I ALWAYS called him "Sensei." [note1] I shall therefore refer to him simply as "Sensei," and not by his real name. It is not because I consider it more discreet, but it is because I find it more natural that I do so. Whenever the memory of him comes back to me now, I find that I think of him as "Sensei" still. And with pen in hand, I cannot bring myself to write of him in any other way.
It was at Kamakura, during the summer holidays, that I first met Sensei. I was then a very young student. I went there at the insistence of a friend of mine, who had gone to Kamakura to swim. We were not together for long. It had taken me a few days to get together enough money to cover the necessary expenses, and it was only three days after my arrival that my friend received a telegram from home demanding his return. His mother, the telegram explained, was ill. My friend, however, did not believe this. For some time his parents had been trying to persuade him, much against his will, to marry a certain girl. According to our modern outlook, he was really too young to marry. Moreover, he was not in the least fond of the girl. It was in order to avoid an unpleasant situation that instead of going home, as he normally would have done, he had gone to the resort near Tokyo to spend his holidays. He showed me the telegram, and asked me what he should do. I did not know what to tell him. It was, however, clear that if his mother was truly ill, he should go home. And so he decided to leave after all. I, who had taken so much trouble to join my friend, was left alone.
There were many days left before the beginning of term, and I was free either to stay in Kamakura or to go home. I decided to stay. My friend was from a wealthy family in the Central Provinces, and had no financial worries. But being a young student, his standard of living was much the same as my own. I was therefore not obliged, when I found myself alone, to change my lodgings.
My inn was in a rather out-of-the-way district of Kamakura, and if one wished to indulge in such fashionable pastimes as playing billiards and eating ice cream, one had to walk a long way across rice fields. If one went by rickshaw, it cost twenty sen. Remote as the district was, however, many rich families had built their villas there. It was quite near the sea also, which was convenient for swimmers such as myself.
I walked to the sea every day, between thatched cottages that were old and smoke-blackened. The beach was always crowded with men and women, and at times the sea, like a public bath, would be covered with a mass of black heads. I never ceased to wonder how so many city holiday-makers could squeeze themselves into so small a town. Alone in this noisy and happy crowd, I managed to enjoy myself, dozing on the beach or splashing about in the water.
It was in the midst of this confusion that I found Sensei. In those days, there were two tea houses on the beach. For no particular reason, I had come to patronize one of them. Unlike those people with their great villas in the Hase area who had their own bathing huts, we in our part of the beach were obliged to make use of these tea houses which served also as communal changing rooms. In them the bathers would drink tea, rest, have their bathing suits rinsed, wash the salt from their bodies, and leave their hats and sunshades for safe-keeping. I owned no bathing suit to change into, but I was afraid of being robbed, and so I regularly left my things in the tea house before going into the water.
Sensei had just taken his clothes off and was about to go for a swim when I first laid eyes on him in the tea house. I had already had my swim, and was letting the wind blow gently on my wet body. Between us, there were numerous black heads moving about. I was in a relaxed frame of mind, and there was such a crowd on the beach that I should never have noticed him had he not been accompanied by a Westerner.
The Westerner, with his extremely pale skin, had already attracted my attention when I approached the tea house. He was standing with folded arms, facing the sea; carelessly thrown down on the stool by his side was a Japanese summer dress which he had been wearing. He had on him only a pair of drawers such as we were accustomed to wear. I found this particularly strange. Two days previously I had gone to Yuigahama and, sitting on top of a small dune close to the rear entrance of a Western-style hotel, I had whiled away the time watching the Westerners bathe. All of them had their torsos, arms, and thighs well-covered. The women especially seemed overly modest. Most of them were wearing brightly colored rubber caps which could be seen bobbing conspicuously amongst the waves. After having observed such a scene, it was natural that I should think this Westerner, who stood so lightly clad in our midst, quite extraordinary.
As I watched, he turned his head to the side and spoke a few words to a Japanese, who happened to be bending down to pick up a small towel which he had dropped on the sand. The Japanese then tied the towel around his head, and immediately began to walk towards the sea. This man was Sensei.
From sheer curiosity, I stood and watched the two men walk side by side towards the sea. They strode determinedly into the water and, making their way through the noisy crowd, finally reached a quieter and deeper part of the sea. Then they began to swim out, and did not stop until their heads had almost disappeared from my sight. They turned around and swam straight back to the beach. At the tea house, they dried themselves without washing the salt off with fresh water from the well and, quickly donning their clothes, they walked away.
After their departure, I sat down, and lighting a cigarette, I began idly to wonder about Sensei. I could not help feeling that I had seen him somewhere before, but failed to recollect where or when I had met him.
I was a bored young man then, and for lack of anything better to do, I went to the tea house the following day at exactly the same hour, hoping to see Sensei again. This time, he arrived without the Westerner, wearing a straw hat. After carefully placing his spectacles on a nearby table and then tying his hand towel around his head, he once more walked quickly down the beach. And when I saw him wading through the same noisy crowd, and then swim out all alone, I was suddenly overcome with the desire to follow him. I splashed through the shallow water until I was far enough out, and then began to swim towards Sensei. Contrary to my expectation, however, he made his way back to the beach in a sort of arc, rather than in a straight line. I was further disappointed when I returned, dripping wet, to the tea house: he had already dressed, and was on his way out.
I saw Sensei again the next day, when I went to the beach at the same hour; and again on the following day. But no opportunity arose for a conversation, or even a casual greeting, between us. His attitude, besides, seemed somewhat unsociable. He would arrive punctually at the usual hour, and depart as punctually after his swim. He was always aloof and, no matter how gay the crowd around him might be, he seemed totally indifferent to his surroundings. The Westerner, with whom he had first come, never showed himself again. Sensei was always alone.
One day, however, after his usual swim, Sensei was about to put on his summer dress which he had left on the bench, when he noticed that the dress, for some reason, was covered with sand. As he was shaking his dress, I saw his spectacles, which had been lying beneath it, fall to the ground. He seemed not to miss them until he had finished tying his belt. When he began suddenly to look for them, I approached, and bending down, I picked up his spectacles from under the bench. "Thank you," he said, as I handed them to him.
The next day, I followed Sensei into the sea, and swam after him. When we had gone more than a couple of hundred yards out, Sensei turned and spoke to me. The sea stretched, wide and blue, all around us, and there seemed to be no one near us. The bright sun shone on the water and the mountains, as far as the eye could see. My whole body seemed to be filled with a sense of freedom and joy, and I splashed about wildly in the sea. Sensei had stopped moving, and was floating quietly on his back. I then imitated him. The dazzling blue of the sky beat against my face, and I felt as though little, bright darts were being thrown into my eyes. And I cried out, "What fun this is!"
After a while, Sensei moved to an upright position and said, "Shall we go back?" I, who was young and hardy wanted very much to stay. But I answered willingly enough, "Yes, let us go back." And we returned to the shore together.
That was the beginning of our friendship. But I did not yet know where Sensei lived.
It was, I think, on the afternoon of the third day following our swim together that Sensei, when we met at the tea house, suddenly asked me, "Do you intend to stay in Kamakura long?" I had really no idea how much longer I would be in Kamakura, so I said, "I don't know." I then saw that Sensei was grinning, and I suddenly became embarrassed. I could not help blurting out, "And you, Sensei?" It was then that I began to call him "Sensei."
That evening, I visited Sensei at his lodgings. He was not staying at an ordinary inn, but had his rooms in a mansion-like building within the grounds of a large temple. I saw that he had no ties of any kind with the other people staying there. He smiled wryly at the way I persisted in addressing him as "Sensei," and I found myself explaining that it was my habit to so address my elders. I asked him about the Westerner, and he told me that his friend was no longer in Kamakura. His friend, I was told, was somewhat eccentric. He spoke to me of other things concerning the Westerner too, and then remarked that it was strange that he, who had so few acquaintances among his fellow Japanese, should have become intimate with a foreigner. Finally, before leaving, I said to Sensei that I felt I had met him somewhere before but that I could not remember where or when. I was young, and as I said this I hoped, and indeed expected, that he would confess to the same feeling. But after pondering awhile, Sensei said to me, "I cannot remember ever having met you before. Are you not mistaken?" And I was filled with a new and deep sense of disappointment.
I returned to Tokyo at the end of the month. Sensei had left the resort long before me. As we were taking leave of each other, I had asked him, "Would it be all right if I visited you at your home now and then?" And he had answered quite simply, "Yes, of course." I had been under the impression that we were intimate friends, and had somehow expected a warmer reply. My self-confidence, I remember, was rather shaken then.
Often, during my association with Sensei, I was disappointed in this way. Sometimes, Sensei seemed to know that I had been hurt, and sometimes, he seemed not to know. But no matter how often I experienced such trifling disappointments, I never felt any desire to part from Sensei. Indeed, each time I suffered a rebuff, I wished more than ever to push our friendship further. I thought that with greater intimacy, I would perhaps find in him those things that I looked for. I was very young, it is true. But I think that I would not have behaved quite so simply towards others. I did not understand then why it was that I should behave thus towards Sensei only. But now, when Sensei is dead, I am beginning to understand. It was not that Sensei disliked me at first. His curt and cold ways were not designed to express his dislike of me, but they were meant rather as a warning to me that I would not want him as a friend. It was because he despised himself that he refused to accept openheartedly the intimacy of others. I feel great pity for him.
I intended of course to visit Sensei when I returned to Tokyo. There were still two weeks left before the beginning of lectures, and I thought I would visit him during that time. A few days after my return, however, I began to feel less inclined to do so. The atmosphere of the great city affected me a great deal, bringing back memories. Every time I saw a student in the streets, I found myself awaiting the coming of the new academic year with a feeling of hope and tense excitement. For a while, I forgot all about Sensei.
A month or so after the start of lectures, I became more relaxed. At the same time, I began to walk about the streets discontentedly, and to look around my room with a feeling that something was lacking in my life. I began to think of Sensei, and I found that I wanted to see him again.
The first time I went to his home, Sensei was out. I remember that I went again the following Sunday. It was a lovely day, and the sky was so blue that I was filled with a sense of well-being. Again, he was not at home. In Kamakura, Sensei had told me that he spent most of his time at home; indeed, he had even told me that he disliked to go out. Remembering this, I felt an unreasonable resentment at having twice failed to find him. I therefore hesitated in the front hall, staring at the maid who had informed me of her master's absence. She seemed to remember that I had called before and left my card. Asking me to wait, she went away. A lady then appeared, whom I took to be the mistress of the house. She was beautiful.
Very courteously, she told me of Sensei's whereabouts. I learned that every month, on the same day, it was Sensei's custom to take flowers to a certain grave in the cemetery at Zoshigaya. "He left here," said the lady regretfully, "hardly more than ten minutes ago." I thanked her and left. Before I had gone very far towards the busier part of town, I decided that it would be a pleasant walk to Zoshigaya. Besides, I might meet Sensei, I thought. I turned around and started to walk in the direction of Zoshigaya.
From the left side of a field I entered the cemetery and proceeded along a broad avenue bordered on each side by maple trees. There was a tea house at the end of the avenue, and I saw coming out of it someone that looked like Sensei. I walked towards him until I could see the sunlight reflected on the frame of his spectacles. Then, suddenly, I cried out aloud, "Sensei!" Sensei stopped, and saw me. "How in the world...?" he said. Then again, "How in the world... ?" His words, repeated, seemed to have a strange echo-like effect in the stillness of the afternoon. I did not know what to say.
He seemed quite relaxed as he stood there, and his voice was calm. But there was on his face a strangely clouded expression.
I explained to Sensei how I happened to be there.
"Did my wife tell you whose grave I was visiting?"
"Well, I suppose there was no reason why she should. After all, she met you today for the first time. No, of course not, there was no need for her to tell you."
At last, he appeared satisfied. But I could not understand the reason for his remarks.
