"Separate Ways" by Higuchi Ichiyo: Please give me the summary of this short story, also translated as "The Parting of the Ways." And please analyze the major characters.

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Japanese short story writer, Higuchi Ichiyo, lived from 1872 to 1896 in the Meiji era during which Western ideas and industrialism invaded and impacted Japan. In "Separate Ways," you can see the impact of Westernism represented by the umbrella factory.


The clash between the Western innovations and Japanese traditional life is represented by Okyo's decision to abandon her independent and struggling life for the life of a mistress who is provided for (mistresses and concubines were an established cultural prerogative in Japan at the time and nothing similar to Red Light arrangement although the tradition had its detractors). 

Ichiyo weaves her own life of suffering into the story's major characters of the small boy with abnormal growth Kichizo and the young seamstress Okyo.


Kichizo is orphaned and has also lost his adoptive mother. He meets Okyo and finds happiness because she befriends him with a deep friendship. When she decides to leave her life of hard work, poverty and loneliness to become the mistress of a wealthy man, Kichizo is devastated, accusing her of abandoning him just when he had begun to have hope. Okyo sympathizes with Kichizo's feelings but does not understand them; she proceeds with her plans and leaves.


Kichizo is a young boy who has suffered yet, in spite of great disadvantages and losses, has remained willing to find love and hope. When he loses Okyo too, he shuts his heart and turns his head away from the possibility of love and hope.

Okyo is a young woman who is gentle and independent (having left her relative to strike out on her own) and who is not judgmental of human flaws. She wearies of the physical and psychological struggle that often accompanies independence and saves herself by agreeing to trade freedom for protection (a choice that very often accompanies struggle and that very often leans toward protection).

eNotes Criticism: "Higuchi Ichiyo," in Monumenta Nipponica, by Hisako Tanaka (1956).

rareynolds eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The story is about a young boy, Kichizo, an orphan who works in an umbrella factory. He forms a deep friendship with Okyo, a young woman who lives near the factory. Kichizo comes to depend on Okyo and is devastated when she decides to abandon her independent life at the factory to become a concubine. Kichizo disapproves of Okyo's choice; Okyo, for her part, is sympathetic to Kichizo's plight but leaves anyway. Kichizo is embittered; it is not clear that he will be able to form a similar attachment in the future.

Both characters are caught up in the competing forces of tradition and modernization in Japan. Okyo, a young woman who aspires to better things, sees the traditional role of concubine as a way out of her poverty; she is willing to sacrifice her independence (and Kichizo) for the sake of what she sees as a better lifestyle. Kichizo, a teenage boy who is made fun of because of his stunted growth, has no equivalent opportunity; after Kichizo leaves, it is clear he will emotionally isolate himself even more.

cdugu002 | Student


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