Japanese writers’ interest in black people and black culture heightened in the early 1960s due to: the Civil Rights Movement, the Emergency Meeting of the Permanent Bureau of Afro-Asian Writers held in Tokyo, and the prevalence of modern jazz. Kijima Hajime (1928-2004) was one of the leading translators of “Black literature” (kokujin-bungaku), also known as “Negro literature” at the time, currently called “African American literature”.
Kijima was a poet and extensively translated African American literature. He translated Du Bois’ (1868-1963) autobiography as early as 1951. Only from the late 1950s did most writers begin to pay close attention to “Black literature”. Its popularity gained momentum in Japan in 1961 when The Collective Works of Black Literature (kokujin-bungaku-zenshū) was published by Hayakawa Publishers. Even from the planning stages, Kijima played a central role in editing the anthology.
Why was Kijima so heavily involved in promoting “Black literature”? One key reason is that, as a poet, his primary focus was on oppressed working people. “Black literature” shaped his writing style, as well as other literary movements that debated the future of Japanese people after the Allied occupation of Japan at the end of World War Ⅱ. His poetry was affected by ordinary people and folk rhetoric as well as the rhythm of their music, including jazz. His empathy for working people breathed life into his translation of “Black literature.” His literary philosophy deeply impacted and, in turn, was also shaped by his translation work.