I RECEIVED two or three letters from you this summer. If I remember rightly, it was in your second letter that you asked me to help you find a suitable post. When I read it, I felt that the least I could do was to answer your letter. But I must confess that in the end, I did nothing. As you know, my circle of acquaintances is very small. Indeed, it would be more correct to say that I live alone in this world. How could I, then, have been of any help to you? However, that is of little importance. You see, when your letter came, I was trying desperately to decide what I should do with myself. I was thinking, "Should I go on living as I do now, like a mummy left in the midst of living beings, or should I...?" In those days, every time I thought of the latter alternative, I was seized with a terrible fear. I was like a man who runs to the edge of a cliff, and looking down, sees that the abyss is bottomless. I was a coward. And like most cowards I suffered because I could not decide. Unfortunately, it would not be an exaggeration to say that at the time I was hardly aware of your existence. To go further, such a matter as your future livelihood was to me almost totally without significance. I did not care what you did. It was not, to my way of thinking, worth all the fuss. I put your letter in the letter rack and continued to worry about my own problem. One brief and contemptuous glance in your direction, that is about all I thought you deserved. Why should a fellow, I asked myself, as comfortably placed as you, start whining for a job so soon after graduating? It is because I feel that I owe you some sort of explanation for my conduct that I tell you all this. I am not being purposely rude in order to anger you. I believe that you will understand when you have read my letter. At any rate, I should have at least acknowledged your letter. Please forgive me for my negligence.
Some time later, I sent you a telegram. To tell you the truth, I simply wanted to see you again. Also, I wanted to tell you the story of my past as you had once asked me to. When your telegram came, saying that you could not come to Tokyo, I was deeply disappointed. I remember I sat still for a while, staring at it. You too must have felt that a telegram was not enough, for you kindly wrote me a letter soon afterwards. The letter made it quite clear why you could not come to Tokyo. I had no reason to resent your not complying with my request. How could you have left home with your own father so ill? It was I who was at fault. I should have remembered your father's condition. As a matter of fact, when I sent you that telegram, I had forgotten all about him. I, who had previously warned you of the seriousness of his illness, could not remember . . . You see, I am an inconsistent person. This inconsistency may not be so much a natural part of my character as the effect that the remembrance of my own past has had on me. At any rate, I am well aware of my failing. You must forgive me.
When I read your letter--your last letter to me--I realized I had done wrong. I thought I would write to you and say so. I went so far as to pick up my pen but, in the end, put it back on the desk without writing a single line. The truth is, the only things I would have thought worth saying at the time are those things which I shall say here, and it was then too soon for me to write such a letter. That is why I sent you that simple telegram, telling you that there was no need to come.
I began then to write this letter. I am not accustomed to writing, and it pained me much to find that many of the incidents and my own thoughts I could not describe as freely as I wished. Often, I was tempted to abandon the task, and so break my promise to you. But every time I dropped my pen thinking I could not go on, I found that, before a full hour had passed, I was writing once more. You may take this as a manifestation of my naturally strong sense of obligation. I will not contradict you if you do. As you know, I have led a very secluded life and have had little contact with the outside world. As I look about me, I find that I really have no obligations. Either through force of circumstances or through my own designing, I have lived in such a way as to free my life of obligation. But this is not because I have not it in me to feel a sense of obligation towards others. Rather, it is because I feel it so sharply that I have led such a negative kind of life. I am not strong enough to bear the pains that it inflicts on one. You will understand, then, that if I had not kept my promise to you I should have felt very uneasy. The desire to avoid such uneasiness was in itself enough to make me pick up my pen again.
But that is not the only reason why I wanted to write this. You see, apart from any sense of obligation, there is the simple reason that I want to write about my past. Since my past was experienced only by me, I might be excused if I regarded it as my property, and mine alone. And is it not natural that I should want to give this thing, which is mine, to someone before I die? At least, that is how I feel. On the other hand, I would rather see it destroyed, with my life, than offer it to someone who does not want it. In truth, if there had not been such a person as you, my past would never have become known, even indirectly, to anyone. To you alone, then, among the millions of Japanese, I wish to tell my past. For you are sincere; and because once you said in all sincerity that you wished to learn from life itself.
Without hesitation, I am about to force you into the shadows of this dark world of ours. But you must not fear. Gaze steadily into the shadows and then take whatever will be of use to you in your own life. When I speak of darkness, I mean moral darkness. For I was born an ethical creature, and I was brought up to be an ethical man. True, my ethics may be different from those of the young men of today. But they are at least my own. I did not borrow them for the sake of convenience as a man might a dress suit. It is for this reason that I think you, who wish to grow, may learn something from my experience.
You will remember how you used to try to argue with me about contemporary ideas. You will remember too what my attitude was. Though I did not exactly disdain your opinions, I must admit I could not bring myself to respect them either. Your thoughts were without solid foundation, and you were too young to have had much experience. Sometimes, I laughed. Sometimes, you used to look at me discontentedly. In the end, you asked me to spread out my past like a picture scroll before your eyes. Then, for the first time, I respected you. I was moved by your decision, albeit discourteous in expression, to grasp something that was alive within my soul. You wished to cut open my heart and see the blood flow. I was then still alive. I did not want to die. That is why I refused you and postponed the granting of your wish to another day. Now, I myself am about to cut open my own heart, and drench your face with my blood. And I shall be satisfied if, when my heart stops beating, a new life lodges itself in your breast.
I was not yet twenty when I lost both my parents. I think that my wife once mentioned to you that they died of the same disease. Also, if I remember correctly, she told you, much to your surprise, that they died almost at the same time. My father, to tell the truth, was killed by that dreadful disease, typhoid; and my mother, who was nursing him, caught it from him.
I was their only son. Our family was well off, and so I was brought up in an atmosphere of generosity and ease. As I look back on my past, I cannot but feel that had my parents--or at least one of them--survived, I might have been allowed to keep my generous nature.
I was left behind alone, helpless as a lost child. I was inexperienced and knew nothing of the ways of the world. My mother could not be with my father when he died. And when my mother was dying she was not told that my father was already dead. I do not know whether she knew, or whether she actually believed us when we told her that he was recovering. All I know is that she asked my uncle to take care of everything. I was there at the time: she nodded towards me, and said to my uncle, "Please look after my child." It would seem that she wanted to say much more, but she succeeded only in saying, ".... . to Tokyo..." My uncle quickly said, "All right. You mustn't worry." It may be that my mother's constitution did not succumb too easily to fever, but at any rate my uncle later said to me praisingly, "She's a brave woman." I do not know whether those few words of my mother's were her last or not. She of course knew the terrible nature of her own disease, and that she had caught it from my father. But I am by no means certain that she truly believed that she would die from it. And no matter how clear those words which she spoke in high fever might have been, they often left no trace in her memory when the fever subsided. That is why I... but never mind. What I am trying to say is that even then I was beginning to show signs of a deeply suspicious nature which could not accept anything without closely analyzing it. Irrelevant as the above account may be to the main part of my narrative, I feel that it will help you to understand one side of my character. Please read all such passages, then, in this light. This nature of mine led me not only to suspect the motives of individual persons but to doubt even the integrity of all mankind, and to what extent it increased my capacity for suffering you will see for yourself.
I have digressed enough. Considering my situation, I am really quite calm. Even the sound of trams, which seems to become audible only when the rest of the world has gone to sleep, I can hear no more. The forlorn singing of the insects reaches me through the closed shutters, and one feels that their song is of the dews of coming autumn. My wife sleeps innocently in the next room. The pen in my hand makes a faint scratching sound as it traces one character after another down the page. My heart is tranquil as I sit before my desk. If the strokes of my characters seem sometimes ill-arranged, you must not think this due to my mental state. Attribute it, rather, to my inexperience with the pen.
At any rate, I, who was left alone, had no choice but to rely on my uncle in accordance with my mother's wishes. My uncle, on his part, accepted full responsibility and looked after my affairs. And he arranged, as I had hoped, for me to go to Tokyo.
I came to Tokyo and entered the college. College students in those days were considerably more violent and barbaric than they are now. One student I knew, for example, got into a fight with an apprentice one night and hurt him rather badly on the head with his wooden clogs. He had been drinking, and so did not see the other fellow taking his college cap from him in the midst of the violent fight. His name, of course, was carefully written on a label inside the cap. The police were ready to report him to the college, but thanks to the intercession of his friends the matter was prevented from becoming public. You went to college in more gentle days, and so you must feel contempt for such rough doings. I also, when I look back on those days, feel that we were all pretty silly. There was, however, a certain kind of admirable simplicity in the life of the student then which one does not find today. My monthly allowance, which my uncle sent me, was considerably less than what your father used to send you. (Of course, the cost of living has gone up since my student days.) But I do not remember wanting any more money than I received. Besides, my financial position was such that there was no reason for me to envy my classmates. When I think of it, it is likely that many of them envied me. In addition to my regular allowance, I used to receive allowances for books--I was already fond of buying books--and for incidental expenses which I spent freely.
Being innocent, I not only trusted my uncle completely, but admired him and even considered myself indebted to him. He was a business man. He was also, at one time, a member of the prefectural assembly. I seem to remember that, through his membership in the assembly, he had connections with some political party. Though he and my father were brothers, it would seem that their characters developed in quite different directions. My father was a simple, upright man, whose main purpose in life was to keep intact the property left him by his ancestors. He took pleasure in the tea ceremony and in the arrangement of flowers, and he loved to read poetry. Paintings and antiques seemed to interest him too. Our house was in the country, and I remember that a dealer from the town used to visit my father, bringing with him paintings, incense burners, and so on. (The town was about six miles away, and it was there that my uncle lived.) My father was, I suppose, what one might call a "man of means," [note 1] a country gentleman of taste. There was, therefore, quite a contrast between him and his active, worldly brother. Oddly enough, they seemed quite fond of each other. My father would often speak of my uncle in glowing terms, saying what a sound fellow he was, and how superior his brother's qualities were to his own. "The trouble with inheriting money from one's parents," he once said to my mother and to me, "is that it dulls one's wits. It's a bad thing not to have to struggle for one's living." I believe that he said this for my benefit. At least, he gave me a meaningful look at the time. That is why I remember his words so well. How could I doubt this uncle of mine, whom my father trusted and admired so much? It was natural that I should be proud of him. And when my father and mother died, he became more than someone to be proud of: he became a necessity.
When I went home the following summer, my uncle had already moved into our house with his family, and was now its new master. This had been arranged between us before I left for Tokyo. So long as I was not going to be in the house all the time, some such arrangement was necessary.
My uncle was at that time connected with many business enterprises in the town. I remember that when we agreed that he should move into the house and manage the property during my absence, he said to me with a smile: "Of course, from the point of view of my own business, it would be much more convenient to live in my own house than to live six miles from town." My house had a long history, and was not unknown in the district. In the country, as you are probably well aware, it is a very serious thing to tear down or sell a house with a long tradition when there is an heir. Such things do not worry me now, but I was young then, and I was torn between the desire to go to Tokyo and the fear of shirking the responsibility of my inheritance.
Unwillingly, my uncle consented to move into my house. He insisted, however, that he be allowed to keep his old residence in town so that he might stay there whenever it was necessary. Naturally, I had no objections; I was willing to agree to any arrangement which would enable me to go to Tokyo.
As a child will, I loved my home; and when parted from it, there was a yearning for it in my heart. I was like a traveler who, no matter where he goes, never doubts that he will some day return to his place of birth. I came to Tokyo of my own free will, but I had little doubt that I should return when the holidays came. And so I studied and played in the great city, dreaming often of my home.
I have no idea how my uncle divided his time between the two residences during my absence. At any rate, when I arrived, he and his whole family were living in my house. I suppose that those of his children who were still at school lived normally in the town house, but had been brought to our house in the country for the holidays.
They were all pleased to see me. I was pleased too, for the house had become a gay place; much gayer certainly than when my parents were alive. My uncle chased out his eldest son who had taken over my own room, and put me in it. I objected, saying that since the house was so crowded, I did not mind staying in some other room. But my uncle would not listen: "This is your house, after all," he said.
There were unhappy moments when I thought of my father and mother, but on the whole I had an enjoyable summer with my uncle's family. There was one thing, however, which cast a slight shadow on my memory of the summer: my uncle and aunt had more than once tried to persuade me, who had only just entered college, to marry. The first time they mentioned marriage to me, I was somewhat shocked, for the subject had been introduced suddenly: the second time, I positively refused to consider it; and the third time, I was forced to ask them why they wanted to discuss such a thing. The reason they gave was quite simple: I should, they said, get married as soon as possible and succeed my father. I myself had been under the happy impression that, so long as I came home for the holidays, all would be well. Of course, I was too well acquainted with the ways of the country not to see the reasonableness of my uncle's wish that I should get married and settle down properly as my father's heir. Moreover, I do not think that I really disliked the prospect; but I had only recently begun my studies at college, and it was no more real to me than a distant scene observed from the wrong end of a telescope.
I forgot all about the subject of marriage. None of the young men in my group seemed to me to have that domesticated look. They all seemed to do as they liked, and, as far as I could tell, were all bachelors. It is possible that, if one had examined their personal histories carefully, one might have discovered that, despite their easygoing ways, some of them had already been forced into marriage; but I was too young to even suspect such a thing. Besides, even if there had been such men in our midst, it is doubtful that they would have wanted to talk about marriage, a subject far removed from the thoughts of young students. To think of it, I was myself in this position; but I was not worried, and managed to spend another year happily at the college.
At the end of that academic year, I packed my bag once more and returned to my parents' resting place. In my house, where once my father and mother had lived, I saw the cheerful faces of my uncle and his family. Again I was able to breathe the air of my native place, which was as dear to me then as it ever was before. It was good to be back after a year of student life.
But I was not allowed to enjoy for long the familiar surroundings which had become almost a part of me. Once more, my uncle brought up the subject of marriage. His reasons for wanting to see me get married were the same as those he gave the previous year. But this time, he had someone in mind for me, which made the matter all the more embarrassing. The person that he suggested as a suitable bride was his own daughter, my cousin. "It will be a convenient arrangement for both parties," he said. "Your father, before he died, seemed to be of the same opinion." I could myself see the convenience of such a union; and I could quite easily believe that my father had been in agreement with my uncle. But the idea of marrying my cousin had never crossed my mind before, and had my uncle not pointed out the advantages of the marriage they would certainly have never occurred to me. I was therefore surprised; yet I had to admit to myself the reasonableness of my uncle's wishes. Perhaps I am a thoughtless sort of person. At any rate, I believe that the main source of my reluctance to marry my cousin lay in my complete indifference to her. As a child I had frequently gone to play at my uncle's home in town. I remember that I often spent the night there. My cousin and I were therefore childhood friends. You know of course that a brother does not fall in love with his sister. I may be simply repeating what has always been known, but I do believe that for love to grow there must first be the impact of novelty. Between two people who have always known each other, that necessary stimulus. can never be felt. Like the first whiff of burning incense, or like the taste of one's first cup of saké, there is in love that moment when all its power is felt. There may be fondness, but not love, between two people who have come to know each other well without ever having grasped that moment. No matter how hard I tried, I could not bring myself to want my cousin for a wife.
My uncle said that if I should insist, he would be willing to postpone my wedding until I had graduated. "But," he added, "as the saying goes, 'don't put off the good things.' I should like, if possible, to announce the engagement now." As far as I was concerned, a fianceé was no more desirable than a wife; and so I refused. My uncle pulled a sour face. My cousin cried; not because she was saddened by the prospect of a life without me, but because her woman's pride had been hurt by my refusal to marry her. I knew very well that she was no more in love with me than I was with her. I returned once more to Tokyo.
The following summer, I went home for the third time. I had as usual awaited the end of the examinations impatiently, and then had hurried away from Tokyo as quickly as I could. Home was indeed very dear to me. You know of course that the very air of one's native place seems different from that of anywhere else. The smell of the earth, even, seems to have a special quality of its own. Besides, I found there to comfort me the tender memory of my father and mother. I looked forward to the months of July and August, when I could live like a snake hibernating in its hole, secure and comfortable in familiar surroundings.
I was so simple as to think that the question of marriage between my cousin and myself had been settled, and that there was no more need for me to worry about it. I believed that in life, so long as one rejected openly what one did not want, one would be left alone. And so the fact that I had not yielded to my uncle's persuasion worried me very little. After having spent a year without giving it much thought, I went home in my usual cheerful mood.
My uncle's attitude towards me, however, had changed. He did not receive me with open arms as he had done before. But being a rather easygoing sort of fellow, I did not notice this until I had been home for four or five days. Some incident or other brought it to my notice; and when I looked about me I saw that not only had my uncle become strange, but my aunt and my cousin also. Even my uncle's eldest son, who had not long before written to me for advice, saying that he was intending to go to a commercial college in Tokyo after his graduation from high school, seemed to behave strangely.
It was in my nature to begin wondering. "Why is it that my feelings have changed?" I asked myself. But quickly the question became: "Why is it that their feelings have changed?" And suddenly, I began to think that my dead father and mother had lifted the veil from my eyes so that I could see the world clearly for what it really was. You see, somewhere in my heart I believed that my parents, though they had departed from this world, still loved me as they had done when alive. I do not think that, even at that time, the rational part of me was undeveloped. But there was deeply rooted in my system a core of superstition bequeathed to me by my ancestors. I think that it is there still.
I went alone to the hill where my parents were buried and knelt down before their grave. I knelt partly in sorrow, and partly in gratitude. And as though my future happiness were held in the hands of these two buried under the cold stone, I prayed to them to watch over my destiny. You may laugh; and I will not blame you if you do. But I was that sort of person.
All of a sudden, my world had changed. I had had this experience before. It was, I think, in my sixteenth or seventeenth year that with a shock, I discovered that there was beauty in this world. I rubbed my eyes many times, not believing what they saw. And then my heart cried out: "How beautiful!" It is at the age of sixteen or seventeen that, both boys and girls become--to use a popular expression--"loveconscious." I was no different from the others, and for the first time in my life I was able to see women as the personification of beauty in this world. My eyes, which had been blind to the existence of the opposite sex, were suddenly opened; and before them a whole new universe unravelled itself.
My awareness--my sudden awareness--of my uncle's attitude was, I suppose, a similar experience. It rushed at me without warning. My uncle and his family appeared before my eyes as totally different beings. I was shocked. And I began to feel that, unless I did something, I might be lost.
I thought that I owed it to my dead parents to find out from my uncle the details of the family fortune which I had left to his management. It seemed that he was as busy as he professed to be, for he never slept under the same roof for more than a few nights at a time. For every two days in our house, he would spend three in town. Whenever I saw him, I found him in a fidgety mood. "I am so busy, so busy..." he would automatically say, and then hurry away. Before I began to doubt him, I was inclined to believe that he was really busy, or, when in a cynical mood, I would tell myself that it was probably the latest fashion to appear busy. But after I had decided to have a long talk with him about my inheritance, I began to suspect that he was trying to avoid such a talk--At any rate, I did not find it easy to get hold of him.
Then I heard that my uncle was keeping a mistress in town. The rumor reached me through an old friend of mine, who had been a classmate at high school. Considering my uncle's character, his having a mistress was nothing to be surprised about, but I, who had never heard such rumors about him during my father's lifetime, was shocked. My friend told me of other things that were being said about my uncle: one of them was that though at one time his business enterprises were thought to be failing, his situation seemed to have improved considerably in the last two or three years. I was given another reason for suspecting my uncle.
At last, I had a conference with him. To say that "I had a conference" may sound odd, but that is about the only way I can describe our talk. My uncle persisted in treating me like a child, while I regarded him with suspicion from the beginning. There was certainly no chance of our talk ending amicably.
Unfortunately, I am in too much of a hurry to describe the results of the "conference" in detail. To tell the truth, there is something much more important that I want to write about. I am hardly able to restrain my pen, which seems anxious to reach the main part of the narrative. Having lost forever the opportunity of talking to you at my leisure, I cannot say all the things that I wish to say. I am a slow and inexperienced writer, and I have little time.