We walked between tombstones on our way out. Next to those with inscriptions such as "Isabella So-and-so..." and "Login, Servant of God," were those with Buddhist inscriptions such as "All living things bear within themselves the essence of Buddha." There was one tombstone, I remember, which was written "Minister Plenipotentiary So-and-so." I stopped before one that was particularly small and, pointing at the three Chinese characters on it, I asked Sensei, "How does one read that?"
"I presume they are meant to be read as 'Andrew'," said Sensei, smiling stiffly.
Sensei did not seem to find the way in which different customs were reflected in the tombstones amusing or ironical, as I did. Silently, he listened to me for a while as I chattered on, pointing to this tombstone and that. But finally he turned to me and said, "You have never thought seriously of the reality of death, have you?" I became silent. Sensei said no more.
Towards the end of the cemetery, there stood a gingko tree, so large that it almost hid the sky from view. Sensei looked up at the tree and said, "In a little while, it will be beautiful here. The tree will be a mass of yellow, and the ground will be buried beneath a golden carpet of fallen leaves." Every month, I learned, Sensei made a point of walking by the tree at least once.
Not far from us in the cemetery, a man was leveling off a piece of rough ground. He stopped and, resting on his hoe, he watched us. Turning to our left, we soon reached the main road.
Having no particular destination in mind, I continued to walk along with Sensei. Sensei was less talkative than usual. I felt no acute embarrassment, however, and I strolled unconcernedly by his side.
"Are you going straight home?"
"Yes. There is nothing else I particularly want to do now." Silently, we walked downhill towards the south. Again I broke the silence. "Is your family burial ground there?" I asked.
"Whose grave is it, then? Some relation of yours perhaps?"
Sensei would say no more about it. I decided to mention the matter no further. But after he had walked a hundred yards or so, Sensei suddenly reopened the conversation.
"A friend of mine happens to be buried there."
"And you visit his grave every month?"
Sensei told me no more that day.
Despite this, however, there was no great change in Sensei's manner towards me. He was always quiet. At times, he seemed so quiet that I thought him rather lonely. I felt from the start his strangely unapproachable quality. Yet, at the same time, there was within me an irresistible desire to become close to Sensei. Perhaps I was the only one who felt thus towards him. Some might say that I was being foolish and naive. But even now, I feel a certain pride and happiness in the fact that my intuitive fondness for Sensei was later shown to have not been in vain. A man capable of love, or I should say rather a man who was by nature incapable of not loving; but a man who could not wholeheartedly accept the love of another--such a one was Sensei.
As I have already said, Sensei was always quiet. Moreover, he seemed to be at peace with himself. But sometimes I would notice a shadow cross his face. True, like the shadow of a bird outside the window, it would quickly disappear. The first time I noticed it was at the cemetery at Zoshigaya, when I suddenly spoke to him. I remember that I felt then, though only for a passing moment, a strange weight on my heart. Soon after, the memory of that moment faded away. One evening, however, towards the end of the Indian summer, it was unexpectedly brought back to my mind.
As I was talking to Sensei, I happened for some reason to think of the great gingko tree that he had pointed out to me. And I remembered that his monthly visit to the grave was only three days away. Thinking that it would fall on the day when my lectures ended at noon, and that I should be relatively free, I turned to Sensei and said:
"Sensei, I wonder if the gingko tree at Zoshigaya has lost all its leaves by now?"
Sensei was watching me carefully. I said quickly:
"May I accompany you, when you next visit the grave? I should like to take a walk around there with you."
"I go to visit a grave, not for a walk, you know."
"But surely, we can go for a walk at the same time?"
Sensei was silent for a while, then said, "Believe me, visiting the grave is for me a truly serious matter." He seemed quite determined to distinguish between his pilgrimage to the grave and an ordinary walk. I began to wonder whether he was making this excuse because he did not wish me to accompany him. I remember that I thought him oddly childish at the time. I became more forward.
"Well, then," I said, "please allow me to accompany you as a fellow visitor to the grave." I really did think Sensei's attitude rather unreasonable. A shadow crossed his brow, and his eyes shone strangely. I cannot say whether it was annoyance or dislike or fear that I saw in his expression. But whatever it was, there was beneath it, I felt, a gnawing anxiety. And I was suddenly reminded of the way he looked that day at Zoshigaya when I called to him.
"I cannot tell you why," Sensei said to me, "but for a very good reason I wish to go to that grave alone. Even my wife, you see, has never come with me."
I thought his behavior very strange. But I did not visit Sensei with the purpose of studying him. And I decided to think no more about it. My attitude towards Sensei then is one of those things that I remember with a certain amount of pride. Because of it, I believe, we were able to become so close to each other. Had I been curious in an impersonal and analytical way, the bond between us would surely not have lasted. I was, of course, not aware of all this at the time. I hate to think what might have happened had I acted differently. Even in his relationship with me, he was in constant dread of being coldly analyzed.
I began to visit Sensei two or even three times a month. One day, seeing that my visits were becoming more and more frequent, Sensei suddenly said to me:
"Why should you want to spend so much time with a person like me?"
"Why? I don't think there's any particular reason...Am I a nuisance, sir?"
"I did not say that."
Indeed, he never seemed to regard me as a nuisance. I was aware that the number of his acquaintances was rather limited. As for those who had been in the same class with him at the university, I knew there were no more than two or three in Tokyo. Sometimes, I would find at his house students who were from the same part of the country as Sensei, but it seemed to me that none of them were as close to him as I was.
"I am a lonely man," Sensei said. "And so I am glad that you come to see me. But I am also a melancholy man, and so I asked you why you should wish to visit me so often."
"But why should you want to ask?" Sensei did not answer me. Instead, he looked at me and said, "How old are you?"
The conversation seemed to me to be rather purposeless. Without pursuing it any further, I left. Four days later, I was back again at his house. As soon as Sensei appeared, he began to laugh.
"Yes, I'm back," I said, and I laughed with him.
Had anyone else spoken in such a way to me, I think I should have been annoyed. With Sensei, it was somehow different. Far from being annoyed, I was happy.
"I am a lonely man," he said again that evening. "And is it not possible that you are also a lonely person? But I am an older man, and I can live with my loneliness, quietly. You are young, and it must be difficult to accept your loneliness. You must sometimes want to fight it."
"But I am not at all lonely."
"Youth is the loneliest time of all. Otherwise why should you come so often to my house?"
Sensei continued: "But surely, when you are with me, you cannot rid yourself of your loneliness. I have not it in me to help you forget it. You will have to look elsewhere for the consolation you seek. And soon, you will find that you no longer want to visit me."
As he said this, Sensei smiled sadly.
Fortunately, Sensei was mistaken. Inexperienced as I was then, I could not even understand the obvious significance of Sensei's remarks. I continued to see Sensei as before. And before long, I found myself dining at his house occasionally. As a result, I was obliged to speak to Sensei's wife also.
Like any other young man, I was not indifferent to women. But being young and my experience of the world being what it was, I had so far not had any opportunity to form any friendship with a woman. My interest in women had been limited to glances thrown at those who were completely unknown to me. The first time I met Sensei's wife in the front hall, I thought her beautiful. And each time I saw her after that, I was similarly impressed by her beauty. But I felt, at first, that there was nothing of any interest that I could speak to her about.
Rather than to say that she possessed no special qualities worthy of note, it would perhaps be more correct to say that she had never been given an opportunity to show them. My feeling was always that she was little more than a necessary part of Sensei's household. And it would seem that she regarded me, albeit with goodwill, simply as a student who came to talk with her husband. Apart from Sensei, there was no bond of sympathy between us. My memory of the early part of our acquaintance, then, consists of nothing more than the impression of her beauty.
One evening, I was invited by Sensei to join him in a cup of saké. Sensei's wife came to serve us. Sensei seemed more cheerful than usual. Offering his empty cup, he said to his wife, "You have some too."
"No, I don't really . ..," she began to say, then accepted the cup somewhat unwillingly. Frowning slightly, she raised to her lips the cup that I had half-filled for her. A conversation then followed between her and Sensei.
"This is so unusual," she said. "You hardly ever ask me to drink saké."
"That's because you don't like saké. But it does you good to drink occasionally. This will cheer you up."
"It certainly will not. It makes me feel uncomfortable. You, however, seem to have become quite gay. And you haven't had much."
"And how do you feel tonight?"
"Oh, tonight I feel good."
"Then from now on, you should drink--just a little--every evening."
"That, I cannot do."
"Please do. Then you will stop being melancholy."
Apart from them, there was only the maid in the house. Every time I went there, the house seemed to be absolutely quiet. I never heard the sound of laughter there, and some-times it seemed almost as if Sensei and I were the only people in it.
"It would be so nice if we had children," Sensei's wife said to me. "Yes, wouldn't it?" I answered. But I could feel no real sympathy for her. At my age, children seemed an unnecessary nuisance.
"Would you like it if we adopted a child?"
"An adopted child? Oh, no," she said, and looked at me.
"But we'll never have one of our own, you know," said Sensei.
Sensei s wife was silent.
"Why not?" I asked.
"Divine punishment," Sensei answered, and laughed rather loudly.
Sensei and his wife seemed to me to be a fond enough couple. Not being a member of the family, I could not of course know how they truly felt towards each other. But whenever I was with Sensei, and if he happened to want anything, instead of the maid, he would call his wife. (The lady's name was Shizu.) "Shizu," Sensei would call, turning towards the door. The tone of his voice, when he did so, always sounded gentle to me. And her manner, when she appeared, seemed always willing and obedient. And whenever they kindly invited me to dinner, and I had occasion to see them together at the table, my pleasant impression of their feelings towards each other would be confirmed.
Sometimes, Sensei would take his wife to a concert or to the theatre. Also, I remember that they went away together for a week's holiday at least two or three times during the period I knew them. I still have with me a postcard that they sent me from Hakone. And I remember that the time they went to Nikko, I received from them a letter with a maple leaf enclosed.
There was, however, one incident that marred my general impression of their married life. One day, I was standing as usual in their front hall, and was about to announce myself. I heard voices coming from the living room. An argument, rather than an ordinary conversation, seemed to be taking place. The living-room was immediately adjoining the front hall, and I could hear well enough to know that it was a quarrel, and that one of the voices, which was raised now and then, belonged to Sensei. The other voice was lower in tone than Sensei's, and I could not be sure whose it was. But I was almost certain that it was his wife's. She seemed to be weeping. I stood there for a short while, not knowing what to do. Then I left, and returned to my lodgings.
A dreadful anxiety filled my heart. I tried to read, but found that I could not concentrate. An hour later, I heard Sensei calling from beneath my window. Surprised, I looked out. "Let us go for a walk," he said. I looked at my watch and saw that it was past eight o'clock. I had not bothered to take off my dress trousers when I returned. I left my room immediately.
That evening, Sensei and I drank beer together. Sensei was not a heavy drinker. He was not the sort of person to go on drinking if a reasonable amount did not have any cheering effect on him.
"It just won't work this evening," Sensei said, with a wry smile.
"Can't you feel gay?" I asked, feeling sorry for him.
I could not forget what had happened earlier that day. It bothered me terribly, like a fish bone in my throat. I could not decide whether I should tell him about it or not. Sensei noticed my anxiety.
"There seems to be something the matter with you this evening," he said. "To tell you the truth, I am not my usual self either. Have you noticed?"
I could not say anything in reply.
"As a matter of fact, I quarreled with my wife a short while ago. And I allowed myself to become stupidly excited."
"But why did you ... ?" I began, but could not bring myself to say "quarrel."
"You see, sometimes my wife misunderstands me. And when I tell her so, she refuses to listen. That is why today, for instance, I unwittingly lost my temper."
"In what way does she misunderstand you, Sensei?"
Sensei did not answer my question. He said:
"If I were the sort of person she thinks I am, I would not suffer so."
"I did a terrible thing. I should not have left home in such a fit of temper. My wife must be worried about me. When we think about it, women are unfortunate creatures. My wife, for instance, has no one in this world but me to depend upon.
