- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 9, 2003


A Japanese writer said Tuesday he was flattered to learn that passages from one of his books apparently found their way into Bob Dylan’s lyrics.

In the song “Floater” from his 2001 album, “Love and Theft,” Mr. Dylan croons: “My old man, he’s like some feudal lord, got more lives than a cat.” He also sings, “I’m not quite as cool or forgiving as I sound,” and then, “Sometimes somebody wants you to give something up, And tears or not, it’s too much to ask.”

On Page 6 of Junichi Saga’s book “Confessions of a Yakuza,” the protagonist recalls: “My old man would sit there like a feudal lord.” Later, he says: “I’m not as cool or forgiving as I might have sounded.” On Page 182, he says: “Tears or not, though, that was too much to ask.”

It was unclear if Mr. Dylan intentionally lifted any material. A publicist in New York City from Mr. Dylan’s record label, Columbia Records, said the musician could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

A month ago, Mr. Saga, 62, a physician who has written 15 books, had no more than a vague idea of the legendary singer-songwriter.

“I had heard his name before, but I wasn’t familiar with his music,” Mr. Saga said in a telephone interview from his home in Tsuchiura. “I’m ecstatic that such an influential singer was inspired by what I wrote.”

Mr. Saga, whose 1989 book “Confessions of a Yakuza” appeared in English in 1991, said he first heard about the similarities between his work and Mr. Dylan’s about a month ago from a reporter from the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the story Tuesday.

The practitioner of Chinese medicine said the revelation was surprising.

“My book hasn’t even sold that well, and it’s out of print in Japan,” Mr. Saga said. He estimates the book, which was also translated into German, French and Portuguese, earned him about 1 million yen, or $8,475.

“Confessions” details the story of Eiji Ijichi, a former gangster whose life of crime, gambling and prostitution in pre-World War II Japan was also full of loneliness and hardship. Mr. Ijichi shared his memories with Mr. Saga before dying of cancer.

“It’s about a different Japan than the one we see nowadays. This was a man who lived a hard life,” Mr. Saga said.

In May, www.dylanchords. com, a Web site devoted to Mr. Dylan’s chords and lyrics, posted a note from Chris Johnson, a resident of Kitakyushu on Japan’s southernmost main island. Mr. Saga confirmed that the passages on the site come from his book.

Mr. Dylan, 62, has been known to sprinkle references to literature, art and other sources in his songs. His edgy and sarcastic protest songs captured the mood of America’s disenfranchised youth during the early years of the Vietnam War and the civil rights struggles.

Mr. Saga said he harbors no ill feelings toward Mr. Dylan.

He has told his publisher, Tokyo-based Kodansha International, that while he would prefer to be credited as a source for Mr. Dylan’s songs, he has “absolutely no plans to sue.” There are no plans for a reprinted edition, either.

“Why would I sue? To take something that made people around the world happy and try to exploit it for money — that’s poverty,” Mr. Saga said.

Two weeks ago, Mr. Saga, who prefers classical music, bought his first Dylan CD, “The Best of Bob Dylan.”

“I remembered that I had heard ‘Blowing in the Wind’ in the 1960s on the radio,” he said, adding that he has come to admire Mr. Dylan’s deep, sobering lyrics.

“This shows that people in other countries can relate to the harsh realities of prewar Japan, which was a poor, struggling nation,” he said. “I’m just happy someone read my book and liked it.”

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