You remember of course that day when I said that there was no such thing in this world as a species of men whose unique quality is badness; and that one should always be careful not to forget that a gentleman, when tempted, may easily become a rogue. You were then good enough to point out to me that I was excited. You also asked what it was that caused good men to become bad; and when I answered simply, "Money," you looked dissatisfied. I remember well that look of dissatisfaction on your face. I now confess to you that I was then thinking of my uncle. With hatred in my heart, I was thinking of my uncle, who seemed to typify all those ordinary men who become evil for the sake of money, and who seemed to me the personification of all those things in this world which make it unworthy of trust. To you who wished to probe deeply into the realm of ideas, my answer must have been quite unsatisfactory: it must have seemed trite. But for me, the answer that I gave was a living truth. Was I not excited? I believe that words uttered in passion contain a greater living truth than do those words which express thoughts rationally conceived. It is blood that moves the body. Words are not meant to stir the air only: they are capable of moving greater things.
In short, my uncle cheated me of my inheritance. He managed to do so without much difficulty during the three years that I was away in Tokyo. I was incredibly naive to have trustingly left everything under my uncle's management. It depends of course on the point of view: some, who do not consider worldliness a great virtue, may admire such a display of innocence. At any rate, I can never think of those days without cursing myself for being so trusting and honest. I find myself asking, "Why was I born so good-natured?" But, I must admit, I sometimes wish that I had never lost my old innocence, and that once more I could be the person that I was. Please remember that you met me after I had become soiled. If one respects one's elders because they have lived longer and have become more soiled than oneself, then certainly I deserve your respect.
There is little doubt that if I had married my cousin as my uncle wished, I would have profited materially. His real reasons for wanting me to marry his daughter were of course selfish. It was not simply the interest of the two houses that he had at heart: our marriage was to further his own base designs. I did not love my cousin, but I did not dislike her either. I find that now I take a certain amount of pleasure in the fact that I refused to make her my wife. It is true that I would have been cheated even if I had married her, but I have at least the consolation that in one matter at least, I had my way. This is, however, an unimportant detail. To you, it must seem that I am being rather silly and petty.
Other relatives of mine stepped in to settle the quarrel between me and my uncle. I had no trust in any of them. In fact, I regarded them as my enemies. I took it for granted that since my uncle had cheated me, they also would do the same. "If my uncle," I said to myself, "whom my father praised so much, could cheat me, then what reason have I to trust them?"
It was through their mediation, however, that I managed to receive all that remained to me. It amounted to far less than I had expected. There were two courses open to me: one was to accept quietly what was offered to me; and the other was to sue him. I was angry, but I hesitated. I feared that, if I took the latter course, I would have to wait a long time before the court reached a decision. I was a student, and time was very precious to me. I did not want my studies interrupted. I went to an old high school friend of mine who lived in town, and asked him to help me convert all my assets into cash. He advised me against doing so, but I would not listen. I had decided to leave, and stay away from home for a long time to come. I had made a vow never to see my uncle's face again.
Before leaving, I paid another visit to my parents' grave. I have not seen it since. I don't suppose I shall ever see it again.
My friend settled my affairs for me as I had asked, though he was not able to do so before a long time had passed after my return to Tokyo. It is not an easy thing to sell one's lands in the country. Besides, prospective buyers are always quick to take advantage of one's difficulties. The amount I finally received was much less than what my lands were worth. To tell the truth, my entire capital consisted of a few bonds that I had brought with me when I left home, and the money that I subsequently received through my friend. No doubt, my original inheritance was worth far more. What I found particularly galling was the fact that I myself had not been responsible for the dwindling of the family fortune. What I had, however, was certainly more than adequate for a student. As a matter of fact, I could not spend more than half the interest that accrued from my capital. Had I been in less easy circumstances as a student, I might not have been forced into such undreamt-of situations as later came my way.
As there was no more need for me to live as economically as I had done before, I began to toy with the idea of leaving the noisy boarding house and settling in a house of my own. I was, however, somewhat hesitant at first to put the idea into practice. I did not relish the thought of having to buy the necessary household goods, and of having to find an old housekeeper who was honest and whom I could depend upon to look after the house properly while I was away. At any rate, I decided one day to go for a walk and at the same time see if there were any vacant houses that I might find particularly attractive. I walked down the west side of Hongodai Hill and then up the slope of Koishikawa towards Denzuin Temple. The whole area has changed in appearance since the trams started going through there but, in those days, there was merely the mud wall of the Arsenal on the left as one walked up the slope, and on the right there were only open fields. I stopped for a moment, and thinking of nothing in particular, looked towards the hill on the other side of the valley. The view is not bad even now, but it was much more pleasant then. All was green as far as I could see: it was a soothing sight. I then began to wonder whether a suitable house could not be found in the neighborhood. I walked across the fields until I came to a narrow lane, and then followed it northward. Even today, that neighborhood has a higgledy-piggledy look. You can imagine what it was like in those days. I walked around in circles through innumerable little alleys until I came upon a small confectioner's. I went in and asked the woman who kept the shop whether she knew of a small but neat house that I could rent. "Well, let me see now .. ." she said, and for a while appeared to be in deep thought. She then said, "I am afraid I can't think of one at the moment." I decided there was no hope, and was about to leave the shop when she said: "Would you mind living with a family?" I became interested. After all, I thought to myself, living as the only paying guest in a quiet household would probably be more convenient than having a house of one's own. I sat down, and the woman began to tell me about a family she knew of that might take me in.
It was an army family; or, to be more accurate, a family that had once been connected with the army. The head of it had been killed, the woman believed, in the Sino-Japanese War. The bereaved family had lived in their old house near the Officers' School at Ichigaya until the previous year, but had found it too large--it was the sort of house with stables attached to it--and so had sold it and moved into a smaller one. There were only three people living in the house, the woman told me: the widow, her daughter, and one maid. The widow had apparently said to the woman that it was rather lonely in the new house, and that she would like a boarder, if someone suitable could be found. I thought that the house would be very quiet and that it would suit me very well. But I was afraid that such a family would not wish to take in a student about whom they knew nothing. I was tempted to give up the idea of going to the house. I reminded myself, however, that for a student I looked quite respectable. Besides, I was wearing my university cap. Of course, you will laugh and say, "What is so impressive about a university cap?" But in those days, university students were regarded with more respect than they are now. My square cap, then, gave me the confidence I needed. Following the directions given me by the woman in the confectioner's, and without proper introduction of any kind, I made my way to the house.
I introduced myself to the widow and told her the purpose of my visit. She questioned me closely concerning my background, my university, my field of study, and so on. My answers must have satisfied her, for she did not hesitate to say that I could move in as soon as I wished. The lady had an honest and direct manner. I was quite impressed, and thought to myself: "Are all soldiers' wives like her?" At the same time, I was surprised that a lady of such obvious strength of character could ever feel lonely.
I moved immediately. I was given the room in which our interview had taken place. It was the finest room in the house. I had by no means been living in squalor before: by my time, there were already a few high-class boarding houses in existence in the Hongo area. I had become accustomed to living in rooms which, by student standards, were more than adequate. But my new room was far more impressive than any I had had before in Tokyo. When I first moved into it, I felt that it was perhaps a little too grand for a student.
It was an eight-mat room. There was an alcove, and beside it, some ornamental shelves. On the side opposite the verandah, there was a closet six feet wide. There were no windows, but the room opened onto a sunny verandah, facing the south.
As soon as I moved into the room, I noticed a vase of flowers in the alcove. A koto [note 2] stood against the wall of the alcove, next to the flowers. Neither the flowers nor the koto pleased me. Having been brought up by a father who was fond of such things as Chinese poetry, calligraphy, and the tea ceremony, I was from childhood inclined to severity in my taste. I had learned to be contemptuous of such obvious attempts at charm as I found in the alcove.
Thanks to my uncle, the greater part of my father's art collection had disappeared, but there still remained to me a few items of value, most of which I had left with my friend at home for safekeeping. There were, however, four or five hanging scrolls that had struck my fancy, and these I took out of their wooden cases and put at the bottom of my trunk before leaving for Tokyo. I had been looking forward to hanging one of them in the alcove of my new room, but when I saw the flowers and the koto, I lost heart. When I learned later that the flowers had been put there to please me, I was secretly amused and exasperated. The koto apparently had always been there, and I suppose they could not find another place for it.
I think it likely that the shadow of a young woman has already begun to pass before your mind's eye. I must admit that I began to be curious about the young lady even before I moved in. Perhaps this vulgar curiosity on my part made me self-conscious, or perhaps I had not yet overcome my youthful shyness; but whatever the reason may have been, I behaved very awkwardly when I was introduced to Ojosan. [note 3] She, on her part, blushed.
I had already formed a picture in my mind of what she would be like from my observation of her mother's appearance and manner. The picture was not altogether flattering. Deciding that her mother was the soldier's wife par excellence, I had gone on to imagine what a typical soldier's daughter would be like. But all my preconceptions about Ojosan vanished as soon as I saw her face. And I was filled with a new awareness, far greater than any that I had ever experienced before, of the power of the opposite sex. After that, the flowers in the alcove ceased to displease me. The presence of the koto did not annoy me any more.
Whenever the flowers in the vase showed signs of wilting, she would come in to replace them. Sometimes, she came in to take the koto away to her room, which was diagonally opposite mine. I would then sit quietly at my desk, my chin resting on my hands, and listen to the sound of the koto. I could not be sure whether her playing was good or bad. But as she never played a piece that sounded complicated, I was inclined to suspect that she was not quite an expert. In fact, I thought it likely that her koto-playing was no better than her flower arrangement. I know something about the latter art, and I can safely say that Ojosan was by no means a master of it.
Unblushingly, however, she persisted in decorating my alcove with flowers of all kinds. They were arranged always in the same way and always in the same vase. Stranger still was the music. All that one heard was a series of hesitant, disconnected plucking sounds, and one could hardly hear the singing that these sounds were meant to accompany. I do not say that she did not sing. But her singing was rather timid, and had what one might call a confidential tone. When scolded, she became even less audible.
Happily, however, I gazed at the badly arranged flowers and listened to the strange music.
I was already a misanthrope when I left home for the last time. That people could not be trusted must already have become a conviction deeply rooted in my system. It was then that I began to think of my uncle, my aunt, and all the other relatives whom I had come to hate as typical of the entire human race. On the Tokyo-bound train, I found myself watching suspiciously my fellow passengers. And when anyone spoke to me, I became even more suspicious. My heart was heavy. I felt as though I had swallowed lead. But my nerves were on edge.
I am quite sure that my state of mind was largely responsible for my wanting to leave the boarding house. It would of course be simpler to attribute my desire to have a house of my own to my sudden affluence; but I am convinced that I would not have gone to the trouble of moving if the change had been merely economic.
For quite a while after I had moved to Koishikawa, I could not relax. I looked at everything around me with such obvious shiftiness that I became ashamed of myself. Strangely enough, I became less and less inclined to talk, while my mind and eyes increased their activity enormously. I sat Silently at my desk and, like a cat, watched the movements of others in the house. I was so much on my guard that sometimes I had the grace enough to feel guilty towards them. "I am behaving like a pickpocket who doesn't steal," I would tell myself disgustedly.
You are probably asking yourself: "If he was indeed in such a state, how is it that he was able to feel affection for Ojosan? How could he have enjoyed her bad flower arrangement and her koto-playing?" I can only answer that I truly did experience these conflicting emotions at the time, and that I can do no more than describe them to you as faithfully as I can. I am sure that you are quite capable of finding a satisfactory explanation yourself. But let me say this: I had come to distrust people in money matters, but I had not yet learned to doubt love. And so, strange as it may seem to another person and inconsistent as it may seem even to me when I think about it, I was quite unaware of any conflict between the two states of mind.
It was my custom to call the widow "Okusan," [note 4] so I shall refer to her as such from now on. Okusan was wont to comment on my calm disposition--as she would call it--and my quietness, and on one occasion praised me for being so studious. She said nothing about insecurity or shiftiness. I don't know whether she failed to notice my odd behavior or whether she was too polite to mention it, but she certainly seemed inclined to view me in a favorable light. She once went so far as to say to me in an admiring tone that I had a generous heart. I was honest enough to blush and to say that she was mistaken. She said quite seriously, "You say that because you are unaware of your own virtues." It seems that she had not expected to have a student in her house. When she let it be known in the neighborhood that she was willing to take in a boarder, she was apparently hoping for some kind of civil servant to apply. I suspect that she was quite resigned to the fact that only an underpaid petty official would want a room in someone else's house. When she called me a generous-hearted person, she must have been comparing me with this shabby civil servant of her imagination. True, I had some money, and, I suppose, lived in a way which is impossible for those who are financially embarrassed. In money matters, then, I could afford to be liberal. But this kind of liberality has nothing to do with one's nature. It seems that Okusan, in the way that women have, was apt to assume that my attitude towards money was an indication of the generosity of my heart.
Okusan's manner towards me gradually changed my own state of mind. I became less shifty, and began to feel more relaxed. I suppose the fact that Okusan and the rest of the household took no notice of my suspicious and withdrawn mariner gave me great comfort. Since there was nothing in my surroundings that seemed to justify watchfulness, I began to calm down.
Okusan was a woman of some understanding, and it is possible that she behaved as she did because she knew my mood. It is also possible that she really did think me a peaceful, generous, and easygoing person. The latter is more likely, for I do not suppose that my outward behavior betrayed the confusion within very often.
Gradually, as I grew more calm, I came to know the family better. I began to exchange witticisms with Okusan and Ojosan. There were days when I was invited to drink tea with them. There were evenings when I would go out and buy sweets and then invite them to my room. I felt that suddenly, my circle of acquaintances had been considerably enlarged. True, many hours were wasted in conversation which should have been spent in study. But I was surprised to find that I did not mind this. at all. Okusan, of course, had little to do all day. But to my surprise, Ojosan, who not only attended school but was studying flower arrangement and the koto as well, never seemed busy either. And so the three of us were willing enough, whenever the opportunity presented itself, to get together and entertain one another with small talk.
It was usually Ojosan that came to call me. She would sometimes appear on the verandah, and sometimes she would come through the morning room and appear at my door. She would stand still for a moment, and then call my name and say, "Are you studying?"
I was usually staring hard at some heavy tome lying open on my desk, and so I must have seemed a rather scholarly fellow. But to tell the truth, I was not much of a student in those days. I might have looked at a lot of books, but I was usually waiting for Ojosan to appear.
If by chance she failed to do so, then I would get up and go to her room and say, "Are you studying?"
Ojosan's was a six-mat room next to the morning room. Okusan would sometimes be sitting in the morning room and sometimes in her daughter's room. The two rooms were really used like one large room by the two ladies, neither of whom seemed to regard either room as exclusively hers. Whenever I called to them from outside the door, it was invariably Okusan who said, "Come in." Ojosan, even when she was there, hardly ever joined her mother in the invitation.
Occasionally, when Ojosan came to my room on some errand, she would sit down for a chat. At such times, I felt strangely uneasy. Afterwards, I would try, with little success, to convince myself that my uneasiness was no more than the natural embarrassment of a young man finding himself alone with a young woman. It was not so much embarrassment as a feeling of restlessness; and the cause of this restlessness was the unnatural feeling that I was somehow being a traitor to my true self. She, on her part, seemed perfectly at ease. She was, in fact, so self-possessed that I would ask myself, "Is this the same girl that is so selfconscious of her voice during her koto lessons?" Sometimes, when she stayed too long, her mother would call her. I remember that on more than one occasion she merely answered, "I'm coming," and remained where she was. Ojosan was by no means a child, however. This was quite clear to me. What was also clear to me was that she wanted me to know she was no longer a child.
After her departure I would sigh with relief. At the same time, the room would seem empty, and I would apologize to her inwardly for the relief I had felt. Perhaps I was behaving like a woman. It must certainly seem so to a modern young man like yourself. But most of us were like that in those days.
Okusan hardly ever went out of the house. Whenever she did so, she was sure to take Ojosan with her. I could not tell whether she did this for a particular reason or not. Perhaps it is not quite proper for me to say this, but it did seem to me, after I had carefully watched Okusan for a while, that she was encouraging me and her daughter to become better acquainted with each other. On the other hand, there were times when she appeared to be on her guard against me. The first time she gave me this impression, I was a little annoyed.
You see, I wanted to know precisely what her attitude was. From my point of view at least, her conduct was quite illogical. And having only recently been cheated by my uncle, I could not stop myself from suspecting Okusan of duplicity, and from assuming that one of her two attitudes was a deliberate deception. I could not understand the reason for her seemingly inconsistent behavior. "Why should she behave so strangely?" I would ask myself. And finding no answer to the question, I would angrily mutter to myself, "Women!" Then I would try to find comfort in the thought that Okusan behaved as she did because she was a woman, and women, after all, were idiots.
In spite of my contempt for women, however, I found it impossible to be contemptuous of Ojosan. It seemed that reason was powerless in her presence. My love for her was close to piety. You may think it strange that I should use this word, with its religious connotation, to describe my feeling towards a woman. But even now I believe--and I believe it very strongly--that true love is not so far removed from religious faith. Whenever I saw Ojosan's face, I felt that I had myself become beautiful. Whenever I thought of her, I felt a new sense of dignity welling up inside me. If this incomprehensible thing that we call love can either bring out the sacred in man or, in its lowest form, merely excite one's bodily passions, then surely my love was of the highest kind. I am not saying that I was not like other men. I am made of flesh too. But my eyes which gazed at her, and my mind which held thoughts of her, were innocent of bodily desire.
As you can well imagine. relations between the three of us became rather complicated. I was growing more and more fond of the daughter while my antagonism towards the mother increased. Our feelings, however, were hardly ever allowed to appear on the surface, and the change of atmosphere in the house was not openly recognized. And then suddenly, for some reason or other, I began to wonder if I had not been mistaken about Okusan. I began to think that perhaps her apparent inconsistency was not a sign of dishonesty, and that, contrary to my previous suspicion, perhaps neither of her two attitudes was a conscious attempt to deceive me. I came to acknowledge the possibility that the two seemingly conflicting attitudes existed side by side, and that the existence of one need not necessarily preclude the other. I decided finally that even when she seemed suddenly to become watchful after having encouraged her daughter to be friendly with me, she was not truly changing her mind: she was merely preventing us from becoming closer to each other than her sense of propriety allowed. I, who had no dishonorable intentions, did feel that Okusan was worrying unnecessarily, but I ceased to bear her a grudge.
Shortly thereafter, when I had observed Okusan's behavior towards me in a different light, I came to the conclusion that she put considerable trust in me. Moreover, I was given reason to believe that she had begun to trust me from the time of our first meeting. This discovery was a great shock to me, who had learned to be distrustful of everybody. "Are women endowed with intuitive powers so great, I asked myself, that they know at a glance whom to trust and whom not to trust?" But later, I said to myself: "Is it not because women are so trusting that they are constantly being deceived by men?" It is amusing to think that it never occurred to me then to examine my own confidence in Ojosan, which was based on nothing more than intuition. Though I had vowed never to trust people, I trusted Ojosan absolutely. Yet I found Okusan's trust in me quite incredible.
I told them very little about my home. Concerning the incident that caused me to leave, I said nothing. It was unpleasant for me to think about it, let alone talk about it. I tried always, therefore, to steer the conversation to Okusan's past life. But she would not co-operate. She insisted many times on hearing about my home. Finally, I told them everything. When I said that I would never go home again since there was nothing left for me there except my parents' grave, Okusan seemed very moved. Ojosan cried. I felt that I had done the right thing in telling them my story. I was glad.
After our conversation, Okusan began to act as though her intuitions about me had been confirmed and to treat me as she would a young relation of hers. This did not annoy me. I was even pleased. Before long, however, I began once more to suspect her motives.
