Mushanokoji's Good Natured Man

Mushanokoji’s Good Natured Man 8

A Japanese character (kanji) compound, ‘mede’ (目出: “eye” + “go out”) is the basis for the expression, ‘good natured’ in Mushanokoji’s translated title Omedetaki-hito. The compound appears in the common congratulatory phrase, ‘omedetou gozaimasu’, as in, for example, ‘tanjoubi omedetou gozaimasu’ (Many happy returns of the day!)

However, there is no English equivalent to the type of personality denoted by the titular ‘omedetaki hito’ (‘hito’ being ‘person’), because in this context, there is a range of connotations, such as: happy, naive, innocent, optimistic, good-natured, gullible, or foolish. Thus when English language critics comment on the Japanese work, they translate the title variously, drawing on any of these or similar terms.

Though Jibun personifies many of these qualities, and several appear in his own self-analyses, no single one encapsulates him. He is partially naive, and partially foolish, but not entirely. It would be misleading, therefore, to translate the title as, say, “The Stupid Man” or “The Naive Person”, though some have.

Portrait of Saneatsu Mushanokoji, 1951

The word implies a well-meaning, optimistic kind of person who is somewhat naive and unrestrained in expressing his positiveness to others; thus he may come across as a bit obtuse. Dostoevsky’s eponymous Idiot is perceived somewhat similarly. The English word ‘amiable’, too, carries a slight connotation of ‘good-natured and well-meaning but a tad thick.’

Mushanokoji presents this aspect of character as somehow transcendent, as a path towards happiness and self-actualization. The connotation of naivety, for example, can come out of artlessness or sincerity—being absolutely true to oneself, abjuring any sort of self-defence mechanism, aggrandisement, or care about how one appears to others, in his quest for his own truth (thus Jibun comes over as unbalanced in some ways; for example, due to his undiluted honesty in demonstrating his obsessions and thought processes).

Jibun’s poem refers to some of the diverse qualities of the ‘omedetaki hito’ he sees in himself. Furthermore, the title he gives it strongly suggests the Japanese equivalent of the phrase ‘they lived happily ever after’. But again, it is not precisely equivalent, and to have used that title would be to impose too heavy an irony.

Here are some brief thoughts by Japanese Mushanokoji aficionados:

The novel “Omedetaki-Hito” was written to convey Mushanokoji’s view of life, in which he expresses his frank thoughts on women and sex and his inability to accept the rejection of his love. He believes that one should live life in a natural and generous way without being bound by reality or common sense. The novel can be read as conveying this view of life of Mushanokoji’s. The ‘self’ tries to follow unconscious inspiration and [inner] nature rather than [external] reality and common sense. If the reader accepts this kind of ‘self’ as a realistic existence, then the author’s aim is achieved.

Hiroshi Takita, Nishōgakusha University

And also, more generally:

‘A novel that touches the heart does not necessarily have to be well written.’ The works of Mushanokoji Saneatsu teach us this. There is no effort, no appearance, no attempt to be neat and tidy, just writing that is completely faithful to the inner life of the protagonist. That is the most attractive thing about Mushanokoji. It is also something that can be seen in his way of life? True to his heart, Dr Mushanokoji lived long until the age of 90. His positive spirit may be a hint for us about how to live. ‘Life is not easy—that is what makes it interesting. There is no better way to make the most of your life than this path.’ These are just a few of the many words he left behind. When we savour them again, they seem to recharge our hearts as well!

NA, Tokyo FM


Another few days passed since I visited my uncle.

Not a day went by without thinking about Tsuru. Only when I was with her did I feel whole. I wished she were there with me to enjoy anything I read or saw. When I was happy, lonesome or sad, saw beautiful things, or ate good food, I wished we were together.

My father, mother, brother, sister-in-law, niece and friends are all admirable people. My friends often tell me: ‘There is no one so fortunate as you.’ Absolutely so, but I need someone to love me even more, someone to return my passion. I am hungry for a woman.

A year or two ago I told a friend of mine in Azabu that it would be terrifying to marry Tsuru. Yet I would like to experience the joy of that terror, and to savour it, without sacrificing my own destiny.

For five years I have longed for this joy. She must share my love for her. Just as I dreamt of the time when we could become husband and wife, she would share the same dream.

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, The Appearance of a Virgin of the Kansei Era (1789 – 1801) from the series Thirty-two Aspects of Customs and Manners, 1888

Certainly Mr. Kawaji would soon have something to say.

Anxious and full of hope, I waited for his message. He had likely already gone to Tsuru’s house. He may not have sent news because he did not consider it pressing. Or else, perhaps he had other business and had not been yet. Or then again, it was possible the delay was so he could give me the final decision at her home. Being good-naturedly optimistic, I believed this was most likely the fact of the matter.

It was the evening of the second of March, when the letter from Mr Kawaji arrived. Praying for good fortune, and with a burning sense of anxiety and hope, I cut the seal. Then read, and my anger started to rise.

Mr Kawaji met with Tsuru’s father and they discussed various issues, but her father insisted that she was still young and her brother had not yet taken a bride. He said she had received marriage proposals from other men, including a medical doctor and the son of a moneybags with a massive fortune, but he had rejected them all with the same answer. Mr. Kawaji wished he could have argued my case more vigorously, but had not wanted to jeopardise the proposal. His reply to me was rather hazy.

