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One who preferred Nettles: A Note on Tanizaki as a Novelist


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ONE WHO PREFERRED NETTLES (A Note on Tanizaki as Novelist)





No Japanese novelist in the twentieth century is perhaps more intimately linked in the popular imagination or even in the literate mind to the geography, the history, the culture and tradition of his country, to the national experience of his people in his own day and age than Tanizaki

Jun'ichiro. ,

No critic on either side of the Pacific basin, it seems, can write :fifty words about Tanizaki without mentioning the fact that after the 1923 Kanto earthquake he had abandoned the Bluff in Yokohama and moved to the Osaka area. This migration is always given the significance usually conferred upon such events as the Prophet's Hight to Medina or the Lord's entrance into Jerusalem. The argument is that the Tokyo area is the most Westernized part of Japan and Osaka, the most Japanese of Japanese cities.

Therefore, when Tanizaki migrated to Osaka, he had in effect forsaken what was Westernized and returned to the splendid traditions of his own culture.

From that point on, it is held, Tanizaki ceased to be just another writer.

He was transformed into a major novelist. To support this argument, it is pointed out that his pre-earthquake novels are inconsequential, being firmly based on literary ideas borrowed from the West, and the post-earthquake novels are important, being securely anchored in the cultural traditions of Japan.

The trouble with this argument, impressive though it appears, is that it is entirely based on a subjective evaluation of what Tanizaki had chosen to write about rather than on a critical examination of what he has written.

It ignores the fact that Tanizaki regards himself as a novelist and that he honestly works seriously at the art of the novel. His novels are taken into account only as so many case histories out of which some astonishing generalizations ought to be drawn. Inevitably, the consideration of his novels is usually limited to speculations regarding his ideas about women, men, Japanese culture, the "West," and such, as though he were a thinker, a sort of Japanese Bertrand Russell with unconventional notions about all kinds of things. Worst of all, he has been damned or praised for many things which have nothing whatsoever to do with his craft as a novelist or with his works as novels.



To the extent that this argument does not lead to a clear-cut appraisal of Tanizaki's worth as a novelist, it is specious. If he is to be judged at all, it must be in terms of the responsibility he took upon himself the day he turned his prodigious energies and his not inconsiderable talent to the writing of novels. This means that critical attention will have to be focussed on his success or lack of success as a novelist. In effect, this means that the proper objects of the critics' attention are the novels themselves. These should be examined on the basis of whether they stand as novels or not.


But, then, what is a novel? One answer which is still very much to the point in spite of its ancientness, is that which Murasaki Shikibu put in words spoken by Prince Genji in Genji monogatari. Its relevance is to the proper understanding of the novel as an art form, for it permits the novel to be considered as an object in itself to be examined and appraised on its own terms. Speaking to Tamakatsura whom he had come upon

"hardly able to lift her eyes from the book in front of her," Prince Genji states:

. . But I have a theozy of my own about what this art of the novel is, and how it came into being. To begin with, it does not simply consist in the author's telling a stozy about the adventures of some other person. On the contrazy, it happens because the stozy-teller's own experience of men and things, whether for good or ill-not only what he has passed through himself, but events which he has only witnessed or been told of- has moved him to an emotion so passionate that he can no longer keep it shut up in his heart. Again and again something in his own life or in that around him well seem to the writer so important that he cannot bear to let it pass into oblivion. There must never come a time, he feels, when men do not know about it. This is my view of how this art arose.1

This art of the novel, then, is the presentation of an emotion, and a novel is itself the externalization of this emotion.

In the context in which it occurs, "emotion" has a meaning which is so general, encompassing as it does not only "the story-teller's own experience of men and things" but "even events which he has only witnessed or been told of," that it is impossible not to understand the term in its broadest possible sense. It would, therefore, cover not only physical sensations like pain, comfort, excitement, and tranquility but also feelings as complex as intellectual tension, which inevitably go with the conscious life. The outer world impinging on the consciousness of a story-teller in the form of experi- ence personally undergone or witnessed or heard about from others produce this emotion. It is this emotion which the story-teller must snatch from

1 Arthur Waley, Tr., A Wreath of Cloud (London, Allen & Unwin, 1923), pp. 256-257.


ONE WHO PREFERRED NETTLES 3 oblivion that there may "never come a time ; . . when men do not know about it." And so he tells his story or writes his novel. It is in the story or the novel, then, that the emotion the author has so keenly felt is embedded and . preserved against oblivion.

There is nothing in Prince Genji's remarks which might lead to the notion that a novel or a story is symptomatic of an emotion, as tears are symptomatic of grief. Seeing tears trickling down another's checks will not lead one to a knowledge or even an understanding of that person's feelings.

The nearest one may get to that individual's grief is expressible in the pretty obvious statement: "The man is in pain." The most one may feel is pity but never that other person's grief. To know or understand this, one must be able to perceive it, and one does through the medium of the novel.

In this sense, the novel does not signify any particular emotion, for "to signify" is to refer to an external meaning. A novel articulates an emotion~

It formulates the objective appearance of an emotion. It is both the for- mulation and an instance of an emotion, presented for contemplation, recog'- nition, understanding.

It is this formulation, this articulation, of an emotion which the novelist creates. The fact that he uses words need not mislead anyone into thinking that a novel is an arrangement of words. Words are the materials which the novelist en1ploys to create his fictional elements. The elements are what he fashions to make his novel. The only purpose which words serve is the creation of the fiction, the illusion of experience, and the disclosure of the. appearance of life being lived so it evokes the significant emotion rather than the other ·emotions which form part of the work's elements.