He was silent for a while. He seemed not to expect a reply from me. He then continued:
"Of course, my last remark would lead one to suppose that the husband is self-reliant. Which is laughable. Tell me, how do I appear to you? Do you think me a strong or a weak person?"
"Somewhere in-between," I answered. My reply, it would seem, was a little unexpected. He became silent again, and we continued our walk.
The road leading to Sensei's house passed very near my own lodgings. When we reached the corner of my street and I was about to bid him goodnight, I began to feel that it would somehow be heartless to leave him then and there. "Shall I walk you home?" I said. He made a quick, negative gesture with his hand.
"You had better go home. It's late. I must go home too. For my wife's sake..."
"For my wife's sake . . ."; these last words of Sensei's strangely warmed my heart. Because of them I was able to enjoy an untroubled sleep that night. And for a long time after, those words stayed with me: "For my wife's sake...."
I knew then that the disagreement which had occurred between them was not very serious. I continued to visit them regularly, and I could see that it had been an exceptional occurrence. Moreover, he took me into his confidence one day and said:
"In all the world, I know only one woman. No woman but my wife moves me as a woman. And my wife regards me as the only man for her. From this point of view, we should be the happiest of couples."
I cannot remember clearly why it was that he took the trouble of telling me this. But I do remember that his manner at the time was serious, and that he was calm. What struck me then as being odd was his last remark: "...we should be the happiest of couples." Why "should be"? Why did he not say, "We are the happiest of couples"? Was Sensei indeed happy? I could not but wonder. But very soon, I brushed aside my doubts concerning Sensei's happiness.
One day, for the first time since I met her, I had a good talk with Sensei's wife. I had previously asked Sensei to discuss a book with me, and he had kindly invited me to visit him that day for that purpose. I arrived at nine o'clock in the morning, as arranged. I found Sensei out. A friend of his, I learned, was sailing from Yokohama, and Sensei had gone to see him off at Shimbashi. In those days, the boat train to Yokohama customarily left Shimbashi at eight-thirty in the morning. Sensei had left a message for me, however, saying that he would be back soon and that I should wait. While waiting for Sensei, therefore, I talked to his wife.
By then, I was already a university student. [note2] I felt that I had become more mature since my first visit to Sensei's house. I had also become quite familiar with Sensei's wife. Therefore, when I found myself alone with her, I did not feel at all ill at ease. We talked of this and that. I should not have remembered the conversation at all, had it not been for the fact that, in the course of it, we talked of one matter which was of particular interest to me. Before I go on to say what this was, I should perhaps explain a few things about Sensei.
Sensei was a graduate of the university. I knew this from the first. But it was only after my return to Tokyo from Kamakura that I discovered he had no particular employment. I wondered at the time how he managed to support himself.
Sensei lived in complete obscurity. Apart from myself, there was no one who knew of Sensei's scholarship or his ideas. I often remarked to him that this was a great pity. But he would pay no attention to me. "There is no sense," he once said to me, "in such a person as myself expressing his thoughts in public." This remark struck me as being too modest, and I wondered whether it did not spring from a contempt of the outside world. Indeed, he was sometimes not above saying rather unkind things about those of his classmates who had since their graduation made names for themselves. This apparent inconsistency in his attitude, which was at once modest and contemptuous, I quite frankly pointed out to him once. I did not do this in a rebellious spirit. I simply regretted the fact that the world was indifferent to Sensei, whom I admired so much. In a very quiet voice, Sensei answered me:
"You see, there is nothing we can do about it. I do not have the right to expect anything from the world." There was, as he said this, an expression on his face which affected me profoundly. I did not know whether what I saw was despair, regret, or grief. I had not the courage to say any more.
As Sensei's wife and I sat and talked, our conversation drifted naturally to the subject of Sensei.
"Why does Sensei," I asked, "not go out into the world and find himself some position that is worthy of his talents, instead of spending all his time studying and thinking at home?"
"There is no hope of that, I am afraid. He would hate it."'
"I suppose he sees that it would be a vain thing to do?"
"Being a woman, I wouldn't know. But I doubt that that is the reason. I am sure he would like to do something, really. But somehow, he can't. I am very sorry for him."
"But he is in good health, is he not?"
"Certainly. He is perfectly well."
"Well then, why doesn't he do something?"
"I wish I knew. Do you think that I would be worrying so much, if I did? I feel so sorry for him."
Her tone of voice held a great deal of sympathy. Her lips, however, were smiling slightly. As far as our outward manner was concerned, I must have seemed the more anxious of the two. I sat there, silent and serious. She looked up, as though she suddenly remembered something, and said:
"You know, when he was young, he wasn't at all the sort of person he is now. He was quite different. He has changed so."
"When was he different?" I asked.
"Oh, in his student days."
"Then you knew him when he was a student?"
Sensei's wife blushed a little.
She was a Tokyo woman. Both Sensei and she herself had told me this before. Her father had actually come from some such place as Tottori, while her mother had been born in Ichigaya, when Tokyo was still known as Yedo. For this reason, she once said, half-jokingly, "I am, as a matter of fact, of mixed blood." Sensei, on the other hand, was from the province of Niigata. It was clear to me, therefore, that her place of origin could not explain how she had come to know Sensei when he was a student. But seeing the blush on her face when I touched on the subject of their youthful acquaintance, I asked no more about it.
In the years between my first meeting with Sensei and his death, I came to know much of what he thought and felt, but, concerning the circumstances of his marriage, he told me almost nothing. I was inclined, sometimes, to regard this reserve on Sensei's part in a favorable light. After all, I would tell myself, he quite naturally would consider it indiscreet and in bad taste to speak of his early courtship to a youth such as myself. But sometimes I was inclined to regard his reserve unfavorably. I liked then to think that his reluctance to discuss such a matter was due to timidity born of the conventions of a generation ago. I thought myself more free, in this respect, and more open-minded, than either Sensei or his wife. Whatever my thoughts regarding Sensei's reserve might have been, they were, of course, only speculations. And there was always, at the back of my speculations, the assumption that their marriage had been the flowering of a beautiful romance.
My assumption was not proved entirely wrong. But I was imagining only a small part of the truth that lay behind their love story. I could not know that there had been in Sensei's life a frightening tragedy, inseparable from his love for his wife. Nor did his own wife know how wretched this tragedy had made him. To this day she does not know. Sensei died keeping his secret from her. Before he could destroy his wife's happiness, he destroyed himself.
I shall not speak here of the tragedy in Sensei's life. And, as I have said before, Sensei and his wife told me almost nothing of their courtship, which had come into being as though for the sake of the tragedy. Sensei's wife said little about it for modesty's sake, but there was a far profounder reason for Sensei's silence.
One day, during the flower-viewing season, Sensei and I went to Ueno. I remember that day well. While we were going there, we happened to see a good-looking couple walking close together, beneath the flowering trees. The place being rather public, they, rather than the flowers, seemed to be the object of interest for many people.
"They look like a newly married couple," said Sensei.
"They seem to be pretty fond of each other, don't they?" I said, in an amused tone of voice.
There was not even a trace of a smile on Sensei's face. He began deliberately to walk away from the couple. He then said to me:
"Have you ever been in love?"
I said no.
"Don't you want to be in love?"
I said nothing in reply.
"It isn't that you don't want to fall in love, is it?"
"You made fun of that couple, didn't you? But actually, you sounded to me like a person who is dissatisfied because he has not yet been able to fall in love, though he wants to."
"Did I sound like that?"
"Yes, you did. A person who has been in love himself would have been more tolerant and would have felt warmer towards the couple. But--but do you know that there is guilt also in loving? I wonder if you understand me."
I was surprised, and said nothing.
There was a large crowd around us, and every face in it looked happy. We had little opportunity to talk until we reached the woods, where there were no flowers and no people.
"Is there really guilt in loving?" I asked suddenly.
"Yes, surely," Sensei said. He seemed as certain as he did before.
"You will soon find out. In fact, you ought to know already. Your heart has been made restless by love for quite some time now."
Vainly, I searched my heart for an answer.
"But there is no one whom you might call the object of my love," I said. "I have not hidden anything from you, Sensei."
"You are restless because your love has no object. If you could fall in love with some particular person, you wouldn't be so restless."
"But I am not so restless now."
"Yes. But my going to you was not the same thing as wanting to fall in love."
"But it was a step in your life towards love. The friendship that you sought in me is in reality a preparation for the love that you will seek in a woman."
"I think that the two things are totally different."
"No, they are not. But being the kind of man that I am, I cannot help you to rid your heart of that feeling of want. Moreover, peculiar circumstances have made me even more useless than I might have been as a friend. I am truly very sorry. That you will eventually go elsewhere for consolation is a fact I must accept. Indeed, I even hope that you will. But...."
I began to feel a strange kind of sorrow.
"Sensei, if you really think that I shall drift away from you, there is nothing I can do about it. But such a thought has so far never crossed my mind."
Sensei did not listen to me.
"But you must be careful," he continued. "You must remember that there is guilt in loving. You may not derive much satisfaction from our friendship, but at least, there is no danger in it. Do you know what it feels like to be tied down by long, black hair?"
I could imagine what Sensei meant, but inexperienced as I was, his words held no reality for me. Also, I had no notion of what Sensei meant by "guilt." I felt a little discontented.
"Sensei, please explain more clearly what you mean by 'guilt'. Otherwise, please let us not discuss this matter again, until I have myself found out what this 'guilt' is."
Sensei and I walked slowly in the direction of Uguisudani, past the back of the museum. Through the gaps in the fencing, we could see dwarf bamboos growing thickly in one part of the garden. There was about the scene an air of deep, secluded peace.
"Do you know why I go every month to my friend's grave in Zoshigaya?"
Sensei's question was totally unexpected. He should, of course, have known that I did not know. I remained silent. Then, as though realizing what he had just said, Sensei went on:
"I have said the wrong thing again. I was trying to explain my earlier remarks because I thought they had irritated you. But in trying to explain, I find that I have upset you once more. Let us forget the whole matter. But remember, there is guilt in loving. And remember too that, in loving, there is something sacred."
I was more mystified than ever by Sensei's talk. But I never heard him mention the word "love" again.
Being young, I was rather inclined to become blindly devoted to a single cause. At least, so I must have appeared to Sensei. I considered conversation with Sensei more profitable than lectures at the university. I valued Sensei's opinions more than I did those of my professors. Sensei, who went his solitary way without saying very much, seemed to me to be a greater man than those famous professors who lectured to me from their platforms.
"You must try to be more sober in your opinions about me," Sensei once said to me.
"But I am being sober," I cried, confidently. Sensei, however, refused to take me seriously.
"You are like a man in a fever. When that fever passes, your enthusiasm will turn to disgust. Your present opinion of me makes me unhappy enough. But when I think of the disillusionment that is to come, I feel even greater sorrow."
"Do you think me so fickle? Do you find me so untrustworthy?"
"I am simply sorry for you."
"I deserve your sympathy but not your trust. Is that what you mean, Sensei?"
He seemed vexed as he turned his face towards the garden. Not long before, the garden had been full of camellias. But now, the flowers, which had brightened the scenery with their rich, red color, were all gone. It had been Sensei's custom to look out from his room and gaze at them.
"It is not you in particular that I distrust, but the whole of humanity."
I could hear the cry of a goldfish vendor from the lane on the other side of the hedge. There was no other sound. The house was some distance from the main road, and we seemed to be surrounded by a complete calm. All was quiet, as usual, inside the house itself. I knew that Sensei's wife was in the next room, busy at her sewing or some such work. And I knew also that she could hear what we were saying. But I momentarily forgot this, as I said:
Sensei looked a little uneasy. He avoided giving a direct answer to my question.
"I don't even trust myself. And not trusting myself, I can hardly trust others. There is nothing that I can do, except curse my own soul."
"Surely, Sensei, you think too seriously about these things."
"It is not a matter of what I think. It is what I have done that has led me to feel the way I do. At first, my own act shocked me. Then, I was terribly afraid."