It was only something very petty that put me in a suspicious frame of mind. But this did not prevent me from becoming more and more suspicious as time went by. Some small incident--I forget what--put the idea into my head that Okusan was forcing her daughter onto me from the same motives as those which prompted my uncle when he wished me to marry his daughter. Okusan, whom I had taken for a kindly person, quickly became a cunning schemer in my eyes. I was filled with disgust.
When Okusan first told me that loneliness was the reason why she had wanted a boarder, I believed her; and after I had come to know her well, I found no cause to change my mind. On the other hand, she was by no means a wealthy woman and, from the financial point of view, I was certainly not unattractive as a prospective son-in-law.
Once more, I found myself on the defensive. Of course, I stood to gain nothing from such an attitude, since I remained very much in love with Ojosan. I laughed at myself in scorn. I told myself that I was an idiot. If my suspicions had gone no further, I should not have suffered very much, and I should simply have laughed at myself for being such an inconsistent fool. But I began to be really miserable when the thought occurred to me that perhaps Ojosan was no less of a schemer than her mother. It was unbearably painful to imagine the two of them plotting behind my back. I was not merely unhappy: I was desperate. But there was another part of me that trusted Ojosan absolutely. I stood still, unable to move away from the half-way point between conviction and doubt. To me, both seemed like figments of my imagination, and yet both seemed real.
I continued to attend lectures at the university. But the professors who stood on the platforms seemed very far away, and their voices faint. I could not study either. The printed characters that my eyes saw disappeared like rising smoke before they reached my mind. Also, I became silent. Two or three of my friends misconstrued my silence, and reported to the others that I seemed to be deep in some kind of philosophic meditation. I did not try to undeceive them. Indeed, I was happy to hide behind the mask that they had unwittingly put on me. I cannot have been entirely satisfied with the role, however. I would sometimes throw fits of riotous merrymaking that would shock them considerably.
There were not many visitors to the house. Okusan seemed to have a few relatives. Ojosan's school friends visited her occasionally, but they were so quiet that one could hardly tell that they were in the house. They were being quiet for my sake; but I did not know this. My own friends who came to the house were none of them rowdy fellows, but they were not so demure as to start whispering for the sake of other people's comfort. At such times, I seemed to enjoy all the rights due to the owner of the house, while Ojosan's position was hardly better than that of an unwanted guest.
This is not of great importance, however. I wrote it down simply because it came to my mind: besides, it leads me to something less insignificant. One day, I heard a man's voice coming from Ojosan's room. Being Ojosan's guest, he spoke far more quietly than any of my friends would have done. I found it impossible, therefore, to hear what he was saying. I remained seated at my desk in helpless indignation. Was he a relative, I asked myself, or was he merely an acquaintance? Was he young, or was he old? It was of course impossible to find answers to these questions in my room. But I could hardly barge into Ojosan's room to inspect the visitor. I was more than irritated: I was truly in agony. As soon as the man went away, I left my room to ask who he was. They gave me a simple answer. It was too simple to satisfy me. I looked at them discontentedly, lacking the courage to question them further. I had no right, of course, to be so curious. I had to maintain my dignity and my self-respect which I had been taught to value. But the fact that this self-respect was not succeeding too well in overcoming my vulgar curiosity showed in my discontented face. They laughed. Whether they did so in derision, or out of friendliness, I was too flustered at that moment to find out. Afterwards, I repeatedly asked myself: "Did they make a fool of me, or didn't they?"
I was free to do anything I liked. Without consulting anyone, I could leave the university at any time, I could go anywhere, live in any way that suited me, and get married if I wished. Often, I was on the verge of asking Okusan for permission to marry her daughter. But each time I decided to do so, I quickly changed my mind. The prospect of being refused did not frighten me. True, life would be different without Ojosan, but I thought that there would at least be the compensation of being able to look at a new world from another vantage point. Besides, I thought that I had the necessary courage to accept such a change. But I hated the idea of being enticed by Okusan to swallow her bait. No matter what happened, I vowed to myself, no one would ever dupe me as my uncle had done.
Seeing me buy nothing but books, Okusan said that I should buy myself some new clothes. Indeed, all the clothes that I possessed had been made at home, of cotton woven locally. It was not the custom for students to wear silk in those days. I remember that a friend of mine once received a heavy silk garment from home. His father, incidentally, was a Yokohama merchant whose tastes were rather ostentatious. When the garment arrived, we all laughed at the fellow. He was quite embarrassed, and made all sorts of excuses. He tossed it into his trunk, and would not put it on. We finally bullied him into wearing it. Unfortunately, it caught fleas from somewhere. My friend must have been pleased, for he wasted no time in getting rid of the famous garment. He rolled it up into a bundle, and taking it with him on one of his walks, threw it into the large ditch in Nezu. I was with him at the time. I remember standing on the bridge and watching my friend with amusement. It never occurred to me then to think that he was being wasteful.
All this happened when I was still living in a boarding house. I had matured somewhat since then, but I was not yet so clothes-conscious as to start worrying about being well-dressed. I still had the odd notion that good clothes, like a mustache, came after graduation. This is why I remarked to Okusan that though books were necessary, clothes were not. She knew that I bought a great number of books, and she asked me: "Tell me, do you read them all?" Amongst them were, of course, such necessary books of reference as dictionaries, but there were also many that I had not yet even opened. I was at a loss for an answer. And I thought that, as long as I was going to buy unnecessary things, I might just as well spend money on clothes as on books. Besides, I had been wanting to buy Ojosan a present, such as a sash or a length of material, under the pretext of showing my appreciation for their many kindnesses. I asked Okusan, therefore, if she would be good enough to buy something suitable for her daughter, and for myself.
Okusan refused to go by herself. She commanded me to accompany her. She insisted also that her daughter come too. Brought up as we were in an atmosphere quite different from that of today, we students were not accustomed to being seen in the streets in the company of young women. Then, I was even more of a slave to convention than I am now. I hesitated at first, but I finally overcame my scruples and set out with the two ladies.
Ojosan had taken great care over her appearance. Though she was naturally very light-complexioned, she had covered her face liberally with white powder, which made her conspicuous. Passers-by stared at her. What gave me a strange feeling was the fact that after they had had a good look at her, they would begin to stare at me.
The three of us went to a shop in Nihonbashi and bought what we wanted. It was difficult to decide what to buy, and we spent more time there than I had expected. Okusan insisted on my giving an opinion on everything that was shown to us. She would drape a piece of cloth on Ojosan's shoulder, then ask me to step back a few paces, and say: "Well, how do you like it?" I tried to play my part properly, and never failed to give some kind of opinion. "I don't think that looks very good," I would say; or "Yes, that would suit her very well."
When we finally left the shop, it was time for dinner. Okusan said that to thank me for being so kind, she would like to take me out to dinner. She led us into a narrow side street called Kiharadana where there was, I noticed, a small old-fashioned theater. The restaurant we went into was as poky as the street. I was not at all familiar with the neighborhood, and I was amazed that Okusan should know it so well.
It was quite late in the evening when we returned home. The next day was Sunday, and I spent it in my room. As soon as I appeared at the university on Monday morning, a class-mate of mine came up to me and began to tease me. "When did you get married?" he said in mock seriousness. "Your wife is quite a beauty, I must say!" He must have seen the three of us in Nihonbashi.
When I got home, I told Okusan and Ojosan what my friend had said. Okusan laughed. She then gave me an odd look, and said: "It must have been rather annoying for you." I immediately thought that this was probably a woman's way of sounding out a man's inner thoughts. Perhaps I should then have told her frankly how I felt towards her daughter. But I was too suspicious to be honest. I restrained my impulse to tell her the truth, and deliberately steered the conversation away from myself to the subject of Ojosan's marriage.
I tried to find out what Okusan's plans were for her daughter. She clearly implied that Ojosan had already received some offers of marriage. She explained that since her daughter was still at school, she felt that there was no need to hurry. Though she did not say so outright, it was obvious that she set great store by her daughter's good looks, and hinted that she could marry her off any time she wished. Ojosan was her only child, and of course she was reluctant to part from her. I suspected that she was in a quandary as to whether she ought to allow her daughter to marry into another family, or whether she should arrange to adopt a son-in-law who would become a member of her own household.
As the conversation progressed, I felt that I was learning much that was of interest to me from Okusan. But I had lost the opportunity of talking about myself. Thinking that I could not, at this late stage in the conversation, put in a word on my own behalf, I decided to leave as soon as I could do so without seeming rude.
Ojosan was sitting near me when I told them what my friend had said that morning: she even said merrily, "That's going too far!"; but she had quietly withdrawn to the corner of the room in the course of the conversation, and was now sitting with her back turned towards me. I was not aware that she had moved until I was about to get up and go. I saw her back when I turned around to look at her. It was of course impossible to read her thoughts without seeing her face. I could not even begin to guess how she felt about marriage. She sat near the closet. The door was open, and I decided that she had taken something out of it, placed it on her lap, and was looking at it. Through the open door of the closet, I caught a glimpse of the pieces of cloth that I had bought two days before. The cloth that I had bought for her, and the cloth that I had bought for myself, were lying one on top of the other.
I said no more, and I was about to stand up when Okusan suddenly said to me in a serious tone, "What do you think?" Her question was so sudden that for a moment I wondered what she was talking about. Then I realized that she was asking me whether or not her daughter should get married soon. "Oh, I think that she should wait a while, don't you?" I said. Okusan said that she thought so too.
The relationship between the three of us had developed thus far when another man appeared on the scene. He became a member of the household and, by doing so, changed the course of my destiny. If this man had never crossed my path, I don't suppose there would ever have arisen the necessity for me to write this long letter to you. The devil had passed before me, so to speak, casting his shadow over me for a moment. And I did not know that his passing had darkened my life for ever. I must tell you that it was I who dragged this man into the house to live with us. Needless to say, I had first to get Okusan's permission to do so I told her everything about the man, and asked her if he might come and stay with me. At first she said no. But while I felt myself absolutely obliged to invite him, she seemed to have no reasonable basis for her objection. Finally, I had my way. I was able to do what I thought was right.
I shall here call my friend "K." K and I were friends from the time we were children. Needless to say, then, we were from the same part of the country. K was the son of a priest of the Shinshu sect. He was the second son, and was sent as an adopted son to the house of a certain doctor. The Hongan church was very powerful in my native district, and so Shinshu priests were more affluent than the priests of other sects. For example, if a Shinshu priest happened to have a daughter of marrying age, he would have little trouble marrying her into a suitable family through the kind offices of a parishioner. Of course, wedding expenses would not come out of the priest's pocket. For reasons such as this, Shinshu priests were generally quite prosperous.
K's family lived comfortably. But whether they possessed enough means to send their younger son to Tokyo to complete his studies, I do not know. Nor do I know that arrangements for his adoption were made in order that his chances of farther education might be improved. Whatever the reason, then, K went as an adopted son to the house of the doctor. This happened when we were still in the secondary school. I remember even now my surprise when, during roll call in class one day, I found that my friend's name had suddenly been changed.
K's new family was a wealthy one, and his education was to be financed by them; so he came to Tokyo. Though K and I did not travel up together, we moved into the same boarding house. In those days, it was common practice for two or three students to live and sleep in one room, and work at desks placed next to each other, as did K and myself. We were like wild beasts captured in the mountains, that hug each other and stare angrily from their cage at the world outside. We feared Tokyo and the people in it. Nevertheless, when we were in our little six-mat room, we would talk contemptuously of the whole world.
But we were in earnest, and seriously intended to become great men one day. Indeed, K was very earnest. Having been born in a temple, he often spoke of "concentration of mind." And to me, it seemed that this phrase described completely his daily life. My heart was filled with reverence for K.
From the time we were at school, K was in the habit of embarrassing me by bringing up such difficult matters as religion and philosophy. I do not know whether this was the result of his father's influence, or the result of having been born in a house possessing an atmosphere peculiar to temples. At any rate, it seems to me that he had more of the priest in him than the average priest. K's foster parents had originally sent him to Tokyo with the intention of making him a doctor. But K, who was very stubborn, had come to Tokyo resolved never to become a doctor. I reproached him, pointing out that he was deceiving his foster parents. Undaunted, he agreed with me, and then answered that he did not mind doing such a thing, so long as it led him to "the true way." In all likelihood, even he did not know what he meant by "the true way." I certainly did not know. But to us who were young, these vague words seemed quite sacred. Ignorant though I was, I was certain that there was no meanness in his enthusiastic decision to follow the dictates of what seemed to me to be noble sentiments. I fully agreed, therefore, with K's views. To what extent K was encouraged by my agreement, I do not know. Undoubtedly, K, single-minded as he was, would not have altered his opinion, no matter how much I might have disagreed with him. And though only a child, I was, I thank, more or less aware of my future responsibility through having encouraged K, should anything happen to him as a result of his decision. My enthusiastic approval implied that in the future, if such an occasion should arise when we would cast our more mature eyes back on what he had done, I would be fully prepared to bear my proper share of responsibility, even though at this moment I might not have felt fully prepared for such a necessity.
K and I entered the same faculty. Without any show of bad conscience, he began to follow his beloved "true way" with the money that his foster parents sent him, and I can only say that he was less troubled than I by his deception; he seemed quite certain that he would never be caught, and he seemed assured enough that, even if he were caught, he would not mind at all.
When the time came for our first summer vacation, K did not go home. He said that he was going to rent a room in some temple in Komagome. And true enough, when I returned to Tokyo in early September, I found him holed up in a dirty temple by the Great Kannon. His room was a small one very close to the main temple building; he was very happy that there he had been able to study to his heart's content. It was then, I think, that I saw that his life was becoming more and more like that of a priest. He was wearing a rosary around his wrist, and when I asked him what it was for, he showed me how he counted the beads with his thumb, saying one, two, and so on. Apparently, he counted them many times a day. But the meaning behind all this counting I did not understand. Surely, I thought, there is no end to counting beads strung together in a circle. With what thoughts in his mind did K count those beads? This worthless question often comes to my mind now.
I also noticed a Bible in his room. I was a little surprised. Though I could recall that on occasion he had spoken of the sutras, I could not remember his ever having mentioned Christianity. I could not therefore resist asking him why the Bible was there. K said that the Bible was there for no particular reason, except that he thought it only natural that one should read a book so highly valued by others. He added that he intended to read the Koran when he had the opportunity. He seemed particularly interested in the phrase "Mohammed and the sword."
Finally, after being urged to do so by his people, he went home for the following summer vacation. It seems that, when at home, he said nothing about his field of study. His family seemed not at all suspicious. You, being a well-educated person, are obviously well-informed about such matters, but the world in general is surprisingly ignorant about student life, academic rules, and so on. These things, which are common knowledge to us, are not known at all in the outside world. Also, we who live in a comparatively isolated atmosphere are not entirely blameless, in that we tend to assume that academic matters, whether important or not, are well-known throughout all walks of life. In this particular matter, however, it seems that K was more worldly than I. Looking quite unperturbed, he left home. We were travelling to Tokyo together, and as soon as we boarded the train I asked K how things stood between him and his family. He answered that all was well.
At the beginning of the third summer vacation--it was at the end of this that I decided to leave forever the birthplace of my parents--I urged K to go home; but he would not listen. Indeed, he asked me why it was that I went home every year. Evidently he wished to remain in Tokyo and study. With reluctance I left him in Tokyo and went home alone. Concerning the two months that I spent at home, which so affected my future life, I shall not write again, since I have already done so. With my heart filled with dissatisfaction, melancholy, and loneliness, I saw K again in September. And I found that circumstances had changed for the worse for him too. Without my knowing, he had written to his foster parents, confessing that he had been deceiving them. Apparently, he had from the start intended to write such a confession eventually. Perhaps he hoped they would say that it was too late to change his plans, and permit him, no matter how grudgingly, to pursue his studies as he wished. At any rate, it seems K had no desire to deceive his foster parents once he was ready to enter the university. He may have perceived that he could not possibly go on with the deception indefinitely, even if he wanted to do so.
K's foster father was furious when he read K's letter. He sent back a severe reply, in which he said that he could not possibly finance the education of one so unprincipled as to cheat his parents. K showed the letter to me. He also showed me another letter that arrived about the same time as the first. It was from his original family. It was a letter of reprimand as severe in tone as the other. Perhaps the severity was due to his family's sense of obligation to those that had adopted K. At any rate, K was told that for anyone to worry about him would be a waste of time. Whether he should return to his original family because of the unhappy incident, or whether he should consider some way of compromise and remain with his adopted family, was a problem for the future, but what required his immediate attention was the question of how he was to pay for his education.
I asked K whether he had any definite ideas about the matter. K said that he thought he might teach in some night school. Compared with now, conditions were surprisingly easy in those days, and it was not as difficult as you might think to find some way of supplementing one's income. I therefore thought that K would manage well enough. At the same time, I felt my own responsibility in the matter. When K decided to go against his foster father's wishes and to follow his own inclinations, it was I that encouraged him. At this stage, then, I could not very well stand aside and idly watch my friend in his predicament. I immediately offered K material assistance. K refused without hesitation. It was in his character to feel greater pleasure in being able to fend for himself than in receiving assistance from his friend. His view, in short, was that once having entered the university, it would be a disgrace to him as a grown man not to be able to solve his own problems by himself. I could not hurt K's feelings merely to satisfy my own sense of responsibility. I therefore withdrew, leaving K to do as he saw fit.
Shortly after, K found the kind of work he wanted. You can well imagine how painful it was for K, who valued his time so much, to have to do such work. And with this new burden on his shoulders, he drove himself harder than ever, so that he might study as he had done before. I began to worry about his health. But he was a stouthearted fellow, and took no notice of my anxious warnings.
About this time, relations between him and his adopted family grew steadily worse and more complicated. As K had now no time to spare, we had little opportunity to talk as we had done before, and I did not hear all the particulars; but I knew how much more difficult of solution the whole problem had become. I knew also that one person had tried to act as mediator between the two parties. This person had actually tried by letter to persuade K to come home. But K refused, saying that it was absolutely impossible. This stubbornness on his part--or so it seemed to the people at home, though K had pointed out to them that he could not leave Tokyo during term-time--made the situation worse; not only did he hurt his foster parents' feelings, but he angered his original family as well. In my anxiety, I wrote a conciliatory letter to soothe their feelings, but it seemed to have no effect whatsoever. My letter, it seems, did not merit even a word in reply. I also became angry. Circumstances had so far made me sympathize with K; but now I was determined to stand by K, whether he was right or wrong.
In the end K decided to become officially a member of his original family once more. They arranged to pay back to K's late foster parents the money spent on his education so far. However, beyond this, his family would do no more. They had washed their hands of him, they said. He was, I suppose, "expelled from his father's house," to use an old-fashioned phrase. On the other hand, perhaps his family did not intend to be so final in their treatment of K; but K, at least, felt that he had been disinherited. K was motherless, and it is more than likely that a part of his character was the result of his having been brought up by a stepmother. I cannot but feel that had his real mother been alive, such a wide gulf might not have come to exist between him and his family. I have already said that K's father was a priest. But I believe that in his unbending regard for honor, he was perhaps more like a samurai than a priest.
The excitement over K had abated somewhat when I received a long letter from his elder sister's husband. K told me that this man was related to his foster parents, and had therefore played an important part in the proceedings when he was adopted and when his adoption was revoked.
In the letter, the brother-in-law asked me to let him know if all was well with K. He said that K's sister was worried, and that she would like to have news of him as soon as possible. K was fonder of his sister than he was of his elder brother, who had succeeded to his father's rectory. They were born of the same mother, but there was a considerable difference in age between K and his sister. To K, she must have seemed more of a mother than his stepmother ever did.
I showed the letter to K. He made no comment, except that he himself had received two or three letters similar in content from his sister, and that he had written back saying that there was no need to worry. Unfortunately, his sister had not married into a well-to-do family. Though she sympathized with K, she could give him no material assistance.
