Mushanokoji's Good Natured Man

Mushanokoji’s Good Natured Man 10

A small group of foreign words in katakana (phonetic script) presented an initially worrying, but ultimately amusing and enlightening, knot to untie. Katakana is the means by which the Japanese writing system represents foreign words. It was first used to enable the pronunciation of imported Chinese texts (since about the ninth century). From the Meiji era up to the present day, katakana have been used as much for rendering Western names and loan words. Thus they reflect the pattern of Japan’s opening to and borrowing from foreign cultures—a Meiji characteristic that became an enduring Japanese one.

I defy anyone to make sense of these expressions off the top of their head, even given the phonetic approximations in the Latin alphabet: フイデユス (fuideyusu), ユーゲンド (yūgendo), ツーア ブラウトインゼル (tsūa burautoinzeru). But cracking one nut opens up the others. The first is Fidus (alternatively pronounced ‘fee-dus’), aka Hugo Reinhold Karl Johann Höppener (1868-1948), a German artist and illustrator. Googling around will soon bring up the second one, Jugend, German for ‘youth’ (but sounds like ‘yuu·gent‘): this was the title of the German avant-garde art magazine Die Jugend (1896-1941), famous for its striking covers and dedication to Art Nouveau. The third expression is the title of a work by Fidus that appeared in Jugend, Zur Brautinsel (‘to the bridal island’). It was a bonus to find the very drawing that Jibun and his friend discuss.

Cover of Jugend, 26 June 1897

For decades the magazine Jugend was a powerful avant-garde influence in Germany, both aesthetically and culturally. The Jugenstil (‘youth style’) art movement (German Art Nouveau) derived its name from the magazine, and was a reaction against official traditions of classicism and historicism. Its sinuous, organic forms drew on the style of British Art Nouveau as well as from Japanese art and prints.

Fidus (Höppener) was, in his day, perhaps the most popular artist in Germany. His symbolist style was rediscovered by the Californian hippy movement of the 60s. He has been described as an ‘archetypal communist’ (qtd. Hermand and Mason, p. 290) and ‘perhaps the greatest psychedelic artist ever, pre-dating the 1960’s multi-colored posters and albums by over a half century’ (Gordon Kennedy, author of Children of the Sun: A Pictorial Anthology from Germany to California, 1883-1949). It is fascinating to find in Mushanokoji’s novel this early acknowledgement of a debt to eclectic German naturism of the early twentieth century, its footprints left in sometimes dubious aesthetics and ideology.

This is particularly so, given Mushanokoji’s own project to establish a utopian commune / village, which caught the eye of the young Mao Zedong in China.


I awoke early on the morning of 1 April. It was a pleasant day with fine weather. I went to look at the newspaper box. My heart was unusually agitated.

I knew that on 1 April there would be a graduation ceremony at Tsuru’s school. The year before last, I had seen Tsuru go to school wearing a hat with her school crest. Wondering what the occasion might be, I saw her come home in the evening, still wearing the hat. I thought then that she must have graduated from school. The same day, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper published the names of nine of her schoolmates who had won honours. Her name was not among them.

Tsuru was not very good at school, was she? Well, it was perhaps fortunate she was not a brilliant student, for if she graduated with honours, she would attract the attention of others who might want to take her as a wife. Happily, she was no honours student. However, once school started, she continued to attend. Ah, she must not yet have graduated after all, which was why she had not been on the list.

Later I heard from Mr Kawaji about Tsuru’s grades at school. I was proud she had achieved such good results. On 1 April last year, the Asahi Shimbun reported the names of more than a dozen honours graduates from her school. Since I knew she was graduating the following year, however, I paid no attention.

Now this was the year she would graduate. So I got up early on the 1 April and went to check the newspaper. It had not yet arrived. I walked around the garden in the morning air, not wanting to miss the bell. After a while it rang. Despite feeling anxious and somehow embarrassed, I went to see immediately.

