In 1926 a new shipping route was established between Durban and Osaka, on which Laurens van der Post and William Plomer, fresh from their collaboration as writers for the literary magazine Voorslag, embarked as privileged passengers. The opportunity to reside in Japan would exercise a profound influence over the literary output of both figures, though in considerably different ways. This article revisits the 1926 sojourn in Japan as a formative moment in the lives of two South African writers that would subsequently be reformed, and to some extent deformed in their writings following the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in August 1945. Though the sojourn itself deserves restitution to the annals of South African literary history, its true value, the author argues, does not lie in enlarging our understanding of literary trends associated with the interwar years so much as isolating the specific challenges and transmutations those self-same trends underwent in the aftermath of the atomic holocaust. As each writer struggled to reformulate his subjectivity, a prophetic mode of writing became increasingly central as a framing device by which Hiroshima could be “contained” and “approached” from afar. The events of 1926, along with van der Post's experience of imprisonment under the Japanese during the war years, were mobilized in the authorial imagination to serve that purpose.

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