I wrote a reply to the brother-in-law, repeating more or less what K had already said in his letters. I did add, however, a strongly worded assurance that K could always count on my assistance whenever it was necessary. I was, of course, sincere in my assurance. I felt too that I should try to comfort K's sister as best I could. But there is no doubt that in insisting so strongly that I would and could assist K, I was also being indirectly spiteful to his father and to his foster parents, who had, it seemed, treated me with contempt.
K's adoption was revoked in his first year at the university. For a year and a half after that, he worked hard to support himself. Eventually, I began to think that this continual strain was affecting his physical and mental condition. Of course, the squabbling that preceded his decision to leave his adoptive family must have left its mark on him. He became more and more sentimental, [note 5] and occasionally he would talk as though he carried on his own back the misfortune of all mankind. When one pointed out the unreasonableness of such an attitude, he would become infuriated. Then he would begin to worry about his future, which seemed not as promising as it did before. It is true that everybody begins his university career cherishing great ambitions, like a man who sets out on a long journey; and that, after a year or two, most students suddenly realize the slowness of their progress and, seeing that graduation is not far off, find themselves in a state of disillusionment. K had, no doubt, reached this stage in his career. But his despondency was far greater than was normally found among his fellow students. I finally decided that the only thing to do was to try to calm him down a little.
I said to him that he should do no more work than was necessary. I told him that for the good of his own great future, he should rest and enjoy himself. Knowing K's stubbornness, I did not expect to find my task easy. But once begun, I found it far more difficult and exasperating than I had ever imagined. He held that scholarly knowledge was not his only objective. What was important, he said, was that he should become a strong person through the exercise of will-power. Apparently, this could be done only by living in straitened circumstances. Judged by the standards of a normal person, he was perhaps a little mad. Moreover, straitened circumstances seemed not at all to be strengthening his will-power. Indeed, they were making a neurotic out of him. In desperation, I pretended to be in wholehearted agreement with his views. It had always been my wish, I said, to lead a life such as his. (I was not being totally insincere. I had always found K persuasive in argument, and he could momentarily convince me of almost anything.) Finally, I suggested that he live with me, so that I might learn to lead his kind of life. Because of his stubbornness, I was forced to bow to him. At last, I succeeded in bringing him to the house.
There was attached to my room a small anteroom of four mats. One had to go through it to get to my room from the front hall. It was not therefore very conveniently situated. I put K in there. It had been my intention to share my own room with K, and to leave the other room free for both of us to use as the occasion demanded. But K would not listen to my suggestion, saying that he would rather have a room of his own, however small it might be.
As I said, Okusan was against this arrangement from the first. In a boarding house, she said, two lodgers would be more convenient than one, and three would be more profitable than two. But, she pointed out, she was not running a boarding house, and she had no wish to take in another lodger. I said that my friend would give her no trouble. Trouble or no trouble, she answered, she disliked having a stranger in the house. But I was a stranger too, I said. Her answer was that she had from the first known that she could trust me. I smiled. She then changed her tactics. She said that I would later regret having brought such a person into the house. I asked her why she thought so. It was her turn to smile.
Indeed, there really was no reason why I should insist on sharing my apartment with K. But I felt that he would hesitate to accept my assistance if I were to offer it to him every month, in the form of money. He was a very independent-minded person. For this reason, I thought it advisable to have him live with me, and to give Okusan, without his knowledge, enough money to pay for our food. But I had no wish to tell Okusan about K's financial difficulties.
I did, however, say that I was worried about K's health. I said that, if allowed to keep on living in solitude, he was sure to become more eccentric than ever. I told her also of the troubles he had had with his foster parents, and of his later expulsion from his original family. It was, I said, in the hope of lending warmth to his cold and lonely life that I wanted him to come and stay with me. Would not Okusan and Ojosan, I asked, look after him with the warm kindness that he so much needed? Okusan raised no more objections. I said nothing about this conversation to K. I was glad that he had no inkling of what had been said with regard to his entering our household. He arrived with a dignified and absent-minded air. In my normal manner, I received him.
Okusan and Ojosan helped him unpack his bags, and were otherwise very kind to him. I was very happy--despite the fact that K remained his usual moody self--for I felt that their kindness to him arose out of their regard for me.
When I asked K what he thought of his new home, all he said was: "Not bad." His answer struck me as being somewhat incongruous, considering that he had been living, until then, in a squalid, damp room which faced the north. His food had been in keeping with his room. As far as I was concerned, he had been raised from the bottom of a dark valley to the top of a sunlit mountain. No doubt his stubbornness was partly responsible for his apparent indifference towards the change; but I am sure also that he was being indifferent on principle. Having grown up under the influence of Buddhist doctrines, he seemed to regard respect for material comfort as some kind of immorality. Also, having read stories of great priests and Christian saints who were long since dead, he was wont to regard the body and the soul as entities which had to be forced asunder. Indeed, he seemed at times to think that mistreatment of the body was necessary for the glorification of the soul.
I decided that the best thing for me to do was to avoid arguing with him at all costs. I decided to leave the piece of ice out in the sun, and wait until it had melted and turned into warm water. Then, I thought, he would begin to see the error of his ways.
Okusan was giving me a similar treatment, and I was gradually becoming more cheerful. Knowing the efficacy of this treatment when applied to myself, I decided to try it on K. I had known him too long not to know that there was a considerable difference in our characters, but I thought nevertheless that just as my nervousness had become less acute since I entered the household, so also would K be soothed by its atmosphere.
K had more will-power than I. He must have studied twice as much as I did. Moreover, he had greater natural intelligence. I cannot say much concerning his academic standing at the university, since we were in different fields; but at both secondary school and college, where we were in the same class, he was always ahead of me. I had indeed come to regard myself as inferior to K in every way. But when I talked K into moving in with me, I believed that I was for once displaying greater common sense than he. It seemed to me that he did not see the difference between stubbornness and patience. I want you to pay attention to what I am now going to say; it is intended for your benefit. The development--or the destruction--of man's body and mind depends upon external stimuli. Unless one is very careful, and unless one sees to it that the intensity of the stimuli is gradually increased, one will find too late that the body, or the mind, has atrophied. According to doctors, there is nothing that requires more attention than the human stomach. Give it nothing but gruel, and you will apparently find one day that it has lost the power to digest anything else. That is why the doctors tell us to accustom our stomachs to all kinds of food. But I do not think that it is simply a matter of habituation. It is, I think, more a question of increasing the efficiency of the stomach through the gradual adding of stimuli. You can imagine what will be the effect if the process were reversed. K was a much abler fellow than I, but he seemed not to see the simple truth of this principle. He seemed to be under the impression that once one had become accustomed to hardship, one would quickly cease to notice it. The mere repetition of the same stimulus was to him a virtue. He believed, I think, that there would come a time when he would become insensitive to hardship. That it might eventually destroy him never entered his head.
I wanted to say all this to K. But I knew that he would violently disagree with me. And no doubt, I thought to myself, he would in the course of his argument refer to those men of the past. Meek as I was in his presence, I would then be obliged to point out the difference between him and them. He would take this as a rebuke, and would advance to a position more extreme than ever before in order to prove his consistency. And having done this, he would later feel compelled to put into practice what he had maintained in his argument with me. In this respect, he was really quite frightening--and very impressive. He would wilfully proceed to his own destruction. But, however one looked at him, he was certainly no ordinary fellow. At any rate I knew his character too well to think that I could tell him what I honestly thought. Moreover, I was afraid that he had become a little neurotic of late; and supposing that I could have worsted him in an argument, he would still have become terribly agitated. I was not afraid of quarreling with him, but remembering what pain my own loneliness had given me, I did not have the heart to place K, who was my friend, in a state of lonely isolation such as mine had been--or, worse still, push him into far greater loneliness than I myself had ever experienced. And so I tried not to be openly critical of his ways even after he had moved in with me. I decided to wait quietly and see what the change of surroundings would do for him.
Secretly, I went to Okusan and Ojosan and asked them to talk to K as much as possible. It was my opinion that the silent life K had so far been living had had bad effects on him. I could not help thinking that his heart, like a piece of iron, had gone rusty from disuse.
Okusan laughingly said that K was an unapproachable sort of person. Ojosan, by way of illustration, told me of an encounter she had had with K. She had apparently gone to K and asked him if there was any fire in his brazier.
"No," he had said.
"Well, would you like a fire?"
"No, thank you."
"Aren't you cold?"
"Yes, I am. But I don't need a fire." And he had refused to discuss the matter any further.
I could hardly laugh such an incident off with some such comment as, "Eccentric, isn't he?" I felt that I owed them some kind of explanation. True, it was spring, and a fire was not absolutely necessary. But I could not blame the two ladies for thinking that K was a difficult man to handle.
I tried very hard, in the role of perpetual go-between, to establish a harmonious relationship between K and the two ladies. If I happened to be conversing with K, I would ask the ladies to join us. If I happened to be with the ladies, then I would try to get K to come out of his room and be with us. Suiting my tactics to the occasion, I did everything I could to bring them together. K did not like this, of course. Sometimes, he would suddenly get up and leave our company, without a word. Sometimes, he would refuse to come out of his room when I called him. "Why is it," he once asked me, "that you take so much pleasure in useless small talk?" I merely laughed--though I knew in my heart that I was being despised.
It is possible that, in a sense, I deserved his contempt. His point of view of everything was much loftier than mine. I do not deny this. But when the loftiness is merely in one's point of view, then one is hopelessly handicapped as a human being. I decided that what he needed, above all else, was humanizing. No matter how full one's head might be with the image of greatness, one was useless, I found out, unless one was a worthy man first. In an attempt to make him more human, then, I tried to encourage him to spend as much time as possible with the two ladies. And, I thought, when he had once become accustomed to that atmosphere which the presence of women seems to bring about, he would become less of a recluse and more lively.
My experiment seemed gradually to succeed. What had at first seemed difficult of accomplishment became more and more easy. K, I thought, was learning to acknowledge the existence of a world other than his own. He said to me one day that women were, after all, not as contemptible as one might thank. K had always expected the same kind of knowledge and education from women as he did from men. And in his disappointment, he had come to regard them with contempt. He had not known that there was a way to judge women and a way to judge men. "If you and I," I said to him, "were to spend the rest of our lives as bachelors, forever talking to each other, we would advance merely in straight parallel lines." "Of course," he said. My mind was full of Ojosan at the time, and my opinions were naturally influenced by this fact. But I said not a word to K about the underlying cause of my remark.
It was very pleasing to me to see him gradually emerge from his fortress of books, and to see his heart beginning to thaw. Such had been my hope when I first brought him to the house, and it was natural that I should be happy to see my plan succeeding so well. I told Okusan and Ojosan--though not K himself--how happy I was to see the change in him. They seemed pleased too.
Although K and I were students in the same faculty, we studied different subjects. We would therefore leave the house and return to it at different times. If I was the first to get back, I would simply walk through his room to get to my own; but if I happened to return after him, then I would say a word or two to him in passing. K would look up from whatever he was reading when he heard me opening the door, and say, in answer to my greeting: "Did you just get back?" I would nod silently, or say "Yes," as I walked past his desk.
One day, it so happened that I had to go to Kanda on my way home, and I returned much later than usual. With hurried steps I walked up to the front door and slid it open, not without some noise. Just as I did so, I heard Ojosan's voice. I was certain that it came from K's room. Facing the front hall was the morning room, and behind it, Ojosan's room. To the left of the front hall was K's room, and then mine. I had lived in the house too long not to be able to tell where the voice was coming from. Quickly, I closed the door behind me. Then Ojosan stopped talking. While I was taking off my boots--I had just begun wearing those cumbersome lace-up boots which were then fashionable--there was not a sound in K's room. I thought this strange. I began to think that perhaps I had been mistaken. But when I opened the door to K's room as usual, I found the two of them seated comfortably, facing each other. "Did you just get back?" said K. Ojosan remained seated, and said: "Welcome home." It may have been my imagination, but I thought I detected a little stiffness in her simple greeting. Her tone struck me as being somehow unnatural. I said to Ojosan, "Where's Okusan?" My question contained no subtle meaning. I asked it simply because the house seemed unusually quiet.
Okusan, it turned out, was not at home. She had gone out with the maid. K and Ojosan, then, were alone in the house. I could not but wonder at this. Okusan had never left me alone in the house with Ojosan; and I had lived with them considerably longer than K. I asked Ojosan if Okusan had left on some urgent business. She merely laughed. I disliked women who laughed at such times. I suppose one can dismiss this weakness as something that is common to all young women. At any rate, Ojosan was wont to find cause for laughter in the most trivial things. When Ojosan saw the expression on my face, however, she became serious again. No, it was nothing urgent, she said. As a boarder, I had no right to question her further. I said no more.
I had hardly changed my clothes and settled down in my room when Okusan and the maid returned. Shortly thereafter, we sat down to dinner. Before I came to know the family well, it used to be the custom for the maid to bring all my meals to my room on a tray. But they soon ceased to treat me like a boarder, and I began to eat regularly with them. When K moved in, therefore, I asked them to invite him to join us at mealtimes. And to show my appreciation for doing as I asked, I bought them a light dining table made of thin wood, with folding legs. It would seem that such tables are to be found in all houses now, but in those days, there were very few families that owned them. I took the trouble of having one specially made by a furniture maker in Ochanomizu.
It was while we were seated around this table, then, that Okusan told me the fish vendor had failed to come that day at the usual hour, and that she had consequently gone out to buy some fish for us. Why, of course, I said to myself, one had to do such things when one had boarders. Ojosan looked at me, and began to laugh. She stopped quickly enough when her mother scolded her.
Again, about a week later, I returned home to find K and Ojosan talking to each other in his room. On that occasion, Ojosan began to laugh as soon as she saw me. I suppose I should have asked her then what it was that she found so amusing. Instead, I went straight to my room without saying a word. I gave K no time to greet me with his usual "Did you just get back?" Very soon afterwards, I thought I heard Ojosan going back to the morning room.
At dinner, Ojosan said that I was a strange person. I did not ask her why she thought so. I did notice, however, that Okusan was glaring at her.
After dinner, I persuaded K to go for a walk with me. From the back of Denzuin Temple, we went around the botanical garden and returned to the bottom of the slope at Tomizaka. It was a fairly long walk, but we said very little during it. K was by nature less talkative than I. I was not a very talkative person myself. But on this occasion, I tried to carry on a conversation with him. I wanted mostly to discuss the family with whom we were staying. I wanted to know how K regarded Okusan and Ojosan. But to my questions he gave replies so vague that one could not tell whether they came from the mountains or the sea. Despite their vagueness, however, they were rather simple answers. The subject of his special study seemed to interest him more than the two ladies. True, our second-year examinations were drawing near, and I suppose that from the point of view of a normal person, K was behaving more like a student than I was. I remember that he amazed me--I was not very scholarly--with references to Swedenborg and so on.
When we had successfully completed our examinations, Okusan was very pleased for our sake, and said: "Well, you now have only one year to go." Ojosan too, who was Okusan's one real pride, was due to graduate soon. K remarked to me that women seemed to graduate without having learned a thing. He attached no importance whatsoever to those things which Ojosan was studying outside of school, such as the koto, flower arrangement, and sewing. I laughed at his stupidity. Once more, I told him that his was not the proper way to judge the worth of a woman. He did not argue with me. On the other hand, he did not appear to be convinced. This pleased me. His attitude, which seemed to suggest that the subject did not merit serious discussion, I took to be an indication of the contempt with which he still regarded women. I decided that Ojosan, whom I looked upon as the embodiment of womanly qualities, was of little significance to K. It is obvious to me now that I was already more than a little jealous of him.
I suggested to K that we should go somewhere during the summer holidays. He said that he was not very anxious to leave Tokyo. He was certainly in no position to go anywhere he liked, but there was nothing to prevent him from joining me if I invited him. I asked him why he did not wish to go away. There was no particular reason, he said; he simply wanted to stay and read books. I pointed out that it would be far better for our health if we went to some cool resort and read our books there. Well, he said, if that was why I wanted to go away, then I should go alone. But I did not want to leave him in the house. I had already come to regard his growing familiarity with the two ladies with some discomfort. "But wasn't that what you wanted?" you might ask. "Didn't you force K on them?" Certainly, I was a fool. Okusan, seeing that we would never reach an agreement if left alone, stepped in and helped us make up our minds. At last it was decided that the two of us should go to the coast of Boshu.
K had not traveled very much, and it was my first trip to Boshu. Knowing nothing about that part of the country, therefore, we got off the boat as soon as we could. We found ourselves--I remember quite clearly-in a place called Hota. It may be quite different now, but in those days it was a very unpleasant fishing village. There was the smell of fish everywhere and, whenever we tried to bathe, we were beaten down by the waves and knocked about among huge pebbles, until we emerged with our hands and feet quite raw.
I soon tired of the place. But K showed neither approval nor disapproval. Despite the fact that he never came out of the sea unwounded, he seemed, at least outwardly, quite indifferent to his surroundings. Finally, I managed to convince him of the unpleasantness of Hota, and we left for Tomiura. From there, we went to Nako. That part of the coast was by then very popular with students, and we found no difficulty in finding suitable places for bathing. K and I often sat on the rocks near the shore, and watched the sea stretching far beyond towards the horizon, or the sandy bottom visible through the water nearby. The scene below the rocks was especially beautiful. We could see brightly colored fish, some of them red and some of them deep blue, which one would never find in the fish markets, swimming about in the clear water.
Often, I took books with me to the rocks, and read them there. K, on the other hand, usually did nothing, and sat near me in silence. I could not decide whether he was meditating, or drinking in the beauty around him, or simply daydreaming. I would occasionally look up and ask him what he was doing. "Nothing," he would say. Often, I found myself thinking how nice it would be if the person sitting so quietly by my side was not K, but Ojosan. Unfortunately, this pleasant thought invariably led me further to the point where I would begin to wonder whether K was not sitting there indulging in exactly the same reverie. Then I would become restless and cease to enjoy the book I happened to be reading; and I would begin to shout in a loud voice. I could find no satisfaction in such mild forms of emotional release as reciting a poem or singing a song. Instead, I shouted as an uncontrolled savage might have done. Once, I grabbed K's neck from behind. "What would you do," I said, "if I pushed you into the sea?" K did not move. Without looking back, he said: "That would be pleasant. Please do." Quickly, I withdrew the hand that had been holding his neck.
It would seem that by then, K's nervous condition had improved considerably. My nerves, on the other hand, had become increasingly high-strung. I envied K who was so much calmer than I. I hated him. What annoyed me was that he took no notice of me, no matter what I did. I took this as a sign of K's self-confidence. But that K had grown more confident of late gave me little satisfaction. I wanted to discover the real cause of the change in him. Had he simply become optimistic about his studies and his future career once more? If so, there was no reason why there should be any rivalry between us. Indeed, I would find satisfaction in the fact that my efforts to help him had not been in vain. But if his new serenity had come as a result of his contact with Ojosan, then I would find it impossible to forgive him. K seemed totally unaware of my love for Ojosan. Of course, I had been careful not to be too obvious about it. But there is no denying that, in such matters, K was quite insensitive. And I must confess that it was because I was aware of this insensitivity in him that I was less reluctant than I might have been to invite him to live with us.
I decided to confide my secret to K. Actually, I had been wanting to do so for some time. But I had found myself incapable, when talking to K, of seizing, or creating, the right moment to introduce the subject casually. When I think about it, my acquaintances in those days were all rather odd. There was not one among them that showed any inclination to discuss his own romantic problems without restraint. I suppose many of them really had nothing to talk about. At any rate, it would seem that it was the custom not to exchange confidences concerning women. You, who are used to a more liberal atmosphere, must think this strange. Whether we were still under the influence of Confucian teachings, or whether we were only being shy, I shall leave you to decide for yourself.
