Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 457
Kazu Fukuzawa, owner of the After the Show Retreat in Setsugoan. Kazu lives remote from civilized and noisy life, on the high grounds in the hills near Tokyo. In both her garden and her restaurant, every detail is calculated to please and soothe the eye. Seeking to combine rustic simplicity with elegance and aesthetic sense, Kazu hopes that her garden conveys a sense of detachment from worldly pleasures. Her natural state is ecstatic wonder, and she exudes love as the sun gives out heat. Her energy is an eternal delight to her visitors. Her harmonious life is challenged when she marries Noguchi. Although at times she identifies herself so deeply with the political views of her husband’s party as to forget herself as an independent individual, she gradually becomes like an actress playing a role in a play based on the ideology of the radical party. In the end, however, she chooses not to submit to the dictates of society, politics, or even her husband. Instead, she returns to her sources of spiritual solace: her garden and restaurant.
Yuken Noguchi, an intellectual of the radical party. Although he is married to the peaceful Kazu Fukuzawa, Noguchi seems to be in total disharmony with himself, with society, and with nature. He hides behind an ambiguous smile, laconic conversations, artificial attitudes, cold manners, acidulous reactions, and expressionless eyes. His stingy frugality indicates his choked emotional world, and his frigidity results from sexual desires undermined by prejudices. He is blinded by righteousness; he fails to see the essence of things. His absentmindedness in relation to everyone is in tune with the cold air and gloomy atmosphere around him, whatever the season. Noguchi is enterprising and calculating. He believes that he must organize his party rationally to show a favorable balance of profits and costs. He seems to object to life rather than be subject to it. His wish still to be young contradicts his aged house, his clothing, and the comb that he has owned for thirty years.
Totskuka, a radical pamphleteer. He is stubborn in his beliefs and distorts the truth with brutal directness and uses irresponsible lies in a political pamphlet in order to secure forcefully the victory of his party.
Soichi Yamazaki, Noguchi’s campaign manager for the radical party. He takes painstaking care in maintaining a devout and faithful friendship with both Noguchi and Kazu Fukuzawa. He is sincere about his promise to assist Kazu at any time.
Genki Nagayama, an old conservative politician. His indulgences in lust and power, and in money and sex, push him to prevent an auction of Kazu’s property. He is disappointed that she will not sell herself to him.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 610
This is primarily a two-character novel based on the tension between the intuitive warmth and vitality of Kazu Fukuzawa and the cold and lofty ideals and principles of Yuken Noguchi. Secondary characters such as Soichi Yamazaki and Genki Nagayama are merely representatives of political positions of the Japanese radical and conservative parties respectively. Both are primarily defined in the novel by their relationships with Kazu, for she conspires with Yamazaki for Noguchi’s election and consults with Nagayama, an old ally who ultimately betrays her. Both men understand her better than her husband does. Precisely because Kazu does not become sexually involved with either man, she can be comfortable with them. At the conclusion of the novel, there is some indication that Yamazaki will begin to play a more involved role in her life, with her divorce from Noguchi and the reopening of her restaurant.
Noguchi is representative of the old moral virtues; yet he is more European in his ideals than he is Japanese, filling his library with German books and his head with Western ideas. As a former ambassador and a member of a noble family, he condescends to Kazu and patronizes her, as he does the common people in general. He is driven mainly by logic and by principle and very little by human emotions. His old-fashioned view of the passive role of woman makes his marriage to Kazu an obvious mismatch which generates the basic conflict in the novel.
Kazu, on the other hand, is a romantic, filled with dreams and fantasies. Her plump, attractive figure is described by Yukio Mishima as bursting with energy and enthusiasm; her simplicity makes people with complex motives feel sheepish about their complexity. Combining a man’s sense of resolution with a woman’s reckless enthusiasm, she has powers that exceed those of most men. Although during her youth she has sold her favors to men, now as the owner of an influential restaurant where powerful politicians share confidences with her, she has reached a position in her life at which her confidence makes her see that all things have sharp outlines and are easy for her to understand; as Mishima says of her, it has been many years since she has been blind.
Her enthusiasm, energy, and considerable abilities make it difficult to understand why she is so in awe of the stodgy and safe Noguchi, who she allows to condescend to her and even to beat her. Kazu is a curious combination; she is the liberated woman proud of her freedom, but she still yearns for, or at least temporarily thinks she yearns for, the old moral codes and formalities that Noguchi represents. She thinks that she needs the static security that his dignity and his name promise. Although in some ways content to bask in the victories of her husband, at the same time she cannot simply hide in the shadows. Moreover, although she is extremely shrewd in her knowledge of the people with whom she comes in contact, there is also an element of naivete about her that gives her a childlike quality.
Kazu’s experience with the excitement of the election campaign is sufficient proof that she is not as content to slip quietly into death as she thought she was, in spite of the appeal of the nobility that Noguchi represents. The novel thus appropriately ends as it began, with Kazu once again bursting with energy, enthusiasm, and ambition, in her own way a much more able and wise politician than Yuken Noguchi ever was. Although she has seemingly come full circle, she has gained new knowledge and what Yamazaki calls a “peaceful uncertainty.”
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 50
Keene, Donald. Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature in the Modern Era. Vol. 1, Fiction, 1984.
Miyoshi, Masao. Accomplices of Silence: The Modern Japanese Novel, 1974.
Nathan, John. Mishima: A Biography, 1974.
Petersen, Gwenn Boardman. The Moon in the Water: Understanding Tanizaki, Kawabata, and Mishima, 1979.
Scott-Stokes, Henry. The Life and Death of Yukio Mishima, 1974.
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