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The Man-made Baby

What is science to love? “The Man-made Baby” (1928) is Hirabayashi Hatsunosuke’s answer to this quandary. In the early twentieth century, science offered a host of new words to describe the experience of being caught up in love. Is love best described in the words of seismology—as an earthquake? As an electrical jolt? A mysterious perfume? Is science even adequate to the task at hand? Inquiring minds want to know.

Hirabayashi investigates this question in the sympathetic story of a moga, a modern girl living in 1920s Tokyo. Fusako is steeped in urban culture and yearns for the new new thing. She falls for and clashes with a cool, collected and very married scientist as they jointly investigate the “black box” of love.

“The Man-made Baby” is the first popular work in Japanese to place the theme of a robot at its center. The robot, translated more precisely as “artificial human,” is a scientific enigma that poses the questions, “what is love to science?” as well as “what is science to love?” Hirabayashi’s story is a rare treatment of the modern girl as a creature of conflict— not quite vamp or siren, not quite feminist icon, she crosses a number of lines that lead her into an unchartered future...

About the author

Hirabayashi (1892-1931) was a leading journalist and critic in 1920s-30s Tokyo. He had a special passion for the independent cultures of working people, and for women’s rights—a startlingly bold position for his day. Although he is known as a journalist, a writer on Hollywood’s long shadow in Japan, his short stories drawing on cinema genres such as melodrama are less known. “The Man-made Baby” was published in one of the most popular and genre-bending venues of its day, Shin seinen, or New Youth, a monthly magazine that gave a home to modern detective stories, gothic fiction, and the budding genre of science fiction.

About the translator

Anne McKnight teaches about Japanese and American lit, film and food systems at Shirayuri College in Tokyo.

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