Mushanokoji's Good Natured Man

Mushanokoji’s Good Natured Man 11

What?! Tsuru has red hair? Like blonde hair, black hair has various shades, such as kite, rouge, purple, iron, and sandalwood. Jibun may discern such a fine detail, given the intensity of his focus upon her. However, his observation may be read primarily as a symbolistic gesture, standing out conspicuously against his plain, diaristic style.

Tsuru’s ‘red hair’ and white face powder evoke the symbolism of her namesake, the red-crowned crane. The Japanese crane (tsuru) has a patch of red skin on the crown and symbolizes good fortune, fidelity, and longevity. This connotation links with Mushanokoji’s structuring of Tsuru, fundamentally as a symbolic entity — Jibun’s totally internalized, idealized woman — whom he has never met in reality.

Further play with words and symbols occurs when he is about to tell his mother about having seen Tsuru, but refrains. As a measure of Tsuru’s beauty, he compares her to the most famous geisha of the day, Shizuka Tamuka (1894-1973), known professionally as Manryu (萬龍), whose kanji characters translate as ‘ten thousand’ and ‘dragon‘. Jibun puns, therefore, when he claims, “I don’t know how much more beautiful Tsuru is than Manryu,” a statement that reads almost literally, “I don’t know how much more beautiful cranes are than dragons.” A more literal translation of Jibun’s words would be: “I don’t know how many tens of times more beautiful cranes are than dragons,” which puns also on the number ‘ten thousand’ in the geisha’s name, but the humour would be lost in translation.

More significantly, the comparison of cranes with dragons serves to raise Tsuru’s human beauty to a level of myth and divinity, both these being the most sublime among mythical creatures.

Postcard image of the geisha Manryu

Manryu achieved fame as a model featured on postcards manufactured mainly to be sent to soldiers in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-5. She received 90,000 votes in a magazine contest, to be ranked first among “Japan’s 100 most beautiful women,” while receiving criticism for being too demure and having too big a nose.

I intend a contextual photograph of another renowned Meiji beauty to resonate with Jibun’s fantasies of Tsuru as a mature woman, and his projected wife. The woman is Ryoko Mutsu (1856-1900), former geisha, and wife of diplomat Count Mutsu Munemitsu, she became known as “the flower of Washington”. She serves bearably well as a future, aloof 33-year-old Tsuru.

Jibun recalls a gay relationship from his student years. While having been codified into class structures (particulalry the samurai) during earlier historical periods, same sex relationships were discouraged during Meiji. However, they were by no means unknown. The renowned novelist Natsume Soseki (I Am a Cat, Sore Kara, Botchan, Kokoro, etc.), an important influence of Mushanokoji’s, recollects:

When my elder brother was in school, about the time when there were still students who had come up from the provinces, there lingered in places in the school an atmosphere unimaginable in today’s youth. My brother told me that he had received a love letter from a certain senior. It seems the senior was a man much older than my brother. […] How was my brother, who had been brought up in Tokyo, where such customs were not practiced, to deal with this letter? After this, he said, whenever he met the man in the school bath, he felt extremely uneasy.

Soseki, qtd. in Furukawa and Lockyer, “The Changing Nature of Sexuality: The Three Codes of Framing Homosexuality in Modern Japan”

One further point on the translation. At least one English language critique refers to action occuring in Tokyo ‘trains’. That is a slight oversight, due to Mushanokoji’s use of the word densha, which in present Japanese translates to ‘electric train’. However, the Tokyo Densen Railway (electric line), which opened service in 1903, to replace the horse-drawn railway that had served the city since 1882, continued to expand its operations until the early 20s, employing trams/streetcars. So in Jibun’s time, they were definitely ‘trams’, not ‘trains‘.


I have not seen her for more than a year now, and I may never see her again. If I do, it will be as a bride-to-be.

I often think so. I muse about Tsuru growing up and becoming more mature and beautiful, but I cannot picture her as an adult. Sometimes I wonder whether she will become ill. Or I wonder whether she may be injured. I imagine her becoming ugly and crippled. Then I would kneel before her and say, “I love you, will you be my wife?” I adore her gorgeous face. But even more than that, I love her character.

