Mushanokoji's Good Natured Man

Mushanokoji’s Good Natured Man 6

It is tongue-in-cheek, and with a measure of self-deprecation, that Jibun compares himself and Tsuru to Dante and Beatrice. At the same time, Mushanokoji subtly acknowledges Dante as a model. Like Jibun, Dante enjoyed only the most scant face-to-face encounters with his beloved Beatrice. In the Vita Nuova, Dante writes of their first meeting when they were nine and eight years old respectively, at Beatrice’s family home. Subsequently they exchanged no words, until one day nine years later, when she noticed him in the street and condescended to say hello.

Anticipating Jibun’s beloved Tsuru, Beatrice became the idealized object of Dante’s lifelong love, although they never married. In the Divine Comedy, Dante represents Beatrice as a figure of sublime grace and humility, surpassed only by Christ and the Virgin Mary. Dante’s visions of God in the Paradiso are by virtue of the divine reflection in Beatrice’s gaze. As secular poet and divinely commissioned scribe, issues of pride and humility are at the core of Dante’s character. Hence Jibun’s throwaway reference to his own humility, as a qualification to be worthy of Tsuru.

On arriving home after his unsatisfying mission to see Tsuru, Jibun interacts testily with “the “live-in student.” Mushanokoji refers to this character as the shosei (書生), a dated Meiji/Taisho era term, the literal meaning of which is actually closer to “student” or “calligrapher.” It referred to someone whose principal occupation was study. When, in 1872, the first modern education system was established in Japan, students from rural areas started moving to the cities to attend high schools and universities.

Taisho era shosei or student

They were usually poor and lodged in the private residences of local philanthropists, performing housework and miscellaneous chores, or calligraphy, as payment. It was considered a status symbol to be providing board to a shosei.

At the end of the chapter, Jibun’s exclamation, “Brave Warrior!” (yūshi), as he summons up fortitude, evokes the cultural significance of budō, or the “Martial Way.” Since the Warring States period (1467-1615) the term was used in defining codes of valour and recognizing real and fictional heroic corps d’elite, such as we might hear echoed in titles like “the seven samurai” or “magnificent seven.”


6

I lived my life as usual, striving eagerly to reach my goals, while continually wishing to be husband and wife with Tsuru.

February 13 was her birthday. I often forget my own birthday, June 11, but I have never forgotten Tsuru’s since Kawaji-sensei told me about it at school. February 13 was a Saturday. I lunched at around 11:30 and, making out I as though had business, went out to see her. I felt somehow tight in my chest, happy, embarrassed, and worried.

How heart-warming to think that Dante must have felt something like this. Though it is a stretch to compare myself to Dante, even if I were to compare Tsuru to Beatrice. Being rather humble, I may be able to marry Tsuru. I thought about this as I walked along.

I am an extremely lucky man and was therefore convinced that things with Tsuru would go well, at least for the time being. I was looking forward to seeing how she might feel, meeting me today, after not having seen me for a year. How strange it would be if she were to forget about us having met.

Eventually, I reached a road where we should be able to bump into each other. I passed by a procession of students coming from her school. The road was not straight, but bent to the right about a hundred meters along. I could not see far beyond there. As I approached that point, no-one resembling Tsuru was to be seen. She might appear at any second. I wondered how she would look. I walked on, paying close attention to the schoolgirls coming towards me. Now I could see some fifty metres ahead. If I kept going, Tsuru should come into view.

My heart pounded in my chest at the excitement of passing that point. Some twenty or so students were approaching, chatting together in groups of two or three. Perhaps Tsuru would be in the group of four at the end. Whenever I met her in the past, she was usually in a gathering of three or four.

But when they got closer, she was not among them. A disappointment, but a relief as well. An intermittent stream of girls came around the bend. As they chatted together, they walked in my direction, as though gravitating towards me. However, their numbers gradually dwindled, and still Tsuru was not among them. Finally, I came to the bend, and at that point, the path split in two. If she appeared now, I would instantly turn right. No, I would take a glance to the left and turn right whether I saw her or not. To go left would be to pass by her school, and I was afraid to do that. However, when I looked left, she was not to be seen, so I decided to turn left anyway.

I walked as slowly as I could. There were few girls  coming from the gate any more. Only three, and two of them went in the opposite direction. The one who came towards me did not remotely resemble Tsuru.

I soon passed by the school and took a quick look inside the yard. No one was there. It was deserted. Might she be ill? Even more worrying, perhaps she had changed her path because she did not want to see me. Even knowing that was impossible, I still had a feeling it was somehow true.

I chose the nearest road and headed back, feeling lonely, pitiful, and angry. If Tsuru became my wife, I was sure she would complain to me for not having met her in 1907, on her seventeenth birthday.

What would she say to me then?

When I got back home, I could not help feel embarrassed and resentful. I went into my room and examined a painting by Ludwig von Hofmann to ease my feelings. I looked for Hofmann’s book, but could not find it. Becoming more and more angry, I pressed hard on the bell.