Understood in this fashion, Prince Genji's theory of the art of the novel reveals itself as a critical standard for the evaluation of novels. For one thing, it holds the critic to the novel, posing as it does the questions:

"What has the novelist created? How did he create it?" To appraise the worth of Tanizaki's novels, these are the pertinent questions. Indeed, these are the only questions which need be asked.

Within the framework set by these questions, two aspects of the novelist's art may be discussed: ( 1) the use of words for creating the illusion. of reality, and (2) the fictional elements themselves, the manner in which they are developed, balanced, intensified or diluted, and the emotional significance they convey. A novelist's use of words is now studied by specialists who draw on the analytical techniques which have been developed in Linguistics, and the subject is known as "Stylistics." But the consideration of the fictional elements a novelist creates and fashions into a novel remains the principal concern of literary critics. The literary critic, therefore, must not only identify these fictional elements, he must also deal with what the writer makes of these elements.


SASAME-YUKI: VAlUATIONS ON A THEME Take Sasame~yuki~ then.2

For its length alone (three volumes in the original 1946-1948 edition)~ the novel is impressive. It is even more impressive for the breadth it encompasses with such a wealth of detail. One easily remembers the night of terror a typhoon brought to the inhabitants of that flimsy wooden house in Shibuya, the sense . of danger and the anxiety which gripped individuals as well as families in "the most disastrous flood in the history of the Kobe-Osaka district,"

the German family next door, the dinner at the house of the Russians, Itakura's illness · and death, the departure of Tsuruku and her household from the Osaka railway station, the cherry blossom-viewing excursions to Kyoto. . . . Indeed, this can go on for pages and pages and still remain a far from exhaustive list. So rich is this book in fascinating particularities of this kind that is not difficult to become absorbed in these and as a result completely miss the import of the book. However, in retrospect it is just as easy to realize that these are the fictional elements which Tanizaki has created and fashioned into his novel and that all these come to a head in a resounding paean to life.

It is as though Tanizaki were saying: This is how people in Japan live in· these, "the last good time~ on earth." Here are their anxieties, their fears, and these are their joys, their shining moments of gladness. These are their problems, and here are the dangers that threaten their continued well-being. At this point here everything looks so dark and gloomy, a despe- rate time. You would think that everything is coming to an, end. But things will go on, and everybody will survive .. The hard-line traditionalists will soften and come to terms with the modern age; the wayward modernists will find stability at last and they will live-not happily, perhaps, but they will. live. Th~ choosy old maid will finally accept life and the uncertainties of living in the world as a wife, and the moderates will continue to liye and pick at life for all that is meaningful and good. And there will always

be Japanese. · · ·

Tanizaki says this much in a mighty orchestration. So complex is the whole novel that its organization may not be properly characterized except as thematic development. Sasmne-yuki unfolds but not along· narrative lines.

To explain the novel solely in terms of plot and sub-plot, main line and branch line, would leave too many things unaccounted for. An instance is Sachiko's miscarriage. Not only is this difficulty worked in painful detail into one of Yukiko's mi-ai episodes, it is even referred to at various places in the course of the novel's development, the narrative flow being interrupted

· 2 Sasome-yuki fust appeare.;I in the January and March numbers of the Chuo Koron

in 1943 but its serialization in this magazine was suspended by military censors. The novel was finally issued one volume .at a time between 1946 and 1947 by the Chuo Koronsha. Edward G. Seidensticker's translation of Sasmne-yuki was published by Knopf

in 1957 as The Makioka Sisters. ·



and the brief reference interpolated. The presence of the Stolz fa~y as well as that of the Russians' clearly have no place in the novel, for they often impede the narrative flow. If this were to be regarded as a plotted work with a plainly straightforward narrative line, these and all the other elements like them are clearly superfluous, but they do in fact have a function to fulfill in Sasame-yuki but in a Sasame-yuki understood as a thematically developed piece. The major theme is introduced, repeated in everyone of the various keys until all the possibilities have been exhausted. Then the piece comes to its close.

The Statement of the Theme

The theme of Sasame-yuki is life. This is introduced in a passage depict- ing the sisters getting ready for the first of Yukiko's mi-ai related in the book. Here, the theme's constituent elements are suggested by dialogue.

"Koi-san, we have another prospect for Yukiko."


"It came through Itani."


"The man works in an office, M. B. Chemical Industries, Itani says."

"And is he well off?"3

Yukiko is the as yet unmarried Makioka girl, and Koi-san is the youngest of the sisters. She may not get married until Yukiko has had her match.

Consequently, the marriage of Yukiko is a matter of great concern to her, an interest which she masks by her monosyllabic responses. When she finally breaks out with the question, "And is he well off?" she is in effect touch- ing on a matter that lies heavily on her mind. She might as well have asked, "Will she now get on with life, so I can get on with mine?" But to think that this is what the novel is about is to be grossly mistaken.

Sasame-yuki is not the story of how Yukiko eventually got married in spite of great difficulties. Rather, it is the orchestrated presentation of the feeling that it is great to be alive.

The "prospect for Yukiko" represents another chance to get involved in life at its most vital of levels- marriage, family life, procreation, the preservation of the species, the continuance of the Japanese nation. "It came through Itani" indicates that the entrance gods, whose duty it is to usher the still uninvolved Yukiko into full participation in the business of living, have already begun to act. "And is he well off?" is the more mundane way of asking, "What possibility is there that this involvement will work out?" The possibility that it will is explored in the following pages. But then there is also the possibility that it may not. And the presence of the little girl, Etsuko, is a constant reminder of what is at stake- con-

3 This and the other quotations are from Edward G. Seidensticker's translation of Sasame-yuki. The present study however relies on the Japanese edition published by the Kadokawa Bunko (Tokyo, 1957).


tinuing vitality, the future generations. In the end, the three sisters sally forth to go to the mi-ai, which Itani has arranged, and there meet life and all its uncertainties. Thus, the opening seven chapters of Sasame-yuki state the major theme of the book, a theme which is restated in every possible variation throughout the whole work.

