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).