Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 615
The narrator, a nameless, stray tomcat of obscure origin that has been adopted by the Kushami family of Tokyo. Plain and nondescript in appearance, it is somewhat Persian in type and light grayish yellow in coloring. A creature of feeling and of a sensitive nature, it is highly intelligent, able to read and write the Japanese language. It is curious in its exploration of the world and an acute observer of the lives of human beings, in relation to whom, however, it feels definitely superior. Its principal deficiency is that it is cowardly and unable to catch rats.
Sensei Kushami, the tomcat’s owner and a teacher in Tokyo. In his mid-thirties, he is of average build, has a pockmarked face, wears gold-rimmed glasses, sports a handlebar mustache, and suffers from dyspepsia. He wears the Japanese dress of the Meiji period: bowler hat and an haori jacket over a kimono. He has a wife, whom he often verbally abuses, and three small daughters, the youngest a baby. A reclusive person, he shuts himself in his study on returning home from school, and he tries to read, invariably falling asleep. He indulges in a variety of cultural enthusiasms: writing haiku and modern poems, painting watercolors, sketching, and playing the violin. He never rises to competence in any of these activities. He also keeps a diary, which is often read by his cat. Kushami is self-centered, self-indulgent, insensitive to the feelings of others, stubborn in his opinions, and contemptuous of businesspeople. His full name in Japanese means “lazy teacher.”
Meitei, a friend of Kushami, an aesthetician who is of independent means. He is imaginative, a consummate liar, and a practical joker who consistently takes advantage of Kushami’s naïveté. His name in Japanese literally means “puzzling tower.”
Kangetsu Mizushima, a former pupil of Kushami who is a doctoral candidate in physics at the Imperial University of Tokyo. His favorite topic of conversation is women, and he likes to insinuate that he has had “adventures” with them. He is missing a front tooth and wears a black cotton haori jacket that is too small for him. His personal name, Kangetsu, means “wintry moon.”
Mr. Kaneda, a prosperous businessman who lives in expensive housing not far from Kushami’s modest dwelling. His name in Japanese means “prosperous rice field.”
Hanako Kaneda, his wife. Her personal name, Hanako, means “nose.” Because she has a big nose, Kushami and his friends refer to her as Mrs. Nose.
Tomiko Kaneda, the Kanedas’ marriageable daughter. Rich and pretty, she is also snobbish, demanding, arrogant, and ill-mannered. Her personal name, Tomiko, means “rich.”
Tofu Ochi, a poet. He is a friend of Mizushima, who introduced him to Kushami. He wears an haori jacket and a hakama divided skirt. His personal name, Tofu, means “east wind.”
Tojuro Suzuki, a businessman who is employed by Mr. Kaneda and is an old friend of Kushami. His Western-style suit of English tweed signifies his Western orientation.
The Uncle from Shizuoka
The Uncle from Shizuoka, Meitei’s elderly uncle, an old-fashioned gentleman who wears the topknot chommage hairstyle once worn by gentlemen when they carried two swords. An admirer of the old samurai training and a proponent of Confucian and Zen Buddhist tenets, he carries with him an “iron fan,” which is actually a fourteenth-century “helmet splitter.”
Yagi Dokusen, a long-faced, bearded friend of Meitei of about forty. He is a poet and a scholar of Zen Buddhist philosophy who tends to monopolize any conversation. His personal name, Yagi, means “billy goat,” and his surname, Dokusen, signifies “lonely hermit.”
(The entire section contains 1174 words.)
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