However, when I think of this, I can’t help but recall a time ten years ago, when I was smitten by a good-looking man of my own age, a truly attractive individual. Many students strove to win his heart. I fantasized about him unexpectedly becoming ugly. I would kneel before him when others abandoned him, and say, “I adore you with all my heart,” and be pleased he had lost his looks. At the time, I believed I was drawn to his inner nature. But as the man aged, he did grow increasingly ugly. As he became unsightly, I found I could no longer love him, and I began to notice the flaws in his character as well.

From what my father and Mr. Kawaji have told me, Tsuru is a person of high repute among everyone. She seems too good a woman to be true. She is just as was reflected in my own eyes, and her neighbors, friends, and teachers all praise her. She receives nothing but compliments. But I yearned for her because she was beautiful. There are others who surpass her in beauty, and not only in beauty. But I would not have thought so much of her if she had been ugly, or not more than average. It would be fearful if she became ugly. But even if she were to become hideous, I would not abandon her. I would still be overjoyed to marry her. At first I loved her countenance and appearance. But now I believe that I love Tsuru herself, aspects of her that the eye cannot see. But it is her beauty for which I long, long for fervently, though I fear it attracts the attention of other men. She must undoubtedly have already attracted the attention of a great many. Tsuru’s father said that she had abstained from other marriage proposals as well.

I wanted to know what had happened to her, and as a matter of fact, the gods of fate granted me this wish on May 12.

It was a Wednesday, a day off for my friend in Nakano. Since the weather was good, at around 8:00 a.m. I abruptly decided to pay him a visit. I left my house immediately and arrived at his at around nine o’clock. We talked for a while and then went for a walk, passing through the green fields of wheat and sundry trees, surveying the clear sky and the black soil. I was nostalgic for this semi-rural atmosphere, having lived in the city for so long.

I said to him, “One day, I think I’d like to buy a house in Nakano, too.”

“By all means, please do,” he replied. Then, as though the thought had just struck him, “Has anything happened with your situation?”

“Things are much the same,” I said, “but I have a feeling it will all work out.”

“You seem rather doubtful,” he said.

“I’ve already done all I can. It can’t be helped.”

“I have a feeling it will go smoothly for you.”

“I have the same feeling, but the result will probably be the opposite.”

Saying this, I felt lonely. If only Tsuru were here beside me instead of he.

I changed the subject. I stayed with him until about 11:30, when I headed home. He saw me to the Nakano tram stop. The tram had not arrived, and I wished it never would. I could not help but imagine myself sharing a tram with Tsuru, on my way to and from my friend’s home in Nakano. It made me happy to imagine that the longer I waited for the tram, the greater would be my chance of meeting her.

Before long, the tram arrived. I bade my friend farewell, boarded and took a seat a little further than halfway back. The tram departed a short time later. I had thought that Tsuru might be waiting at the tram stop, but then realized that since it was now about twelve o’clock, she would probably be having her lunch. However, I was now as usual looking forward to arriving in Okubo. The tram stopped for a moment at Kashiwagi and then departed. My chest tightened, which was not unusual. I had experienced the feeling dozens of times here, but only once had I met Tsuru, on April 4 last year.

As the tram pulled into Okubo, I looked anxiously at the platform, where six or seven people stood waiting. Among them was a young woman. I wondered if it might be Tsuru, as the tram crawled to a stop.

It was Tsuru! She seemed to recognize me momentarily. She was about to get in through the rear door, but her foot suddenly halted. She pulled back and got in from the front. We looked at each other eye to eye. Her face blushing, she sat down on the right-hand side of my seat, with three people between us,

I was surprised at how she had matured. She was wearing a plain kimono, as ever, and thinly applied white face powder. I had never seen such a beautiful woman.

Gentle, beautiful, with an expressive countenance, lively eyes, red lips, and a wonderful complexion. If only I could see her face more clearly, but the others were in the way. I could see only a lock of red hair (Tsuru has red hair). Beside me was a labourer. Next to him was a soldier, then a woman about 40 years old, and across from her sat Tsuru.