I wanted to pursue the conversation, but we were interrupted by the voice of Sensei's wife, calling him from behind the door. What is it?" Sensei said. "Can you come here a minute?" his wife said. I had hardly begun to wonder why Sensei had been called to the next room when he returned.
"At any rate," he continued, "don't put too much trust in me. You will learn to regret it if you do. And if you ever allow yourself to feel betrayed, you will then find yourself being cruelly vindictive."
"What do you mean?"
"The memory that you once sat at my feet will begin to haunt you and, in bitterness and shame, you will want to degrade me. I do not want your admiration now, because I do not want your insults in the future. I bear with my loneliness now, in order to avoid greater loneliness in the years ahead. You see, loneliness is the price we have to pay for being born in this modern age, so full of freedom, independence, and our own egotistical selves."
I could not think of anything to say.
After that day, I used to wonder each time I saw Sensei's wife whether Sensei's attitude towards her reflected his inner thoughts and, if so, whether she could be satisfied with her condition.
But I could discern neither satisfaction nor dissatisfaction in her manner. Of course, I was not close enough to her to know what her real feelings were. I rarely saw her away from Sensei: besides, in my presence, her behavior was always that of the conventional hostess.
I wondered also why Sensei felt the way he did towards mankind. Was it, I would ask myself, the result of a coldly impartial scrutiny of his own inner self and the contemporary world around him? And if one were as naturally reflective, intelligent; and as removed from the world as Sensei, would one inevitably reach the same conclusions? Such tentative explanations, however, which suggested themselves to my mind, did not completely satisfy me. Sensei's opinions, it seemed to me, were not merely the result of cloistered reflection. They were not, as it were, like the skeleton of a stone house which has been gutted by fire. They were more alive than that. True, Sensei, as I saw him, was primarily a thinker. But his thoughts, I felt, were based firmly on a strong sense of reality. And this sense of reality did not come so much from observation of the experience of others removed from himself, as from his own experience.
Such speculations, however, added little to my understanding of Sensei. Sensei, as a matter of fact, had already given me reason to believe that his thoughts were indeed forced upon him by the nature of his experience. But he had hinted only, and his hints were to me like a vast threatening cloud hanging over my head, vague in outline and yet frightening. The fear within me, nevertheless, was very real.
I tried to explain to myself Sensei's view of life by imagining a love affair in his youth--between Sensei and his wife, of course--involving violent passion at first, and perhaps regret later. Such an explanation, I liked to think, would more or less take into account the association in Sensei's mind of guilt with love. Sensei, however, had admitted to me that he was still in love with his wife. The cause of Sensei's pessimism, then, could not reasonably be traced to their relationship with each other. It seemed that Sensei's misanthropic views which he had expressed to me applied to the modern world in general, but not to his wife.
The memory of the grave in the cemetery at Zoshigaya would come back to me from time to time. That this grave was of some profound significance to Sensei, I knew well. I, who had come so close to Sensei and yet understood him so little, regarded the grave as something that held, in a sense, a fragment of his life. But whatever was buried in it was dead for me, and I knew that I would not find in it the key to Sensei's heart. Indeed, the grave stood like some monstrous thing, forever separating us.
Meanwhile, it so happened that I had another occasion to have a conversation with Sensei's wife. It was at the time of the year when the days grow shorter and there is everywhere a feeling of restless activity. There was already a chill in the air. During the previous week, there had been a series of burglaries in Sensei's neighborhood. They had all taken place in the early hours of the evening. Nothing of great value had been stolen. The houses had been broken into nevertheless, and Sensei's wife was uneasy. Unfortunately, Sensei was obliged to be away from the house one evening. A friend of his from the same part of the country as himself, and who was a doctor in some provincial hospital, had come up to Tokyo. Sensei and two or three others were taking him out to dinner that evening. Explaining the situation, Sensei asked me to stay with his wife until he returned. I agreed to do so willingly.
It was dusk when I reached the house. Sensei, who was a punctilious man, had already left. "My husband did not want to be late. He left only a minute ago," said Sensei's wife, as she led me to her husband's study. The study was furnished partly in the Western style, with a desk and some chairs. A great number of books, bound beautifully in leather, gleamed through the glass panes of the book cases. Sensei's wife bade me sit down on a cushion by the brazier. "There are plenty of books here for you to read, if you so wish," she said, and left the room. I could not help feeling ill at ease, rather like a chance visitor waiting for the master of the house to return. sitting stiffly, I began to smoke. I could hear Sensei's wife talking to the maid in the morning room, which was along the same corridor as the study. The study, however, was at the end, and was therefore in a very quiet part of the house. When Sensei's wife stopped talking, I was surrounded by complete silence. Expecting the burglar to appear any minute, I sat very still and listened for any suspicious sound that might break the silence.
"You seem very uncomfortable," she said.
"Oh, no, I am not at all uncomfortable."
"Then you must be bored."
"Oh, no. I am all tense, waiting for the burglar, and so I am not at all bored."
She remained standing, with a European teacup in her hand, and laughed.
"This room, being in a rather remote corner of the house, is not an ideal place for a watchman," I said.
"Well, in that case, come along to the morning room, if you wish. I brought you some tea, thinking you must be bored. You can have it there."
I followed Sensei's wife out of the study. An iron kettle was singing on a handsome, long brazier in the morning room. There, I was given black tea and cakes. Sensei's wife refused to drink tea herself, saying that she would not be able to go to sleep if she did.
"Does Sensei often go out to dinner parties?" I asked.
"No, hardly ever. It seems that, of late, he has become less inclined than ever to see people."
Sensei's wife seemed to betray no anxiety as she said this, so I became more bold.
"You must then be the only person Sensei likes to be with," I said.
"Certainly not. I am like all the rest in his eyes."
"That is not true," I said. "And you know very well that that is not true."
"Well, I think that he has tired of the company of others because of his fondness for you."
"I see that higher education has made you adept at empty rationalization. You might as well have reasoned that he cannot be fond of me, since I am a part of the world that he dislikes."
"True. But in this case, I am right."
"Let us not argue. You men certainly will argue about anything, and with such obvious pleasure too. I have often wondered how it is that you men can, without becoming bored, forever exchange empty saké cups with one another."
Her words, I thought, were a little harsh. But they did not seem offensive to me. Sensei's wife was not so modern a woman as to take pride and pleasure in being able to display her mental prowess. She valued far more that thing which lies buried in the bottom of one's heart.
I wanted to say more. But I was afraid of being taken for one of these argumentative men, and so I became silent. "Would you like more tea?" Sensei's wife said to me, tactfully, when she saw that I was staring foolishly into the empty teacup. I quickly handed the cup over to her.
"How many? One lump? Two lumps?"
She had picked up a lump of sugar with a strange instrument, and was looking at me when she said this. She was not exactly trying to be ingratiating, but she was undoubtedly trying to eradicate the effect on me of her harsh words by her charming manner.
I drank tea silently. I remained silent even when I had finished the cup.
"You seem to have become very quiet," she said.
"Well, I don't want to be scolded for being argumentative," I answered.
"Come, come," she said.
We began to talk again. The conversation naturally wandered back to the subject of Sensei.
"Won't you allow me to go on with what I was saying?" I said. "It might have seemed to you that I was indulging in meaningless rationalization, but, truly, I was being sincere."
"Well, all right."
"You don't think that Sensei's life would be the same without you, do you now?"
"I certainly wouldn't know. Why don't you ask Sensei? It would be more sensible to ask him."
"Please, I am being serious. You mustn't try to evade my question so frivolously. I wish you would be more honest with me."
"But I am being honest. I honestly don't know."
"Then let me ask you a question that you, rather than Sensei, will be in a position to answer. You are very fond of Sensei, aren't you?"
"Surely, there's no need to ask a question like that. And with such a grave face, too!"
"You mean that the answer is obvious? That it's a silly question to ask?"
"More or less."
"Then what would happen to Sensei if such a loyal companion as yourself were suddenly to leave him? He seems to take little enough pleasure in this world as it is. What would he do without you? I don't want to know how he would answer this question. I want to know what you honestly think. Would he be happy, do you think, or unhappy?"
"Actually, I know the answer. (Though Sensei might not think that I do.) Sensei would be far more unhappy without me. Why, he might not even want to go on living, without me. It may seem very conceited of me, but I do really believe that I am able to make him as happy as is humanly possible. I believe that no one else would be able to make him as happy as I can. Without this belief, I would not be as contented as I am."
"Such a conviction must surely be known to Sensei."
"That is another matter entirely."
"You still wish to maintain that Sensei dislikes you?"
"Oh, no, I don't think for a moment that I am disliked. There is no reason why I should be. But you see, he seems to be rather weary of the world. Indeed, it would be more correct to say of Sensei these days that he is weary of people. And seeing that I am one of those creatures that inhabit this world, I can hardly hope to be regarded as an exception."
I began to understand Sensei's wife better.
I was deeply impressed by her capacity for sympathy and understanding. What also impressed me was the fact that, though her ways were not those of an old-fashioned Japanese woman, she had not succumbed to the then prevailing fashion of using "modern" words.
I was a rather simple-minded young man; women, for example, were total strangers to the kind of world I knew or had experienced. True, being a man, I felt an instinctive yearning for women. But the yearning in me was little more than a vague dream, hardly different from the yearning in one's heart when one sees a lovely cloud in the spring sky. Often, when I found myself face to face with a woman, my longing would suddenly disappear. Instead of being drawn to the woman, I would feel a kind of repulsion. Such, however, was not my reaction to Sensei's wife. I did not even feel, when I was with her, that intellectual gulf which so often separates men from women. Indeed, I soon forgot that she was a woman, and came to regard her as the one person with whom I could share my sincere and sympathetic interest in Sensei.
"Do you remember," I said, "that time when I asked you why Sensei did not go out into the world more, and you replied that he was not always so much of a recluse?"
"Yes, I remember. And really, he was not."
"Then what was he like?"
"The kind of person you wish him to be, the kind of person I wish him to be ... There was hope and strength in him then."
"What caused him to change so suddenly?"
"The change was not sudden. It came gradually."
"And you were with him all the time that this change was taking place?"
"Of course. I was his wife."
"Surely, then, you must know the cause of the change."
"Unfortunately, no. I am embarrassed to admit this, but no matter how much I think about it I don't seem to be able to find the answer. You have no idea how often I have begged him to tell me the reason for the change."
"That there is nothing for him to tell, and that there is nothing for me to worry about. He says that it was simply in his nature to change so."
I said nothing. Sensei's wife also became silent. Not a sound came from the maid's room. I forgot all about the burglar.
"You don't think that I am to blame, do you?" she asked me suddenly.
"No," I said.
"Please tell me what you really think. The thought that you might secretly think me responsible is unbearable," she said. "You see, I like to tell myself that I do whatever I can to help Sensei."
"I am sure that Sensei knows that," I said. "Please don't worry. Believe you me, Sensei knows."
She leveled off the cinders in the brazier and poured more water from a jug into the iron kettle. The kettle stopped singing.
"Finally, I could not stand it any longer, and so I asked him to tell me frankly whether he found fault with anything I did. if he would only tell me what my faults were, I said, I would try if possible to correct them. His reply was that I had no faults and that it was himself that was to blame. His answer made me very sad. It made me cry and made me want to be told more than ever what my faults were."
As Sensei's wife said this, I noticed that there were tears in her eyes.
At first, I thought of Sensei's wife as a woman of understanding. But in the course of our conversation her manner began gradually to change, and I found that she had ceased to appeal to my mind and that she had begun to move my heart.
There was no ill-feeling between her and Sensei. Indeed, there was no reason why there should be. Yet, there was something that separated her from Sensei. But no matter how hard she tried, she could not find what this thing was that separated them. This, in short, was her predicament.
