Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Toshio Oki

Toshio Oki, a fifty-four-year-old novelist. He is a sentimental man, in the ascetic and reserved manner of the Japanese aesthetic. When Toshio was thirty years old and newly married, he had an affair with a fifteen-year-old girl. He later fictionalized this affair, and the resulting book became his best, most acclaimed, and most enduring novel. He sets the present-time action of the novel going with an impulsive action: He arranges to meet his former mistress and to listen with her to the tolling of temple bells at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Instead of resulting in the hoped-for insight and perspective, the meeting brings more involvement; Toshio finds himself starting a romance, parallel to his first affair, with his former mistress’s young protegée, meeting the same dilemmas and making the same flawed choices.

Otoko Ueno

Otoko Ueno, a traditional Japanese painter who, at the age of fifteen, was Toshio’s mistress. A reflective woman, she spends much of her time reminiscing, musing about her life and the poignant, never-to-be-spoken feelings that became the subjects of her paintings. Although she has a firmly established career and a new lover, her affair with Toshio, their love, the stillborn baby they conceived, and her eventual mental breakdown and hospitalization are still the foremost events in her life. Otoko wonders whether she should attribute the hold that the affair has over her to the power of art rather than to an enduring grand passion. Toshio’s novel, although idealized, has kept their affair alive in the memory of the public. Otoko herself has forged an attachment to her lost baby by working on an idealized portrait, a picture of a child she never...

(The entire section is 708 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The central figures of Kawabata’s Beauty and Sadness are Fumiko, Otoko, and Keiko, three women who suffer and cause one another to suffer because of their involvement with Oki and his son Taichiro. In marked contrast to the masculine perspective articulated in Kawabata’s treatment of love in other novels, there is something surprisingly like a feminist viewpoint at work in this book. Of the three women, the most conventional is Fumiko. Devoted to family and home, she is the stereotypical middle-class housewife, and she struggles to control her feelings about her husband’s infidelity by committing herself even more to her role of wife and mother. As her husband’s typist, Fumiko sees it as a duty to prepare a neatly typed copy of A Girl of Sixteen for Oki’s publisher, even though the book makes it clear to her that her husband continues to love Otoko. At the end of Beauty and Sadness, Fumiko must live with her awareness that Oki’s passion for Otoko is as strong as ever. For her, the incursion of Keiko into the lives of her husband and son merely confirms the emotional pain she feels.

By contrast, Otoko manages to find a degree of emotional tranquillity because circumstances allow her to develop an insight into her own feelings and a degree of control, denied to Fumiko, over her own behavior. The significant difference between the two women is that subsequent to her hospitalization Otoko becomes an artist and finds that...

(The entire section is 529 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Keene, Donald. Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature in the Modern Era, 1984.

Lippit, Noriko Mizuta. Reality and Fiction in Modern Japanese Literature, 1980.

Petersen, Gwenn Boardman. The Moon in the Water: Understanding Tanizaki, Kawabata, and Mishima, 1979.

Ueda, Makoto. Modern Japanese Writers and the Nature of Literature, 1976.

Yamanouchi, Hisaaki. The Search for Authenticity in Modern Japanese Literature, 1978.