Mushanokoji's Good Natured Man

Mushanokoji’s Good Natured Man 4

Jibun’s moralism, individualism and egocentrism are traits that Mushanokoji celebrates as ideal qualities. He drew his philosophy initially from Leo Tolstoy (1828 – 1910), whose humanism widely influenced young Japanese writers and intellectuals early in the twentieth century. For a time, Mushanokoji adopted the self-sacrificing Count Tolstoy as a particularly attractive role model, himself being a member of an aristocratic class: the youngest of eight sons of a Japanese viscount, in the hereditary peerage instituted by Meiji. (His father died when he was two.)

Only a few years prior to writing The Good Natured Man, while still attending the Peers School (for Japanese nobles), a conflicted, adolescent Musha tried to emulate Tolstoy’s ascetic lifestyle by moving into a tiny, freezing cold hut in the grounds of the family home, wearing simple clothes and leaving the stove unlit (Neima, Utopian…)

After withdrawing from Tokyo Imperial University, Mushanokoji began to achieve some celebrity, or notoriety. He frequented avant garde theatre and literary coteries, and helped establish a literary society called the Shirakaba-ha (White Birch society) and its journal Shirakaba. White Birch “took Japan by storm” (Neima) and was the most influential literary journal during the Taisho period (1912 – 26).

Mushanokoji redirected his affections for Tolstoy, towards the Belgian playwright and philosopher Maurice Maeterlinck (1862 – 1949):

Maurice Maeterlink, early in his career

Unlike Tolstoy, Mushanokoji said, Maeterlinck was no killjoy; he saw lust, sex and pleasure-seeking as essential, even moral, components of human existence. What the coterie must do, Mushanokoji continued, was to adapt Maeterlinck’s philosophy of self-love into a literary philosophy. [They] would conduct themselves like individualistic, European moderns — living for their own pleasure — and they would write about the process, exploring the ‘latitude, longitude and depth’ of their own natures.


One must love oneself in order to love others:

To become effectually generous and sincerely humble, there must be within us a confident, tranquil and clear comprehension of all that we owe ourselves.

Maeterlinck, Wisdom and Destiny (1898)

Can we reconcile this notion even with Jibun’s idealisation of his beloved Tsuru, yet his refusal to make any sacrifices on her account? It is easy to dismiss his philosophical disquisition as irony and self-parody. But is that only one pole of alternative possible readings?


On the evening of February 1st, my friend Nakano came to see me.

This person knew of my present love. He was a classmate at school and now studies literature at university. He was at the alumni meeting on the 30th. We talked of various things, but the words that made an indelible impression were these:

“That beautiful girl who used to ride the tram to school seems to be acquiring something of a reputation, doesn’t she?”

I said, “Yes, I suppose so. We all hunger after a beautiful woman, don’t we?”

Tsuru must have a reputation too. I believe she commuted to school by tram from Okubo.

My friend talked about what he had heard from people, concerning two or three women with reputations.

I did not know these women, so thought nothing of their reputations. I definitely did not want Tsuru to gain a reputation. How hateful for her name to be on the lips of those who think of a woman as a plaything. Tsuru is not flamboyant in any way. She wears a plain kimono quite carelessly (at least until last year) and does not stand out. She is beautiful, though. Beautiful in whichever the style. Such a lovely, gentle appearance. She possesses qualities attractive to men. The face of Mary. Eyes like Venus.

Young Japanese woman in traditional dress, Baron Raimund von Stillfried, ca. 1870. Albumen print

Impossible for this woman to escape the eyes of a hungry man. She would have a reputation by now.

I feel as if something sacred has been defiled.

I wish I were the only one entitled to love her. For some reason, I have for the past five years entertained a superstition that Tsuru’s individual characteristics can be wedded to mine alone. Even though we have never spoken, I believe nature has given me the power to embrace her utterly.

Possibly there is no one else who loves her. However, I am not so naïve as to think so.

Suppose there is someone who does love her. I would be curious about his character. If he is sincere in his love, then my future happiness will cause him misery. And for Tsuru to give her heart to him but have to come to me at her parents’ behest, would be heartbreaking for her. I could not marry her in good faith.

I have no wish to make someone unhappy for the sake of my own pleasure. Nor to make someone sacrifice their love in my interest. How could I be pleased by the misfortune of the woman I loved? It was because I considered it in Tsuru’s best interest to join me, and because I thought she loved me, that I notified her mother and father of my proposal. But if she was unhappy about coming to me and wanted to marry someone else—someone more promising, respectable, and good-looking—then I would need to reconsider.

How terrible for her to come to me feeling she would be happier somewhere else.

If someone were to accept my proposal joylessly, then I would have to withdraw it. I am a moralist by nature.

And as such, an extreme individualist.

I am against sacrificing myself in the slightest for the sake of another person, and would be ashamed to sacrifice another in my own interest.

Moreover, the thought of constraining someone’s freedom and will because of my love for them is anathema to me. My beloved should not be unhappy for my benefit.

At the same time, I had no idea whether Tsuru loved somebody else. I doubted whether she was in love with me, but was sure there was no one else.

I am egotistical enough to doubt there could be anyone of better character than me who loves her.

Here the problem is turned around. She might marry somebody better looking than me, simply because I have not pressed her hard enough. She might die without knowing the joy and gratification of life with me.