She claimed that since Sensei disliked the world so much, it was inevitable that she should become a part of the object of Sensei's dislike. But she could not convince herself that this was the correct explanation. The poor lady could not avoid thinking that perhaps the very opposite of this was true: namely, that Sensei had become weary of the world because of her. But again, she could find no way of confirming her suspicion. Sensei's manner towards her was that of a loving husband. He was kind and thoughtful. Such, then, was her secret which she had kept in her heart all these years in gentle sorrow, and which she revealed to me that night.
"What do you think?" she said. "Is it because of me that he has become like that, or is it because of his view of life or whatever you men call it? Please don't hide anything from me."
I had no intention of hiding anything from her. But since I knew that there were things in Sensei's life that I did not understand, I could not, in my ignorance, hope to comfort Sensei's wife.
"I really don't know," I said.
A look of disappointment appeared on her face, and I felt pity for her. I said quickly:
Sensei's wife said nothing. After a while, she began to speak again.
"I remember something..."
"You mean something that might explain why Sensei changed?"
"Yes. If it was indeed the cause, then I was not responsible. There would be at least a little consolation in knowing that much, if l could be sure..."
"Won't you tell me?"
She hesitated, and gazed at her hands which lay folded on her lap.
"I will tell you," she said, "and you must tell me what you think."
"I will do my best."
"I can't tell you all. If I do, Sensei will be very angry. I will tell you only those parts of the story which he would not mind my telling you."
I felt a growing tension inside me.
"When Sensei was still at the university, he had a very good friend. Just before this friend was due to graduate, he died. He died suddenly."
Then almost in a whisper, she added, "Actually, his death was not natural." She said this in such a way that I could not help asking immediately, "How?"
"I can't tell you any more about it. At any rate, it was after this friend's death that Sensei began to change gradually. I don't know why he died. I doubt that Sensei does either. On the other hand, when one remembers that the change came after the death, one wonders if Sensei really doesn't know."
"Is it this friend that is buried at Zoshigaya?"
"That again I'm not allowed to say. But can a man change so because of the death of one friend? I should very much like to know. That is what I want you to tell me."
I was forced to admit that I did not think so.
I tried, as far as I was able, to comfort Sensei's wife. And it seemed that she was trying to find some comfort in my company. We continued to discuss the death of Sensei's friend and the change in Sensei that followed it. However, I knew too little about the matter to be of much help. Sensei's wife did not seem to know very much about it either, and her uneasiness concerning it amounted to little more than a few grave doubts. Moreover, she was not free to tell me all that she knew. In a sea of uncertainty, then, the comforter and the comforted floated about helplessly.
At about ten o'clock we heard Sensei's footsteps approaching the front gate. Seeming to forget all that we had been taking about, Sensei's wife quickly stood up and rushed out to meet him. I was left behind, as though my presence had been completely forgotten. I followed Sensei's wife. The maid, who was probably dozing in her room, failed to appear in the front hall to greet her master.
Sensei seemed to be in a rather good mood. But his wife was in even better spirits. I remembered the tears in her eyes and the anxiety in her face, and I could not but notice the quick change in her mood. I did not really doubt her sincerity. But had I been so inclined, I might with some justification have thought that she had been playing on my sympathy during our conversation, as is the way with some women. I was not in a critical frame of mind, however, and I was, if anything, rather relieved to see her so cheerful. There had been no need, I thought to myself, for such concern on my part.
Sensei grinned at me and said, "Thank you for your trouble. So the burglar didn't come after all?" Then he added, "Are you disappointed?"
"Sorry to have caused you so much inconvenience," said Sensei's wife, as I was about to leave. She seemed not to be apologizing for having taken up so much of a busy student's time, but rather to be apologizing, in a joking fashion, for the fact that the burglar did not appear. She then gave me the rest of the cakes, wrapped in a piece of paper, to take home. I put them in my pocket and went out into the cold night. I hurried along the winding and almost deserted alleys towards the busier streets.
I have written in great detail of the happenings of that evening because now, I see their significance. But that evening, by the time I had left Sensei's house with the cakes in my pocket, I attached little importance to the conversation I had with Sensei's wife. After lectures the following day, I went back to my lodgings, as usual, for lunch. On my desk was the package that Sensei' s wife had given me. I opened it and, choosing a cake covered with chocolate, I began to eat it. I thought of the couple that had given it to me and decided that they must surely be happy with each other.
Autumn passed uneventfully. I began to take my clothes to Sensei's wife to be mended, and it was then too that I began to be more careful in my dress. She was even kind enough to say that being childless, she welcomed such work as a means of occupying her time.
"This is hand-woven," she once said, pointing to a kimono of mine. "I have never worked on such beautiful material. But it's awfully difficult to sew. I have already broken two needles on it."
But even when she complained thus, there seemed to be no real resentment in her voice.
That winter, I was obliged to go home. A letter had come from my mother, saying that my father's illness had taken a turn for the worse, and that though there was no immediate danger, I should come home if possible. As the letter reminded me, my father was, after all, an old man.
My father had been suffering from kidney trouble for some time. As is often the case with people who are past middle age, my father's disease was chronic. But he and the rest of the family had believed that with good care, the disease could be held in check, and my father had often boasted to his visitors that only through careful living had he managed to survive so far.
His condition, however, was worse than we had imagined. According to my mother's letter, he had fainted while pottering about in the garden. At first, it was believed that he had suffered a mild stroke, but the doctor, who later examined him, decided that the fainting fit had been brought on by his kidney disease.
The winter vacation was not far off and, thinking that there was no need for me to return immediately, I decided to stay on till the end of term. A day or two after the arrival of my mother's letter, however, I began to worry. I thought of my father lying in bed, and of my mother worrying, and I decided that I should return at once. I did not have enough money with me for the train fare and, in order to avoid the inconvenience of having to write home for it and wait for its arrival, I decided to go to Sensei for a loan. I wanted, in any case, to pay him a farewell visit.
Sensei was suffering from a cold. As he did not wish to come out into the sitting room, I was asked to see him in his study. Soft sunlight, such as we had rarely seen that winter, filled the study. Into this sunny room, Sensei had brought a large brazier. A metal basin, filled with water, had been placed on it so that the steam rising from it might ease Sensei's breathing.
"I would rather be truly ill than suffer from a trifling cold like this," Sensei said, and smiled unhappily at me.
Remembering that Sensei had never in his life been seriously ill, I was amused.
"I can bear a common cold," I said, "but I certainly don't want anything more serious than that. I am sure you will feel the same way about it as I do, Sensei, when you yourself have been really ill."
"I suppose so. As a matter of fact, my feeling is that if I must be ill, then I should like to be mortally ill."
I did not pay much attention to Sensei's words. I brought out my mother's letter, and I asked him for a loan.
"Certainly," he said. "if that is all you want, I am sure we can give it to you right away."
"How often has he fainted?" Sensei asked.
"My mother didn't say. But is it usual in such cases to faint often?"
I was then told that Sensei's mother-in-law had died from a similar kidney ailment.
"At any rate," I said, "my father cannot be very well."
"I think not," Sensei said. "I would take his place if I could.... Does he suffer from nausea?"
"I don't know. Probably not. At least, there is no mention of it in the letter."
"He is all right," said Sensei's wife, "so long as there is no nausea."
I left Tokyo by train that night.
My father was not as ill as I had expected. When I returned, I found him sitting up in bed. "I've been in bed like this," he said, "to keep the others from worrying. I'm really well enough to get up." The next day, he left his bed, much against my mother's wishes. "Because you are here, your father has convinced himself that he is better," my mother said. But it did not seem to me that he was putting up a brave front for my sake.
My elder brother worked in distant Kyushu, and therefore could not visit my parents, unless he felt that there was a pressing need for him to do so. My elder sister was married, and lived in another province. She also could not easily come home. I, being a student, was therefore the only one of the three children that my parents could call home freely. My father was nevertheless very pleased that I should have returned so soon after receiving my mother's letter, without waiting for the end of term.
"I am sorry that your studies had to be interrupted," said my father. "There has been altogether too much fuss about my slight illness. Your mother writes too many letters." He seemed to have recovered his normal health.
"You will be ill again," I said, "unless you take better care of yourself."
He brushed aside my admonition and said cheerfully:
"Don't you worry. I shall be all right so long as I look after myself as I always have done."
Indeed, my father seemed well enough. He wandered about the house with no sign of strain whatsoever. He looked very pale, it is true, but since this was not a new symptom, we paid little attention to it.
I wrote to Sensei, thanking him for the loan. I said that I would be returning to Tokyo in January and that, if he did not mind, I would wait till then to repay him. I told him that my father was better than I had expected, that there seemed little cause for immediate anxiety, and that he had suffered neither fainting fits nor nausea. I concluded the letter with a polite inquiry about his cold, which I was inclined to regard as a matter of little concern.
"When you go back to Tokyo, why don't you take him some dried mushrooms?"
"Thank you. But I wonder if Sensei eats such things as dried mushrooms?"
"They may not be a delicacy, but surely, no one dislikes them."
Somehow, I could not bring myself to associate dried mushrooms with Sensei.
I was rather surprised when a letter from Sensei arrived. I was even more surprised when I read it, for it seemed to have been written for no particular purpose. Sensei had kindly written, I decided, in reply to my letter. That he should have troubled to do so made me very happy.
In case I have unwittingly given the impression that there was much correspondence between Sensei and myself, I should like to say here that in all the time I knew Sensei, I received from him only two pieces of correspondence that might strictly be called "letters." One of them was the simple letter that I have just mentioned, and the other was a very long letter which he wrote me shortly before his death.
My father, not being allowed to be very active, hardly ever left the house after he got up. Once, on a rather sunny day, he stepped out into the garden. I was worried, and kept close to his side. And when I tried to persuade him to lean on my shoulder, he laughed, and would not listen to me.
To help my father forget his boredom, I often played chess with him. We were both by nature very lazy. We would sit on the floor with a footwarmer between us, and a large quilt
covering the footwarmer and our bodies from the waist down. We would then place the chessboard between us on the frame of the footwarmer. After every move, we would put our hands back under the quilt, determined not to sacrifice comfort for the sake of the game. Sometimes, we would lose a pawn or two and not discover the loss until we were ready to start another game. It amused us all when once my mother found the lost pieces among the cinders in the footwarmer, and had to retrieve them with a pair of tongs.
"One good thing about chess is that we can play it in this comfortable position," my father once said. "It's an ideal game for lazy people like us. The trouble with go [note3] is that the board is too high--and it has legs too--and we couldn't very well put it between us on the foot warmer and play on it... How about another game of chess?"
Whether he won or lost, my father always wanted to play another game. It seemed that he would never tire of playing chess. At first, I was willing enough to play with him. It was a novel experience for me to while away the time thus, as if I were an old man in retirement. But as the days went by, I began to weary of this inactive life. I was too full of youthful vigor to be contented with the role of playmate for my father. At times, in the middle of a game, I would find myself yawning heavily.
I thought of Tokyo. And it seemed that with each heartbeat, the yearning within me for action increased. In a strange way, I felt as if Sensei was by my side, encouraging me to get up and go.
I compared my father with Sensei. Both were self-effacing men. Indeed, they were both so self-effacing that as far as the rest of the world was concerned, they might as well have been dead. They were, from the point of view of the public, complete nonentities. But while my chess-loving father failed even to entertain me, Sensei, whose acquaintance I had never sought for amusement's sake, gave me far greater intellectual satisfaction as a companion. Perhaps I should not have used the word "intellectual," for it has a cold and impersonal sound. I should perhaps have said "spiritual" instead. Indeed, it would not have seemed to me then an exaggeration to say that Sensei's strength had entered my body, and that his very life was flowing in my veins. And when I discovered that such were my true feelings towards these two men, I was shocked. For was I not of my father's flesh?
