After the 1923 earthquake, the famous park was a charred wasteland, the Twelve-Story Tower no more than a ruined stump, and the opera palaces were rubble. It was thought by some that the statue of a famous Kabuki actor striking a heroic pose had held off the approaching flames.
(The temple did not survive the American bombs, however, and had to be reconstructed.) And yet, fleeting as its pleasures may have been, Asakusa could not stay down for long.
Like many artists in the 1920s, Kawabata was interested in detective fiction and Caligarism is often marked by a fascination with violent crime.
The use of slang and the references to popular culture of the time must have made The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa extremely difficult to translate, and Alisa Freedman has done an superb job, even though the full flavor of the original can never be fully reproduced.
That is the elegiac charm of this district in the east of Tokyo, flanking the Sumida River, the scene of the newly translated novel by Kawabata Yasunari, written in the late 1920s.
This testifies to the high-mindedness of the Japanese press—almost unthinkable in our age of Murdoch—but also to the willingness of the Japanese public to accept avant-garde literature in a popular newspaper; it probably helped that the avant-garde expressionism was mixed with accounts of Asakusa’s low life.
Mixing high and low is of course part of modernism.
The first movie houses in Japan also were in Asakusa, as was Tokyo’s first “skyscraper,” the Twelve-Story Tower, or Ryounkaku.
Soon the silent movies, accompanied by splendid storytellers known as benshi, were even more popular than music halls or theater, and Chaplin, Fairbanks, and Bow became the stars of Asakusa.