Mushanokoji's Good Natured Man

Mushanokoji’s Good Natured Man 1

Saneatsu Mushanokoji (1885-1976) was one of the first great Japanese modernist writers. He is acknowledged to have founded the I-novel (shishosetsu), a specifically Japanese confessional genre in which the author speaks directly and colloquially to the reader (e.g., Lippit 28). Mushanokoji was also a painter of still lifes, a poet and playwright, and a unique but influential philosopher. Inspired by the writings of Tolstoy, he established a utopian village, Atarashiki-mura (“New Village”), which continues to operate, and which a young Mao Zedong himself attempted to replicate.

Mushanokoji (aka Mushakoji) published his Good Natured Man (Omedetaki Hito, 1910) in a journal of the Shirakaba (White Birch) society, a group of aristocratic writers from Tokyo Imperial University, of whom he was the leader. Shirakaba led a humanitarian movement in Japan during the Taisho era of 1912-1926.

Elements of Mushanokoji’s later style, and of the I-novel, are distinctly present in this his first novel, and the narrator may be to an extent identified with the author. Written in the form of a diary, the novel draws on personal experiences from his youth, and from his own philosophy of happiness and transcendence (Okazaki 310; Mochizuki).

Simply written in certain aspects, the novel’s psychological and philosophical depths are evident in this initial chapter. On the one hand, the story of the narrator’s infatuation with a girl named Tsuru consists of straightforward incidents, candidly expressed. Notice in the beginning, the spontaneity of the character (“I”) when he turns towards the two geishas. It sems as though his feet veer in their direction on their own, propelled by his internal “hunger” (starving/longing) for a woman, which he will mention several times.

As the story proceeds, however, it becomes evident that he has never actually spoken to Tsuru. As he reflects about her, he starts to appear unhealthily obsessive to an extent—to us, who have become familiar with the socio-psychological phenomenon of “stalking.” He appears to admire her fairly creepily from afar. Indeed, many modern young Japanese reporting on the Web, tend to see the book either as a “stalker novel” or as the story of a person so hopelessy naive as to be unbelievable. (I have come across one or two who confess to identifying with him in his standoffishness.)

That’s understandable but anachronistic. The character’s utter detachment from the object of his love is, at the same time, equivalent to his complete absorbtion in the self. Hence, he positively affirms his unwillingness to sacrifice his “own self” for the sake of his idealized love-object, Tsuru. Somewhat reminiscent of Nietzsche, Mushanokoji expresses his ideal of a transcendent self that refuses to defer to societal norms, but will conduct life on its own terms.

Again, we may hold an instinctive, conditioned, or reasoned aversion to such a solipsistic stance—and necessarily bring it to bear in our responses. Perhaps that is what the author intends.

Translating the work, I noticed some ambiguities that I believe Mushanokoji uses to help depict the “I” character’s absolute detachment from exterior reality, and his centering upon the self. That is why he refuses to speak of “watching” or “observing” Tsuru. Instead he expresses the action euphemistically as “seeing” her, in an ambiguous sense that can be misconstrued as their having “met”—for instance, on her way home from school. The linguistic gesture rejects or negates particular points of reference that would otherwise tend to incur objective moral judgments. Related to this strategy are some ambiguities in the Japanese text surrounding the marriage proposal.

Bear and Elf, Opus IV of Intermezzi (1881), Max Klinger

Good Natured Man

(Omedetaki Hito)


Saneatsu Mushanokoji

To Dr. Heizaburo Takashima
This little book
With a thousand thanks, I offer to you

I recognize the existence of a selfish art, an art for its own sake. It is only with this recognition that I will become a literary artist. Therefore, the value of my writing is determined by the degree to which it can harmonize with the reader’s own personality.  I am not entitled to demand that people buy or read my work if it does not resonate with them. The cover picture was kindly provided by my friend Arishima Mikuma. I thank him very much. The frontispiece is the prelude to Klinger’s book of etchings, Intermezzi.(Author)


On the morning of January 29th, I went to Maruzen bookshop to look for some books and left after buying one titled Civilization and Education, written by someone named Munch. When I came to the fourth corner along the street, I wondered if I should turn right or go straight ahead, and looked to my right for a moment. Two young women in flowery kimonos were standing a couple of dozen yards away, seemingly waiting for someone. My feet turned in their direction. I assumed the women were geishas. When I see a woman in a flowery kimono, with a round face, heavily powdered, naturally I think of her as a geisha.