At about the time that I began to feel restless at home, my father and mother also began to tire of me. The novelty of having me was wearing off. This kind of situation is probably experienced by most people who return home after a long absence. For the first week or so there is a great deal of fuss, but, when the initial excitement is over, one begins to lose one's popularity. My stay at home had passed the initial stage. Moreover, each time I returned, I brought back with me a little more of Tokyo. This, my father and mother neither liked nor understood. As someone in days gone by might have put it, it was like introducing the smell of a Christian into the home of a Confucianist. I tried, of course, to hide whatever changes Tokyo might have wrought in me. But Tokyo had become a part of me, and my parents could not but notice that I had changed. I ceased to enjoy being at home. I wanted to hurry back to Tokyo.
Fortunately, my father's condition did not seem to grow worse. To reassure ourselves, we had an eminent doctor, who lived some distance from us, come and examine my father carefully. The doctor was as well satisfied as we were. I decided to leave a few days before the end of the winter vacation. Human nature being the perverse thing that it is, my parents opposed my decision.
"Leaving so soon? But you haven't been home very long!" said my mother.
"Surely, you can stay four or five days longer!" said my mother.
But I did not change my mind.
When I returned to Tokyo, I discovered that all the New Year decorations had already been taken down. I detected little of the New Year spirit as I walked about the cold, windy streets.
Soon after my arrival, I visited Sensei to return the money I had borrowed. I also took with me the dried mushrooms. I thought it might seem odd to produce the mushrooms without some explanation, so, as I put them down in front of Sensei's wife, I carefully explained that my mother had wished me to present them to her and Sensei. The mushrooms had been put in a new cake-box. Sensei's wife thanked me politely, and picked up the box as she rose to go to the next room. She was probably surprised by its lightness, for she said to me: "What kind of cake is this?" The more familiar I became with Sensei's wife, the more often she seemed to show the innocent and childish side to her character.
They were both kind enough to ask after my father.
Sensei seemed to know all sorts of things about kidney diseases that I did not know.
"The trouble with your father's disease," Sensei continued, "is that the person who has it is often not aware of it. An officer I used to know died of it quite suddenly in his sleep. His wife, who was sleeping next to him, had no time to do anything for him. He woke her up once during the night, saying that he was not feeling well. The next morning, he was dead. The unfortunate thing was that his wife had been under the impression that he had gone back to sleep."
I, who had been inclined to be optimistic until then, suddenly became anxious.
"Do you think the same thing will happen to my father? One can't say that it won't happen, can one?"
"What does the doctor say?"
"He says that my father will never be cured. But he says also that there is no need to worry for a while."
"Well, if the doctor says so, then it's all right. The man I was telling you about was after all a careless sort of man. Besides, he was a soldier, and lived rather immoderately."
I was somewhat comforted by Sensei's last remarks. Sensei watched me for a while, observing my relief, and then said:
"But men are pretty helpless creatures, whether they are healthy or not. Who can say how they will die, or when?"
"You, of all people, think this?"
"Of course. I may be healthy, but that does not prevent me from thinking about death."
Sensei smiled faintly.
"What do you mean by unnatural violence?"
"I am not quite sure; but wouldn't you say that people who commit suicide are resorting to unnatural violence?"
"Then I suppose you would say that people who are murdered die also through unnatural violence?"
"I had never thought of that. But you are right, of course." Shortly afterwards, I left Sensei and went home. I did not worry very much about my father's illness that night, nor did I spend much time thinking back over what Sensei had said about death. I was more concerned with the problem of my graduation thesis, which I had tried to begin many times before but unsuccessfully. I should, I told myself, really get down to work on it very soon.
I was due to graduate in June that year and, according to the rules, my thesis had to be finished by the end of April. I counted the number of days that were left to me, and I began to lose confidence. While the others, it seemed, had been busy for some time collecting their material and accumulating notes, I alone had done nothing except promise myself that I would start work on my thesis in the New Year. I did indeed begin in the early part of the year, but it was not long before I found myself in a state of mental paralysis. I had fondly imagined that, by merely thinking vaguely about a few large problems, I was building up a solid and almost complete framework for my thesis. I discovered my folly as soon as I began to work seriously. I was in despair. I began to narrow down my thesis topic. And in order to avoid the trouble of having to present in a systematic manner my own ideas, I decided to compile relevant material from various books, and then add a suitable conclusion.
The topic that I had chosen was closely related to Sensei's field of specialization. When I asked Sensei whether he thought such a topic was suitable, he said that it would probably be all right. I was in a state of panic, and I soon rushed back to Sensei to ask what books I should read. He willingly gave me all the information he could, and then offered to lend me two or three books that were necessary for my work. But he steadfastly refused to give me any further guidance. "I have not been reading very much lately. I am not acquainted with up-to-date scholarship. You should ask the professors at the university."
When Sensei said this, I remembered the remark his wife once made to me that though Sensei was once an avid reader, he had since lost his old interest in books. Forgetting my thesis for the moment, I said to Sensei:
"Why is it, Sensei, that you are not as interested in books as you once were?"
"There is no particular reason ... Well, perhaps it is because I have decided that no matter how many books I may read, I shall never be a very much better man than I am now. And ..."
"This is not very important, but to tell you the truth, I used to consider it a disgrace to be found ignorant by other people. But now, I find that I am not ashamed of knowing less than others, and I am less inclined to force myself to read books. In short, I have grown old and decrepit."
Sensei's manner was calm, as he said this. I was not much affected by what he said, perhaps because his tone held none of the bitterness of one who had turned his back on the rest of the world. I left the house thinking him neither decrepit nor particularly impressive.
From then on, my thesis hung over me like a curse, and with bloodshot eyes, I worked like a madman. I rushed to friends who had graduated the year before for advice on all matters. One of them told me that only by catching a rickshaw to the university offices did he succeed in handing in his thesis before the deadline. Another told me that he handed in his thesis fifteen minutes late, and it would not have been accepted but for the intervention of his principal professor. Such stories made me uneasy, but at the same time they gave me confidence. Every day, I worked as hard and as long as I could. If I was not at my desk, I was in the gloomy library, hurriedly scanning the titles on the high shelves, as though I were some kind of curio-hunter.
First, the plum trees bloomed, and then the cold wind veered towards the south. After a while, I heard that the cherry trees were beginning to flower. But I thought of nothing but my thesis. I did not visit Sensei once before the latter part of April, by which time I had finally completed my thesis.
I was free at last, when the double cherry blossoms had all fallen and in their place misty green leaves had begun to grow. It was the beginning of summer. I enjoyed my freedom like a little bird that has flown out of its cage into the open air. I soon paid Sensei a visit. On my way to his house, I noticed the young buds on the twigs of the quince hedges bursting into leaf, and I saw too the shiny brown leaves of the pomegranate trees softly reflecting the sunlight. I relished these sights as though I were seeing them for the first time in my life.
Seeing my happy face, Sensei said, "So you have finally finished your thesis. I'm glad."
"Yes, thanks to you, I have finished it at last," I said. "I have nothing more to do now."
I felt very happy and I did think then that, since I had done what was expected of me, there was indeed nothing left for me to do but relax and enjoy myself. I viewed my thesis with a great deal of confidence and satisfaction. I chattered endlessly to Sensei about what I had said in it. Sensei listened to me in his usual way, and except for an occasional "I see" or "Is that so?" he refused to make any comment. I felt not so much dissatisfied as deflated. However, I was so full of spirit that day that I wanted to shake Sensei out of his apathy. I tried to lure him out into the fresh green world outside.
"Sensei, let us go for a walk. It's such a nice day."
I did not care where we went. I simply wanted to go outside with Sensei.
An hour later, we had left the center of the city and were walking in a quiet neighborhood that seemed almost rural. I picked a young, tender leaf from a hawthorne hedge and began to whistle on it. I was a rather accomplished leaf-whistler, having once been taught the trick by a friend from Kagoshima. I proudly persevered with my whistling for a while, but Sensei kept on walking without paying the slightest attention to me.
After a while, we came to a little path which seemed to lead up to a house on a small hill. The hill was covered with a mass of green foliage. At the foot of the path was a gate, and on one of the columns was a sign telling us that we were at the entrance to a tree nursery. We knew then that the path did not lead to a private estate. Looking up at the gate, Sensei said, "Shall we go in?"
I answered quickly, "Yes. They sell trees here, don't they?" We followed the winding path through the grove until we reached the house, which was on our left. The sliding doors had been left open, and we could see right into the house. There seemed to be no one about. In a large bowl in front of the house we could see some goldfish.
"It certainly is quiet around here," said Sensei. "I wonder if we should have come in without permission?"
"I am sure it's all right."
We walked on, and still we came across no one. All about us azaleas flamed in all their splendor. Sensei pointed to an azalea which grew taller than the others and was reddish-yellow in color. "That is what we call 'Kirishima,' [note4] I think," he said.
There were also peonies covering all area of about ten tsubo. [note5] It was too early in the summer for them to be in bloom. At the edge of this field of peonies was an old bench. Sensei stretched himself out on it. I sat down on the end and began to smoke. Sensei gazed at the sky, which was so blue that it seemed transparent. I was fascinated by the young leaves that surrounded me. When I looked at them carefully, I found that no two trees had leaves of exactly the same color. The leaves of each maple tree, for instance, had their own distinctive coloring. Sensei's hat, which he had hung on top of a slender cedar sapling, was blown off by the breeze.
I picked up the hat immediately. Flicking off the bits of red soil from it, I said:
"Sensei, your hat fell down."
Sensei half rose to take his hat. Then remaining in that position--neither sitting nor lying down--he asked me a strange question.
"This may seem rather abrupt, but tell me, is your family very wealthy?"
"Well, I don't suppose what we have could be described as a fortune."
"About how much do you have? I don't mean to be rude."
"I really don't know. We own some woods and a few fields, but I suspect that we have hardly any money at all."
This was the first time that Sensei questioned me directly about my family's finances. And I had never asked Sensei about his source of income. Of course, I did wonder how Sensei managed to live in idleness. But I had thus far restrained myself from asking Sensei about his means of support, thinking that it would be crude to do so. Sensei's questions made me forget the trees that I had been peacefully contemplating, and I suddenly found myself asking:
"And you, Sensei? What kind of wealth do you possess?"
"Do I look like a rich man to you?"
Sensei was never expensively dressed. He had only one maid, and his house was by no means a large one. But even I, who was not of the family, could see clearly that he lived comfortably. One could hardly say that he lived in luxury, it is true, but on the other hand there was obviously no necessity for him to stint himself.
"You are rich, aren't you?" I said.
"I have some money, of course. But I am by no means rich. If if I were, I would build myself a larger house for one thing."
Sensei was by this time sitting up on the bench and, as he finished talking, he began to trace a circle on the ground with his bamboo cane. When he had completed the circle, he drove his cane straight into the ground.
"I was a rich man, once."
Sensei seemed to be talking as much to himself as to me. I was at a loss as to what I should say. I kept quiet.
"I was once a rich man, you know," he said again. This time, he looked at me and smiled. Still, I remained silent. I felt awkward and I could not think of anything to say. Sensei then changed the subject.
"How is your father these days?"
I had received no news of my father's illness since January. My father had continued to write me a short letter every month when he sent me my money order, but he had said very little about his illness. Also, his handwriting had remained firm, and showed none of the hesitancy which one might have expected.
"He never tells me how he is. But I think he is quite well now."
"I hope you are right. But with his disease, you can never tell."
"Is that so?"
I assumed then that Sensei's questions about my family's wealth and my father's illness expressed no more than a normal interest in my affairs and, not knowing much about Sensei's life history, I could not guess that they implied much more than appeared on the surface.
"If there is any property in your family, then I do think you should see to it that your inheritance is properly settled now. I know that all this is none of my business. But don't you think that, while your father is alive, you should make sure that you will receive your proper share? When a man dies suddenly, his estate causes more trouble than anything else."
I did not pay much attention to Sensei's words. It was my conviction that, in all my family, there was no one that bothered about such matters. I was a little shocked, too, to see Sensei being so intensely practical. I said nothing, however, as I did not wish to seem impertinent.
"If I have annoyed you by seeming to anticipate your father's death, please forgive me. But we all have to die some time, you know. Even the healthy ones---how do we know when they will die?"