These chapters articulate a sense of life in such a way that they evoke joy in living rather than gloomy pessimism. The sense of life is here shown to spring from .the sustained effort of living beings to pre- serve a functioning equilibrium in a world of chance, of danger and bright possibility, which could destroy or maintain this balance. The world in which the Makioka sisters live is an extremely complex one. Like the world in which real people like ourselves move and act. It is not made up only of. p,eople and things with which one like Sachiko is in perceptual contact. . She is involved not only with others who are present but also with those wh~ are .·absent, or even dead. Events which take place outside of her field of perception, influence her conduct as profoundly as those which spring and run their appointed courses under her eyes and within her hearing. The ability she shares with all human beings to construct symbolic. forms extends this world beyond her perceptu~ limits, further increasiDg the number of . elements to which she. m~st respond. It is a greatly extended and .immensely complicated world. Within this complex framework, she ~U;~t~ ·lik~ ~y .other human individual, order her behavior to sustain t.~e . vital equilibrium against everything which would disturb it.

And · out of . this unceasing activity springs the sense of life,, which is objectified in . all its variations. by this novel.

The Russian Variation

The Russians who appear in Chapters 16 and 17 of Book One present one variation of the theme. These are displaced persons living in a country not their own. The Communist Revolution had overturned the old equili- brium of their lives, driving them out of their home near the Czar's palace at Tsarskoe Selo near Petro grad (they would not call it "Leningrad"), and they had eversince been trying to restore the familiar balance.

Of the Russians, "the old one" best represents their conditions. She alone remembers what the old equilibrium had been like; This is how she appears to her friend, Taeko:

"She seems to have been very xemarkable. .She was . a doctox of laws . in Russia. 'I no good Japanese,' she says. 'Fxench, German, I speak.'''

"She must once have had money. How old is she?"

"Past sixty, I wonk! say. But you would nevex guess it. She is as lively as a young g:ixl.''

In the , old !lays in Russia, she was a · doctor of laws, and she must have had money,. but all that is now lost. "I ilo good Japanese," she deClares.



"French, German, I speak." Thus, she testifies to her own alienness in ·the country where she has chosen to live. But the experience has not defeated her at all. "She is as lively as a young girl." Even in these changed cir- cumstances, there is life still, and it seems she would go on serving its needs. And, lively as a girl, she sails into the world as a skilled skater might on entering the rink.

But the astonishing one was "the old one" herself. The moment they were on the rink she sailed off with complete aplomb, straight and confident, treating them now and then to a truly breathtaking display of virtuosity. All the other skaters stopped to watch.

Here, then, is life triumphant over everything which might have ended it.

The Revolution had disturbed the vital equilibrium. The disturbance has not been totally compensated for, the old balance has not been entirely restored, but there she was- sailing into life "with complete aplomb, straight and confident."

Vronsky, "the Russian who likes children," represents another variation on the same theme. He is quite like "the old one" but in a different sort of way. He, too, has irretrievably lost something of vital. importance. As Taeko recounts it,

. . . It is really very sad. It seems that he was in love when he was young, but he and the girl were separated at the time of the Revolution. He learned some years later that She was in Australia, and he went to Austral'ia himself. He did £nd her, but almost immediately afterwards she died. And with that he decided he would never marry.

But this decision never to marry is by no means to be understood as a decision to withdraw from life. As Taeko has observed,

. . . He is terribly fond of children . . . . Everyone in the neighborhood knows about "the Russian who likes children". They call him "the Russian who likes children" more often than they call him Mr. Vronsky.

By this fondness of children, Vronsky continues to maintain his attach·

ment to life. Tenuous though it might be, still this fondness is an attachment, an involvement as intensely personal as Sachiko's yearning for the child she had lost in that miscarriage.

Of course, the world of the Russians is different from that of Teinosuke and Sachiko and Taeko but it is no less complex. This world is nearly objectified by the tiny house in which the Japanese have been re.ceived by the Russians who are now entertaining them. From the walls, framed portraits of the last Czar and his Consort and of the Japanese Emperor and Empress look down on them all, inexorably reminding the Russians of their past as well as of their present. Just as implacably; the picture of the Tsarskoe Selo palace recalls to them their home in the old country and the joyous life that went on there even as they sit here in the comfortable


warmth of this small house on this chilly March evening in Japan. But the wall around them do not circumscribe their world .. Events taking place far beyond these enclosing walls have their impact on the lives of these people.

"What do you .think will happen in China?" "And of what happened last December in Hsian?" As. Teinosuke observes,

But for these people, driven from their homeland and forced to wander, the . international question was one they could not forget a single moment. It was their very life. For a time they debated amol).g themselves. Vronsky seemed to be the best informed, and the other .Russians would listen whlle he developed some point at length. They used Japanese as much as possible, but V11onsky, when the dis- cussion became complicated, tended to lapse into Russian. Occasionally Kyrilenko would interpret for Teinosuke and the rest. "The old one" was an accomplished debater, and not one to listen quietly whlle the men argued.· .She had no trouble holding her own, except for the fact that when she became excited her. Japanese collapsed, and ne!ther ~he Russians nor the Japanese had any idea what she was talking about.

Intense as it is already, this intimate involvement in the world is further heightened by passional interests and desires.

