Letters from renowned writers, including Rampo, kept at high school

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A message on grid-lined writing paper sent by Edogawa Rampo

MATSUE — A high school in Oda, Shimane Prefecture, received correspondence from dozens of renowned writers of the 20th century, including mystery author Edogawa Rampo and novelist Naoya Shiga, it has been revealed.

The literary figures sent handwritten notes with encouraging messages for students.

A total of 39 letters and postcards penned by 37 writers have been kept at Shimane Prefectural Oda High School. They were sent to students at the school in response to their requests.

So many writers interacting with high school students is unheard of, according to one expert.

“Imaginary experience is even more real than actual real experience.”

This was written on a sheet of grid-lined writing paper sent by Rampo, a founding figure in the Japanese mystery genre. It is possible that Rampo reworded a phrase he often wrote for his fans — “This world is a dream and the dream we see at night is the truth” — to make it easier for high school students to understand. The envelope was postmarked Oct. 2, 1961, when Rampo was 66.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A postcard from novelist Naoya Shiga, which reads, “I’d like to decline your request.”

According to the school, members of a library club planned an exhibition of writers’ autographs for the school’s cultural festival in 1961, marking the 40th anniversary of its foundation. The students mailed request letters with the help of a then commercially available book that listed writers’ addresses. They received replies from writers one after another.

The exhibition later became a regular event, and the students continued to send similar requests. Confirmed postmarks range from Sept. 12, 1961, to Sept. 23, 1971.

The 39 letters and postcards were kept in a wooden box in the school’s library, and for many years only the librarians knew about them. One librarian revealed their existence when the school, which celebrated its centennial in April this year, asked its staff and others for ideas to promote the school during the summer.

Other senders included Haruo Sato, who served as a member of the selection committee for the Akutagawa Prize, and Shugoro Yamamoto, who has a literary prize named after him. Toyoko Yamasaki, known for novels such as “Shizumanu Taiyo” (The never-setting sun) wrote, “We human beings wander as long as we strive to do something,” calling it “my favorite phrase.”

Some people used unique expressions to turn down — or seemingly turn down — the students’ requests. Rokusuke Ei, a lyricist and TV personality, wrote, “I hate words like ‘celebrities’ and ‘cultural figures,’ so I can’t help you.”

“Ei, however, replied in his own handwriting [albeit not with the requested message], so I think he wanted to tell the high school students that there are different types of adults,” Tatsushi Sakai, vice principal of the school, said. “It’s an asset of our school that encourages our students.”

“The request to ‘write whatever you want’ in order to exhibit autographs may have been a low hurdle for the writers,” said Nobuaki Takeda, a professor of modern Japanese literature at Shimane University, who examined the letters and postcards at the school’s request. “Both the writers who replied and the students who wrote letters to them — even though it must have seemed impossible to get replies — are amazing,” he said.

The school did not display the writers’ letters and other materials at the centennial anniversary ceremony held in October, and there are no plans to open them to the public.