Tadasu is a young man who loses his mother at age five. When his father remarries three years later, the boy is encouraged to rekindle his Oedipal relationship with his young new stepmother. He is both obsessed and guilt-ridden about his attraction to her, so he tries to understand his feelings in the form of a confessional memoir, which he writes years later.
Tadasu’s memories of his real mother are those of a young child: her bosom and the feminine smell of hair oil. She suckles her son, as many Japanese mothers do, longer than Western mothers, and this forms a close erotic attachment. They live a quiet, secluded, and comfortable life in a traditional Japanese house called “Heron’s Nest” with a large garden in the suburbs of Kyoto. (Virtually the entire story takes place in this tranquil villa.) His father seldom ventures out to his bank, enjoying the garden and its pond, concentrating his attention on his wife Chinu.
This domestic tranquillity is shattered when Chinu dies suddenly from an infected womb early in a pregnancy. The family mourns her loss for nearly a year. Then Tadasu’s father brings home a young woman who plays the koto for them. She gradually becomes a presence in the household, so Tadasu is not surprised when his father announces his intention of marrying her. Only much later does he learn that his stepmother was apprenticed as a geisha at age eleven and bought by a cotton merchant at age fifteen; they divorced when she was eighteen, and two years later she married Tadasu’s father. Tadasu never discovered how they met.
Tadasu suspects in his memoir that his father wanted the new wife to look and act like his lost mother, and in fact Tadasu has difficulty recalling where one left off and the other began because the two women resembled each other so much. One evening his new mother calls him into her room and cuddles him as his mother had, opening her kimono and letting him play with her breasts. He sucks her nipples, but of course there is no milk. Tadasu finds it more and more difficult to remember his real mother’s face and voice, or the touch and smell of her...
(The entire section is 870 words.)