K and I were close friends, and there was little that we did not feel free to discuss with each other. On rare occasions, we would talk about love, but never was the subject allowed to go beyond abstract theorizing. And as I said, it was very seldom discussed. We hardly ever talked of matters other than our future careers, our ambitions, means of disciplining our minds, our scholarly interests, books, and so on. Though we were good friends, there was a stiff formality about our friendship, and it was difficult for me to break through this wall of formality. The character of our friendship had already been formed, and we could come closer only in a very limited way. Many times, I was on the verge of telling him about Ojosan, but always I was checked by the insurmountable wall that stood between us. Often, in exasperation, I would feel like hammering a hole somewhere in his head, so that a gentle, warm breeze might blow into it.
All this must seem quite absurd to you. I was nevertheless in great torment at the time. I was no less timid than I had been in Tokyo. I watched K closely, hoping that he would give me a chance to confide in him. But not once did he emerge from his forbidding aloofness. It was as though his heart was encrusted with a layer of black lacquer, so thick that no warm blood could ever penetrate through it.
There were times, however, when I found some consolation in his apparent high-mindedness. And I would regret having suspected such a person, and inwardly apologize to him. I would then begin to hate myself for my baseness. I was never contrite for long, however. For very soon I would be assailed by the same old doubts. At such times, I would compare myself with K--always unfavorably, of course, since the desire to compare originated in doubt. Surely, I would tell myself, he is better-looking than I; and his nature too, which seemed so much less fussy than my own, must be more appealing to the opposite sex. As for his absent-minded air, would not women say that that was a sign of manly strength? True, we were studying different subjects, but I knew only too well that, in intellectual ability, I was not his equal either. All in all, I would decide, I was a rather unappealing fellow in comparison. And so my momentary relief would soon be replaced by my old fears.
K noticed my unsettled state, and said that it would be all right with him if we went back to Tokyo. When he said this, the idea of returning to Tokyo suddenly became distasteful to me. It is possible that I did not want to let him go back. At any rate, we decided to continue our trip. We went around the headland of Boshu. Groaning in the heat of the mid-summer sun, we walked on. The walk began to seem quite senseless to me, and I said so, in a half-joking manner, to K. "We are walking because we have legs," he answered. When it got too hot for us, we would take our clothes off, and jump into the sea. What with the swimming and the broiling heat, we were completely exhausted by the end of the day.
Such strenuous walking in the heat cannot but affect one's body. It is not like being ill. Rather, one feels as though one's soul has found for itself a strange home. I talked to K as usual, but my feelings had somehow changed. My affection and my hatred for K acquired a character peculiar to that journey on foot. What I mean is that perhaps because of the heat, the swimming, and the walking, our relationship shifted temporarily to a different plane. We were like two far-traveling peddlers who had met by chance on the road. We talked to each other, but we said nothing that was of serious concern to us.
In this way, we finally reached Choshi. There was, however, one exceptional incident which I still remember. Before leaving Boshu, we stopped at a place called Kominato, and went to see the Bay of Tai. [note 6] Many years have passed since then, and I have never been interested in such things, so I cannot remember very clearly; but it seems that it was at Kominato that Nichiren [note 7] was born. According to the local legend, two tai were thrown up on the beach at the time of his birth. In deference to this legend, the men of the village have always abstained from fishing in the bay. Hearing that the bay was full of tai for this reason, we hired a small boat and went out to look at them. I was enthralled by the scene under the water, and I felt that I would never tire of watching the violet-tinged fish twisting and turning beneath the waves. K, however, seemed not as interested as I was in the fish. He seemed rather to be thinking about Nichiren. We had found a temple in the village by the name of Tanjo-ji. [note 8] I presume it was called this because Nichiren had been born there, in Kominato. It was certainly an impressive temple. K said that he wanted to meet the chief priest. To tell the truth, we were at the time a shabby-looking pair. K looked especially disreputable. His cap had been blown away during the hike along the coast, and he was now wearing a sedge hat. Our clothes were soiled, and smelled of sweat. I did not think that the priests would welcome our company, and I said so to K. But he was stubborn, and would not listen to me. "If you don't want to come in, you can wait out here," he said, when we had reached the gate of the temple. I was obliged to accompany him into the front hall. I was quite certain that we would be refused admittance. But I was mistaken. Priests, I discovered, are on the whole more gracious than one might expect. We were shown into a large and fine room, and there received by the chief priest. In those days, my interests were very different from K's, and so I did not listen very carefully to what K and the priest were saying; but I do remember that K asked him many questions about Nichiren. When the priest remarked that Nichiren was such a master of the grass script [note 9] that he was called "Grass" Nichiren, I remember that K, who was a poor calligrapher himself, looked impatient. I suppose he regarded such facts as irrelevant and trivial. Obviously, he wanted the priest to say something more profound about the great man. I do not know whether K was satisfied with the conversation or not: at any rate, when we came out of the temple, he began to give me a lecture on Nichiren. I was too tired and hot to be much interested, and my comments were half-hearted and bored. Eventually, I stopped saying anything at all.
It was, I think, the following evening that we had an argument. We had had our dinner at the inn, and were preparing to go to bed. I discovered that he had resented my lack of interest in his comments on Nichiren the day before. Saying that anyone who had no spiritual aspirations was an idiot, he began to attack me for my frivolity. My apprehensions concerning Ojosan had made me more sensitive than I might have been to K's almost insulting remarks. I began to defend myself.
I remember that I used constantly the word "human" in defending my position and in attacking his. K insisted that I was trying to hide all my weaknesses behind this word. Now, I see that he was right. But in trying to point out his limitations I had become aggressive, and I was in no mood to be objective about myself. I became more dogmatic than ever. Finally, he asked me why it was that I considered him unhuman. I told him that he was indeed human--perhaps too much so; but that one would never guess this from his words. Moreover, I said, he was trying too hard to live and act in a way that was not natural to human beings.
When I said this, he did not argue with me. He merely said that it was his own lack of training that was responsible for the low opinion I seemed to have of what he was trying to accomplish. Not only did his remark take the wind out of my sails, but I began to be sorry for what I had said. I stopped arguing then. K's tone also became more quiet. "If you only knew those men of the past as I know them," he said sadly, "you would not be so critical of me." The men of the past that he was referring to were not, of course, heroic figures in the conventional sense, but ascetics who had tyrannized over their flesh for the freedom of their souls, who had lashed their bodies so that they might find the way. "How I wish," he said, "that you could understand my suffering."
K and I went to bed. The next day, we resumed our sweaty and tortuous walk. Once more, our relationship became like that of two peddlers on the road. During the walk, however, I thought now and then of the argument of the night before, and cursed myself for having missed such a good opportunity to confide in him. I should have been more honest, I said to myself, and instead of criticizing him for not being human and so on, I should have admitted to him openly the true cause of my grievance. After all, it was Ojosan that was at the bottom of my troubles, and, for my own good, I should not have tried to hide this fact under half-true generalities. But, I must confess, the tone of our friendship had become intellectualized, and I did not have the courage to rebel openly against the established pattern of our relationship. You may attribute this weakness on my part to affectation or vanity. So long as you try to understand that it was not the ordinary kind of affectation or vanity, I shall not mind.
Burnt almost black by the sun, we returned to Tokyo. My state of mind had changed greatly by then, and such petty considerations as K's human qualities or his lack of them had ceased to worry me very much. K, too, had lost most of his piousness. I doubt that the problem of body and soul was worrying him at all then. Like two barbarians, we stared at the busy scene around us. We stopped at Ryogoku and, despite the heat, treated ourselves to a meal of game hen. This seemed to fortify K, and he suggested that we walk all the way to Koishikawa. I had a more robust constitution than K, and I assented readily enough.
Okusan, when she saw us, was shocked by our appearance. Not only were we black, but the walking had made us terribly thin. She soon recovered from her shock, however, and was good enough to say that we looked very healthy. "But you are so inconsistent," said Ojosan, and laughed at her mother. I felt cheerful, forgetting that I had left Tokyo not without resentful feelings toward her. After all, I had not seen her for some time, and the occasion was, I suppose, a happy one.
Moreover, I soon noticed that Ojosan's manner towards me had changed. After such a long absence, there was much that had to be done before we could settle down once more to our normal routine. The two ladies came to our aid. Okusan, of course, was very helpful. But what pleased me particularly was that Ojosan seemed to pay greater attention to my needs than she did to K's. Now, if she had done so at all crudely, I should have been embarrassed. Indeed, I might even have been annoyed. But she showed great sense here, and there was only a delicate suggestion of favoritism, which made me very happy. She was kind to us both, but she simply gave me the greater share of her natural kindness, in such a way that only I noticed it. K had no reason to be annoyed therefore, and as far as he was concerned, nothing out of the ordinary had happened. I had scored a victory over K, and my heart was filled with a sense of triumph.
Summer finally came to an end. About the middle of September, we began once more to attend lectures at the university. Our schedules were again different, and we came and went at different times during the day. Approximately three days a week, I remember, K got home before me, but not once during the first few weeks of term did I find Ojosan in his room when I returned. K would greet me with his customary "Did you just get back?" My reply too would be mechanical, simple, and almost meaningless.
It so happened that one morning--it was about the middle of October, I think--I overslept, and having no time to put on my uniform I rushed off in Japanese dress. And instead of the usual lace-up boots, I wore my sandals. Normally, on that day of the week, my lectures ended earlier than K's, and so I went home assuming that K would not yet be back. When I opened the front door, however, I heard K's voice. And then the sound of Ojosan's laughter reached my ears. Since I was wearing sandals that day, and not those boots which took so long to unlace, I was very soon in K's room. I found K sitting at his desk as usual. But Ojosan was no longer there. I had opened the door just in time to catch a glimpse of her fleeing figure. I asked K why he was back so early. He had not been feeling very well, he said, and so had decided to stay at home. I went to my room and sat down. A few minutes later, Ojosan came in with a cup of tea. "Welcome home," she said. I was too awkward a fellow to smile at her and make some such comment as, "Well, why did you run away from me just now?" And of course I was not the sort to make light of such an incident. She stayed with me for only a moment or two. She then got up and left my room by the verandah. She stopped outside K's room and exchanged a few words with him. They were, I gathered, continuing the conversation that my return had interrupted. Not having heard the earlier part of it, I could not guess what it was all about.
As time passed, Ojosan's manner became more nonchalant, and I noted that she was becoming more openly friendly with K. Even when I was at home, she would call K's name from the verandah, and then go into his room for a long chat. But, you would say, how else could two people living under the same roof behave? And I will admit that she could hardly avoid going into his room; there were, after all, such things as his letters and his laundry that she had to take to him. But to me, who was so intent on monopolizing her company, it seemed that she was seeing him far more than was necessary. Sometimes, indeed, I could not help the impression that she was purposely avoiding my company in order to be with K. You may ask, "Why then did you not ask him to leave the house?" But it was I that had forced K to come and live with me for his own good. To ask him to leave would have been an unprincipled thing to do, and humiliating.
On a cold, rainy day in November, I walked home as usual through the grounds of the temple of Konnyaku-Emma and up the narrow lane that led to the house. My overcoat was wet, and I was chilled. K was not in his room, but there was a good fire going in his brazier. Looking forward to seeing as good a fire in my own brazier, I hurried to my room. But there were only cold, white ashes where I had expected to find red-hot charcoal. I was overcome with annoyance.
I then heard footsteps approaching my door. It was Okusan. She saw me standing silently in the middle of the room. She must have felt sorry for me, for she came in and helped me change into my Japanese dress. When I complained of the cold, she went into the next room and returned with K's brazier. I asked Okusan if K had already been back. Yes, he had, she replied, but had gone out again. K's lectures were held later than mine that day, and so I wondered why it was that he had come back before me. Okusan said that he probably had some business to attend to.
I sat down and tried to read. There was not a sound to be heard in the house The cold of early winter and my own loneliness seemed to grip my whole body. I soon put my book down and stood up. You see, I had the sudden desire to go somewhere that was gay. It seemed to have stopped raining, but the sky still looked cold and heavy, like a sheet of lead. I decided to take my umbrella out with me. I went down the hill towards the east, alongside the back wall of the Arsenal. The city authorities had not yet undertaken the improvement of roads in that area, and so the slope was then very much steeper than it is now. The road was also narrower, and not as straight as it is today. What with bad drainage and big buildings on the south side which blocked the sun, the road became terribly muddy when you reached the valley. It was particularly bad between the narrow stone bridge and Yanagicho. You had to watch your step even if you were wearing high rain clogs or Wellingtons. There was a narrow strip of well-trodden ground in the middle of the road which was comparatively dry, and you had to walk carefully so as not to step beyond it. It was not more than a foot or two wide, so it was like walking on a woman's sash which had been stretched along the road. Slowly and in single file, the pedestrians made their way through the mud. It was on this narrow sash that I met K. I had not noticed him walking towards me, since keeping to the path had required all my attention. Seeing that someone was in front of me, I looked up and found myself standing face to face with K. "Where have you been?" I asked. "Just down the road," he answered, in his usual curt tone. We squeezed past each other. And then I discovered that a young woman had been standing a pace or two behind K. Being shortsighted, I had to peer at her before I realized, to my amazement, that I was looking at Ojosan. She blushed slightly, and greeted me. Women in those days did not wear their hair over their foreheads, but twisted it in snake-like coils on top of their heads. I stood still and stared vacantly at her head. Then I remembered that one of us had to step aside to let the other pass. I moved quickly and stepped into the mud, thus allowing Ojosan to get by.
I finally reached the main street of Yanagicho but, once there, I could not decide where to go. It did not seem to matter where I went. I walked about angrily and aimlessly in the mud, not caring whether I got splashed or not. I then went home.
I asked K if he had gone out with Ojosan. No, he said. He went on to explain that he had met her by chance in Masagocho, and so had walked home with her. I had to restrain myself from asking him more questions. At dinner, however, I could not resist asking Ojosan where she had been that afternoon. She answered with a laugh--that laugh of hers which I hated so much. Then she said, "I'll let you guess." I was a touchy fellow in those days, and I was considerably irritated at being treated in such an offhand manner by a young woman. The only person around the table who seemed to notice this was Okusan. K appeared as usual indifferent to his surroundings. As for Ojosan, I could not be sure whether she was annoying me on purpose or whether she was being innocently playful. For a young woman, she was on the whole a considerate sort of person, but there is no denying that she had some traits which were common to all young women and which I disliked. Moreover, I began to notice these traits only after K had moved into the house. Perhaps, I told myself, they were no more than figments of my imagination, caused by my jealousy of K; or perhaps they were quite real, and sprang from the coquetry of a young woman in the presence of two men. Mind you, I have no intention of denying that I was jealous. And as I have often said to you, I was quite aware then of the presence of great jealousy in my love for Ojosan. Moreover, I became jealous for reasons which must have seemed quite trivial to others. I am digressing here, but don't you think that this kind of jealousy is a necessary concomitant of love? I have noticed that since my marriage, I have become less and less subject to fits of jealousy. I have noticed also that my love is by no means as passionate as it once was.
Once more, I was tempted to tear the secret out of my heart and hurl it at her breast. By "her," I do not mean Ojosan, but Okusan. I began again to think of asking Okusan for her daughter's hand. But I could not bring myself to speak to her about marriage. You must think me a very irresolute person. That you may do so does not worry me very much. All I want to point out here is that my irresolution was not due to lack of will-power on my part. Before K moved in with us, it was my fear of being duped that had stopped me from approaching Okusan about her daughter. After K's entrance on the scene, however, it was the suspicion that Ojosan might prefer him to me that was responsible for my inaction. I decided, you understand, that if K did indeed mean more to her than I did, then my love would not be worth declaring. You must not think that I was frightened of being humiliated. I simply abhorred the idea of living with a woman who had secretly preferred someone else to me. There are many men, I grant, who seem happy enough to marry women who strike their fancy, not caring whether or not they themselves are found satisfactory by the other party. I was firmly convinced that such men were either far more worldly and cynical than I, or were contemptible dullards who had no understanding of the true nature of love. Also, I was too ardently in love to tell myself, for instance, that once we were married, all problems would somehow disappear. In other words, I was far from lacking high-minded convictions about love; but when I discovered that it necessarily involved some decisive action on my part, I became hesitant, timid, and rather devious.
During the long period of time that we lived in the same house, there were of course many opportunities for me to tell Ojosan directly how I felt towards her, but I purposely ignored them. I was then very conscious of the fact--perhaps too much so that to speak to Ojosan about marriage before I had spoken to Okusan would be a flagrant breach of Japanese custom. On the other hand, it was not this alone that prevented me from confessing my love to Ojosan. I was also afraid that if she did not by any chance want me for a husband, she would not say so outright. I thought that Japanese people, especially Japanese women, lacked the courage to be bluntly truthful on such occasions.
And so I stood still, not daring to take a step in any direction. I was like a sick person in bed, who falls into an uneasy sleep during the day. He opens his eyes as he comes out of his sleep, and sees clearly what is going on around him. Then for a moment or two he is overcome by the feeling that, in the midst of a world that moves, he alone is still. I was beset by the same kind of fear, though the others did not know it.
The old year came to an end. One day, during the New Year season, Okusan said that we all ought to play a game of cards, and asked K if he would like to invite a friend to join us. "But I have no friends," he answered. Okusan was shocked. K indeed had no friends. There were, of course, a few students with whom he had a nodding acquaintance, but he knew none of them well enough to ask them to join him and the family in a game of cards. Okusan then turned to me and said, "Well, in that case, why don't you bring someone along?" I gave a noncommittal reply, since I was in no mood for merry games. That evening, however, Ojosan dragged K and me out of our rooms and forced us to play cards with them. Since there were no guests, the gathering was small, and we had a very quiet game. [note 10] K, who was unused to such lighthearted pastimes, sat like a block of wood. I said to him, "Don't you know the Hyakunin Isshu poems?" "Not very well," he answered. Ojosan must have thought that I was being unkind to K. She began conspicuously to help him whenever she could, and very soon the game developed into a contest between me and these two. I might have picked a quarrel with them but for K's manner, which showed no elation when Ojosan started taking his side. We were able to finish the game peacefully.
It was, I think, two or three days later that Okusan and Ojosan left the house early in the morning, saying that they were going to visit a relative of theirs in Ichigaya. K and I remained in the house, since we were still on holiday. I had no inclination to go outside. I sat down by the brazier, and resting my elbows on it, began to think in a vague and disconnected way. K, who was in his room, was also very quiet. Neither of us gave the other any indication that he was still in the house. The silence did not worry me, however: both K and I were accustomed to it.
At about ten o'clock, the door between our rooms was suddenly opened, and I saw K looking at me from the door-way. "What are you thinking about?" he said. I could not in all honesty say that I was thinking about anything at all. If the confusion in my mind then could have been called "thought," then I suppose I might have answered: "Ojosan." And I might have added: "I have been thinking about Okusan too; and, as a matter of fact, about you, who seem recently to have made matters far more complicated than ever for me. Yes, you are a haunting, albeit vague, figure that refuses to leave me alone. I have been thinking of you as a confounded nuisance." But I could hardly say all this to his face. I continued to look at him in silence. K then strode into the room and sat down opposite me. I moved my elbows away from the edge of the brazier, and pushed it just a little nearer to him.
K began to talk to me about Okusan and Ojosan. I was surprised, since he had never shown any inclination before to talk about them. "Whom are they visiting in Ichigaya?" I said that in all likelihood they had gone to see Ojosan's aunt. "What does this aunt do?" he asked. I explained that she also was a soldier's wife. "But is it not the custom," he said, "for women to pay New Year visits after the middle of January? I wonder why they went so early?" "I have no idea," I was forced to reply.
K continued to question me about Okusan and Ojosan. Eventually, I found myself unable to answer his questions, which became increasingly complicated and personal. I thought his behavior not so much irritating as odd. Previously, it had always been I that had tried to introduce the subject of the two ladies into our conversation. I could not but take notice, therefore, of the sudden interest that K was showing in them. I asked him finally, "Why is it that today, in particular, you are asking me all these questions?" He became suddenly very quiet. I saw that his mouth was trembling. K was normally a man of few words. He also had the habit of opening and shutting his lips like a stutterer before he said anything, as though they were not altogether under the control of his will. Perhaps this difficulty was partly responsible for the impression of weightiness that his words conveyed to the listener. His voice, when it broke through the barrier, was twice as strong as that of the average man.