Presently, for some reason that the Japanese did not understand, the dis- cussion became a quarrel between Katharina and "the old one." The latter quite indiscriminately assailed the English~ English character, English policies- and Katharina fought back. She had been born in Russia, she said, but when she was driven to Shanghai she lived on the generosity of the English. She was educated by the English and she paid not a cent in return, and it was the English who had helped her make her way as a nurse. What could be wrong with such a country? But "the old one" answered that Katharlna was still too young to understand. Soon the two were glaring at each other, and Kyrilenko and

Vronsky interceded to prevent a real fight.

Of course, the past to Katharina is different from what it is to her mother. To "the old one" the past is the horne next to the Tsarskoe Selo palace, Czarist Russia, but the Revolution had broken up her family and .scattered her children. Katharina had been taken by her grandmother to Shanghai, where she had grown up. The past for her, therefore, is English Shanghai, and it . is this past which she offers to her Japanese guests in the form of an album.

"Look at this," Katharina took out an album of photographs from her Shanghai years. "Here, my husband. Here, my daughter."

"How pretty. She looks exactly like her mother."

"You think so?"

"I do indeed. Do you never feel lonesome for her?"

"She is in England. I cannot see her. That is all."

"Do you . know where in England she is? Could you see her if you were

to go there?" ·

"I do not know. But I· want to ·see her. Maybe I will go to see her."

There was nothing sentimental in Katharina's tone . .She seemed quite philosophical.


ONE WHO PREFERRED NETTLES 9 It is quite easy to see that Katharina has accepted the past in which she had had a husband and a daughter and had lost them both. She might try to regain the daughter at least, as her Japanese friends are suggesting she should do. She herself wants to see her child, although she is not sure if this were at all possible. Then she puts a "maybe" to her going to see the child. This could only mean that she has accepted what she has lost as already lost. For the present, at least, there is no use struggling to regain the lost equilibrium, as there is still the rest of her life waiting to be lived.

From her unsentimental tone and her philosophic stance, it appears that Katharina will not let these reverses sour the rest of her years. Ana she will live to the very last one of these as energetically as she had answered her mother's unexplained attacks on the English.

For Katharina, it seems, life is the vigorous pursuit of life. This had taken her from Russia where she had been born, to Shanghai where she had grown up, then to Japan which she soon leaves for Germany on her way to England for the express purpose of finding a rich husband and getting back her daughter. Ten months after sailing away from Kobe, she had caught her man, a young business executive of more than ample means, and gotten back her child. On her· own, she had braved · the world and, trusting her good looks, taken her chances, and she had won. In the end, it is against Katharina's success in life that Sachiko measures her own and her family's lack of success in finding a husband for Yukiko.

It would be mistake to compare a White Russian refugee with a cloistered lady from an old Osaka family. But how ineffectual they all seemed in comparison with Katharina! Even Taeko, the scapegrace, the venturesome one, did in the final analysis fear criticism, and had not succeeded in marrying the man she wanted. And Katharina, probably younger than Taeko, had left her mother and brother and home behind and set off across the world, and promptly made herself a future. Not of course that Sachiko envied Katharina- Yu.ldko was far better than any Katharina- but how feeble and spineless they seemed, two older sisters and two brothers-in-law, unable to find Yukiko a husband! Sachiko would not want her quiet sister to set about imitating Katharina- the fact that she could not do so even under mders was what gave Yukiko her charm- but should not Yukiko's guardians, the people at the main house and Teinosuke and Sachiko herself, feel humble before the Russian girl? They were utterly useless, Katharina might laugh, and what could they answer?

But already Katharina had taught them what they needed to learn: that the vital balance can be maintained only by vigorous action against all the impersonal chances in the world, which would overturn this functioning order and defeat life. Life, as Sachiko now realizes, is to the venturesome and courageous.

This is, perhaps, where Katharina differs from her mother, "the old one."

Katharina would venture out into the unknown, take a ship and sail out to Europe where she had never before been and there seek her fortune without any assurance that she would find it. "The old one" is certain only


of what she had known once upon a time in the old country. Just as she had never learned Japanese, she will not try anything new. She has accepted what she has lost as irretrievably gone, and she will now m~ke do with what she still holds. But Katharina will struggle to regain the balance she had once upon a time known. "The old one" will not. She will go on without any further attempts to regain the old equilibrium.

The Traditional Variation

In contrast with the Russians, the world of Tsuruko and Tatsuo is circumscribed by Osaka. As far as she is concerned no city can be finer than Osaka, and when circumstances force them to go to Tokyo, Tsuruko is utterly disconsolate. She tells Sachiko "how distressing it was to reach the age of thirty-six and suddenly be asked to leave a city from which one had not· ventured in one's whole life."

Relatives and acquaintances came around with congratulations, said Tsuruko, and no .one took the trouble to imagine how she felt. When, occasionally, she let fall


hint, they only laughed and told her not to be so old-fashioned. It was indeed as they said, Tsuruko tried to tell herself: she was not going oH to a foreign coUntry, or even out to some inaccessible spot in the provinces.

She was going to the capital, she would be at the very feet of His Imperial Majesty. What was there then to be sad about? But Osaka was her home, and she wept sometimes at even thought of having to leave. The children were all laughing at her.

Tsuruko's feelings are, perhaps, best summed up by Sachiko .

. . . Not long before his death, Sachiko's father had moved his family there from Semba; it had become the fashion for merchant families to have residences away from their shops. The younger sisters had therefore not lived in the house long. They had often visited relatives there even when they were young, how- ever, and it was there that their father had died. They were deeply attached to the old place. Sachiko sensed that much of her sister's love for Osaka was in fact love for the house, and, for all her amusement at these old-fashioned ways, she felt a twinge of pain herself- she would no longer be able to go back to the old family house. She had often enough joined Yukiko and Taeko in complain- ing about i t - surely there was no darker and more unhygienic house in the world, and they could not understand what made their sister live there, and they felt thoroughly ·depressed after no more than three days there, and so on -and yet a deep, indefinable sorrow came over Sachiko at! the news. To lose the Osaka house would be to lose her very roots.

