John Abbott the Box Man

Topics: Japan, Capitalism, Novel Pages: 3 (847 words) Published: April 15, 2013
Born in Tokyo, 1924, Kobo Abe grew up in the Japanese colony of Manchuria. In 1948, he received a medical degree from Tokyo Imperial University, but instead, went on to become one of Japan’s best known modern novelists. His novel The Box Man (originally published as 箱男, 1973), one of his most famous works, is a powerful metaphor about the high-speed economic growth in 1960s Tokyo, and the problems arising from it.The novel begins with the first of many images, a photographic negative showing the figure of a man. Beside this image is what appears to be a newspaper clipping with the headline, “CLEAN SWEEP OF UENO HOBOS- Check This Morning-180 Arrests”. The clipping relates a police round-up of hobos caught ironically, “behind the Tokyo Institute of Culture.” After processing by the police, they were “released after signing an agreement not to relapse into vagrancy. An hour later there was every indication that almost all had returned to their former haunts,”The beginning is a commentary on what Abe sees as the hypocritical governmental response to poverty and suffering. Abe explains that “since [a box man] is not especially uncommon, there is every opportunity of seeing one. Surely, even you have, at least once. But I also realize full well that you don’t want to admit it. You’re not the only one,” (page 8). The box man is a metaphor for the downtrodden. The averting of gaze can be read in this context as a commentary on society’s apathy, and government lip-service.

But the box metaphor has a clever double meaning. As the protagonist explains, he is a box man by choice. Why would anyone choose to live in a box? The box is a metaphor for the capitalist dream. As unappealing as living in a box may seem, someone is always trying to buy or steal the box from the protagonist, through overt force, cunning, and seduction, the contest over the box is a theme throughout the novel. The protagonist writes, “Just as there are almost no more people who are afraid of shots,...
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