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.
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.”
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).
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
Categories: Mushanokoji's Good Natured Man