Osaka and the old house, then, is the past, tradition, all the old habits of thinking and doing things. To the Russians, the past is also a house, but the only remembered, association it holds for them is the memory of the Czar riding in his carriage out of the Tsarskoe Selo palace. To the Japanese, particularly, to Tsuruko and to a lesser extent to Sachiko, the past is memory of a more personal order. Sachiko thinks no darker and



more unhygienic house can be found elsewhere in the world. She complains it is depressing to stay there for even three days, but Tsuruko has happily lived in that house all of her thirty-six years, and now that she must leave it she feels that she is somehow being evicted and she is disconsolate.

Sachiko realizes that in losing the old house she is losing "her very roots"

and she feels "a deep indefinable sorrow." But Tsuruko is losing much more than her roots. She is losing the only life she has known, the life she had been happy with.

When she finally departs with her husband and her children, it is as tradition would have it. "A guide was posted in the waiting room from early in the evening, and among the hundred well-wishers were old geishas and musicians who had been patronized by Sachiko's father. Thpugh perhaps not as impressive a gathering as it might once have been, still it was enough to honor an old family leaving the family seat." And she goes, as it were, taking along as much as she could of the traditions she has lived with. Though leaving the family seat, here is still the main branch of the Makioka family, and she has not the slightest intention of leaving behind the responsibilities that tradition says are the responsibilities of the family's main house. So she sends her Aunt Tominaga to ,lay down the law: "although in Osaka, it would be better for them now to go to Tokyo.

After all, they belonged in the main house." And with the urging of Sachiko, Yukiko dutifully goes as dictated by Osaka tradition.

In Tokyo, the children who owe no particular allegiance to the Osaka past, quickly learn the ways of the capital and pick up its language. At home, however, they have to speak the Osaka dialect. For her part, Tsuruko strives to live in accord with Osaka tradition. One responsibility which this tradition imposes is the duty of the main house to its still unmarried women. This responsibility, Tsuruko takes with intense seriousness, and she is very much put out when she finds that it cannot be happily fulfilled.

As Teinosuke reports,

. . . They had been truly delighted, Tsuruko continued, at Aunt Tominaga's success and Yukiko's quiet return, and they had not dreamed that to be with them would be unpleasant. If indeed they drove her to tears, perhaps they should change. But why should they be so disliked? Tsuruko herself began to weep.

Having lived happily within the framework of the traditions of Osaka's society, she does not understand how anyone could be so lonely and for- lorn, as Yukiko has been, so Tsuruko could only weep. Nevertheless, she would continue to adhere to the impositions of tradition and live accordingly.

This attachment to tradition is even reflected in Tsuruko's physical appearance. Now thirty-seven years old, with a husband and six children ranging in age from fourteen to three to look after almost single handedly, she still looks extremely well-preserved and more youthful than she should


at her age, as should a proper Makioka. Looking at Tsuruko as she nursed her baby, Sachiko remembers how her sister had been on her wedding day.

. . Clean featured and rather long of face, Tsuruko had worn her hair- when loose it trailed to the floor and reminded one of the long-haired Heian beauties of a thousand years ago- in a high, sweeping Japanese coiffure. One thought, looking at the figure, feminine and at the same time grand and imposing, how the robes of the ancient court lady would have become her.

But even now, after all those years and in these less easy times, something of her beauty on that day still remains.

However, this does not mean that no deviation is to be made with respect to tradition. The move to Tokyo has been one adjustment.

. Some eight or nine years before, it was true, Tatsuo had almost been sent off to Fukuoka. He had pleaded family reasons for staying in Osaka, even at his old salary, and, although there had been no clear understanding on the point, it had seemed afterwards that the bank would respect his status as the head of an old family. Tsuruko had somehow taken for granted that they would be allowed to live forever in Osaka, but the bank had had a change in manage- ment and policy, and then Tatsuo himself wanted to get ahead in the world, even if it meant leaving Osaka. He was most dissatisfied to see his colleagues move ahead while only he stayed behind. He had many children, and while his expenses were growing, economic developments were making it more difficult for him to rely on the property he had inherited from his foster father.

Tradition dictates that the head of the old Makioka family stay in Osaka and look after the ancestral seat, perform the necessary memorial services in honor of the dead, and marry off the still single members of the family.

However, now that tradition has begun to make living less easy, adjust- ment becomes imperative, and the adjustment is made. Yukiko tells her sisters at Ashiya how life is now in Tokyo.

Yukiko then told them something surprising. These were her own inferences, she said. She had heard nothing directly from Tsuruko o;r Tatsuo. It was a desire to advance in the world that had made them resolve to move, however, much though they disliked the prospect.; and since one might say, with but a little exaggeration, that this desire to advance had been brought on by certain difficulties in the supporting of a fam.ily of eight on the property left by the sisters' father, might it not be that, though they complained at first of the tiny house, they had learned that it was not at all impossible for them to endure even such cramped quarters? The low rent, only fifty-five yen, they found most alluring.

It was not at all odd that they should be moved by such considerations. Where- as in Osaka they did have to maintain certain forms for the sake of the family, in Tokyo no one had ever heard of the Makiokas, and they could dispense with ostentation and accumulate a little property.

Tsuruko and Tatsuo have indeed changed, as Yukiko has observed. Their move from Osaka to Tokyo has freed them from the need of keeping up appearances, and now they have become clever at economizing. The pur- chase of a single vegetable is planned in advance, and the menu is always


ONE WHO PREFERRED NEITLES 13 built around the one-dish meal. Meat is now a rarity, and it is to be encountered only in stray pieces "floating here and there in the stew."