Sensei's tone seemed unusually bitter.
"I don't mind at all," I said, almost in apology.
He went on to ask me about my other relatives, such as my uncles and aunts.
"Are they all good people?"
"Well, they aren't exactly bad. They are, after all, country people mostly."
"Why shouldn't country people be bad?"
I began to feel very uncomfortable. Sensei gave me no time to answer his last question.
"As a matter of fact, country people tend to be worse than city people. You said just now that there was no one amongst your relatives that you would consider particularly bad. You seem to be under the impression that there is a special breed of bad humans. There is no such thing as a stereotype bad man in this world. Under normal conditions, everybody is more or less good, or, at least, ordinary. But tempt them, and they may suddenly change. That is what is so frightening about men. One must always be on one's guard."
Sensei looked as if he wanted to continue. And I wanted to Say something at this point. But suddenly a dog began to bark behind us. Surprised, we turned around.
Behind the bench, and next to the cedar saplings, dwarf bamboos grew thickly over a small patch of ground. The dog was looking at us over the bamboos, barking furiously. Then a boy of about ten appeared on the scene. He ran to the dog and scolded it. He then turned around towards Sensei and, without taking off his black schoolboy's cap, bowed.
"Sir," he said, "was there no one in the house when you came by?"
"No, there was no one."
"Is that so?"
"Yes, sir. You should have called out 'Good-afternoon' and then come in."
Sensei smiled faintly. He pulled out his purse and, finding a five-sen piece, gave it to the boy.
"Go to your mother and say that we would like her permission to rest here for a while."
With laughter in his intelligent eyes, he nodded.
"At the moment, I am chief of the army scouts," he said, and then rushed down the hill through the azaleas. The dog, with his tail held up, rushed after him. A moment or two later, two or three children of about the same age as the chief of scouts ran past us and disappeared down the hill.
Sensei would have made the purpose of his remarks clearer to me, had it not been for the sudden appearance of the dog and the boy. And I was left, for the moment, somewhat uncertain as to why Sensei should have spoken to me thus. Indeed, I did not share Sensei's interest in such matters as money, inheritance, and so on, partly because of my relatively easy circumstances, and partly because of my nature. Now, when I think of myself at that time, I see how unworldly I was. If I had known the meaning of material hardship then, I would have listened to Sensei more carefully. At any rate, money seemed to me a very distant problem.
Among the things that Sensei said, what interested me most was his remark that no man was immune to temptation. I knew, more or less, what Sensei meant, of course. But I wanted Sensei to talk more about the matter.
After the departure of the dog and the children, the large garden became quiet once more. We sat still for a moment or two, as though made immovable by the silence around us. The beautiful sky began slowly to lose its brightness. And before us, the delicate, green maple leaves, which looked like drops of water just about to fall from the branches, seemed to grow darker in color. From the road below, the sound of cart wheels reached our ears. I imagined that a man from the village had loaded his cart with plants or vegetables and was on his way to some fair to sell them. Sensei stood up, as though the sound had aroused him from his meditation.
"Let us go home," he said. "The days are becoming longer, but dusk seems to fall quickly when we are sitting about lazily like this."
The back of Sensei's coat was dirty, and I brushed it clean with my hand.
"Thank you. You don't see any resin marks, do you?"
"No. It's perfectly clean now."
"I had this coat made only recently. If I get it too dirty, my wife will scold me. Thank you."
On our way down the gently sloping path, we passed the house once more. This time, we saw the lady of the house on the front porch, winding thread onto a spool with the help of a young girl of about fifteen or sixteen. Stopping by the large goldfish bowl, we said: "Thank you for your hospitality."
"Not at all," said the woman, and then thanked us for the coin that her boy had received.
After we had walked a few hundred yards beyond the gate, I suddenly said to Sensei:
"What did you mean, Sensei, when you remarked that if tempted, any man may suddenly become evil?"
"I do not wish to deny that it is a fact. What I want to know is exactly what kind of temptation you were referring to."
Sensei began to laugh, as if he no longer wished to discuss the matter seriously.
"Money, of course. Give a gentleman money, and he will soon turn into a rogue."
Sensei's trite answer disappointed me. Sensei refused to be serious, and my pride was hurt. With a nonchalant air, I began to walk more quickly, leaving Sensei behind. "Hey!" he called to me.
"You see?" he said.
"One simple remark, and your whole attitude towards me, you see, has changed." I had turned around to wait for Sensei and, as he spoke, he looked straight into my eyes.
At that moment I hated Sensei. And after we had resumed our walk, side by side, I refrained from asking the questions I wanted to ask. I could not tell whether or not Sensei knew how I felt; at any rate, he seemed not to pay much attention to my behavior. He was his usual relaxed self as he walked silently by my side. I became spiteful. I wanted to say something that would humiliate him.
"Sensei," I said.
"Yes, what is it?"
"You became a little excited, didn't you, Sensei, when we were resting in the tree nursery? You are very rarely excited, and I feel that today, I was permitted to observe a rather unusual occurrence."
Sensei did not reply immediately. I thought that perhaps my remarks had had their effect on him, but at the same time I could not help being slightly disappointed. I decided to say no more. Then suddenly, Sensei left my side and, walking up to a neatly trimmed hedge, began to urinate. I stood by foolishly and waited for him.
"Pardon me," he said, as we set off again. I gave up all thought of trying to humiliate him. Gradually, the road became busier. The open fields that had been visible to us before were now almost completely hidden by rows of houses. Even then, there were sights that reminded us of the quiet countryside, such as peas growing around bamboo stakes in private gardens, and hens being kept in enclosures of wire netting. We passed an endless procession of cart horses, returning from the city. I, who was inclined to become absorbed in all such details of the scene around me, soon ceased to worry about what Sensei had said. Indeed, I had totally forgotten my last words to him, when he suddenly said to me:
"Did I seem so excited to you back there in the nursery?"
"Not very; perhaps a little..."
"I don't mind at all your saying that I was very excited. You see, I really do become excited when I start speaking of inheritances, and so on. It may not seem so to you, but I have a very vindictive nature. The indignities and injuries I suffered ten years ago--even twenty years ago--I have not yet forgotten." There was even less restraint in Sensei's words than there had been previously that day. What shocked me was not the tone of his voice so much as what he had actually said. I had never thought, of course, that I would ever hear such an admission from Sensei, nor imagined that there was such a tenacious streak in his character. I had believed him to be rather a weak person. And I had loved Sensei for this weakness, whether real or imagined, no less than for his virtues. I, who a short while ago had tried to pick a quarrel with him, began to feel small.
"I was once deceived," Sensei said. "Moreover, I was deceived by my own blood relations. I shall never forget this. When my father was alive, they behaved like decent people. But as soon as he died they turned into scoundrels. The effect of the injury that they did me in my youth is with me still. It will be with me, I suppose, until I die. What they did to me I shall remember so long as I live. But I have never taken my revenge on them. When I think about it, I have done something much worse than that. I have come to hate not only them, but the human race in general. That is quite enough, I think."
Not even words of consolation came to my lips.
We talked no more about the subject that day. I was somewhat awed by his manner, and I did not want to ask him any more questions.
When we reached the outskirts of the city proper, we boarded a tram. We hardly spoke to each other during the ride back. We parted shortly after we got off the tram. By that time, Sensei's mood had changed. Before leaving me, he said in a tone more cheerful than usual, "You will be really carefree from now till June, won't you? Perhaps you will never again in your life be so free from responsibility. Enjoy yourself as much as you can." I grinned as I took off my cap. And looking at his face, I wondered how such a man could carry so much hatred in his heart. His smiling eyes and lips showed nothing of the misanthrope.
I should like to say here that I profited considerably from my conversations with Sensei. Many times, however, I found Sensei very unsatisfactory as a mentor. I felt often that he was being purposely evasive: such was my feeling concerning our conversation that day.
Being a blunt and discourteous young man, I told Sensei one day that I had often found our conversation rather inconclusive. Sensei laughed, and I said:
"I would not mind so much, if I thought that you were too dull a person to realize that your remarks are often not very dear to me. But I do mind, because I know that you could tell me much more if you so wished."
"I hide nothing from you."
"Yes, sir, you do."
"It would appear that you are unable to distinguish between my ideas at present and the events of my past. I am not much of a thinker, but the few ideas that I do have, I have no wish to hide from others. I have no reason to. But if you are suggesting that I should tell you all about my past--well, that's another matter entirely."
"I do not agree with you. I value your opinions because they are the results of your experience. Your opinions would be worthless otherwise. They would be like soulless dolls." Sensei stared at me in astonishment. I saw that his hand, which held a cigarette, was shaking a little.
"No, sir, I am simply being sincere. And in all sincerity, I wish to learn about life."
"Even to the extent of digging up my past?" Suddenly, I was afraid. I felt as though the man sitting opposite me were some kind of criminal, instead of the Sensei that I had come to respect. Sensei's face was pale.
"I wonder if you are being really sincere," he said. "Because of what happened to me, I have come to doubt everybody. In truth, I doubt you too. But for some reason I do not want to doubt you. It may be because you seem so simple. Before I die, I should like to have one friend that I can trust. I wonder if you can be that friend. Are you really sincere?"
"I have been true to you, Sensei," I said, "unless my whole life has been a lie." My voice shook as I spoke.
"Very well, then," said Sensei. "I will tell you. I will tell you all about my past. But remember--no, never mind about that. Let me simply warn you that to know my past may do you no good. It may be better for you not to know. And I cannot tell you just yet. Don't expect me to tell you until the proper time to do so has come."
I returned to my lodgings with an oppressive feeling--like a sense of doom--inside me.
My professors apparently did not have as high an opinion of my thesis as I did. I was, however, allowed to graduate that year. On the day of the graduation ceremony, I brought out my old and musty winter uniform from my suitcase and put it on. Everyone around me in the graduation hall looked hot.
My body felt as if it had been sealed in an airtight envelope of thick wool. Very quickly, the handkerchief that I was holding in my hand became soaking wet.
I went back to my lodgings as soon as the ceremony was over, and stripped to the skin. I opened the window of my room, which was on the second floor and, pretending that my diploma was a telescope, I surveyed as much of the world as I could see. Then I threw the diploma down on the desk and lay on the floor in the middle of the room. In that position, I thought back over my past and tried to imagine what my future would be. I thought about my diploma lying on the desk and, though it seemed to have some significance as a kind of symbol of the beginning of a new life, I could not help feeling that it was a meaningless scrap of paper too.
That evening I went to Sensei's house for dinner. I had promised him earlier that, if I graduated, I would dine with him, and not with anyone else.
For this occasion, the table had been put in the drawing room, near the verandah. On the table was an embroidered cloth, heavily starched. It reflected the electric light beautifully. As always when I dined at Sensei's, I found the bowls and chopsticks neatly laid out on white linen such as one sees in the European-style restaurants. And the linen was always spotless, having obviously been freshly laundered.
"It is the same with shirt collars and cuffs," Sensei once said. "If one is going to use soiled linen, one might as well start with colored linen. But white linen must always be spotless."
"Sensei is rather fastidious, isn't he?" I once said to his wife. "Perhaps so," she said. "But when it comes to clothes, he certainly is not overcareful." Sensei, who was listening to us, said with a laugh, "To tell the truth, I have a fastidious mind. That is why I am always worrying. When you think about it, it's a terrible nuisance to have a nature like mine."
What he meant by "a fastidious mind," I did not know. Neither, it seemed, did his wife. Perhaps he meant to say that he was too intensely conscious of right and wrong, or perhaps he meant that his fastidiousness amounted to something like a morbid love of cleanliness.
That evening, I sat opposite Sensei at the table. Sensei's wife sat between us, facing the garden.
