's magazines asked him to contribute his views on Japanese and American love and marriage (see below).

Okubo Yasuo

Hoberecht's "plagiarist"

Hoberecht's partner in literary crime was Okubo Yasuo (1905-1987), a student of English literature and a translator, and one of Japan's most popular translators at the time. Okubo is most famous for for his translation of Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind (1936) as Kaze to tomo ni saranu in 1938 the year before the release of the movie.

James Michener, in a 1957 Newsday story about Hoberecht (see below), quoted Hoberecht as describing Okubo as "the young man in Tokyo who plagiarized Gone with the Wind. Very gifted boy. I employed him to work on my books, and all the skill he had applied to his plagiarism he applied to my work."

Edward Seidensticker has characterized translators as "counterfeiters" but "plagiarists" may be the more fitting metaphor.

Gone With the Wind

Gone With the Wind has been a screen, stage, and manga favorite in Japan since the end of the Pacific War.

Okubo translated Margaret Mitchell's 1936 novel as Kaze to tomo ni sarunu. This translation was published in three volumes by Mikasa Shobo in 1938, the year before the movie came out in the United States.

Kaze to tomo ni sarunu has been a staple in the repertoire of the all-female Takarazuka Revue since the company produced its first musical adatation of the story in 1977. Every production has been cast and arranged differently. In the first Takarazuka production, the main character was Rhett Butler, appropriately played by Haruna Yuri, the most popular star at the time, known for her strong male performances, and made up to look very much like Clark Gable, who got top billing in the film. But many later productions have cast the top star as Scarlett O'Hara, who is the main protagonist in the the novel.

Okubo's translation is still in print. It's publishing history is somewhat interesting.

In 1949 Mikasa reissued the translation in five volumes as the first work in the "Eibeihen" group of its "Gendai sekai bungaku" series. Only Okubo's names as given as translator.

In 1952 Mikasa put out a scenario of the movie with 16 pages of stills, showing Okubo Yasuso as the "supervising editor" (kanshu).

In 1953 Mikasa published Okubo's translation as a boxed two-volume "bekkan" (supplement) of its Gendai sekai bungaku zenshu.

In 1955 Mikasa published a boxed six-volume edition in "shinsho" (taller pocketbook) size, showing for the first time Takeuchi Michinosuke's name alongside Okubo's as translator.

In 1977 Mikasa released a three-volume version showing both Okubo Yasuo and Takeuchi Michinosuke as translators.

Grapes of Wrath

Okubo translated some of the most popular works of the most popular writers, including O'Henry, Ellery Queen, Agatha Christie, John Steinbeck (Grapes of Wrath), Daphne du Maurier (Rebecca), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain (Tom Sawyer), Vladimir Nabokov (Lolita), William Faulkner (The Wild Palms), Charlotte Bronte (Jane Eyre), Ernest Hemingway (The Sun Also Rise, Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls), Margaret Mitchell (Gone Withthe Wind), and Henry Miller (Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn), among others.

Okubo translated Grapes of Wrath (1939) as Ikari no budo [Graphs of wrath] (Hayakawa Shobo, 1967) -- fifteen years after he translated Shears of Destiny, Hoberecht's fictional effort to correct Steinbeck's images of Oaklahoma (see below).

Day of Infamy

Okubo also translated a few non-fiction works, including Walter Lord's Day of Infamy (1957). Hametsu no hi: Junigatsu yoka no Shinjuwan [Day of destruction: Pearl Harbor on December 8] (Hayakawa Shobo, 1957) came out in Japan the same year it became a bestseller in the United States.

Foujita's illustrations

The Japanese edition of Tokyo Romance includes nine full-page illustrations drawn by Foujita Tsuguharu (1886-1968). They are dispersed throughout the story but more frequently toward the end.

While encountered in the book while reading right to left, the pictures are shown here left to right. Though printed on yellowing pulp paper, the drawings are much sharper than they appear in these scans.

Image Image Image
Image Image Image
Image Image Image

Jacket of Unmei no hasami
Published in Japanese, April 1947
Drawn by Matsuno Kazuo (1895-1972)
Cover of Unmei no hasami
English cover hidden under jacket

Shears of Destiny

Aanesto Hooburaito [Earnest Hoberecht]
Unmei no hasami [Shears of Destiny]
Translated by Okubo Yasuo [Yasuo Okubo]
Tokyo: Kobarutosha [The Cobalt Co.], April 1947
286 pages, softcover with jacket

Hoberecht claims he was motivated to write Shears of Destiny as a refutation of the images John Steinbeck created of the "Okies" who leave Oaklahoma for California during the dust-bowl years of the Great Depression, in his novel The Grapes of Wrath (1939), which won him a Pulitzer Prize in 1940 and the Nobel Prize in 1962.

James Michener reports Hoberecht's account of how this novel came to be written in the 1957 Newsday interview he published after meeting Hoberecht in Japan (purple emphasis added).

My next novel [published in Japanese after Tokyo Romance] is probably the finest thing I ever did and I'm deeply sorry it had to be published in Japanese because it's a book Americans ought to read. It clears up some very misleading matters. It's called Shears of Destiny. I wrote it long before the war and couldn't find an American publisher, being then just an unknown, and it turned up in the box of old papers my father shipped me. I had it translated by the plagiarizer [Okubo Yasuo] right into Japanese without additional editing because it was a well constructed story just as I told it and I had already gone over it once when I sent it to the American publishers. The Japanese loved it and it made a lot of money. I think Americans would go for it, too, but now it's enshrined as a part of Japanese literature. In it I prove that the Okies written about by John Steinbeck didn't come from Oklahoma at all. They were mostly from Georgia, a very poor sort of people, with some useless Texa[n]s and some no-goods from Mississippi thrown in. They just happened to be passing through Oklahoma and if Steinbeck had taken the trouble to study the facts a little deeper he'd have realized that he wasn't writing about Okies at all but about these no-goods from other states. I'm not criticizing Steinbeck, you understand. Does no good for one literary man to knife another, but I did have to write this book to clear Oklahoma of the unfair stigma Steinbeck's book had cast upon my state. The harm done by one book like Steinbeck's outweighs all the good of a musical like Oklahoma.

Divine retribution

Some communities in the United States have at times banned Grapes of Wrath from libraries and schools and even made possession of the novel a crime. As soon as it was published, it was banned in Kern County, California, where much of the story is set.

By the time Hoberecht died in 1987, some scholars had begun to undermine the credibility of Grapes of Wrath as a work of social history, which is how is has usually been read in schools -- though for reasons unlike those Hoberecht gave Michener.

Steinbeck was not, however, the only one to embrace the images of Oaklahoma and Okies he disseminated in his novel. A number of contemporary works, like An American Exodus: A Record of Human Erosion (New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1939), a photographic essay by Dorothea Lange and Paul S. Taylor, cultivated the soil in which it was possible for Americans to read Grapes of Wrath as an accurate portrait of the times.

Earnest Hoberecht, as proud an Oaklahoman as was ever born, read it very differently.

Fujin seikatsu, December 1950
Fujin seikatsu, February 1951
Fujin seikatsu, July 1951
Fujin seikatsu, August 1951

Hoberecht as a media celebrity

Publishing, increasing suppressed for political reasons during the years leading up to World War II, and more heavy censored and constrained by paper shortages during the war, blossomed during the occupation and continues to flourish as in few other countries in the world. Television did not begin to spread until the mid 1950s, and so popular magazines, novels, and movies were the main sources of entertainment during the late 1940s and early 1950s.

To be continued.