Regarding this change, Teinosuke comments, "And why should anyone object?

Tatsuo has his opportunity to stop worrying about appearances and to concentrate instead on building up a little capital."

If Tsuruko's letter of January 18 to Sachiko is any indication at all, there has also been a change in Tatsuo's attitudes. Regarding Yukiko's mi-ai, he will raise no more objections of the sort that he used to put up. What is important to him is that the prospective groom should have an income sufficient for the needs of life. But even with regards to this matter, he would raise no objections if Yukiko raised none. Still, the forms of tradition must be observed. A mi-ai will still have to be arranged for .Yukiko, and a decision will still have to be arrived at after due consultations between the branch house and the main house. This is the procedure tradition has worked out for coping with such problems of importance concerning mar- riage. It simply will not do for Yukiko to go off and find herself a husband as Katharina has done.

In spite of the adjustments that Tatsuo and Tsuruko have wrought, therefore, the system of ideas which fashion the patterns of traditional behavior, remains unchanged. Tatsuo and Tsuruko still think of themselves as the main house of the Makioka family. In this role, they regard the marriage of their still single sisters entirely their own responsibility. They have some very definite ideas about what these sisters should do or should desire to do, and they expect them to behave accordingly. "It may sound strange from a relative," Tsuruko writes in a letter to Sachiko about Taeko,

"but Tatsuo says that with her looks, training, and talent he can guarantee her a very good marriage indeed, and that she is absolutely not to worry."

The letter also makes it of record that Tatsuo is "quite opposed to her becoming a working woman." By this, he means that Taeko is not to become a couturier. "He hopes that she will always have it as her goal to make a good marriage when the time comes, and to become a good wife and mother. If she must have a hobby, doll-making will do. Dressmaking is out of the question," Tsuruko writes.

All this which reflects the thinking of both Tatsuo and Tsuruko, is of course entirely in accord with tradition. The vital balance has been s€t by others long ago, and together Tatsuo and Tsuruko will do nothing to change it. They have adjusted to changed circumstances in the modern world, but they have done so only to compensate for the difficulties of meeting their basic needs as biological beings. The really big issues which are concerned with the order of the universe and their places in it as social beings, they leave quite untouched. Tsuruko and Tatsuo are people who will strictly in harmony with tradition in a world which tradition has shaped and circumscribed and defined for them. Tatsuo for one will


never be caught wondering in China, and Tsuruko will as actual places.

aloud to his friends about what is happening forever be unaware of England and Germany

The Contemporary Variation

For Sachiko and Teinosuke, Osaka is not the whole world and Osakan traditions do not entirely make the complete life. Just as they recognized Osaka as their home, their point of origin, they regard tradition as a reservoir to be drawn upon for inner sustenance. But their personal involve- ments extend far beyond the limits of Osaka or the reach of its traditions.

The power politics being played by the nations in Europe is a matter of personal concern for them, for they realize that sooner or later this will have its effect on friends who now live in England and Germany. And they follow the events in China out of their realization that these will surely have an impact on their own affairs. Even after the main house had thrown Taeko out of the family, Sachiko and Teinosuke keep a lively interest in her affairs on their understanding that many of her needs are not among those provided for by Osakan traditions.

Much of what is significant and vital in the married life of Sachiko and Teinosuke stems from tradition. Take the sea bream, for instance. Teino~

suke had laughed on learning that this is Sachiko's favorite fish, for it is much too common to be anybody's favorite fish. Her explanation is that in appearance as well as in taste the sea bream is the most Japanese of all fish. A ,Japanese who dislikes sea bream is simply not a Japanese at all.

But then, as Teinosuke suspects, Sachiko is probably only boasting in secret of her native Osaka. He thinks that what Sachiko is really driving at is that the Osaka region, being the producer of the best sea bream, is the most truly Japanese. In the final analysis, the sea bream or the Osaka region or both define for Sachiko the fundamental uniqueness of her individuality, her Japanese-ness. It is, therefore, quite understandable why the disappear- ance of the sea bream from Tsuruko's table should arouse enough attention as to be mentioned in a discussion about life in the main house after its move to Tokyo.

Where the sea bream links Sachiko to a definite geographical area, which truly characterizes her as a Japanese, viewing the cherry blossoms in and only in Kyoto connects her to a past that reaches back to very ancient times, a past which defines even more profoundly her own Japanese-ness.

All these hundreds of years, from the days of the oldest poetry collectiol)S, there have been poems about cherry blossoms. The ancients waited for cherry blossoms, grieved when· they were gone, and lamented their passing in countless poems. How very ordinary the poems had seemed to Sachiko when she read them as a girl, but now she knew, as well as one rould know, that grieving ·over fallen cherry blossoms was more than a fad or a ronvention.


ONE WHO PREFERRED NEITLES 15 She grieves, as the ancients had grieved, but her grief over the passing of the spring and the falling of the cherry blossoms are intertwined with something very personal.

. . . For Sachiko there was besides pleasant sorrow for the cherry blossoms, sorrow for her sisters and the passing of their youth. She wondered whether · each excursion might no be her last with Yukiko, at least.

And then, in the manner of the ancients, she sets her feelings .down on paper in a poem.

This is a link with tradition that she shares with her husband. He, too, finds satisfaction in viewing cherry blossoms, although he seems to have a broader view of where blossoms may be viewed. And it is at his urging that Sachiko takes up the writing of poems in the ancient manner.

As a matter of fact, it is in these poems that the closeness of' their relation as husband and wife reveals itself. Each has his own individual tempera- ment, but this fact does not seem to preclude the possibility that one may understand the other well enough to possess the other's feelings completely.

