Mushanokoji's Good Natured Man

Mushanokoji’s Good Natured Man 13

Herein ends the explicit narrative of the incorrigible Jibun’s hunger for a woman vis-à-vis the schoolgirl Tsuru. However, the book continues with several addenda, what Mushanokoji refers to as a ‘supplementary record, to be seen as something written by the protagonist of The Good Natured Man’. The supplementary record conisists of eight dramatic, narrative and poetic vignettes. I will present these over the next few months and continue to supplement each with atmospheric, and to varying degrees contextual, images.

The images in this blog instalment include a cameo performance by a wonderful novelist, a contemporary of Mushanokoji’s, Ryūnosuke Akutagawa (1892 – 1927). The biannual Akutagawa Prize for the best work of fiction by a new writer is one of the two most important literary awards in Japan. Akutagawa praised Mushanokoji for having “opened a window” to allow light into a literary world dominated by uninspired naturalism. In the West, Akutagawa is most widely known for having written the story upon which the great film director Akira Kurosawa based his film Rashomon. Note that, although Akutagawa did write a story titled ‘Rashomon’, the story that Kurosawa used is a different one, ‘In a Bamboo Grove‘ (1922).

Akutagawa ended his own life in 1927, on account of what he referred to as a “vague anxiety.” Critics have interpreted his suicide as “marking the defeat of an intellectual (or aestheticized) literary practice disengaged from historical and social reality” (Lippit 27). This tendency in Taisho literature gives way, they assert, to a modernist and Marxist turn in the subsequent Showa period.

We can see in Jibun’s simultaneous attraction to external (e.g., western) culture and withdrawal into interiority, an evolving Taisho worldview, one that is expressed further in the development of the I-novel. Lippit writes of this “double orientation” as definitive in the I-novel:

A primary example can be found in the writings of Saneatsu Mushanokoji, who […] proclaimed the “overt message of internationalism”, while at the same time delineating a space of absolute, narcissistic interiority in his literary works. When discourse on the I-novel first appeared in the mid-1920s, this dialecticic between cosmopolitanism and interiority was collapsed, and the I-novel was written into an indigenous literary history, in an essentialization of Japanese culture

Seiji M. Lippit, “The Disintegrating Machinery of the Modern: Akutagawa Ryunosuke’s Late Writings”

It is therefore apt to consider Mushanokoji’s early The Good Natured Man as the prototypic I-novel, thereby recognizing its significance in the evolution of modern Japanese literature.


After that, I tried to eject her from my imagination, and into the storehouse of my memory. However, it was a lonely and painful effort, as well as a futile one. There was nothing to do but leave things in the hands of time.

Wandering around in a flower garden from which all the flowers had been taken away, I mocked myself and my lonely heart.

I who hunger for a woman may love one again some day, and the time may come when I will celebrate my present loss of love. But such a thought could do nothing for me now. I knew nothing but misery. My heart was broken.

Perhaps I might go on a trip, I considered. If I did not travel I would break down. But I am brave samurai. It should be a blessing and not a misfortune if a woman who did not love me were to become someone else’s wife. I should be glad I did not marry her. I am not the kind of person who, having suffered an unrequited love and the consequences of my own actions, is afraid of doing something rash. Having done everything in my power, I would now become a philosopher who accepts my fate.

I decided to stay in Tokyo. I hid my loneliness and put on a brave face. My father, mother, and Mr. Kawaji must have wished they had not had to worry so much about trying to get me married.

But how may we endure, except in the knowledge that we have done all we are able? Is that not some comfort? The only consolation for a mother who has lost her beloved child is the knowledge that she has done all she possibly could.

On the evening of the third of November, I visited a friend of mine who had graduated in engineering this year. I casually asked him about Tsuru’s husband. He knew him well, and said he was a likeable and energetic man with a good physique. My friend even told me that the fellow was delighted to have recently married a beautiful, loving wife.

I said casually, “I see,” and when he finished the story, my friend suddenly asked me why I wished to know. My face flushed and I weakened, as though I might start to weep.

I said something incomprehensible like, “Just something I wanted to ask you.”

He was not in any hurry to get to the bottom of it.

* * *

After a while, I began to think, without any reason, that Tsuru had actually loved me, but married someone else unwillingly, at the urging of my father, mother, and older brother. Another month passed, and I began to feel a sense of pity for her, then to worry about her fate.

I wanted to see her and ask if this feeling of mine was true or not.

However, even if she said, “I have never thought about you,” it would be no more than just words. It would only be in her mind.

Notes, References, Futher Reading

Contextual-atmospheric Meiji images:

  • Photo of man: The novelist Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Mushanokoji’s contemporary. Source: National Diet Library of Japan. See precis, above.
  • Photo of woman: Geisha, late Meiji.
  • Woodblock print: Bullfinch and Weeping Cherry (Uso, shidarezakura), from an untitled series of flowers and birds ( c. 1834), Katsushika Hokusai 葛飾 北斎 (1760-1849). Source: Art Institute of Chicago

Lippit, Seiji M. “The Disintegrating Machinery of the Modern: Akutagawa Ryunosuke’s Late Writings”, Journal of Asian Studies 58.1 (1999), pp. 27-50.

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

5 replies »

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s