Seeing the trembling of his lips, I knew that he was about to say something. But, of course, I had no inkling of what he was going to say. And so I was shocked. Imagine my reaction when K, in his heavy way, confessed to me his agonized love for Ojosan. I felt as if I had been turned into stone by a magician's wand. I could not even move my lips as K had done.
Exactly what the emotion was that I felt then, I am not sure. Perhaps it was fear; or perhaps it was terrible pain. Whatever it was, its physical effect was to make me feel rigid from head to toe, as though I were a piece of stone or iron. I do not think that I even breathed then. Fortunately, this condition did not last long. A moment or two later, I began to feel alive again. And my first thought was: "He's beaten me to it!" Beyond this, however, I could not think of anything to do or say. I suppose I was not yet composed enough to think coherently.
I sat still, feeling the cold sweat seeping through my clothes. In his usual ponderous manner, K continued with his confession. The pain within me was almost unbearable. I thought, "Surely, it must show on my face?" Indeed, the way I felt then could not have been any less obvious than a large advertisement stuck on my head, and I am sure that even K, had the conditions been normal, would have observed it. But I suppose he was so busy talking about his own troubles that he had no time to watch my reaction to his words. His confession was uttered in the same monotonous tone from beginning to end, and its very ponderousness imparted to the speaker an air of immovable strength. I did not listen too closely to what he was saying. For my heart seemed all the while to be crying out, "What shall I do? What shall I do?"
I was nevertheless fully aware of the tone of his voice, which seemed to drone on and on interminably and to beat against my consciousness like the waves of the sea. That is why I felt then not only torment but a kind of fear. It was the fear of a man who sees before him an opponent stronger than himself.
When finally K stopped talking, I found myself unable to say anything. I want you to understand that I was not silent because I was debating with myself whether I should make a similar confession to K or whether it would be wiser policy to say nothing about my love for Ojosan. I was simply unable to speak. Besides, I had no desire to break the silence.
At lunch we faced each other across the table. The maid waited on us. It seemed to me that the food was unusually tasteless. K and I hardly spoke to each other all through the meal. We had no idea when Okusan and Ojosan would return.
We went back to our rooms. K was as quiet as he had been that morning. I also sat still, deep in thought.
I told myself that I should be honest with K, and tell him that I too had fallen in love with Ojosan. I could not help feeling, however, that it was now too late to do so I began to curse myself for not having interrupted K's confession with one of my own. If I had done that, I thought, I might have outmaneuvered him. The fact that I had not even tried to tell him the truth about myself after he had stopped talking now seemed a terrible mistake. Moreover, I felt that to begin confiding in him at this late stage would somehow be appropriate: it would seem unnatural, perhaps contrived. I saw no way out of the dilemma. My head seemed to throb with despair and regret.
I wished that K would once more open the door and stride into my room. That morning, K had taken me by surprise, and I had been totally unprepared. I wanted the same scene repeated, so that this time, I might receive K with the initiative on my side. Time and again I glanced at the door, but it did not open. The silence in K's room seemed eternal.
Eventually, I was driven almost to distraction by the quiet. I could not prevent myself from wondering nervously what K was thinking in the next room. Before that day, we had spent many hours not making a sound, and I had found that the longer the silence lasted the easier it became to forget K's existence. That it should have had the opposite effect on me that afternoon shows how frayed my nerves were. I might have stood up and opened the door to K's room myself, it is true; but this I could not do. Having lost the opportunity that morning to unburden myself to K, I was forced to wait passively for another opportunity to present itself.
I began to feel that if I stayed in the room any longer, I might suddenly lose control and rush into K's room. And so I got up and went out to the verandah. From there I went into the morning room, where, for lack of anything better to do, I poured some hot water from the kettle on the brazier into a cup, and drank it. Then I went to the front hall. And thus managing to avoid K's room, I made my way into the street. Needless to say, I did not care where I went so long as I was not in my room. Aimlessly, I walked about the streets that were bright with New Year decorations. And no matter how much I walked, K remained the sole object of my thoughts. I want you to understand that I was not walking in order to forget K. Indeed, one might say that I was wandering about the streets in pursuit of K's image.
I must confess that K was a puzzle to me. I asked myself: "Why did K confide in me at all? Why did he allow his love for the girl to become so intense that he could no longer keep it a secret? What has happened to the K that I once knew?" I could not find an easy answer to any of these questions. I knew that he was strong-minded, serious, and sincere. But there was much that I did not know about him; and I realized then that before I could decide what I should do, I had to know much more than I did about K. At the same time, I felt inside me a strange fear--amounting almost to a superstitious dread--of the person that had become my rival. With the image of K sitting still in his room constantly before my mind's eye, I walked about the streets in confusion. And I thought I could hear a voice whispering into my ear: "You'll never get rid of him .. ." Perhaps I was beginning to think of him as a kind of devil. Once, I even had the feeling that he would haunt me for the rest of my life.
When I reached home, exhausted, I noticed that his room was as quiet as ever. One would have thought that there was no one in it.
Soon afterwards, I heard the wheels of rickshaws approaching the house. In those days, rickshaw wheels did not have rubber tires as they do now. They were therefore unpleasantly noisy, and one could hear them from quite a distance. A moment mentor two later, the rickshaws stopped in front of the house.
It was only about half an hour after this that we were called to dinner. As I passed Ojosan's door on my way to the dining room, I saw the ladies' going-out dresses lying in colorful disarray on the floor. They had apparently hurried home so that they might prepare our dinner. Okusan's kindness, however, was wasted on us. During the meal, I behaved as though words were too precious a commodity to squander, and I was very brusque with the ladies. K was even more taciturn than I was. The ladies on the other hand, having returned from a rare outing, were unusually gay, which made our gloomy behavior all the more noticeable in contrast. Okusan asked me if anything was wrong. I told her that I was not feeling well. And I was being quite truthful, I assure you. Then Ojosan asked K the same question. K gave a different answer: he was simply not in a talkative mood, he said. "Why not?" she asked. I lifted my eyes, which felt dull and heavy, and looked at K. I was very curious as to what he would say. Once more, his lips were trembling slightly. To innocent eyes, it must have seemed that he was only having his usual difficulty with words. Ojosan laughed and said that he must have been thinking about something very profound. K blushed slightly.
I went to bed earlier than usual that night. At about ten o'clock, Okusan, remembering that I had said I was not feeling well, kindly brought me some buckwheat gruel. She found my room in darkness when she opened the door. "Well!" she said, looking in. Through the other door, which was closed, a shaft of light from the lamp on K's desk sneaked in. He was apparently still up. Okusan sat down by my bed, and holding out the cup of gruel, said: "Here, drink this. It will warm you up. You have probably caught a cold."
I dared not refuse, and drank the thick liquid while she watched.
I lay in the dark thinking until the early hours of the morning. All I could think about, of course, was the problem of K and Ojosan. Then suddenly I wanted to know what K was doing in his room. Almost involuntarily, I called out, "Hey!" "Yes?" he answered. So K had not yet gone to sleep either, I thought. "Haven't you gone to bed yet?" I said. He answered simply, "I will soon." Then I said, "What are you doing?" This time, there was no reply. Five or six minutes later, I heard him open the cupboard door, then spread out the bedding on the floor. "What time is it?" I asked. "Twenty past one," replied K. I heard him blow out the lamp. The house was now completely dark. I felt suddenly the silence around me.
But I could not go to sleep. My eyes would not close, and they stared into the darkness. Once more, I heard my own voice cry out, "Hey!" Again, K answered, "Yes?" Not being able to restrain myself any longer, I said: "Look here, I want to have a good talk with you ... you know, about what you said this morning. How about it?" I had no wish, of course, to carry on a complicated conversation through the closed door: all I wanted was a simple answer from K. But he became noncommittal all of a sudden. "Well, perhaps," he said, quietly and unwillingly. Once more, I was stricken with fear.
K's attitude remained noncommittal all through the following day, and the day after that. He showed absolutely no sign of wanting to talk to me again about Ojosan. True, we were given no opportunity to have such a talk. So long as Okusan and Ojosan were in the house, we could not very well have a long conversation of so involved and private a nature without interruption. I was quite aware of this. Nevertheless, I was irritated. Having prepared myself for another talk with K, I was in no mood for protracted silence. I decided finally to bring up the subject myself, rather than wait for him to do so, at the earliest opportunity.
Quietly, I watched the conduct of the two ladies. It showed no change, and I was satisfied that K had confided in me only: I was certain that neither Ojosan herself nor her strict and observant mother knew K's secret. I was relieved. With the relief came the conviction that it would be better to wait for an opportunity to present itself naturally and be sure not to miss it, than to approach K impatiently and force him to discuss the affair with me.
I may have given you the impression that my reaching the decision to be patient was a simple process. It was nothing of the sort. For a long time, I could not make up my mind: my mental state then could be likened to a tide, which ebbs and flows continually. I was not certain as to how I should interpret K's calm and noncommittal manner. I even wondered if what the two ladies said and did truly expressed their thoughts. I asked myself: "Can one expect the complicated mechanism of the human mind to betray its purposes so obviously, as though it were some kind of clock?" In short, please understand that it was after a great deal of vacillation that I finally decided to wait for the right moment to talk to K. Mind you, my decision by no means eased my troubled mind.
Our holidays were at last over. On days that our lectures coincided, we walked to the university together. We often walked home together too. Outwardly, we were as friendly as ever; but I am sure each of us was very much immersed in his own problems. One day, as we were walking home, I suddenly asked him: "Am I the only one that knows your secret? Or have you told Okusan and Ojosan too?" What tactics I would adopt in the future depended, I thought, on his answer. He answered that he had told no one but me. So I was right after all, I said to myself, feeling rather pleased. I knew very well that he was more brazen than I. He was also more bold. On the other hand, I did trust him in a strange way. Even the fact of his having deceived his foster parents for three years had by no means impaired my confidence in him. Indeed, I had come to trust him more because of it. Despite my suspicious nature, then, I felt no inclination to doubt his word.
"What do you intend to do?" I asked. "Are you going to keep your love for Ojosan a secret, or are you going to do something about it?" This time, he gave no reply. He lowered his eyes and went on walking. "Please don't hide anything from me," I begged him. "Please tell me what you intend to do." He said, "There is no need to hide anything from you." But he refused to tell me what I wanted to know. I could hardly stop him in the middle of the street and force him to be more explicit. We walked on in silence.
Not many days later, I paid one of my rare visits to the university library. I had been told by my supervisor to acquaint myself, before the following week, with certain facts concerning my field of specialization. I had to get up from my seat in the reading room and return to the stacks two or three times before I could locate what I wanted. I sat down at the end of the large desk and began to read carefully the article in the newly arrived foreign journal. The sun shone through the window, warming the upper part of my body. Then suddenly, I heard someone whispering my name from the other side of the desk. I looked up and saw K standing there. He leaned over the desk so that he could get closer to me. As you know, we were not permitted to disturb others in the library by talking too loudly. K was therefore doing what any other student would have done in a similar situation. Nevertheless, K's behavior gave me an odd sensation.
"Studying?" he asked, still whispering. "There was something I had to look up," I said. K would not move. His face was only a few inches away from mine. "Come out for a walk," he said. "I will," I said, "but you will have to wait." "All right," he said, and sat down in the empty chair opposite me. I found that I could not concentrate on the article any more. I was disturbed by the idea that K had come to discuss something serious with me. I gave up trying to read, and closing the magazine, I made as if to get up. Calmly, K asked, "Finished?" "No," I answered, "but it doesn't matter." I returned the magazine and left the library with K.
We had no particular destination in mind. We walked through Tatsuokacho towards Ikenohata, and then went into Ueno Park. He suddenly began to talk about the affair. Judging by the way he introduced the subject, it would seem that he had asked me out specifically for the purpose of talking to me about it. I learned that the situation had remained unchanged for all practical purposes since the time of his confession to me. "What do you think?" he asked vaguely. What he wished to know was how I regarded him, who had fallen so deeply in love. He wanted my opinion of him as he was then. I felt that this desire of his to find out what I thought of him was a sure indication that he was not altogether his usual self. I want to emphasize here--though you may think me rather repetitious--that K was normally an independent-minded fellow, and what others thought of him worried him very little. He had the courage and strength to do anything if he thought he was right. I saw this trait in him only too clearly in his dealings with his foster parents. No wonder, then, that I thought his question in the park rather out of character.
I asked him why he thought it necessary to seek my opinion. In an unusually dejected tone, he said, "I have found I am a weak man, and I am ashamed." Then he added, "You see, I am lost. I have become a puzzle even to myself. What else can I do, but ask you for your honest opinion?" "What do you mean," I asked quickly, "by 'lost'?" He said, "I mean that I can't decide whether to take a step forward or to turn back." Once more, I prodded him: "Tell me, can you really turn back if you want to?" Suddenly, he seemed lost for an answer. All he said was: "I cannot bear this pain." His expression, as he said this, was indeed tormented. If Ojosan had not been involved, I would surely have spoken to him kindly and have tried to ease his suffering. He needed kind words, as dry land needs rain. I believe I was born with a compassionate heart. But I was not my usual self then.
I did not relax for one single moment my eyes, or my heart, or my body. To say that K did not guard himself well would be an understatement. In his innocence, he put himself completely at my mercy. I was allowed to observe him in leisure, and to note carefully his most vulnerable points.
I could think of only one thing, and that was K's defenselessness. He was hovering uncertainly between the world of reality and the world of his ideals. Now is the time, I thought, to destroy my opponent. I waited no longer to make my thrust. I turned to him with a solemn air. True, the solemnity was a part of my tactics, but it was certainly in keeping with the way I felt. And I was too tense to see anything comical or shameful in what I was doing. I said cruelly, "Anyone who has no spiritual aspirations is an idiot." This was what K had said to me when we were traveling in Boshu. I threw back at him the very words that he had once used to humiliate me. Even my tone of voice was the same as his had been when he made the remark. But I insist that I was not being vindictive. I confess to you that what I was trying to do was far more cruel than mere revenge. I wanted to destroy whatever hope there might have been in his love for Ojosan.
K was born in a Shinshu temple. But I remember that at secondary school, he was already showing signs of moving away from the doctrines of his family's sect. I am quite aware of my ignorance concerning the various Buddhist doctrines. But it was clear to me that at least in the matter of men's relationship with women, K was in disagreement with Shinshu teachings. [note 11] K had always been fond of the phrase, "concentration of mind." When I first heard K mention it, I thought it likely that "concentration of mind" implied, among other things, "control of passions." When I learned later that much more than this was implied, I was surprised. It was K's belief that everything had to be sacrificed for the sake of "the true way." Even love without bodily desire was to be avoided. Pursuit of "the true way" necessitated not merely restraint of appetite, but total abstinence. K made all this clear to me when he was living alone and trying to support himself. I was already in love with Ojosan by that time, and I used to argue with him whenever he brought up the subject of "the true way." K would listen to me with a look of pity on his face. Always, it was contempt that lay behind his pity: I found hardly any trace of friendly tolerance in it. In view of all that we had said to each other in the past, I knew that K would be much hurt by my remark. I had no intention of destroying his old beliefs. I said what I did say in order to make him even more righteous than he had been before. Of course, it mattered little to me whether he really followed "the true way" or not; or whether he would ever reach heaven. What I feared was the harm he might cause me if he decided to change his ways. It was simply self-interest that prompted my remark.
I said again: "Anyone who has no spiritual aspirations is an idiot." I watched K closely. I wanted to see how my words were affecting him.
"An idiot..." he said at last. "Yes, I'm an idiot."
He stood still as he spoke, and stared at his feet. I was suddenly frightened that, in desperation, K had decided to accept the fact that he was an idiot. I was as demoralized as a man who finds that his opponent, whom he has just knocked down, is about to spring up with a new weapon m his hand. A moment later, however, I realized that K had indeed spoken in a hopeless tone of voice. I wanted to see his eyes, but he would not look my way. Slowly, we began to walk again.
I walked by K's side, waiting for him to speak again. I was waiting for another chance to hurt him. I lurked in the shadows, so that I might take him by surprise. I was not an ignorant man, and I was not without conscience. Had a voice whispered into my ear, "You are a coward," I might at that moment have returned to my normal self. And had the voice been that of K, I would surely have blushed with shame. But K was not the one to admonish me. He was too honest, too simple, and altogether too righteous to see through me. I was in no mood to admire his virtues, however. Instead, I saw them only as weaknesses.
After a while, K turned towards me, and addressed me. This time, it was I that stopped walking. Then K also stopped. At last, I was able to look into his eyes. He was taller than I, and so I had to look up at him. I was like a wolf crouching before a lamb.
"Let us not talk about it any more," he said. I was strangely affected by the pain in his eyes and in his words. For a moment, I did not know what to say. Then, in a more pleading tone, he said again: "Please, don't talk about it." My answer was cruel. The wolf jumped at the lamb's throat.
"Well, so you don't want me to talk about it! Tell me, who brought up the subject anyway? If I remember rightly, it was you. Of course, if you really want me to stop, I will. But not talking about it isn't going to solve the problem, is it? Can you will yourself to stop thinking about it? Are you prepared to do that? What's become of all those principles of yours that you were always talking about?"
K seemed to shrivel before my eyes. He seemed not half as tall as he once was. As I have said before, he was a very stubborn fellow; but he was also too honest to ignore his own inconsistency when it was bluntly pointed out to him by another. I saw the effect my words had had on him, and I was satisfied. Then he said suddenly: "Am I prepared ...?" Before I could say anything, he added: "Why not? I can will myself..." He seemed to be talking to himself. And the words sounded as though they were spoken in a dream.
In silence, we started to walk towards the house in Koishikawa. It was not very cold that day, for there was little wind. It was winter nevertheless, and the park looked bleak. I turned my head once and looked back at the row of cedars. They were brown, and looked as if the frost had eaten all the greenness out of them. Over them stretched the grey sky. The coldness of the scene seemed to bite into my spine. Hurriedly, in the twilight, we walked over Hongo Hill. It was only after we had reached the bottom of the valley and started walking up the hill in Koishikawa that I began to feel warm under my overcoat.
We hardly spoke to each other on our way home. Perhaps this was because we were in such a hurry to get back. At dinner, Okusan asked us, "Why were you so late?" I said that K had asked me to walk with him to Ueno. Okusan seemed surprised, and said, "But it's so cold!" Ojosan asked, "Why Ueno? Was there something in Ueno you wanted to see?" "No," I said, "we were simply taking a walk." K said even less that night than usual. Okusan spoke to him; Ojosan laughed at him; but he would not respond. He gulped his food down and went back to his room, leaving us at the table.
In those days, such phrases as "the age of awakening" and "the new life" had not yet come into fashion. But you must not think that K's inability to discard his old ways and begin his life anew was due to his lack of modern concepts. You must understand that to K, his own past seemed too sacred a thing to be thrown away like an old suit of clothes. One might say that his past was his life, and to deny it would have meant that his life thus far had been without purpose. That K was hesitant in love does not mean that his love was in any sense lukewarm. He was unable to move, despite the violence of his emotion. And since the impact of his new emotion was not so great as to allow him to forget himself, he was forced to look back and remind himself of what his past had meant. And in doing so he could not but continue along the path that he had so far followed. Moreover, he had the kind of stubbornness and forbearance that is unknown these days. I think that thus far, I understood K's reaction to his own predicament well enough.
That evening after our walk to Ueno, I felt unusually relieved. I quickly got up from the table and followed K into his room. I sat down by his desk and began to chatter about some trivial matter. He looked pained. It is possible that my eyes betrayed the triumph that I was then feeling. I know that there was a note of self-congratulation in my voice. A few minutes later, I withdrew my hands from the brazier and returned to my room. For the first time in my life, I felt that, in one matter at least, I was more than a match for K.