I was sorry that she had not taken the empty seat across from me. Flustered at our seeing each other unexpectedly, she had been too embarrassed.

There were quite a few people in Shinjuku. In Yoyogi, there were so many that the place was almost full. If only an elderly person would get on board, or someone carrying a child. Then I would be able to stand up discretely, the better to see Tsuru. But there was a man standing in front of me.

A few passengers got off at Sendagaya. At Shinanomachi, five or six got off, and then three or four more. Shortly before reaching Yotsuya, I stood up and looked at Tsuru. Our eyes met, but she immediately looked away. I decided to move forward and stop in front of her. The tram was slowing, but she did not stand up. She turned her face away from me, and the tram did indeed come to a stop. I started to pass in front of her, and at this moment, she suddenly rose. Wonderful! My hand brushed against Tsuru’s back. I followed the crane and was about to step off the tram. At this moment, a man with a child stood up by the entrance. I did not dare to push him aside and follow directly after Tsuru, but left the two of them between us.

I got behind them, then tried to follow Tsuru through the ticket gate. But as she went through she looked back and saw me. She moved her body slightly to the right as if to beckon me to go through first. Taking the initiative, I went through ahead of her, with a husband’s authority, though my heart was not in it. As I was about to give my ticket to the ticket gate attendant, I dropped it. I looked as it fell out of my hand and watched the attendant pick it up. After exiting the station, I turned right and climbed the stairs on the left-hand side, then I turned around to see Tsuru again. After climbing a flight of stairs, I looked around to see her coming up after me on the left side.

I turned around again before I reached the top. Tsuru was still following the course I had taken. I climbed up further and turned right to go towards Kojimachi-dori. When I turned around again, I saw that she had finished climbing the stairs and still trailing me. I was elated, delerious.

I felt such an intimacy with her that I wanted to call out, “Tsuru-san!” Even when I did so, she was not startled, but responded almost laughingly:

“Is there something I can do for you?”

I slowed down. I was on the left side of Kojimachi street, following the tram track. She was walking on the right side of the street, not following the track.

I turned my head I do not know how many times, and each time our gazes met. Flustered, I looked again at where I was going. She also seemed to avert her gaze.

She loves me! My heart thrilled with joy.

Sincerity engenders sincerity. Just as I loved Tsuru, so she loved me.

My feet lurched and moved faster. When I came to Rokuchome, I turned around but could no longer see her. Perhaps she was in a store, but I could not see her. Unbearably happy, I hurried home.

Tsuru loves me. She will be my wife. We were born destined to be a married couple.

Certainly this was a happy day, one to commemorate. Tsuru must be just as pleased. I could not help returning home joyously. I went to see my mother. “Today I saw Tsuru! She is so beautiful! I don’t know how much more beautiful Tsuru is than Manryu!” I wanted to say. My mother had seen the famous geisha Manryu one day and admired her beauty. However, she had not remarked on Tsuru’s beauty when, three years ago, I had pointed Tsuru out to her as she passed in front of our window.

Anyway, I was not comfortable telling my mother about it. Even after lunch I was unable to settle down, so I went to Kanda. I could not stop smiling and thinking about Tsuru.

Beautiful, beautiful, gentle, gentle, noble, noble, Tsuru is woman!

That evening, I visited my friend in Azabu and simply said, “I met Tsuru!” He said, “Well, that must have been nice, mustn’t it?”

Notes, References, Further Reading

Contextual-atmospheric Meiji photographs:

  • Young man: Oda Nobuyoshi (1860 – 1926), civil rights activist and dentist. Served as the chairman of the Kochi City Council and the prefectural assembly. When his photo surfaced on the Internet years ago, it created some stir regarding his handsomness (See, e.g. “Handsome Meiji Men” abito blog.)
  • Young Woman: Ryoko Mutsu (1856-1900). See short introduction, above.

Furukawa, Makoto and Angus Lockyer, “The Changing Nature of Sexuality: The Three Codes of Framing Homosexuality in Modern Japan”, U.S.-Japan Women’s Journal. English Supplement No. 7 (1994), pp. 98-127. Published by University of Hawai’i Press on behalf of International Institute of Gender and Media. Available at JSTOR.

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

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