Neither of them was beautiful, but they were not ugly either. One in particular had a certain charm about her.

Passing by them, I gave a casual look, saying to myself, “I hunger for a woman.”

In fact, I was starving for one. Unfortunately, I crave a beautiful young woman. I have not even spoken to one since Tsukiko, my crush when I was nineteen, returned to her hometown seven years ago, and I hunger for a woman.

Walking quickly I reached the moat and, instead of catching an electric tram, turned left so as to follow the tracks to Hibiya and go through Hibiya Park to my house.

Hibiya Park, Tokyo, ca. 1912 (Hibiya town archives)

Passing through Hibiya, I saw a young couple talking cheerily. I envied more than celebrated them in their happiness, and cursed more than envied them. I wondered whether my feelings were the same as those a poor person has towards a rich one. I was immersed in my own solitariness, and the couple reflected my desolation straight back at me. It was acutely painful, the wound of my lost love. So instead of celebrating them in their joy, when they pierced me so acutely, I could not help but curse them instead.

I hunger for a woman.

I went back to my house thinking of Tsuru.

* * *

Tsuru was a beautiful, sweet girl who lived near my home, and to whom I had never spoken. I knew her from the time Tsukiko was still in Tokyo, so of course I did not love her at that time, but I thought she was a lovely child. I longed to be with her, and whenever I saw her, the thought of her lingered for a time afterwards. In the third year after Tsukiko’s return to her hometown, though, the bitterness of my lost love faded. Tsuru grew increasingly lovely and adorable, and I missed her if I hadn’t seen her for a while.

At that point, I began to desire her. I came to think that there was no one more suitable to be my wife than she. It seemed to me that we could marry without it compromising my individuality. She came to appear in my eyes as the ideal wife for whom I longed.

I had a craving for a woman, and Tsuru became the object, such that I began to love her more and more. I came to feel it would be a blessing if she became my wife.

When I decided to marry her, my first worry was that people around me would ridicule and use me as a topic for gossip. Every time I went out for a walk, I would be pointed at and mocked.

I told myself it would be foolish to abandon my own and Tsuru’s happiness because of such a consideration. That would be a spineless attitude indeed. I would need to show people that I was not afraid of them. Next door lived a rickshaw shop owner, whose wife was an inveterate gossip. I was going to have to withstand the backbiting, name-calling, and ridicule of the slack-jawed calligrapher, the greengrocer, and the local brats.

A further worry was my mother, who was a person terrified of the whole world. Being laughed at by her neighbours would be unbearable for her. She loved me, however, and would surely stand by me, whatever I decided.

If I could get my mother on side, my father, who found the world idiotic, would be certain to go along with her.

Thus I determined to work as hard as I could to make Tsuru my wife. At the beginning of the following year, I obtained my mother’s approval, and that spring, my father’s. In the summer, it was decided to arrange for a go-between to make a proposal to her family.

Things were proceeding much more smoothly than anticipated, and seemed to be working out perfectly. During that period, I became quite confident, and started to feel that my household was actually superior to hers in many ways. I enjoyed happy, titillating dreams of things to come.

Our first meeting, sharing our mutual feelings, our first kiss … I fantasized about all such things, as well as imagining the rumours that would circulate among my friends and other people around me. I imagined how Tsuru would behave towards my father, mother, brother, sister, and niece. These fantasies were vivid and bright—but also somewhat shameful.

Anonymous moga (“modern girl”) 1931

The go-between visited Tsuru’s house in late July, but my proposal was brusquely rebuffed, with the words, “She is still young, and doesn’t want to consider marriage for now.” Thankfully my name was not mentioned, so when I next encountered her, I was able to see her face as clearly as before.

The same autumn, her family relocated from where they lived near my home to a place about a mile away. At the time, I had an inkling they may have moved because they were uncomfortable having learned that it was I who proposed. I was lonely, missing the few opportunities I had to catch sight of her. Until March of the following year, I went to see her once every month on her way home from school. Sometimes I went once a week, but was not bold enough to go any more often than that.

In March, the go-between—a man named Kawaji—went to Tsuru’s family to propose for me again. This time he gave them my name. He conveyed to them that I loved her and would wait for as long as necessary to marry her. In actuality, I had such a hunger for a woman I could barely wait another day. Furthermore, I had heard that Tsuru would be graduating from school that spring.