Our live-in student came.

“Did you not see a book like this, here on my desk?” I said, pointing at one from the same series, which lay there.

The young man said, “I don’t know,” and started searching, but could not find it. I was getting even angrier.

“There is nothing more aggravating than searching for books.” I said. “From now on, don’t touch any of my books.” He said “Very well,” and continued to search. There was no point in continuing to watch on, so I hauled an armful of books out from a shelf. He was in a panic that I was so furious. I seldom get angry at all. I started putting away books at random, and the one I was looking for appeared, right where I had left it.

I said, “There it is.” He was relieved and went to put it away. I said, “You don’t have to do that.” As he was leaving, I said brusquely, “Thank you for your help.”

When he left, I was irritated with myself for becoming angry at the innocent student. How angry I had become those days.

It must, I thought, be because of my hunger for a woman. I was angry at my own low character. But my heart was still raging. I opened Hofmann’s book and looked at it, but even his wonderfully tranquil artworks could not comfort my heart. I closed the book and looked at some of Klingel’s drawings. Then I turned to Greiner’s drawings, which were so powerful they made my heart beat wildly. I strode through the room, summoning all my strength.

Even if Tsuru does not become my wife, and I do not taste the tenderness of love, I will not allow my heart to be tormented. I must do all I can to transcend it.

Brave Warrior, Brave Warrior! I am a Brave Warrior!

I cried out in my heart, and in so doing, prevented something of an effeminate feeling from taking root there.


Notes, References, Further Reading

  • Photograph of young women: Girls in dance class or ‘circle’ at Tokyo Jogakkan, private school for girls, founded in 1888. Photo c. Taisho 14 (1925).
  • Reclining nude: Detail from Eve, the Devil, and Sin personified (1898), print, Otto Greiner. For complete work, see Eva, Teufel und Sünde, British Museum.
  • Ludwig von Hofmann: Ludwig von Hofmann (1861 – 1945)
  • Klingel: Johann Christian Klengel (or Klingel) (1751 – 1824)
  • Greiner: Otto Greiner (1869 – 1916)

Lansing, R. (ed). Dante Encyclopedia (London: Routledge, 2010).

Wikipedia. ‘Shosei‘.

. ‘Yūshi‘.

Williams, C. The Figure of Beatrice: A Study in Dante (NP: Reading Essentials, 1943).

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

3 replies »

  1. Thank you for another informed and insightful introduction. Placing the language in the context of the time was also very helpful in appreciating the narrative. Strangely enough at the close of the last chapter, I was left thinking of Dante and his adoration of Beatrice. It almost seemed like a model for his thinking. When I read the first chapter I was struck by the use of the word `self`. My mind went to Buddhist and Hindi meditative practices, where the Self is regarded as the pure essence of one, unencumbered by human emotions and desires in pursuit of enlightenment and contact with the cosmic consciousness. You later mentioned his adoption of Tolstoy’s aesthetic practices which was in accord with this.

    Introspective, an Outsider, a detached observer as evidenced in the gathering of his cohorts in Chapter 2. Perhaps over-protected or sheltered as a child, the conservative nature of his mother abhorring disturbance or upset in the home, and the absence of siblings has contributed to a timidity, an unnaturalness in interaction with others. Necessarily, introspective the narrative has the feel of a confession, and unlike other early first person narratives like letters or a diary, I kept feeling like Tsuru was on a psychiatrist’s couch. The focus of the narrative is narrow, concerning only his thoughts of Tsuru, and details of the rest of his life are minimal. His retreat to a higher plane almost appears as a compensating factor for his social limitations – i.e. playing to his strengths.

    In this chapter, as in the first, like the swell of a wave that refuses to be repressed, satisfaction of his sexual desires come to the fore. Although he tries to maintain an equilibrium and rationalise away his desires, he reverts again to endless consideration of his Tsuru.

    I wonder what response he expects to receive from his go-between for his latest advance to Tsuru’s parents. I cannot see any response that will be helpful in his obsessional plight. And I ask myself – how can he love someone he doesn’t even know – what is it that makes her so much his focus, apart from the fact that he knew her as a child. His statement that he only dreams of her in an androgynous way, seems in conflict with his admission to masturbating. That he considers marriage to Tsuru will leave his individuality intact, is niave, and given the current state of his mind, it would appear that he has been considerably altered already.

    I look forward to the next chapter. Thank you Michael for the translation, I can only imagine the difficulty involved.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Many thanks for your fine insights, Brian. I’m enjoying Mushanokoji’s novel and the translation process. As you know, in resurrecting a work, you really get into the era invoved – so much to learn! Several young Japanese readers have commented about Omedetaki Hito quite diffidently on the web – understandably, since it is so far away from their experience of today, and the conventions of fiction they are used to. I find the book quite unique and moreish. Thanks again. Looking forward to further of your observations in the future.

    Like

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