In his letter, Mr Kawaji continued that he would try to work out a better approach, but it was advisable to wait for the time being.

Summoning all my strength, I tried to inspire myself. I am a Brave Warrior, a Brave Warrior, over and over. Yet somehow the tears came. It was hopeless. Nothing to be done. Around ten o’clock I went to bed. Then wept.

After some hours I fell into a fitful sleep, until about one in the morning. Feeling a powerful sense of self pity, I opened my eyes. Unable to bear it, I got up and wrote in my diary.

The 3rd

Awoke at around one o’clock.

The misery. Too much of a disaster to bear. Wracking my brains for an answer to no avail, I wept.

I have thought of her every single day for five years, and now suffer the consequence. This is my own fault, no one else’s, yet I despair, having come this far.

I started loving her in September of the thirtieth year of Meji [1897]. Three and a half years have passed, during which I never stopped wanting—no, needing—to marry her.

Behind it all lay my belief that it was for her benefit, and that she desired the same thing.

I must be a fool to be so conceited.

It took nineteen months to elicit my parents consent. I put myself through such suffering.

I gained the deepest sympathy of my family, Mr. Kawaji, and my friends. It is wonderful to receive their support. I have a tranquil countenance and often enjoy a calm state of mind, but how often have I wept, has my heart been crushed, have I despaired, because of all this?

If Tsuru has no sympathy for me, I would prefer to abstain from the marriage arrangements.

Her father is probably the one who is most indifferent to the dialogue. However, if Tsuru wanted to do something about it, then her father would probably find himself able to proceed.

She seems to lack any care for me.

If I had none for her, I would not want her to be my wife, and would have no wish to become her husband, particularly if it meant annoying so many people in the process. To be so naively optimistic and good-natured would only be self-indulgent.

If she finds no joy in becoming my wife, then I find none in being her husband.

I would not want such a woman to be my wife, who is unwilling to have me as a husband. I am not such a greedy man as to be content with that.

I need to know Tsuru’s heart.

She should already know who I am. If she does not feel the slightest sympathy for me, despite knowing I am in such distress, and does not want to rescue me, then she is not fit to be my wife.

If she loves and commiserates with me, but knowing her own weakness remains silent, then she is a wretched individual.

She is a pitiable human being, and for as long as I perceive her as such, I will not think of her at all.

That makes me feel like a man again. It would seem best, not to give her another thought.

Even if this is a mistaken way of thinking, then regardless, I will not even think of her, in order to prove it to myself.

I need to know her heart.

You will never know her heart, she is enslaved. Entrusts her destiny to her father and brother, believing it beneficial.

She thinks it wicked to give herself over to her passions.

A woman with no selfhood, no ego.

A woman without ego lacks the courage to share the secrets of her heart with others. I have no opportunity to hear them, but it must be just as impossible for anyone else.

However, I want to hear. Women are generally quite bold about such issues. Their whole life depends on them. However, even if I could ask, Tsuru’s response, in her impotence, would probably be a poor one.

There is nothing else to do but anxiously wait things out. But I cannot bear it any more. I have endured too much.

I need to know if she loves me or not, because then I will be able to give up, and my anxiety will not have been in vain. (Night, 2.10 am)

Young Japanese woman in western pose with European jewelry (ca 1870), Baron Raimund von Stillfried

My head felt a little rested after writing all this in my diary, so I went to bed, but woke up again still agitated and, in tears, wrote the following new style poem under the title ‘Too Good Natured’.

Dissipate ceaseless thought
At the thought of her

Too much a woman
Beloved by many
You need not think of her alone

O woman!
Abandoning thought
I see only you

How dismiss
Without thinking of you?
Become thou a man

Become thou a man
Conceive you manly
Love nor care for you no more

No second thought of you
If you love me not
Nor care

Until truth is known
Renounce you
Without another thought

Three times you woo her
Thrice her father forbids
And you think she still loves you?

Her father’s words
I find myself
Too weak

Good-natured, naive
Amiable fool
Delighting only in her

Yet more favoured
Dazzling, splendid
Than she can know

More remarkable yet
In forsaking her
Think of her as a blight

Then give no further thought
She will be like dust
Before my very eyes

Too good-natured
Tormenting others and myself
Too remarkable

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

2 replies »

  1. Thank you, Michael for another insightful and informative introduction to this unique work, which otherwise might never have been presented to English speakers.

    Mushanokoji’s comment that he regarded the work as ‘selfish’, has intrigued me throughout. Perhaps a cathartic exercise. It is as though he is trying to find release from a fixation that began as a boyhood fascination/infatuation of a neighbour’s little girl – ‘one day when we grow up, we will get married’. His analysis and search for resolution comes between waves of natural sexual desire, through either release by wishful thinking – such as his overtures through the go-between, aesthetic detachment and beatific mental conceptualization of Tsuru. He dare not think or cannot afford to regard her in normal sexual relations.
    In this chapter, he has the weight of time (5 years wasted) in his armament, and resorts to the use of anger, at himself and then directed irrationally at the girl herself, as an instigator of pain and torment, to seek release from his obsession. For the most part, I think he has been boldly honest, despite it being self-derogatory at times, and in some instances unpalatable for the reader, yet this is the basis of art. On the whole, I found reading ‘A Good-natured man’ very interesting and enjoyable, as a window into Japanese culture and one man’s consciousness.

    Liked by 2 people

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