But she did not graduate from school in the spring. I was told she did not want even to hear about it until her brother was married. After that, I ran into her once by chance on the Kobu tram. That was April 4, which was the last time I saw her…

Tsuru’s story has remained unchanged ever since. I wonder whether there is any hope for me.

That about encapsulates the relationship between myself and Tsuru.

I have yet to know a so-called woman.

Occasionally I see a naked woman in my dreams. That is not a genuine woman, however, but an androgynous one.

I am twenty-six years old this year.

I am hungry for a woman.

* * *

I have no doubt that Tsuru is more than capable of satisfying my hunger. Therefore, I am still in love with her, even though I have not seen her for almost a year. Perhaps because I have not seen her, she has become increasingly close to my ideal woman.

So for now, I have no desire to marry another woman, no matter how many years go by until this story is concluded.

However, I am hungry for a woman. A beautiful young woman other than Tsuru would instantly attract me. Indeed, older women, even those who are not so beautiful, attract me with considerable force at certain moments.

Nature has created men and women to be drawn to each other. For this reason, I sometimes feel lonely and in pain, but I am grateful that nature created man and woman and for their strong attraction to each other. If there were no women on earth. If there were no one to love. If there were no one for whom to yearn. Only dead souls gathered together, absorbed in their self-interest, how lonely that would be.

There are some people who are corrupted by a woman. But how many are able to live with a woman? How many people know the value of being given birth by a woman? A woman herself may be boring. (Maybe as boring as a man, or even more so.) But there is something that exists between a man and a woman.

Indeed, women are considered “eternal idols” by men.

Eve may have caused Adam to be expelled from the Garden of Eden. However, it was better for Adam to be expelled together with Eve, rather than to have remained there alone.

I may not have known a woman, but I know the power that one has over a man. A woman herself may be powerless. But her power over a man is immense.

Anonymous girl from late in the Meji era (ca. 1910)

I wonder whether it is because I do not know an actual woman? I worship an ideal woman. I worship her flesh and her heart. Tsuru is the most ideal among all the women I know.

Magnificent Tsuru!

Yet, no matter how much I hunger for a woman, no matter how much I love Tsuru, I will not give up my work in order to obtain her. I love my own self more than I love her. No matter how lonely I am, I will not sacrifice my Self to have her. I want to marry her even if I have to eat two meals a day instead of three, and even if I have to live in any sort of squalid old house. Still, I cannot think of sacrificing my ego to unite with her.

When I hungered for a woman, I came to know the power of women, and when I came to know the power of women, I learned the power of my own self.

The soft, rounded body of a woman. Her gentle heart. Her bewitching fragrance. Her heart that can soothe the heart of another. I want with all my soul to dance with a woman. How I need spring to arrive, before I lose all spirit.

Even for the sake of cultivating my “self” do I desire Tsuru.

Notes and References

  • The title of Omedetaki Hito has been variously translated as Good Natured Person, (National Diet Library of Japan, Britannica, Wikipedia, etc.), Good-Natured Soul (New Encylopedia Britannica, 1974), A Dim-witted Man (Treat), A Blessed Man (Lippit), Happily in the Dark (Mochizuki), A Happy Person (Amazon reference to Japanese book), Happy Fellow (Tyler), etc. My present version appears to be the only English language translation of the work available.
  • “Walking quickly I reached the moat…”: Hibiya Moat, by the gardens of the Imperial Palace in central Tokyo.

Lippit, Seiji, M. Topographies of Japanese Modernism. (NY: Columbia U, 2002).

Mochizuki, Yoshihiro. Rediscovering Musha-ism: The Theory of Happiness in the Early Works), of Mushakoji Saneatsu (Master of Arts thesis, Univ. Hawai’i, 2005).

Okazaki, Yoshie, Japanese Literature in the Meiji Era. Vol. 1 of Japanese Culture in the Meiji Era. Trans. V.H. Vigliemo (Tokyo: Toyo Bunko, 1955).

[Suzuki, Tomi. Narrating the Self: Fictions of Japanese Modernity (Stanford: Stanford UP, 2000) 60.]

Treat, John Whittier. The Rise and Fall of Japanese Literature (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2018).

Tyler, William J. Review of Suzuki, Narrating the Self, in Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies Vol. 60, No. 2 (Dec., 2000), pp. 661-670.

English translation of Saneatsu Mushanokoji’s Omedetakihito (1910) by Michael Guest © 2022

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