It is July 3, 1940. The author has stopped at a small impoverished village on the Izu Peninsula looking for an inexpensive place to stay and write. For ten days he recalls the sordid events of the last decade, writing about a life of poverty and debauchery as a young student in Tokyo. He had moved many times to keep ahead of the law and creditors—hence the “eight views,” although he actually records more than eight impressions of his past.
His writing retreat gets off to a bad start. The inn is shabby, and the maid insists on a deposit when she learns that he will stay ten days. That night, however, he gets out his worn map of Tokyo. It reminds him of a mulberry leaf eaten by silk worms. Like the worms, people from all over Japan descend on Tokyo, pushing and shoving, each seeking a desperate living, “females calling to males, males just wandering around half-crazed.”
The first “view” is a Totsuka boardinghouse, where he rented a room in 1930 and entered the French literature department of Tokyo Imperial University. From the second semester on, however, he stops going to classes to work as a political activist. He also invites to Tokyo a young geisha whom he had met a few years earlier, who is identified in the story as “H.” H was under contract as a geisha, and his family is shamed by the scandal. An older brother is sent to Tokyo to clear up the matter. There is a tense family conference. The writer agrees to send her back to the countryside as long as they are permitted to get married eventually. He sleeps with her for the first time the night before she leaves.
H wrote that she had arrived back, and that was all. The writer, in despair because of her lack of commitment, devotes full time to political work without much success. He begins a short and sordid affair with a Ginza bar girl who falls in love with him. In part to get attention from both H and his family—they were appalled at the H affair—he attempts a double suicide with the bar girl by swimming into the sea at Kamakura, but only she succeeds. He is put on probation, and his family is reconciled with the would-be suicide. They buy out H’s geisha contract and send her back to Tokyo, where he rents a house in Gotanda, the second “view” of Tokyo. By this time, the author is twenty-three and H is twenty. He is supposed to be continuing his studies, supported by the family, but he seldom attends classes, and does nothing but watch H.
That summer they move to the Kanda area of Tokyo, one known for its bookstores and student hangouts. In the fall they move again, and again in the spring they move to Yodobashi as the writer begins to dabble in haiku. Twice he is held by the police and questioned about political activities. He moves again to avoid the police, to a room over a lumber dealer in Nihonbashi. In this sixth “view,” the writer takes on a pseudonym to cover his trail. Beset by ennui, he occasionally goes to the university, not to his classes but to lie on the lawns.
It is there that he learns that H had slept with another man before joining him in Tokyo. He rushes home to confront her, but she coolly denies the allegations, allaying his suspicions. Later that night, however, he reads Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Les Confessions de J.-J. Rousseau (1782, 1789; The Confessions of J.-J. Rousseau, 1783-1790), and comes to the realization that H had lied. He feels betrayed and leaves in disgust and confusion. Lacking another place to stay, he returns home to her, and they make an uneasy reconciliation. Again they move, to a small gatehouse of a ruined mansion. They survive on money sent from the family, which has all but given up on the...
(The entire section is 1511 words.)