I was soon fast asleep. Then suddenly I was awakened by someone calling my name. The door was open, and I saw K's shadowy figure standing in the door-way. The lamp was still burning in his room. The change from sleep to wakefulness had been too abrupt, and I lay for a moment or two in a daze, unable to speak.
"Were you asleep?" K asked. K himself always went to bed late. I addressed myself to the shadow: "Did you want something?" "No, not really," he said. "I went to the bathroom a minute ago, and on my way back I wondered whether you were still up or not." The light was behind him, and so I could not see his face clearly. But I could tell by the tone of his voice that he was unusually calm.
K stepped back into his room and closed the door. The room became dark once more. I closed my eyes in the darkness, to return to my peaceful dreaming. I fell asleep immediately. The next morning, I thought about the incident, and began to wonder why K had behaved so strangely. I was half-inclined to believe that it was all a dream. At breakfast, I asked K if he had indeed opened the door in the middle of the night and called me. "Yes, I did," he replied. "Why?" I asked. He would not answer my question. Then after a brief silence he asked unexpectedly: "Have you been sleeping well lately?" His question gave me an odd sensation.
We left the house together, as our lectures were to begin at the same hour that day. The previous night's incident was still bothering me. I began questioning him again during our walk to the university. But K would not answer me satisfactorily. Finally I said, "Are you sure you weren't intending to continue yesterday's conversation?" He said, "Certainly not!" His short answer, I felt, was his way of reminding me that, in the park the previous afternoon, he had said: "Let us not talk about it any more." I then remembered how fiercely proud K was; and the words he had muttered began strangely to oppress me: "Am I prepared?... Why not?..."
I was well aware that K possessed a resolute nature. I understood also why it was that, in this affair only, K was unable to act decisively. But I soon realized that I did not know K as well as I had thought. K's conduct under stress was not as predictable, I learned, as it was under normal circumstances. The more I thought over K's last words in the park, the less clear their meaning seemed to become. Perhaps, I thought uneasily, he is as confident as ever; perhaps he is "prepared" not to forswear his love for Ojosan, but to reject his past once and for all so as to be free from all doubt and suffering. The realization that K's words could be thus interpreted came as a shock to me. The shock itself should have revealed to me my own foolishness in jumping to conclusions about K; and I should perhaps have asked myself, "But is it not possible that there is yet another meaning hidden behind his words?" Unfortunately, I was unable to see things clearly then: it is sad to think how blind I was. At any rate, I persuaded myself that it was K's intention to submit to his love for Ojosan. I became convinced that K, in his usual determined manner, would now do all he could to win her.
A voice whispered into my ear, "It is up to you to make the final move." The voice gave me new courage. I must act before K does, I thought, and without his knowledge. I decided to talk to Okusan about her daughter when both K and Ojosan were out of the house. Quietly, I waited for the right moment: two days passed, then three, but it did not come. Always, when I was in the house, one of the two was there also. I became very impatient.
A week went by, and I decided I could not wait any longer. I could think of no better plan than to feign illness and stay at home all day. Okusan, then Ojosan, and finally K himself came into my room to get me out of bed; I gave noncommittal answers to their questions and allowed them to go away with the impression that I was not feeling very well. It was about ten o'clock when I finally crawled out of bed. Both K and Ojosan had gone out. There was not a sound in the house. Okusan, when she saw me, said: "You can't be feeling well. Why don't you stay in bed? I'll bring you something to eat" I was feeling perfectly healthy of course, and I had no desire to go back to bed. I washed my face and had my breakfast in the morning room as usual. Okusan sat on the other side of the long brazier and waited on me. It was a strange meal, being neither breakfast nor lunch; and during it, I remained silent, wondering uneasily how I should word my proposition. I have no doubt that Okusan misconstrued my preoccupation as a sign of illness.
When the meal as over, I lit a cigarette. Okusan was obliged to remain seated by the brazier: she could hardly leave the room before I did. She called the maid and had her take the tray. For lack of anything better to do, Okusan poured water into the iron kettle and then began polishing the brazier. I said: "Okusan, are you busy?" "No," she said; then, "Why do you ask?" "Well," I said, "there's something I should like to talk to you about." "Yes?" she said, watching me. Okusan's manner was so casual that I began to lose courage.
Finally, after a minute or two of beating about the bush, I said: "Has K said anything to you lately?" Okusan seemed taken aback by my question. "What do you mean?" she asked. Before I could answer her she said, "Did he say something to you?"
I had no inclination to tell her what K had told me that day in my room, so I said, "No." I was immediately ashamed of the lie. To ease my conscience, I added: "What I want to say has nothing to do with K. He has not asked me to say anything to you on his behalf." "Is that so?" she said, and waited. There was nothing left for me to do but come to the point. "Okusan," I blurted out, "I want to marry Ojosan." She was not half as surprised as I had expected. She seemed at a loss for an answer, nevertheless, and gazed at me in silence. I had gone too far now to be intimidated by mere silence. "Please," I said, "let me marry her. I want Ojosan very much." Okusan, being older, was much calmer than I. "Mind you," she said, "I am not saying no. But this is all so sudden .. ." "I want to marry her soon," I said quickly, and she began to laugh. Then she said seriously, "Have you thought about it carefully? Are you sure?" I assured her in no uncertain terms that though my manner of proposing might have seemed hasty, I had had Ojosan in mind for a very long time.
There were a few more questions and answers, but I forget what they were. Okusan was an easy person to talk to on such an occasion as this: there was nothing elusive about her. In this respect, she was more like a man than a woman. "All right," she said finally. "You may have her." Then she said in a more formal tone, "Of course, it is I who should be doing the asking. Who am I to say, 'you may have her'? She is, as you know, a wretched, fatherless child."
I do not think that the entire conversation lasted more than fifteen minutes. It remained simple and direct throughout. Okusan made no stipulations. She said that there was no need to consult her relatives, though of course she would have to inform them of the decision. She seemed also to take it for granted that her daughter would raise no objections. I had some misgivings here. Despite my education, I must have been the more conventional of the two: I said, "I don't care about the relatives, but don't you think you should ask Ojosan first?" She assured me that there was no need for me to worry. She had no intentions, she said, of forcing her daughter to marry anyone she did not like.
I returned to my room. Surely, I thought a little uncomfortably, it can't he as easy as all this! I found new relief, how ever, in the thought that my future had at last been settled. On the whole, I was satisfied.
I went back to the morning room about noon and asked Okusan when she intended to inform Ojosan of my proposal. "Does it really matter when I tell her?" she said. "The important thing is that I know about it, don't you think?" I was somehow made to feel that I was being more of a woman than she was. I was about to withdraw in embarrassment when she stopped me and said, "All right. Since you seem to be in a hurry, I will tell her today if you like. I'll talk to her when she gets back from her lessons. Will that do?" "Yes, thank you," I said, and went back to my room. The thought of having to sit quietly at my desk while the two ladies whispered to each other in their room was unnerving. I put on my cap and went out. I met Ojosan at the bottom of the hill. She seemed surprised to see me. I took off my cap, and said: "So you're back." She said in a puzzled tone, "You have recovered?" "Oh yes," I said, "I am quite well now, quite well." I walked away hurriedly towards Suidobashi.
From Sarugakucho I entered the main street of Jimbocho and turned in the direction of Ogawamachi. It was my custom to browse through the secondhand bookshops whenever I found myself in that area, but I was in no mood that day for musty books. I thought ceaselessly of what was happening at the house. I thought of Okusan and what she had said to me that morning, then tried to imagine the scene in the house after Ojosan's return. I walked on, not caring where my feet led me. My mind was filled with thoughts of the two ladies. I would suddenly stop in the middle of the street and think, "They must be talking about it at this moment"; or, "They will have finished their talk by now."
I crossed Mansei Bridge and walked up the slope past the Temple of Myojin. Then from Hongo Hill I went down to the valley of Koishikawa. During this long walk--my route had formed a rough circle cutting through three separate boroughs--I gave K very little thought. Why, I do not know. Is it not strange that I did not think about him? I felt very tense that afternoon, it is true; but where was my conscience?
I returned to the house. As usual, I went into K's room in order to get to mine. It was then that I felt guilty for the first time. He was of course at his desk, reading. And as always, he looked up at me. But this time, he did not give me his customary greeting--"Did you just get back?" Instead, he said: "Are you feeling better now? Have you seen the doctor?" Suddenly, I wanted to kneel before him and beg his forgiveness. It was a violent emotion that I felt then. I think that had K and I been alone in some wilderness, I would have listened to the cry of my conscience. But there were others in the house. I soon overcame the impulse of my natural self to be true to K. I only wish I had been given another such opportunity to ask K's forgiveness.
I saw him again at dinner. He sat quietly, deep in some melancholy thought. There was not the slightest sign of suspicion in his eyes. How could there be, when he knew nothing of what had happened in his absence? Okusan, ignorant of the truth about us, seemed unusually happy. Only I knew everything. I found difficulty in swallowing my food. It was like lead. Ojosan, whose custom it was to eat with us, did not appear at the table that evening. When Okusan called her, she answered from the next room: "Yes, I'm coming!" K became curious. Finally, he asked Okusan: "What's the matter with her?" Okusan threw a glance in my direction, and said: "She's probably embarrassed." This made K all the more curious. "Why is she embarrassed?" he wanted to know. Okusan merely smiled, and looked at me again.
I had guessed, immediately upon sitting down at the table, the reason for Okusan's pleased look. The last thing I wanted her to do was explain the whole situation to K in my presence. The thought that Okusan was wont to show little reserve in such matters gave me acute discomfort. Fortunately, K became silent again. And Okusan, despite her unusually cheerful mood, did not reveal the secret after all. Sighing with relief, I returned to my room. But I could not help worrying about my future relations with K. "What am I going to say to him?" I asked myself. I thought of one excuse after another, but none satisfied me. Eventually, the mere thought of having to explain my conduct to K became distasteful to me. I was a cowardly soul.
Two or three days passed. Needless to say, I remained very apprehensive. What made matters worse was the changed attitude of Okusan and Ojosan towards me. It acted as a constant and painful reminder of the fact that the least I could do was tell K the truth. It added to my feeling of guilt. Moreover, I was fearful lest Okusan, who had a directness of manner rarely found in women, should one evening decide to tell K the happy news when we were all gathered round the dinner table. And I could not be sure that K would not begin to brood on Ojosan's manner, which seemed to me to have conspicuously altered. I was compelled to admit that K had to be informed of the new relationship between myself and the family. Knowing the weakness of my own position, I thought it a terrible hardship to have to face K and tell him myself.
In desperation, I began to toy with the idea of asking Okusan to tell K of our engagement. (She would speak to him when I was out of the house, of course.) However, if Okusan were to tell him everything truthfully, my action would seem no less shameful than it would if I were to break the news to him myself. It did not seem so much of a consolation, after all, that K should learn the truth about me indirectly. Moreover, Okusan was sure to demand an explanation from me, if I were to ask her to give K a conveniently false account of how her daughter and I had become engaged; and I would then have to expose my weakness not only to my future mother-in-law, but to the person that I loved. In my naive and earnest way, I believed that such an exposé would seriously affect the ladies' future opinion of me. I could not bear the thought of losing even a fraction of my sweetheart's trust in me before we were married.
And so, despite my sincere desire to follow the path of honesty, I strayed away from it. I was a fool; or, if you like, a scheming rogue. Apart from myself, only heaven knew me for what I was. Having once done a dishonest thing, I found that I could not redeem myself without telling everyone of my dishonesty. I wanted desperately to keep my shame a secret. At the same time, I felt that I had to win back my self-respect. Finding myself in this dilemma, I stood still.
It was five or six days later that Okusan suddenly asked me: "Have you told K about the engagement?" "Not yet," I answered. "Why not?" she demanded. I felt my whole body stiffen. I said nothing.
"No wonder he looked so odd when I told him," she said. Her words shocked me. I remember them clearly still. She continued: "You ought to be ashamed of yourself. He is, after all, a very close friend, isn't he? You really mustn't treat him so callously."
"What did K say?" I asked. "Oh, nothing of great interest," she said. But I pressed her to tell me in detail what K had said. Okusan of course had no reason to hide anything from me. Saying that there was really nothing much to tell, she proceeded to describe K's reaction to the news.
It would seem that K received his final blow with great composure. He must have been surprised, of course. "Is that so?" he had said simply when told of the engagement of Ojosan and myself. Okusan had then said: "Do say that you are pleased." This time, apparently, he had looked at her and smiled: "Congratulations." Just as he was leaving the morning room he had turned around and said: "When is the wedding? I would like to give a present, but since I have no money, I am afraid I can't."
As I sat before Okusan, listening to her words, I felt a stifling pain welling up in my heart.
K, then, had known about it for over two days, though one would never have guessed this from his manner. I could not but admire his calm, however superficial it may have been. It seemed to me that he was much the worthier of the two of us. I said to myself: "Through cunning, I have won. But as a man, I have lost." My sense of defeat then became so violent that it seemed to spin around in my head like a whirlpool. And when I imagined how contemptuous K must be of me, I blushed with shame. I wanted to go to K and apologize for what I had done, but my pride--my fear of humiliation--restrained me.
I finally tired of my own inability to decide whether I would speak to K or remain silent. It was, I remember, on a Saturday night that I told myself: "Tomorrow, I will make up my mind one way or the other." But that night, K killed himself. Even now, I cannot recall the scene without horror. I do not know what strange forces were at work that night; for I, who had always slept with my feet pointing towards the west, decided that evening to arrange my bedding so that my feet would point towards the east. [note 12] Some time in the night, I was awakened by a cold draught on my head. As I opened my eyes, I saw that the door between K's room and mine was ajar. This time, however, I did not see K's shadowy figure standing in the doorway. Like a man who has been suddenly warned of some approaching disaster, I sat up and peered into K's room. In the dim lamplight, I could see his bed. The counterpane had been flung back. K sat with his back turned towards me. The upper part of his body was bent forward. "Hey!" I called. He did not answer.
"Hey! What's the matter?" His body did not move. I stood up, and went as far as the doorway. From there, I took a quick glance round the room in the half-light.
I experienced almost the same sensation then as I did when K first told me of his love for Ojosan. I stood still, transfixed by the scene I beheld. My eyes stared unbelievingly, as though they were made of glass. But the initial shock was like a sudden gust of wind, and was gone in a moment. My first thought was, "It's too late!" It was then that the great shadow that would for ever darken the course of my life spread before my mind's eye. And from somewhere in the shadow a voice seemed to be whispering: "It's too late . . . It's too late . . ." My whole body began to tremble.
But even at such a moment I could not forget my own welfare. I noticed a letter lying on K's desk. I saw that it was addressed to me, as I had hoped. Frantically, I tore open the envelope. The purport of the letter was not in the least what I had expected. I had been afraid that in it, I would find many things that would cause me great pain. I had feared that its contents would be of such a nature that, should Okusan and Ojosan happen to see it, they would cease to regard me with respect. When I had quickly read it through, my first thought was: "I'm safe." (I was thinking only of my reputation at the time, what others thought of me seemed of great importance.)
The letter was simply written. K explained his suicide only in a very general way. He had decided to die, he said, because there seemed no hope of his ever becoming the firm, resolute person that he had always wanted to be. He thanked me for my many kindnesses in the past: and as a last favor to him, would I, he asked, take care of everything after his death? He asked that I apologize to Okusan on his behalf for causing her so much trouble. And he wanted me to notify his relatives of his death. In this brief, businesslike letter, there was no mention of Ojosan. I soon realized that K had purposely avoided any reference to her. But what affected me most was his last sentence, which had perhaps been written as an afterthought: "Why did I wait so long to die?"
With trembling hands I folded up the letter and returned it to the envelope. I deliberately put it back on the desk, where everybody could see it. Then I looked around, and for the first time, I saw the blood on the wall.
I held his head--almost in embrace--and lifted it a little. I wanted to take just one look at his face in death. I bent down towards the floor and peered at his face from beneath. I quickly withdrew my hands. Not only had the sight filled me with sudden horror, but the head had felt inordinately heavy. I sat still for a while, looking at the cold ears that I had just touched, and the thick, close-cropped hair, which seemed to belong to someone alive. I felt no desire to cry. I felt only frightened. The fear I experienced then was not caused merely by the proximity of a bloodstained body. What truly frightened me was my own destiny; it seemed to have been irrevocably shaped by this friend of mine, who now lay cold and lifeless before me.
I could think of nothing better to do than return to my room. There, I began to pace restlessly up and down. My mind commanded me to do this for a while, useless though it might be. "I must do something," I said to myself: then, "But what can I do? It's too late." It was impossible for me to sit still. Like a caged bear, I had to be constantly on the move.
I was tempted to go and wake Okusan. But, at the same time, I felt that it would be wrong to allow her to see the dreadful sight in the next room. I was particularly anxious that Ojosan should not see it. I knew that she would be terribly shocked if she did.
I lit the lamp in my room. Time and again, I looked at my watch. How slowly its hands seemed to move that night! I could not be sure exactly when it was that I had been awakened by the draught, but I knew that it had been close to dawn. And so I paced up and down, waiting impatiently for the sun to rise. Sometimes, I almost believed that night had fallen for ever.
It had been our custom to get up at seven, for many of our morning lectures began at eight. The maid, therefore, had to get up at six. It was some time before that hour that I decided to wake her. On my way to her room, however, I was stopped by Okusan. "This is Sunday, you know," she said. She had heard me walking down the corridor. "Since you are already awake," I said, "will you be good enough to come to my room?" She slipped on a coat over her nightgown and followed me. As soon as I entered my room, I shut the door to K's room. I then said to Okusan, almost in a whisper: "A terrible thing has happened." "What do you mean?" she asked. I nodded towards the closed door, and said: "You must be calm." She went pale. "Okusan," I said, "K has killed himself." She stood absolutely still and stared at me in silence. All of a sudden I knelt down and, bowing my head low before her, I said: "Please forgive me. It was all my fault. Will you and Ojosan ever forgive me?" Until that moment, I had felt no inclination to say such things to Okusan. It was only when I saw her staring at me that I had the sudden urge to kneel down and blurt out my apology. Please take it that I was compelled to apologize to Okusan and Ojosan because I could no longer apologize to K himself. I was forced by my conscience to apologize against my will. Fortunately for me, Okusan did not know the real reason why I had asked her forgiveness. Her face still pale, she said gently: "You mustn't blame yourself. Who could have foreseen such a thing?" Despite her gentleness, however, I could see unmistakable signs of fear and shock in her eyes.
Though I felt sorry for Okusan, I opened the door that I had only recently closed. K's lamp had gone out, and the room was almost pitch dark. I returned to my room and picked up my lamp. When I reached the doorway once more, I turned around and looked at Okusan. She walked slowly towards me and peered fearfully over my shoulder into the small room. But she would not go in. "You must open the storm windows," she said, "and let the light in."
Okusan's conduct throughout that day was exemplary, as one would expect of a soldier's wife. It was in obedience to Okusan's orders that I went to the doctor and then to the police. And until they had come and gone she would not allow anyone to enter K's room. K had cut open a carotid artery with a small knife and died instantly. He had no other wound. I learned that the blood which I had seen on the wall in the semi-darkness--as though in a dream--had gushed out in one tremendous spurt. I looked at the stains again, this time in daylight; and I marveled at the power of human blood.
Okusan and I cleaned up the room as well as we could. Fortunately, most of the blood had been absorbed by the quilted bedding, and very little had touched the floor mats. We moved K's body to my room and laid it out in a sleeping position. I then went out to send a telegram to his family.
When I returned, I found incense sticks already burning by his pillow. Their scent, so reminiscent of death, filled the air. The two ladies were sitting in the haze. I had not seen Ojosan since the previous evening. She was crying. Okusan must have been crying too, for her eyes were red-rimmed. I, who had not remembered to shed one tear since K's death, was able to feel sorrow then for the first time. You have no idea what comfort this gave me. My heart, which until then had felt tight with pain and fear, seemed to find relief in sorrow.