However, they reveal themselves to each other only in their poems. There is no outward manifestation of the close ties that hold each to each. Sachiko does not make a practice of throwing herself into the arms ·of her husband, and Teinosuke does nothing equally demonstrative. They do not even discuss their poetry with each other, preferring to let the poems speak for themselves.

In his own poetry, Teinosuke evinces a sunnier disposition than his- wife.

While she sees the viewing of cherry blossoms as a time for mourning over the fallen blossoms, he . regards cherry blossom viewing as a festive occasion. In this vein, Teinosuke writes,

Near Kyoto, on a day in April:

"The beauties gather in festive dress.

For the cherries are in bloom, At Saga in old Miyako."

"The beauties" obviously refers to the three sisters, Sachiko, Yukiko, and Taeko. In these lines, he has sought to hold them fixed . in all their gay finery in a moment lifted from the relentless :flow of time. Sachiko's "to mourn the spring" is an allusion to her sorrow over the passing away of the season.

Under the falling flowers, at the Heian .Shrine:

"The cherry blossoms that fall And leave us to mourn the spring-

I shall hide them here in my sleeves."

Teinosuke takes this s'6rrow and heightens it by presenting spring as some·

thing whose passage has already been accepted as inevitable.

"Let me hide at least a petal

In the sleeve of my :Bower-viewing robe, That I may remember the spring!'


This reveals as nothing else can how total is Teinosuke's understanding of his wife's feelings different though these may be from his own. Here, the image presented by Teinosuke and Sachiko is clearly that of lovers in the Heian fashion.

For all their invqlvement in the past, however, Sachiko and Teinosuke are by no means prisoners of that past. Though they write poetry and communicate their feelings to one another in poetic exchanges such as this one, they are surely not Heian "characters" anachronistically living in the twentieth century. There is no doubt that they are modem Japanese living in the present. At almost every moment of their days, they are most keenly conscious of the present. The events of the present have an impact on their lives, and they are constanlty reacting to these as no Heian "characters"

might be expected to react. And just as constantly they continue to make adjustments to preserve the vital balance on which the continuance of life depends.

For Sachiko, there is nothing absolutely sacrosanct about tradition which are, after all, only old habits of doing things which, by their long persistence, have become sanctified. When Tsuruko complains to her in a letter about the cold in Tokyo, Sachiko remembers the old house in Osaka.

. . . As she read of Tsuruko's "frozen" fingers, she remembered how the main house in Osaka, true to the old fashion, has been almost without heating. There was of course the electric stove in the guest parlor, but that was rarely used except for special guests on the coldest days. The main family for the most part was satisfied with a charcoal brazier, and Sachiko herself felt as though someone

"had poured oold water" on her when she made her New Year call and sat talking with her sister. Too often she came home with a cold. According to Tsuruko, stoves had at length become common in Osaka in the twenties. Even her father, with his taste for the latest luxuries, had put in gas heaters only a year or so before he died. He then found that the gas made him dizzy, and the daughter had thus grown up knowing only the old-fashioned brazier. Sachiko herself had done without heating for some years after she was married, indeed until she moved into this Ashiya house; but now that she was used to stoves and fireplaces, it was hard to imagine going through a winter without them. She could not believe that she had really passed her childhood with only the primitive brazier. In Osaka, Tsuruko had persisted in the old fashion. Yukiko, with that strong core of hers, could stand the cold, but Sachiko was sure that she herself would very soon have come down with pneumonia.

While there is much Sachiko finds beautiful in tradition, she is not un- aware of the comforts which modem inventiveness has created, and she has never hesitated to get them, so now she finds it difficult to believe that she had grown up with just a brazier.

Teinosuke and Sachiko, therefore, live in both the past and the present.

Their interests range far and wide, for their world is not circumscribed by Osaka and its traditions. They have friends in England and Germany, and.

keenly aware of the events developing in Europe, they wonder how they


ONE WHO PREFERRED NETTLES 17 are faring, exactly as though they were still living in the house next door.

Consequently, their involvement in the affairs of the world is at once intensely personal as well as global. To Sachiko, the Japanese advance on Hankow and the Sudeten question are problems, and her interest in them have been such "that she could hardly wait for the morning newspapers." However, these are not in any way academic interests.

Meanwhile the world was shaken by new developments in Europe. In May came the German invasion of the Low Countries and the tragedy of Dunkirk, and in June, upon the French surrender, an annistice was signed at Compiegne. And what, through all this, had happened to the Stolz family? Mrs. Stolz had predicted that Hitler would manage to avoid war, and what would she be thinking now?

And Peter must be old enough for the Hitlerjugend. Might Mr. Stolz have been drafted? But perhaps all of them, Mrs. Stolz and Rosemarie too, were so intoxicated with victory that they refused to let family problems bother them. Such speculations were always on Sachiko's mind.

In her thinking, events are not disembodied entities but things that happen to people, to friends in whose personal fortunes she appears to be genuinely interested. It is in this vein that she thinks of England and of Katharina.

. . . A:nd then one would never know when England, cut off from the continent, would be attacked from the air, and the possibility of air raids brought up the problem of Katharina, now living in a suburb of London. How unpredictable human destinies were! No sooner had the Russian refugee, until then living in a tiny doll's house, made everyone envious by marrying the president of a large company and moving into a house like a castle, than the English people found themselves fat.'ing an unprecedented calamity. Since the German attack would be concentrated on the London area, Katharina's castle might be reduced to ashes overnight. Even WIOrse disasters were in prospect: she might find herself without food or a rag to wear.

Might she not be thinking of the distant skies of Japan?