The results were indeed out. Tsuru’s name was fourth among the one hundred and three graduates. I smiled to myself, I was so proud.

At that moment, I recalled that when I graduated from the Peers School, I was fourth out of thirty or so who graduated. Amused by the coincidence I smiled even more.

My father and mother read the newspaper but did not notice Tsuru. Around one o’clock I went to my mother’s room and casually mentioned that Tsuru had graduated with honours.

She said indifferently, ‘Yes, I see,’ and added, ‘She has done quite well.’ Feigning nonchalance, I said, ‘It seems so.’ My mother again said, ‘I hope that matter will be decided soon. There are not many good prospects about these days. You are all I worry about.’

When I think that my mother is indifferent to this matter, I make it seem as if I am worried that things will not be settled, but when she says this to me, I say:

‘There is no need to worry about me. There are few people in the world who have less need to be worried about than I.’

‘That may be, yet there I have many things to tell you, to prepare you,’ she said. I was glad to hear her say this, and smiled involuntarily. I believed that things would work out between Tsuru and her. I had been worried at times because of my mother’s initial reluctance to receive Tsuru. Now she seemed willing to go along with the idea.

Still, I could not be certain that it would all go well.

That evening, I visited a friend in Hayabusacho. While we were conversing about various things, he told me about something he had found the night before.

“I was searching for a copy of Jugend that contains a good sketch by Fidus,” he said, and showed me an old issue. I opened it to see the sketch.

A glimpse of a boat amid raging waves, carrying a young man and woman. She strains to control the tiller, while staring towards their destination. Her disheveled hair flails in the wind, and the man rows with all his might. In short, the two are locked in a frantic attempt to reach their goal, and the vigour of their efforts is palpable.

What is their destination? Zur Brautinsel: To the bridal island.

“Not bad, is it?’ said my friend.

“Excellent,’ I said.

But looking at the drawing, I was thinking of myself and my beloved. I thought about Tsuru and my desire to marry her. I envied the couple in the drawing. How happy I would be if Tsuru devoted herself resolutely to our marriage, just like the woman in the picture. I pretended to be admiring the picture while thinking this sort of thing to myself.

Then, “Yes, very good indeed, this Fidus pencil sketch,” I said, as if I had just reached a considered conclusion.

“Truly masterful and with great character,” my friend said.

As I continued to admire the picture I had the thought that if Tsuru did not love me, then my efforts would be ridiculous. I envied this couple even more. They probably have many enemies, but when you work assiduously for your goal, there is no doubt you will achieve it. The results of your efforts will be evident. You encourage and help each other. You can trust in your tender passion for each other.

I could not help but envy them.

How happy I would be if Tsuru truly loved me and strove sincerely to be my wife. That would make it all worthwhile.

I put down the Fidus picture, and my friend and I discussed other things.

Occasionally I looked at the picture and thought about Tsuru.

How was she? What did she think of me? Certainly, a nasty, shameless, impudent man. A snakelike person. So I thought, over and again.

So doing, I stayed with my friend until eleven o’clock.

Notes, References, Further Reading

  • Photograph of man wearing yukata: Kyoka Izumi (1873-1939), author of novels, short stories and kabuki plays. Included for atmosphere.
  • Drawing: Zur Brautinsel by Fidus (Hugo Reinhold Karl Johann Höppener).
  • ‘Peer’s School’: Gakushūin, school in Tokyo originally established to educate children of nobles, attended by Mushanokoji.

Hermand, Jost and Gregory Mason. ‘Meister Fidus: Jugendstil-Hippie to Aryan Faddist’, Comparative Literature Studies, 12. 3, Media and Society: Montage, Satire and Cultism between the Wars (Sep., 1975), pp. 288-307

Kennedy, Gordon. Children of the Sun: A Pictorial Anthology From Germany to California, 1883-1949 (Ojai, Calif. : Nivaria Press, 1998). See excerpted article, ‘Hippy Roots and the Perennial Subculture‘, Gordon Kennedy and Kody Ryan.

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

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