Silently, I sat down beside the two ladies. "Offer an incense stick," said Okusan. I obeyed her in silence. Ojosan did not speak to me. She exchanged a few words with her mother, but only concerning pressing business. She could not bring herself to talk of K as she remembered him. I was glad that she had not witnessed the terrible scene immediately after his death. I was afraid that a beautiful person such as she could not behold anything ugly and frightful without somehow losing her beauty. Even when the fear within me became so strong that it seemed to touch the very roots of my hair, I refused to move, not daring to expose her beauty to ugliness. I thought that to help destroy such beauty would be no less cruel and meaningless than to beat down a pretty, innocent flower.
When K's father and elder brother arrived, I gave my opinion as to where he should be buried. K and I had often walked to Zoshigaya. K was very fond of the place. I remembered saying to him jokingly: "All right, I'll see to it that you're buried here." I thought to myself. "What good will it do now to remember my promise to K?" But I wanted K to be buried in Zoshigaya, so that I could visit his grave every month and ask his forgiveness. His father and brother raised no objections. I suppose they felt that I had the right to decide where his grave should be, since I, and not they, had looked after K before his death.
On our way back from the funeral, a friend of ours asked me: "Why did he commit suicide?" I had been asked the same painful question many times before--by Okusan and Ojosan, by his father and brother, by acquaintances who had been notified of his death, and even by newspaper reporters, who had never known him. My conscience pricked me each time I was asked the question. It seemed that the question was in reality an accusation. It seemed that what the questioner meant to say was: "Why not be truthful, and admit that you killed him?"
My answer was always the same. I merely repeated what K had said in his last letter to me. My friend, who had asked me the question after the funeral, produced a newspaper from his pocket when I had given him the usual answer. He pointed to the report of K's death. It explained that he had been disowned by his family and, in a fit of depression, had killed himself. I folded the paper and handed it back to my friend. He then told me that in another newspaper, K's suicide had been attributed to insanity. All this I did not know, for I had been too busy to read the papers. I had nevertheless been wondering what they were saying about K's death. I was afraid that they might say something that would embarrass the two ladies. The mere thought of Ojosan's name being mentioned in connection with the affair upset me. "What else did you see in the papers?" I asked. "Oh, nothing else," he answered.
It was not long after the funeral that the three of us moved into the house where I now live. Both Okusan and Ojosan disliked the idea of staying in the old house, and I could not bear to be constantly reminded of that night.
About two months later, I was able to graduate from the university. Half a year after that, Ojosan and I were married at last. On the surface at least, I suppose it was a happy occasion. After all, my hopes had been realized. Okusan and Ojosan both appeared happy. I will admit that I was too. But over my happiness, there loomed a black shadow. It seemed that my momentary contentment led nowhere, except to a sorrowful future.
Soon after the wedding, Ojosan--"my wife," I shall call her from now on--for some reason suggested that we visit K's grave together. I should have known better, but I was at once suspicious. "Why this sudden desire to go there?" I asked. "I thought that K would be pleased," she said. I gazed at her innocent face in silence. I pulled myself together when she said, "Why do you look at me like that?"
I complied with my wife's request, and we went to Zoshigaya. I washed the dust off the tombstone with water. My wife put some flowers and incense sticks before it. We then bowed our heads in silent prayer. My wife was probably telling K of her new happiness. All I could think of to say was: "I was wrong... I was wrong..."
Touching the stone gently, my wife said: "This is a fine grave." It was really not so impressive, but I suppose she praised it because I myself had chosen it at the stonemason's. I thought of the new stone, of my new wife, and of the newly buried white bones beneath us, and I felt that fate had made sport of us all. "Never again," I promised myself, "will I come here with my wife."
I did not cease to blame myself for K's death. From the beginning, I was afraid of the suffering my own sense of guilt would bring me. One might say that I went through my marriage ceremony, which I had looked forward to for so long, in a state of nervous insecurity. But since I did not know my own self very well, I had a vague hope that perhaps marriage would enable me to begin a new life. That this hope was no more than a fleeting daydream, I realized soon enough. It was my wife who unwittingly reminded me of harsh reality every time we were together. How could I continue to have hope, no matter how forlorn, when the sight of her face seemed always to bring back haunting memories of K? Sometimes, the idea occurred to me that she was like a chain that linked me to K for the rest of my life. At such times, I would behave coldly to my wife, whom I found otherwise faultless. She would immediately sense my aloofness and ask: "What are you thinking about? Have I done something wrong?" There were times when I managed to ease her mind with a smile. But there were times when she would show signs of irritation and say: "Are you sure you don't dislike me?" or "You are hiding something from me." And I would look at her in misery, not knowing what to say.
Often, I was on the verge of telling her everything: but each time, at the crucial moment, I would be stopped by something that was beyond my conscious control. You know me well, and I suppose there is no need for me to explain what this was that prevented me from confessing to my wife. Nevertheless, I feel that I owe you an explanation. Please understand that I did not wish my wife to believe me better than I actually was. I am sure that if I had spoken to her with a truly repentant heart--as I did always to the spirit of my dead friend--she would have forgiven me. She would have cried, I know, from happiness. That I refused to tell her the truth was not due to selfish calculation on my part. I simply did not wish to taint her whole life with the memory of something that was ugly. I thought that it would be an unforgivable crime to let fall even the tiniest drop of ink on a pure, spotless thing.
A whole year passed, but my heart remained restless. I tried to bury this restlessness in books. I began to study furiously, and waited for the day when I would make public the result of my efforts. But I found little comfort in striving towards a goal which I had artificially set myself. Eventually, I found that I could not find peace in books. Once more I sat still and gazed at the world around me.
It would seem that my wife attributed my ennui to the fact that I had no material worries. This was understandable, since not only did my mother-in-law have enough money to support herself and her daughter, but there was enough on my side to enable me to live without working. Besides, there is no doubt that I had learned to take my easy circumstances for granted. But material comfort was by no means responsible for my inaction. When I was cheated by my uncle, I felt very strongly the unreliableness of men. I learned to judge others harshly, but not myself. I thought that, in the midst of a corrupt world, I had managed to remain virtuous. Because of K, however, my self-confidence was shattered. With a shock, I realized that I was no better than my uncle. I became as disgusted with myself as I had been with the rest of the world. Action of any kind became impossible for me.
Having failed to bury myself alive among books, I tried for a while to forget myself by drowning my soul in saké. I do not say that I liked drinking. But I can drink if I want to, and I hoped that saké would bring at least momentary oblivion. I was being naïve, of course. All that drinking did for me in time was to make me more depressed than ever. Occasionally, in the midst of a drunken stupor, I would suddenly remember myself: I would realize how idiotic it was to try to deceive oneself. Then my eyes and my heart would be jerked back to sobriety. Sometimes, I would fail even to reach that stage of self-deception, and find myself becoming more keenly aware of my own sorrow. Moreover, when I did succeed in reaching a state of artificially induced gaiety, I would be sure to sink into deep gloom afterwards. It was always in the latter state that my mother-in-law and my wife, whom I loved so much, found me after I had been drinking. The way in which they interpreted my behavior was, under the circumstances, quite understandable. It would seem that my mother-in-law sometimes complained about me to my wife. My wife never told me what her mother had said. But she reproached me on her own account. I suppose she could not bear to watch me live as I did without saying something. I say that she "reproached" me, but I assure you that she never used strong words. She hardly ever gave me cause to be angry with her. She asked me more than once if she was not in some way responsible for my behavior; she wanted to be told what her faults were. Sometimes, she begged me to stop drinking for the sake of my own future. Once, she cried and said: "You have changed." The words that followed hurt much more: "You would not have changed so, had K-san been alive." "Perhaps you are right," I answered. Secretly, I grieved for my wife, who did not know how right she had been.
Sometimes--usually the morning after I had come home late in a very drunken state--I would apologize to her. She would listen to my apology and then laugh; or she would remain silent; or she would begin to cry. Whatever she did, I was invariably disgusted with myself at such times. I suppose that, in a sense, I was apologizing as much to myself as to her. Finally, I gave up drinking: one might say that it was self-disgust, rather than my wife's reproaches, that made me stop.
I did not touch saké any more, it is true, but I was at a loss as to what I should do instead. In desperation, I began to read again. I read with no object in view, however. I would finish a book, then cast it aside and open another. My wife asked me, on more than one occasion, why it was that I studied so hard. I was saddened by the thought that she, whom I loved and trusted more than anyone else in the world, could not understand me. And the thought that I had not the courage to explain myself to her made me sadder still. I was very lonely. Indeed, there were times when I felt that I stood completely alone in this world, cut off from every other living person.
Time and again, I wondered what had caused K to commit suicide. At first, I was inclined to think that it was disappointment in love. I could think of nothing but love then, and quite naturally I accepted without question the first simple and straightforward explanation that came to my mind. Later, however, when I could think more objectively, I began to wonder whether my explanation had not been too simple. I asked myself, "Was it perhaps because his ideals clashed with reality that he killed himself?" But I could not convince myself that K had chosen death for such a reason. Finally, I became aware of the possibility that K had experienced loneliness as terrible as mine, and wishing to escape quickly from it, had killed himself. Once more, fear gripped my heart. From then on, like a gust of winter wind, the premonition that I was treading the same path as K had done would rush at me from time to time, and chill me to the bone.
Then my mother-in-law fell ill. The doctor told us she would not recover. I devoted all my energy to caring for her. I did so for the invalid's sake, and for my dear wife's too; but I felt also that I was in some way helping the whole of mankind. There is no doubt that, in a sense, I had been waiting for such a chance to prove to myself that I was not totally useless. For the first time since my retirement from the world, I was able to feel that I could still be of some use to others. There is no way to explain my state of mind, except to say that I was seeking a means of atoning for the wrong I had done. My mother-in-law died. There remained only my wife and myself. My wife said to me: "In all the world, I now have only you to turn to." I looked at her, and my eyes suddenly filled with tears. How could I, who had no trust in myself, give her the comfort she needed? I thought her a very unfortunate woman. One day, I said so to her. "Why do you say that?" she asked. She could not understand what I meant. And I could not tell her. She began to cry. "It is because you have always looked at me in your twisted way," she said reproachfully, "that you can say such things."
After her mother's death, I tried to treat my wife as gently as I could. I loved her, of course. But again, I was not being gentle merely for her sake. I suppose that my heart was moved in the same way as when my mother-in-law had fallen ill. My wife appeared content. But in her contentment, there seemed to linger a vague uneasiness that sprang from her own inability to understand me. Mind you, I do not think for a moment that her uneasiness would have decreased had she been allowed to understand the nature of my gentleness towards her. Indeed, I think that she would have become even more uneasy. A woman is more happy when she is the sole object of affection--whether or not this kindness may involve injustice elsewhere does not seem to matter very much--than when she is loved for reasons which transcend particular individuals. At least, I have noticed this tendency more in women than in men.
My wife once asked me: "Can't a man's heart and a woman's heart ever become a part of each other, so that they are one?" I gave a noncommittal answer: "Perhaps, when the man and the woman are young." She sat quietly for a while. She was probably thinking of the time when she herself had been a young girl. Then she gave a little sigh.
From then on, a nameless fear would assail me from time to time. At first, it seemed to come over me without warning from the shadows around me, and I would gasp at its unexpectedness. Later, however, when the experience had become more familiar to me, my heart would readily succumb--or perhaps respond--to it; and I would begin to wonder if this fear had not always been in some hidden corner of my heart, ever since I was born. I would then ask myself whether I had not lost my sanity. But I had no desire to go to a doctor, or anyone else, for advice.
I felt very strongly the sinfulness of man. It was this feeling that sent me to K's grave every month, that made me take care of my mother-in-law in her illness and behave gently towards my wife. It was this sense of sin that led me to feel sometimes that I would welcome a flogging even at the hands of strangers. When this desire for punishment became particularly strong, I would begin to feel that it should come from myself, and not others. Then I would think of death. Killing myself seemed a just punishment for my sins. Finally, I decided to go on living as if I were dead.
I wonder how many years have passed since I made that decision. My wife and I continued to live in harmony. We were by no means unhappy. We were, I assure you, quite a happy couple. But there was always this shadow which separated us. I could never push it away, and it lay like a dark streak across my wife's happiness. She has always sensed its presence. As I think about it now, I cannot but feel terribly sorry for her.
Though I had resolved to live as if I were dead, my heart would at times respond to the activity of the outside world, and seem almost to dance with pent-up energy. But as soon as I tried to break my way through the cloud that surrounded me, a frighteningly powerful force would rush upon me from I know not where, and grip my heart tight, until I could not move. A voice would say to me: "You have no right to do anything. Stay where you are." Whatever desire I might have had for action would suddenly leave me. After a moment, the desire would come back, and I would once more try to break through. Again, I would be restrained. In fury and grief I would cry out: "Why do you stop me?" With a cruel laugh, the voice would answer: "You know very well why." Then I would bow in hopeless surrender.
Please understand that though I might have seemed to you to be leading an uncomplicated, humdrum life, there was a painful and unending struggle going on inside me. My wife must have felt very impatient with me sometimes; but you have no idea how much more impatient I was with myself. When at last it became clear to me that I could not remain still in the prison much longer, and that I could not escape from it, I was forced to the conclusion that the easiest thing I could do would be to commit suicide. You may wonder why I reached such a conclusion. But you see, that strange and terrible force which gripped my heart whenever I wished to make my escape in life, seemed at least to leave me free to find escape in death. If I wished to move at all, then I could move only towards my own end.
I tried two or three times to follow this only course which destiny had left open to me. But each time, I was restrained by my feelings for my wife. Needless to say, I lacked the courage to take her with me. As you know, I could not even bring myself to confess everything to her: how could I, then, rob her of her allotted life and force her to share my own destiny? The mere thought of doing such a cruel thing was terrible to me. Her fate had been preordained no less than mine had been. To throw her into the fire that had been built for me would he an extremely unnatural and piteous thing to do.
At the same time, the thought of my wife living alone after I had gone aroused my compassion. How could I ever forget my wife's words after her mother had died?--"In all the world, I now have only you to turn to." And so I hesitated. Afterwards, I would look at my wife and say to myself: "It's a good thing that I hesitated." And I would once more begin to live in hopelessness and frustration, feeling my wife's disappointed eyes on me.
Look back on those days when you knew me: my life then was as I have just described it. My state of mind was always the same--at Kamakura where we met, or in the suburbs where we walked. A dark shadow seemed always to be following me. I was no more than bearing the weight of life for her sake. My mood was no different that night after your graduation. Believe me, I was not lying when I said that we would meet again in September. I really did mean to see you--even after the passing of autumn, even after winter had come and gone.
Then, at the height of the summer, Emperor Meiji passed away. I felt as though the spirit of the Meiji era had begun with the Emperor and had ended with him. I was overcome with the feeling that I and the others, who had been brought up in that era, were now left behind to live as anachronisms. I told my wife so. She laughed and refused to take me seriously. Then she said a curious thing, albeit in jest: "Well then, junshi [note 13] is the solution to your problem."
I had almost forgotten that there was such a word as "junshi." It is not a word that one uses normally, and I suppose it had been banished to some remote corner of my memory. I turned to my wife, who had reminded me of its existence, and said: "I will commit junshi if you like; but in my case, it will be through loyalty to the spirit of the Meiji era." My remark was meant as a joke; but I did feel that the antiquated word had come to hold a new meaning for me.
A month passed. On the night of the Imperial Funeral I sat in my study and listened to the booming of the cannon. To me, it sounded like the last lament for the passing of an age. Later, I realized that it might also have been a salute to General Nogi. Holding the extra edition in my hand, I blurted out to my wife: "Junshi! Junshi!"
I read in the paper the words General Nogi had written before killing himself. I learned that ever since the Seinan War, [note 14] when he lost his banner to the enemy, he had been wanting to redeem his honor through death. I found myself automatically counting the years that the general had lived, always with death at the back of his mind. The Seinan War, as you know, took place in the tenth year of Meiji. He must therefore have lived for thirty-five years, waiting for the proper time to die. I asked myself: "When did he suffer greater agony--during those thirty-five years, or the moment when the sword entered his bowels?"
It was two or three days later that I decided at last to commit suicide. Perhaps you will not understand clearly why I am about to die, no more than I can fully understand why General Nogi killed himself. You and I belong to different eras, and so we think differently. There is nothing we can do to bridge the gap between us. Of course, it may be more correct to say that we are different simply because we are two separate human beings. At any rate, I have done my best in the above narrative to make you understand this strange person that is myself.
I am leaving my wife behind me. It is fortunate that she will have enough to live on after I am gone. I have no wish to give her a greater shock than is necessary. I intend to die in such a way that she will be spared the sight of my blood. I shall leave this world quietly while she is out of the house. I want her to think that I died suddenly, without reason. Perhaps she will think that I lost my mind: that will be all right.
More than ten days have gone by since I decided to die. I want you to know that I spent most of the time writing this epistle about myself to you. At first, I wanted to speak to you about my life; but now that I have almost finished writing this, I feel that I could not have given as clear an account verbally, and I am happy. Please understand, I did not write this merely to pass the time away. My own past, which made me what I am, is a part of human experience. Only I can tell it. I do not think that my effort to do so honestly has been entirely purposeless. If my story helps you and others to understand even a part of what we are, I shall be satisfied. Only recently, I was told that Watanabe Kazan postponed his death for a week in order to complete his painting, Kantan. [note] [note 15] Some may say that this was a vain sort of thing to do. But who are we to judge the needs of another man's heart? I did not write simply to keep my promise to you. More compelling than the promise was the necessity which I felt within me to write this story.
I have now satisfied that need. There is nothing left for me to do. By the time this letter reaches you, I shall probably have left this world--I shall in all likelihood be dead. About ten days ago, my wife went to stay with her aunt in Ichigaya. The aunt fell ill, and when I heard that she was short of help I sent my wife there. Most of this long document was written while she was away. Whenever she returned, I quickly hid it from her.
I want both the good and bad things in my past to serve as an example to others. But my wife is the one exception--I do not want her to know about any of this. My first wish is that her memory of me should be kept as unsullied as possible. So long as my wife is alive, I want you to keep everything I have told you a secret--even after I myself am dead.
[note 1] The English term is used.
[note 2] A Japanese harp.
[note 3] This word may be translated as "miss," or "young lady," or, in the manner of old-fashioned translators, as "honorable daughter."
[note 4] Translatable as "mistress of the house" or "madam."
[note 5] The English word is used.
[note 6] Tai is a red fish, a kind of bream, and is in Japan a symbol of good fortune.
[note 7] Nichiren (1222-1282) is one of the greatest figures in the history of Japanese Buddhism.
[note 8] It means "Temple of the Birth."
[note 9] Cursive style of writing Chinese characters.
[note 10] In this game, which is played in the New Year, picture cards are laid out on the floor. Each of them corresponds to a poem belonging to a collection called Hyakunin Isshu. As a poem is read out, one tries to be the first to pick up the appropriate card. It is an innocent game involving little skill, and is meant to be played with much gaiety.
[note 11] Shinshu,a protestant sect, discourages celibacy.
[note 12] To lie with one's feet towards the west--i.e., in the direction of the Pure Land where the dead abide--is unlucky.
[note 13] Junshi is an old-fashioned word, meaning "following one's lord to the grave."
[note 14] Sometimes known as the Satsuma Rebellion.
[note 15] "Illusion."
Soseki, Natsume. <cite>Kokoro</cite> <br />
Chicago: Regnery Gateway, 1957. 21 Jan. 2000. <br />
(<a href="http://www.eldritchpress.org/ns/k3.html#p258">Soseki, 258</a>)
Soseki, Natsume. Kokoro (Part 3)
Chicago: Regnery Gateway, 1957. 21 Jan. 2000.