This novel is a superb concoction of several themes which affected the Japanese nation after the Second World War and how some characters in particular especially those Japanese who opted to leave their ravaged country and search for a new life abroad. The autobiographical sense of the novel is also an intrinsic part of it as Endo was actually the first Japanese to study abroad after the war and that surely changed his life. However the most important part of the book, at least to my knowledge is the continual conflict between Japanese culture and the influx of other western cultures which threaten to permeate the land in their diversity. The invasion of these cultures especially Christian ones is a central theme of the novel
Hasekura Rokuemon is in a sense the reincarnation of the author with his life and his values. He is motivated by the will to succeed and move on to greater things, something which is intrinsically fitted into the Japanese psyche. By going abroad to study, he is broadening his mind to other cultures and attempting to get to grips with the changes that are affecting his life (p 50). One cannot say that he really gets what he wants in the end as he remains rather empty handed although he also changes greatly through the course of the novel in a positive way as he does not remain closed into the Japanese society as one might imagine (p 53). Endo skillfully intersperses other themes in the book with regards to Rokeuemon especially his sense of loneliness and unhappiness whilst abroad.
Looking at the aspect from a different direction, one must note that everything moves forward accordingly without much contrasts and consolations
The contrast with Father Velasco could not be too great as this person is attempting to convert the Japanese to Christianity yet he also has his own personal thoughts and conflicts to deal with which are not unsubstantial in any way (p 57). You could say that Fr Velasco is an antagonist as he creates tension and negativity with his heavy handed attitude and in the end has to leave the country. However he also returns in a final last ditch effort to instill the faith in the place’s inhabitants but his success even here is rather limited. Fr Velasco does not really change in the course of the novel as he remains steadfast and intrinsically stubborn but he is still an important part of the whole book plot and as such must be treated with importance (p 61).
The major theme of the book which one might assess is the fact that Japan was a changing nation after the war. The old traditions had vanished and a new world order was being established with an industrialized Japan very much part of it. In this context, Endo’s novel moves forward with a constant interplay between the main characters who struggle to find their place within this new order. Of course nothing is easy at first but after a while everyone becomes accustomed to this new way of life and even benefits from it (p 100). This is the main theme of the novel in that sense.
Endo’s novel is a masterful combination of the past with the future and through his character studies he manages to achieve a realistic portrait of what it was like to be a Japanese after the Second World War.