By Masashi Hojo

(After Darkness is Nikkei Australia member Christine Piper’s award winning debut novel. The Japanese translation by Masashi Hojo was released in August 2023)

In December 2010, I was visited by Christine Piper, a doctoral student of creative arts at the University of Technology in Sydney. She told me that she had been in Osaka for Japanese language training and was introduced to me by a Japanese university specialist and decided to visit Kochi just before returning to Japan. The topic of her doctoral dissertation was on Japanese who were engaged in pearl oyster (white-lipped pearl oyster) harvesting in Australia and interned during the war, and I handed her copies of several documents I had.

My background is in natural science chemistry, and overseas immigration was of course not my area of expertise, but I had a personal interest in the subject and had a relatively large amount of related materials. My father had worked as a pearl diver in Broome, Western Australia before the war, but when the Pacific War broke out in December 1941, he was detained and incarcerated as soon as he stepped ashore from the sea. After the war, in 1955, he went to Broome again and spent a total of 29 years in Australia. During that time, he worked consistently for Streeter & Male for 25 years, except for the time he was interned at Hay Camp. Despite being a small town, Broome is mentioned on world maps and globes.

This book describes the anguish and conflict experienced by a doctor at the Japanese hospital in Broome before the war, when he was forced into the Loveday internment camp in South Australia. There, the darkness he had been involved with in Japan, which had been sealed away in his mind, suddenly comes back to life. He was an extremely talented doctor and researcher born in Tokyo, and because of his abilities, he was selected as a researcher for the quarantine laboratory established at the Army Medical School in Toyama, Shinjuku, and ended up helping the Quarantine and Water Supply Department of the Kanto Military Forces to develop biological weapons.

Ishii Shiro, who commanded Unit 731 of the Quarantine and Water Supply Department of the Kanto Army, was ‘known as an outstanding microbiologist who gave up a promising career as a doctor to devote his life to research’, according to the book. He commissioned a university laboratory to develop a method of producing drinking water, even from urine, to ensure the survival of the army. I was once told that he actually drank the resulting prototype water and said, ‘This is good’.

This book is completely fictional in its portrayal of the main character, a Japanese doctor named Tomokazu Ibaraki. Viewed in its entirety, it can be seen as a love story involving a young, talented nun who served as a nurse in a Japanese hospital. However, the unfolding of the many events that take place in Broome and the Loveday camp draws the reader in like a clever mystery novel. What did the author, Christine Piper, really want to say most through this book?

In 2014, Christine Piper sent me a copy of After Darkness signed by her, with my name in Chinese characters on the first page. The book was then sent to my parents’ house, where it was almost forgotten, but suddenly, after nearly a decade of sealed storage, it melted away and reappeared before my eyes. Whatever the author’s intentions were, I became obsessed with the delusion that I was the only one who could translate this book into Japanese and bring it to the open world, and I decided to translate and publish it.

I asked Associate Professor Yuriko Yamauchi of Tokyo University of Foreign Studies to review the translation. She is a specialist in cultural anthropology and ethnology, and has been studying indigenous Australians and immigrants with Broome as one of her research field bases. My interaction with her began when we met at a meeting at the Institute of Australian Studies, Otemon Gakuin University. She pointed out my incomplete interpretation of the English text, simple mistakes, omissions, and many other inadequacies I had committed, and corrected them. Professor Emeritus Takehiko Seto of Kochi University, a German literature professor, corrected unnatural Japanese sentences throughout the manuscript and showed me the correct German pronunciation and meaning. I would like to thank Mr Kyosuke Sato of the editorial department of Kadensha for his great help in publishing the book. I would like to express my gratitude to them all.

From Translator’s Afterword, written in Japanese.

Professor Masahi Hojo (Photo supplied)

Christine Piper’s response

In June 2023, I learnt that a publisher in Japan was interested in releasing a translation of my debut novel, After Darkness, nine years after it first came out in Australia and New Zealand. I was intrigued and delighted. It’s rare for foreign rights to be sold so long after the initial release. (My Australian publisher had tried to sell foreign rights in the months after my book’s release, but although they’d had some interest from Japan, they received no formal offers.)

Although it caught me by surprise, the offer from the Japanese publisher couldn’t have come at a better time. I’d just been made redundant from a job I loved, and was feeling low. I’d booked a writing retreat to help me refocus on my second novel, which I’d been working on for more than seven years. Writing a novel is a long and lonely road; add caring for children and the demands of other work commitments into the mix, and it can seem like a journey without end. Getting the email about selling the Japanese translation rights for my first novel (while I was on the writing retreat) was like a sign from the universe to keep going.

The mystery of how my novel sold to a Japanese publisher took some weeks to unravel. With the help of my mother who translated many emails into Japanese, I contacted the Japanese publisher, Kadensha, who revealed that the publication of After Darkness in Japan was largely thanks to the translator, Masashi Hojo. According to them, he took on my novel as a passion project and, after translating the manuscript, approached them to publish it. It was some days before I realised this Masashi Hojo was the same man I’d met in Japan 14 years earlier! Back then, I’d been corresponding with him using an email address that no longer works. He tried to contact me via my website in April 2023 to tell me that he’d found a publisher in Japan, but at that stage I was a busy mum working full-time, so unfortunately the message went unread.

I’m deeply grateful to Professor Hojo for championing my book and for the many hours he spent translating it. Without him, the book might not have ever been released in Japan. I’m also pleased that he “became obsessed” about translating After Darkness. As an author, that kind of response is what we live for – especially in this era of social media and the proliferation of screen content, when some people are foretelling the death of the written word.

In answer to Professor Hojo’s question of what I most wanted to say through the book: it came about organically, distilled during the five years I spent writing it – but it boils down to this: I wanted to address the continued silence surrounding both the internment of Japanese civilians in Australia during the 1940s and the atrocities committed in East Asia by Dr Ishii Shiro, the leader of Unit 731. In essence, I was fascinated by how an essentially good person such as Doctor Ibaraki had the capacity to facilitate acts of evil.

My sincerest thanks go to Professor Masashi Hojo, Associate Professor Yuriko Yamauchi, Professor Takehiki Seto, Kyosuke Sato (the editor at Kadensha who acquired my novel), Sandra Buol, the rights manager at Allen & Unwin, and my parents (especially my mother) – for their unbridled enthusiasm and for telling all their acquaintances in Japan about the release of my novel.

Author Christine Piper (Photo supplied)

After Darkness is set during the 1930s and 40s, and looks at the experience of people of Japanese descent who were interned as enemy aliens at Loveday internment camp in South Australia. It also touches upon Japan’s biological warfare program in East Asia. 

The Japanese translation 暗闇の後で is available at Amazon Japan

Other stories about After Darkness by Christine Piper:

Nikkei Australia member Christine Piper’s novel published in Japanese

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