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Unno Jūza

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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Pseudonym of author Shōichi Sano (1897-1949), sometimes rendered as Jūzō Unno, regarded along with Shunrō Oshikawa as one of the "founding fathers" of science fiction in Japan. He also published several works of nonfiction as by Kyūjūrō Oka, among other pen-names. A graduate in electrical engineering from Waseda University, Unno's first sale was the scientific detective story "Denkifuro no Kaishi Jiken" ["The Case of the Mysterious Death in the Electric Bath"] (April 1928 Shinseinen). Sf in pre-war Japan was generally regarded as a subset of detective fiction, leading much of Unno's early work to take the form of Young Adult mysteries. As the name implies, his recurring protagonist Sōroku Homura was conceived in imitation of Sherlock Holmes, although Homura was merely one of several Unno Scientist heroes.

Typical of his early period is "Shindoma" ["The Demon of Vibration"] (November 1931 Shinseinen), a complex murder mystery in which a married man attempts to induce a miscarriage in his defiantly pregnant mistress by rigging an outhouse with a high-frequency sonic resonator. However, the scientist he hires sets up the Machine in the knowledge that it is also likely to kill his patron, which it duly does, in a sequence of events only deduced after the fact by a canny investigator.

Unno was at his most prolific in the 1930s, an era that saw the rapid expansion of Japan into the puppet state of Manchukuo (Manchuria) and further incursions into sovereign Chinese territory (see Imperialism). "Jūhachi-ji no Ongaku-yoku" ["The Music Bath at 1800 Hours"] (April 1937 Modern Nippon) depicts a future Utopia in which citizens must endure a thirty-minute sonic broadcast every evening, spurring them to work harder (see Basilisks). A mordant Satire of Japan's increasingly militaristic popular culture, it presents a world in which smoking and drinking are illegal, hobbies are frowned upon, and citizens are expected to give their all for the good of the State. Citizens are left so apathetic by the "music baths" that they barely notice a presidential coup, and prove powerless to resist an Invasion by Martians that is only held off by a heroic professor with an army of Androids.

Unno was drafted by Japan's Navy Ministry to write sf propaganda. With awful irony, he was hence co-opted into the very engines of oppression that he had formerly lampooned, in an increasingly censorious environment where many of his former works would have been banned. There is an allusion to such Orwellian turnabouts in his "Tokkyo Tawan Ningen Hōshiki" ["Patent for a Multi-Armed Man"] (1941 venue unknown), a Kafkaesque story in which a would-be inventor is constantly thwarted by bureaucrats, until he realizes that they are only interested in the military applications of his idea. Dutifully, Unno allegorized Japan's resource crisis and quest for lebensraum in "Kasei Heidan" ["Mars Corps"] (September 1939-December 1940 Osaka Mainichi Shinbun), in which the imminent impact of a Comet causes Earth governments to assemble a force to invade Mars. Sometime around 1940, Unno also wrote the Future War story "Nisennen Sensō" ["War in the Year 2000"] (in Unno Jūza Zenshū 7: Chikyū Yōsai, coll 1989) in which the names of real-world countries were replaced with those of symbolic Ruritanias, including Akaguma ["Red Bear"] and Ine Teikoku ["Rice Empire"]. "Ei Hondo Jōriku Sakusen no Zenya" ["The Eve of the Invasion of the British Mainland"] (February 1941 Shinseinen) inadvertently rehashes many of the stereotypes of Yellow Peril fiction. Its protagonist, the Chinese agent Fo Tianqing, is a recently paroled prisoner who commences undercover operations in Liverpool, London and Grimsby in the aftermath of the British retreat from Dunkirk.

Unno's propaganda publications began before Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor elided Asian expansionism into World War Two proper, and continued until December 1944, when food and paper shortages left readers and writers with other priorities. Among many other stories, he published eleven Edisonades in Shinseinen magazine, in which the scientist hero Professor Kin helps the Japanese war effort by tinkering with submarines, Poison gas and other Inventions. Kin's name ambiguously implies that he is Chinese or Korean, and hence a willing collaborator in Japan's imperialist land-grab, beginning with "Noronoro Hōdan no Kyōi" ["Miracle of the Dawdling Bullet"] (1941 Shinseinen), and finishing with "Kyōyaku Kaitendan" ["The Conjugated Ricochet"] (1944 Shinseinen).

From November 1944 to June 1947, Unno kept a private journal of the harrowing last days of the war and its aftermath, published long after his death as Unno Jūza Haisen Nikki ["Jūza Unno's Defeat Diary"] (1971). The book delivers a haunting picture of an author who is both elated and terrified at sf made real in the days before and after Hiroshima. Although crushed by the destruction of the Japan he had known for much of his adult life, his output continued undaunted into the US Occupation period, with tales of space exploration and exercises in optimistic Futures Studies, including "Sanjūnengo Tōkyō" ["Tokyo in 30 Years"] (October 1947 Shōnen Yomiuri) and "Sanjūnengo Sekai" ["The World in 30 Years"] (March 1948 Shōnen Yomiuri).

Presumably due to wartime shortages and postwar stigma, remarkably few of Unno's sf works seem to have been collected in volume form during his lifetime. Hence, the Checklist below lists the Unno Jūza Zenshū ["Jūza Unno Complete Works"] (1988-1993), which includes several previously unpublished stories and two volumes of essays and diaries, alongside the easier-to-find but less comprehensive three-volume Unno Jūzō Kessakusen ["Jūza Unno Masterworks"] (2002).

Without a doubt, Unno's fiction was a powerful influence on the generation of writers who grew up in the 1930s and 1940s, including Shinichi Hoshi, Yasutaka Tsutsui and Sakyō Komatsu. His exuberant championing of twentieth-century Japan's manifest destiny is a fascinating alternative direction in that country's genre fiction; sometimes we might discern echoes of it in the Kishin Heidan series (1990-94) of Masaki Yamada, or buried beneath the allegories of certain Anime, particularly Top o Nerae (1988), which was produced while Unno's war stories were being reprinted in the late 1980s. [JonC]

Shōichi Sano

born Tokushima, Japan: 26 December 1897

died 17 May 1949

works (selected)


Complete Works


Science: Hopes & Fears (translations)


See also the last two volumes of Complete Works above.


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