Larry Knipfing: Self-Innovation in Japan

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Yokohama, Japan-based English language Guru, photographer, old school wordmonger, and self-publisher, Larry Knipfing, is a jack of all trades and a master of many. Lately he’s likely to be found maniacally indulging his new sonic obsession. If he’s not busily tightening up a steady lasso of cranking sonic loops on the DIY music site, Reverb Nation, then he’s busily beefing up an ever-growing catalogue of E-publishing. “I’ve also written a lot recently, for an online magazine, DivineCaroline,” he mentions with a certain sense of satisfaction. “It’s rare for me to write non-fiction, but I’m really enjoying it.” Foremost, stands his fascinating knack for spinning a tale. His first book, the independently published work, The Shyest Man in Japan, is clear proof of his dedication to his beloved art form. Twenty years in the making, this book is a collection of truly unique, Japanese themed, short fictional pieces.

Larry is surprisingly candid with criticisms about the book. “I regret now including the five short-short pieces in the middle of the book.” Aspiring self-publishers could do well to note. “They are not indicative of the total content, but people tend to read them first (and sometimes only) because one of them contains the book’s title.” Another regret: The back cover blurb. “I wish now that the stories had been called quirky, not typical or essential.” Whilst quite happy to kick himself in the butt over creative mishaps, damned if he’s going to let anyone else do it. At least not without due cause. “The frustrating experience” of receiving a bad review from David White at Japan, understandably had him on the defensive. “He [White] completely misrepresents what the book is about, and the essential happy-go-lucky nature of the stories.” White, while busily dissecting what he perceived as the book’s failure to live up to its cover gloss, seems to have neglected a genuine, in-depth appraisal of its contents in their own right. (Perhaps not an uncommon complaint about literary critics.) “The thing that bothered me was that it was obvious that he had not read the book at all.” However, David’s review wasn’t all venom and bile. He did seem measurably impressed by the story, “Survivors of Mt. Obasute,” as “an engaging tale,” of the sort depicted by Imamura Shohei’s Cannes-award winning film, “The Ballad of Narayama,” about the ancient Japanese custom of abandoning the elderly members of villages in the mountains, in order to ensure the community’s survival.

Knipfing, despite the fact that he is an American born, former Long Island, “Nu Yoiker,” should be considered well qualified to comment on the secret life of the “Land of the Rising Sun,” from a Western perspective. After graduating from SUNY Buffalo, he packed his bags for Japan in 1980, and has been there ever since. Twenty eight years and 1000 plus Japanese Kanji characters later, lingo swami Larry should at least qualify as semi-native, or to some degree, undeserving of the Japenese term ”Gaigokujin,” meaning foreigner. “I came to Japan and liked the people. So I decided to stay. I also like the fact that it’s the safest place in the world to live. Very stress-free.” 

It is for such reasons, that Japan is perhaps one of the most symbolic objects, in terms of the West’s fascination with Asian culture. The book responds to this attraction in a deeply penetrating, yet highly accessible and often humorous fashion. Yet it does so without stereotyping or over-mystifying. It has all the rationale of keen social observation, but at times presents the poetic quality of an enduring love affair with Japan and its culture. However, suggestions of even a passing shade of contemporary wrought influence from the ghostly reminisces of famous Western Japanese cultural commentator, Patrick Lafcadio Hearn, are staunchly refuted. “My influences are basically non-Japanese. Just good writing wherever it exists. But, I would like to say, that Hearn is definitely not an influence. Why? He’s not a fiction writer. He just collected stories and embellished them a bit. But nothing he did were his own ideas.” While Hearn’s line between artistic form and social commentary seems contentious, The Shyest Man in Japan’s appeal, rests unequivocally in its status as a collection of singularly original fictional pieces.

As Larry’s brush with unforgiving criticism illustrates, the path to innovative fictional story telling is not for the faint-hearted. He has taken on a bigger challenge than most. “Being in Japan makes it very difficult to reach people in the publishing business in the U.S.” However, he remains optimistic. “We’ll see what happens with my next book.

With an Edo Period adventure novella called Crow, The King of Sumo, a sex comedy called “Shunga Tales,” and a collection of short stories about Helen Keller in Japan in the works, indications are that Loopmaster Larry will be cranking up the volume on his next set more than just a little.

The Shyest Man in Japan is self-published through IUniverse and distributed through Amazon Books.

By Lee Neale


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