The thought occurred that the time had come for me to fight for Tsuru.

I have not seen her for almost a year. I have never spoken to her. Nevertheless, I believe that during the past three to four years, our hearts have not been strangers. I believe this of my free will. I have been thinking that way for some years now, since I began seriously reading Maeterlinck.

You can lie with your mouth or with your ears, but a sincere heart does not lie. This I believe. Not so much, though, to leave no room for doubt.

I said this to myself while conversing externally with Nakano. Thinking it silently, detachedly.

After Nakano left at nearly eleven, saying he would miss his tram, I was moved by a strong feeling of compassion, and resolved to do my utmost to make Tsuru and myself a couple. I wrote a letter to Mr. Kawaji, my go-between.

Even writing the preface, I realized how arrogant I was being towards Tsuru.

Hungry for a woman, I had reasoned that if we could not become a married couple directly, we could at least get engaged. However, now I realized she was still only eighteen. I had thought she already turned eighteen three or four years ago. She has an older brother, but she is an only daughter. Her parents must have felt uneasy about letting their lovely girl leave them at such a young age to spend her life in the hands of a man whose nature was unknown to them. These days many people marry in their twenties and thirties. The majority. Presumptuously, I consider myself a good person, but Tsuru’s parents and brother—he knew me—must have thought I was an undisciplined, lackadaisical individual. An unpleasant, undesirable man, purely infatuated with women. Somebody without hope or prospects. It was entirely natural they think that.

All I have going for me is that my father is somewhat known, my brothers have good prospects, and I do not have to worry about food.

Unless there is no alternative, they will not give me a second thought. In a couple of years they will not even mention me. In the meantime, they will be certain to take advantage of any opportunity that comes up.

Lovers in the Mist, Toshikata Mizuno, ca. 1900-1910

Beyond doubt, someone more qualified will fall in love at the sight of her and propose.

Even if she does love me, she could never bring herself to disobey her parents and brother’s wishes.

The thought made me forlorn. I wrote the following in my letter to Mr. Kawaji:

… I have loved and yearned love selfishly. Because of this, I have caused trouble for many people. I regret the nuisance I have been to you, who are a particularly busy man.

It is a godsend that matters have come so far. I am blessed that a suit such as mine has been able to progress to this stage without being misunderstood.

Therefore, even if my proposal is in vain, I am forever grateful to all those who understood, sympathized, and worked so hard trying to bring it to fruition. In token of my appreciation, I will not lose heart in the slightest if on this occasion I am unsuccessful, but will continue to move forward in my own direction.

Please believe in me. Belief in me is my strength.

I still have my original intention regarding the issue. I will never give up. While a glimmer of hope remains, I will not despair and abandon my wishes. So I need to bother you once again.

I wish to alter course. I entreat you to go a further time to the other party, since I am willing to wait until the time comes when marriage can be discussed. Please notify me when that occasion arises. Furthermore, although it must be troublesome for you, I request you let me know as soon as you can if an alternative suitor should be accepted. Please do me the immense service of conveying these matters.

It is foolish to propose marriage over and again when the other wishes to decline. If the other person wants not to progress, not to be with me, I cannot think they would wish me to continue to bow my head and propose.

It is not right to make someone unhappy, with my selfish desire to give and receive love. I pray for the joy of my beloved. I do not wish for my beloved to be unhappy.

I decided even before her parents refused consent that I would remain single until she married another. I am ready to wait for any number of years. 

Though it is far from a matter of indifference to me, I will accept as a punishment for my selfish love, the need to assume an indifferent attitude

Please bear with me and respect my good intentions. Have no reservation in contacting me. I am eternally indebted and remain your humble servant, if you request the other party to notify me should she become someone else’s wife.

I am fully aware of the burdensome nature of my selfish requests, and am truly sorry to trouble you with them, but it will make me terribly anxious if you are somehow unable to communicate these requests and settle matters urgently.

If you fulfil my request, I can leave matters to fate and follow my own path with some peace of mind. I continue to ramble long-windedly in my selfishness.

Forgive me

I finished writing and when I looked at the clock it was a little before two. I went to bed before much longer. Being agitated, I found it impossible to sleep, and shed a tear for myself.

I am a man! A courageous warrior! I have important work to accomplish. Tomorrow, I will become astonishingly diligent, I encouraged myself. I fell asleep in the middle of the night.

References and Further Reading

DC. “Atarashiki mura in Interwar Japan”. Rekolektiv : Anarchist Research, Opinion and Analysis (n.d.)

Heller, Otto. Prophets of Dissent: Essays on Maeterlinck, Strindberg, Nietzsche and Tolstoy (NY: Knopf, 1918). Available at Wikisource.

Maeterlinck, Maurice. Wisdom and Destiny, trans. of  La sagesse et la destinée, Alfred Sutro, NY: Dodd, 1903. Available at Project Gutenberg.

Neima, Anna. The Utopians: Six Attempts to Build the Perfect Society (London: Picador, 2021).

Shields, James Mark (2018). “Future Perfect: Tolstoy and the Structures of Agrarian-Buddhist Utopianism in Taishō Japan,” Religions 9 (5), 161. html or pdf

Simmons, Ernest Joseph (1968). Introduction to Tolstoy’s Writings

Tolstoy, Leo (1900). Pamphlets / Religion and Morality

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

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