Teinosuke is no less interested in international events, and he knows enough to be able to tell who is well-informed and who is not in the course of a discussion of the affairs of the world. However, his grasp of the situation in these troubled times is even such that he would keep his opinions to himself rather than invite disaster by being too free with them.

Under the impact of all these events, their world soon begins to change. In a letter to the Stolzes, Sachiko recounts how each time they read about the war in Europe, "they thought and talked of the Stolz family; the Makiokas were well, although with the China Incident dragging on they were gloomy at the thought that they too might soon find them- selves in a real war; they could not but be astonished at how the world had changed since the days when the Stolzes. were next door, and they wondered wistfully if such happy times would ever come again." As a matter of fact, difficult times are just now beginning.

. . . They considered the possibility of a special celebration by which to remember these last days, but celebrations were harder and harder to arrange. Caught by


the austerity edicts, they were unable to have new wedding kimonos dyed, and :6nally had to have the kozuchiya hunt up old ones. That month rice rationing began. Kikugoro was not making his usual spring visit to Osaka, and they had to be satisfied with an even quieter cherry viewing than the year before. But it was an annual rite, and summoning up their determination and taking care to dress as unobtrusively as possible, they made a one-day trip to Kyoto on Sunday the thirteenth.

After a look at the weeping cherries in the Heian Shrine, they rushed out to the western suburbs and went through the form of seeing the cherries there. This year they did without their party at the Gourd Restaurant. Taeko again was missing.

The· four of them spread a sad little lunch by Ozawa Pond and had a rather solemn drink of cold sake from the la!Cquer cups, and when the excursion was over they hardly knew what they had done.

The world has finally touched the very mainspring of their nature, altering it with such force that it does not seem to be the same afterwards. Be that as it may, Sachiko and Teinosuke will continue to survive. The impres- sion is strong that they will know how to cope with every change every new development may bring.

Their sense of life is much too healthy. Desiring the son she knows Teinosuke wants, Sachiko suffers a miscarriage, and the composure she has always maintained in the face of adversity completely breaks down. She suffers in body and in mind, and he lends her the comfort of his peculiar attitude towards life.

"It makes no difference. And there is nothing to be done now."

"You forgive me?"

"For what?"

"For being careless."

"Oh, that. No, as a matter of fact this makes me more hopeful."

A tear spilled down over Sachiko's cheek. "But it is such a shame."

"Say no more about it. We will have another chance."

Sachiko treats the miscarriage as a tragedy in which life has met its fate and come to its end. But Teinosuke does not see it that way. For him, it is only a temporary set-back, which can later be overcome. They will, therefore, not be defeated. What is lost is lost. Nothing more can be done about it. No use weeping over the whole thing. But that is not yet the end. "No," he says, "as a matter of fact this makes me more hopeful."

Then when he speaks again, he says, ''We will have another chance."

The M odemistic Variation

If there is anything at all that can be learned from Taeko's sufferings and misfortunes, it is this: for one to be tmly modem, he must live in total disregard of traditional values, adhering in all strictness only to those of his own making. ·Thy modern one, therefore, is he who stands at the very edge of the world. He has turned his face outwards where lies the utter blackness of the still unexperienced life,.· the undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveller has yet returned. He has left behind him the familiar


ONE WHO PREFERRED NETTLES 19 lights of traditional ideals which guide human conduct in society in much the same way that the lighthouses on the rocks and shoals guide the coast- wise steamer safely into the port of Kobe. But the modern one is the ocean liner which turns its bow towards the dark expanse of the Pacific.

The Hashing white lights along the shore are of no further use to the navigators on the bridge of the ocean-going ship. Traditional conventions and ideals hold for the modern one no real meaning. He is at last on his own, and there is nothing he may depend upon except his own skill to see him through the unknown that lies before him.

Taeko had started out when she was nineteen years old by eloping with one of the Okubata, an old Semba family who kept a jewelry store.

Being the youngest of the Makioka sisters, she may not marry until a husband had been found for Yukiko, in accordance with tradition. She had rebelled then against this old custom and, finding it unreasonable, had promptly violated it by running off with the man she thought she loved. However, both their families took a dim view of the whole affair. The two young lovers were quickly discovered, separated, and restored to their respective families. Now, after several years, they are seeing each other again. The young Okubata even comes around to Ashiya to speak with Sachiko. He explains that his family no longer regards Taeko as a juvenile delinquent and that he would be permitted to marry her as soon as this may be arranged. They are in no great hurry, he says, but they want her to know what they have promised to each other, hoping that she would take their side and plead their cause with the main house when the proper time came. Sachiko sees this as not unreasonable, and she now regards the whole matter settled for the time being.

However, it is not until very much later when her affair with Itakura comes to a head that she finally realizes what it means to be truly modern.

Until the Hood, Itakura had simply been a sort of a servant as far as Taeko is concerned.

. . . With the :B..aod, her feelings toward him underwent a very quick change . .She knew that Sachiko and Yukiko would think her frivolous, but they had never known how it was to be saved when you had given yourself up for lost.

Keiboy said that Itakura had his reasons. Very well, suppose he had. He had still risked his life; and in the meantime what was Kei-boy doing? Far from risking his life, had he shown even a trace of real concern, of real affection? It was the flood that killed the last of her love for him.

Nevertheless, she is not totally unmindful of family and position, and she tries to hold herself back. Her heart, however, works against her mind.

In spite of that, her feelings have not overwhelmed her reason.

. . . Particularly because of her failure with Okubata, she looked far into the future and weighed · the profit and loss, and after examining the balance as cooly as she could, she concluded that her ·happiness lay in marrying Itakura.

Mga Sanggunian


For a man like me, who believes in democracy deeply, and who would not sacrifice or want or let the freedom of man be sacrificed for anything-for the State, the glory of the party, or