"Congratulations," Sensei said, and raised his saké cup to me. The gesture did not make me particularly happy, partly because, by then, I was not in such high spirits about having graduated, and partly because Sensei's tone of voice did not seem to invite a merry response from me. True, he grinned at me when he raised his cup, and I did not detect any irony in his grin. But neither did it convey happiness for my success. His grin seemed rather to say, "It is, for some strange reason, considered proper to congratulate people on such occasions as this."
Sensei's wife was good enough to say, "Well done. Your father and mother must be pleased." I was suddenly reminded of my sick father by this remark, and thought, "I must hurry home and show my diploma to him."
"What has become of your diploma, Sensei?"
"Yes, I think so. It should be somewhere in the house."
Neither of them seemed to know exactly where the diploma was.
When it was time for the main course to be served, Sensei's wife sent away the maid, who was sitting by her side and waited on us herself. This was their customary procedure, I believe, when they had friends, rather than formal guests, to dinner. The first two or three times I had dinner there, I felt somewhat ill at ease, but eventually I learned to ask Sensei's wife to refill my bowl without the slightest hesitation or embarrassment.
"Tea? Rice? You certainly eat a lot," she would say sometimes, in a pleasantly informal manner. That evening, however, I gave her no opportunity to tease me. It being summer, I did not have much of an appetite.
"Finished already? You certainly have become a small eater these days."
"I would eat as much as ever, if it weren't for the heat." After the maid had cleared the table, Sensei's wife served fruit and ice cream.
"I made this myself, you know."
Sensei's wife, it seemed, had so little to do in the house that she could, if she wished, serve her guests homemade ice cream. I had three helpings of it.
"Now that you have finally graduated, what do you intend to do?" Sensei asked. He had moved his cushion towards the verandah, and was leaning against the sliding door.
My mind was preoccupied with the fact that I had graduated, and I had not begun to think seriously about my future. Seeing me hesitate, Sensei's wife said: "Do you intend to teach?" Again, I did not reply immediately, and she added:
"Or work for the government, perhaps?" Sensei and I both began to laugh.
"To be honest, I have no idea. I have really not thought much about my career. I find it difficult to decide what profession would suit me best, since I have had no experience.
"That may be," she said. "But it is because your people have money that you can afford to be so unconcerned about your future. You would not be so easygoing, if you were in less fortunate circumstances."
I knew of course that she was right. Some of my friends at the university had started looking for posts in secondary schools long before their graduation. But I said:
"Perhaps I have been influenced by Sensei."
"Really!" she said. "You shouldn't allow yourself to be influenced in such a way."
Sensei smiled wryly, and said:
"I don't care if it's my influence or not. But as I have already said, make sure that your father will leave you a reasonable amount of money. Otherwise, you cannot afford to be so easygoing."
Then I remembered our conversation in the tree nursery, that day in early May when the azaleas were in bloom. And I remembered his words spoken in agitation on our way back from there. They had momentarily frightened me, but I, being ignorant of Sensei's past, had not given them much thought since.
"Madam," I said, "are you and Sensei very rich?"
"I asked Sensei, and he wouldn't tell me."
She laughed and looked at Sensei.
"Perhaps he is reluctant to tell you because he hasn't very much."
"But I want to know what sum will be sufficient to enable me to live as Sensei does, so that when I speak to my father about my inheritance, I shall have some idea of what I want."
Sensei was looking at the garden, calmly smoking a cigarette. His wife again had to do the answering:
"We don't have very much. We manage to make ends meet, that's all. Besides, what money we have has nothing to do with your future. You really must think seriously about your career. You must not live your life in complete idleness, like Sensei."
"I do not live in complete idleness," said Sensei, turning his head slightly in our direction.
I left Sensei's house a little after ten o'clock. As I was due to go home in two or three days' time, I said a few words of farewell before rising from my seat.
"I shall not be seeing you for some time."
"I suppose you will be back in Tokyo in September?" said Sensei's wife.
I had no intention of coming back to Tokyo in August in the full heat of the summer. I did not think that I would be seeking a post that soon. And in truth, there was no need to return in September either, since I had finished with the university. But I said:
"Yes, I shall probably be back in September."
"Take good care of yourself," she said. "We are going to have a bad summer, apparently. We shall probably go away somewhere too. If we do, we'll send you a postcard."
"Where do you think you might go ?"
Sensei, who had been listening to us with an odd grin on his face, said:
"We really don't know that we are going anywhere." As I was about to rise, Sensei suddenly said, "By the way, how is your father?" I said that I did not know, but that I assumed that he was no worse, since the letters from home had said nothing about his health.
"You must not regard your father's illness so lightly. Once there is uraemia poisoning, he will be finished."
I had no idea what uraemia poisoning was. The doctor, whom I saw during the winter vacation, had certainly said nothing about it.
"You really must take good care of him," said Sensei's wife. "When the poison reaches the brain, there's no hope, you know. It is no laughing matter, either."
I had been smiling uneasily, not knowing what to say. "His disease is incurable, anyway,"I said. "There is nothing to be gained by worrying."
"If you can truly be so resigned about it," she said quietly, "then there's nothing more to be said."
She lowered her eyes, as though she was thinking of her mother, who had died of the same illness. I too began to feel sad about my father's fate.
Then Sensei suddenly turned to his wife.
"Shizu, I wonder if you will die before me?"
"Why? I was just wondering. Or will I die first? It appears that women usually outlive their husbands."
"Perhaps, but how can one be sure? Of course, husbands are usually older than their wives.
"And so, you think, husbands will die sooner than their wives. In that case, I am certain to leave this world before you. Isn't that so?"
"No, not at all. You are different."
"You are so healthy. You have hardly ever been ill. No doubt, I shall be the first to go."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, of course."
Sensei looked at me. I smiled.
"But if I die first," he continued, "what will you do?"
"What will I do...?" Sensei's wife hesitated. For a moment, she seemed afraid, as though she had caught a brief glimpse of the life of sorrow she would lead when Sensei was gone. But when she looked up again, her mood had changed.
"What will I do? Why, what do you expect me to do?" she said lightheartedly. "I shall simply tell myself that 'death comes to old and young alike,' as the saying goes." She deliberately looked at me, when she said this.
I had been on the point of leaving when the conversation started, but I decided to stay a little while longer and keep the two company.
Which of the two would die first was obviously not a question that I could answer intelligently, so I smiled and said:
"I also do not know what your predestined span of life is."
"It certainly is a matter of predestination, if nothing else is," Sensei's wife said. "We are all given a certain number of years to live when we are born. Did you know that Sensei's father and mother died almost simultaneously?"
"On the same day?"
"Well, perhaps not on the same day. But one died very shortly after the other."
This, I had not known. I thought it rather curious.
"How was it that they died at the same time?"
Sensei's wife was about to answer me, when she was interrupted by her husband.
"Don't say any more about it. It is of no interest."
Sensei made as much noise as he could with his fan. He then turned to his wife again.
"Shizu, this house will be yours when I die."
Sensei's wife laughed.
"You might as well will me the land too."
"I can't give you the land, since it doesn't belong to me. But everything I own is yours."
"Thank you very much. But of what we would all those foreign books of yours be to me?"
"You can sell them to some secondhand bookshop."
"And what will I get for them, if I do?"
Sensei did not answer. He continued to talk, however, on the subject of his own death. And all the while, he seemed to have taken it for granted that he was going to die before his wife. At first, she seemed determined to treat the subject in a frivolous spirit. But eventually, the conversation began to oppress her sensitive woman's heart.
"How many more times are you going to say, 'When I die, when I die'? For heaven's sake, please don't say 'when I die' again! It's unlucky to talk like that. When you die, I shall do as you wish. There, let that be the end of it.
Sensei turned towards the garden and laughed. But to please her, he dropped the subject. It was getting late, and so I stood up to go. Sensei and his wife came to the front hail with me.
"Take good care of your father," she said.
"Till September, then," he said.
I said goodbye and stepped out of the house. Between the house and the outer gate there was a bushy osmanthus tree. It spread its branches into the night, as if to block my way. I looked at the dark outline of the leaves and thought of the fragrant flowers that would be out in the autumn. I said to myself, I have come to know this tree well, and it has become, in my mind, an inseparable part of Sensei's house. As I stood in front of the tree, thinking of the coming autumn when I would be walking up the path once more, the porch light suddenly went out. Sensei and his wife had apparently gone into their bedroom. I stepped out alone into the dark street.
I did not return to my lodgings immediately. There were a few things I wanted to buy before going home, and I felt also that I needed a walk after the big dinner I had eaten. I walked towards the busy part of the town. There, the night had only just begun. The streets were crowded with men and women who seemed to have come out for no particular purposes. I ran into a university acquaintance who had also graduated that day. He forced me to go into a bar with him. There, I had to sit and listen to my fellow graduate, whose talk was as frothy as the beer. It was past midnight when I returned to my room.
I had been asked by the family to buy a few things before leaving Tokyo, so I spent the next day shopping despite the heat. That morning as I set out on my errands, I found myself being very annoyed at the prospect of having to walk about the busy streets on such a hot day. And as I sat in the tram, wiping the perspiration from my face, I began to hate country people who were always ready to bother others busier than themselves with annoying requests.
I did not intend to spend the whole summer in idleness. I had already prepared a kind of daily schedule which I intended to follow when I got home, and so there were books that I had to buy. I went to the Maruzen Bookshop, and, prepared to spend half the day there if need be, I examined carefully all the books that dealt with my subject of study.
Of the items that I was asked to buy, the one that gave me most trouble was a chemisette. The apprentice at the shop was willing enough to bring out as many as I wished to see, but I found it very difficult to decide which I should buy. Also, prices varied greatly. Those that I thought would be cheap turned out to be very dear, and those that looked expensive to me turned out to be very cheap. Precisely what it was that made one chemisette better than another, I could not understand. I regretted not having asked Sensei's wife to buy one for me.
I bought a suitcase also. Of course, it was a cheap one, made in Japan. But it had metal fittings that shone brilliantly, and it was impressive enough to stun country people. My mother had asked me in one of her letters to buy such a bag for myself if I graduated, so that I could come home with all the presents packed in it. I laughed when I read the request. I understood my mother's motives, and I was not being unkind when I found it comical.
I left Tokyo three days later, as had been my intention when I took leave of Sensei and his wife. I was not overly worried about my father, in spite of the warnings that Sensei had given me since winter concerning his illness. Rather, I felt sorry for my mother, whose life after my father's death would, I knew, be very lonely. No doubt, I had come to regard it as inevitable that my father should die soon. In a letter to my elder brother in Kyushu, I had said that there was no hope of my father's regaining his former health. In another letter, I had advised him to return home that summer if possible, to see my father before he died. I had even gone so far as to add, in a somewhat emotional strain, that we, their children, should feel pity for the old couple that led such lonely lives in the country. When writing such letters, I was quite sincere. But after writing them, my mood would change.
On the train, I thought about my own inconsistency. The more I thought about it, the more fickle I seemed, and I became dissatisfied with myself. I then thought of Sensei and his wife, and the evening of my last dinner with them. I remembered Sensei saying, "Which of us will die first?" And I thought: "How can anyone answer such a question? And if Sensei knew the answer, what would he do? What would his wife do, if she knew? Probably, they would behave exactly as if they did not know. As I am sitting here now, helpless, though I know that my father is waiting to die . . ." I felt then the helplessness of man, and the vanity of his life.
[note 1]: The English word "teacher" which comes closest in meaning to the Japanese word sensei is not satisfactory here. The French word maître would express better what is meant by sensei.
[note 2]: He had been a "college" student before.
[note 3]: kind of checkers.
[note 4]: Literally, this means "mist island."
[note 5]: Ten tsubo is about forty square yards.
Soseki, Natsume. <cite>Kokoro</cite> <br />
Chicago: Regnery Gateway, 1957. 21 Jan. 2000. <br />
(<a href="http://www.eldritchpress.org/ns/k1.html#p1">Soseki, 1</a>)
Soseki, Natsume. Kokoro (Part 1)
Chicago: Regnery Gateway, 1957. 21 Jan. 2000.