Characters Discussed

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Yukiko, the third of the four sisters, still unmarried at the age of thirty. She is a slender, delicate-looking beauty whose dress, appearance, and manner are thoroughly Japanese and suggest a sheltered maiden of old. She graduated from a ladies’ seminary with honors in English and understands Western music better than she does Japanese music. Her shy, gentle manner masks a complex, intelligent, and critical nature. She is too reserved to talk frankly, and her overt docility causes much confusion and embarrassment to those seeking a good husband for her. She loves children and is especially attached to her niece, Etsuko.


Taeko, nicknamed Koi-san (which means “small daughter”), the youngest of the sisters, in her mid-twenties, but the most worldly and independent. Stylish Western clothes suit her firm, plump body and round face, but, paradoxically, she studies traditional Japanese dance and uses her artistic talents to create dolls to sell and to exhibit. Lively and gay, but also practical, she saves her earnings and is determined to be a financially independent professional woman. Impatient to get married but forced by Japanese custom to wait until Yukiko is married, Taeko exhibits willful behavior that complicates her sisters’ lives.


Sachiko, the second sister, in her thirties. She is the mistress of the Ashiya branch of the family. In appearance the healthiest of the sisters but actually the weakest physically, she falls between the extremes of her younger sisters in style and outlook; she wears Western clothes in the summer and Japanese clothes the rest of the year and is very emotional. Her father’s favorite, she still has something of the spoiled child about her, but she is devoted to her sisters and labors on their behalf, using her social position to help Taeko sell dolls and to search actively for a husband for Yukiko.


Teinosuke, an accountant. He took the Makioka name when he married Sachiko. Although he is a commercial-school graduate, he is interested in international politics and literature, and he writes poetry. In contrast to his brother-in-law, he is boyish and outgoing and actively seeks to help his sisters-in-law.

Mrs. Itani

Mrs. Itani, the owner of a beauty shop that the sisters frequent. An enterprising, practical woman who supports a bedridden husband and who put a brother through medical school and a daughter through a university education, she is considered unladylike for speaking her mind directly. Her genuine friendliness, however, makes her inoffensive. She perceives that the Makiokas still rely on their former glory and need to be prodded; hence, she is very active in marriage negotiations for Yukiko.


Tsuruko, the eldest sister and mistress of the main house in Osaka. She is the tallest of the sisters and has the sturdiest build. The most conservatively educated, she is also the least adventurous. The mother of six children and an industrious housewife, she is much less secure than she appears to be. She sometimes rehearses conversations and can take several hours to write one letter. She and her husband respond deliberately and cautiously to all marriage proposals for Yukiko.


Tatsuo, a banker. He took the Makioka name when he married Tsuruko. An austere, retiring man who takes his responsibility as head of the family very seriously, he nevertheless sells the family shop and, after one humiliating experience as a marriage go-between for Yukiko, confines his efforts to the final stages of a marriage negotiation.


Etsuko, Sachiko’s six-year-old daughter. Plump, rosy-cheeked, and lively, she is, like her mother, much weaker physically than she appears to be and requires much care, especially from her favorite...

(This entire section contains 852 words.)

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aunt, Yukiko.


O-Haru, a maid. She started working in Sachiko’s household when she was fourteen years old and, even after five years’ service, is a slovenly, lazy person. Despite her poor grooming habits and her preference for talk over work, she has a good reputation because she is generous and likable. As a servant, she is the messenger involved in family affairs.


Okubata, also called Kei-boy, the pampered younger son of a wealthy, respectable family. His attempted elopement with Taeko when she was nineteen causes some concern in Yukiko’s marriage negotiations. Although Taeko recognizes that Okubata is a spendthrift who cares more about the crease in his trousers than about her welfare, she remains attached to him.


Itakura, a professional photographer. He studied photography in Hollywood for several years before returning to Japan, in his late twenties, to open a studio. He meets Taeko when she hires him to prepare advertising copy. They are attracted to each other despite the difference in class.

Mimaki Minoru

Mimaki Minoru, a charming man of forty-four who has lived abroad for several years, studied physics and aeronautics, and is now known as an architect, though he is currently unemployed. Knowledgeable, sociable, and witty, he also drinks heavily and spends freely. His connection to a noble and wealthy family makes him a good catch for Yukiko.


Miyoshi, a bartender. Taeko’s affair with him leads to her pregnancy. Although the baby dies at birth, Taeko moves in with him.

The Characters

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The special beauty of this novel is the way in which Tanizaki evokes the very different personalities of the four sisters. There is a palpable sense of family heritage and pride, for the Makiokas are an old family, well-known in Osaka. Its best days, however, lasted only into the mid-1920’s, when extravagance and bad business management cut into its fortunes. The four sisters are in thrall to their family name, preserving their nostalgia with almost sacred zeal.

Tsuruko has six children and resembles her mother, a Kyoto woman. Lacking Yukiko’s delicate beauty, she has a certain hardness to her personality, although she is not as self-contained as she appears. In times of crisis, she stares vacantly into space, then busies herself in manic activity. During these hectic periods, she looks selfless, but is really too excited to know better. A manipulator, she uses Aunt Tominaga as a messenger to influence Sachiko in dealings with the two youngest sisters. Tsuruko is the most tradition-bound of the sisters.

Sachiko, more sympathetic than Tsuruko, dominates much of the book, simply because the two youngest sisters live with her for much of the time. The tallest, most strikingly beautiful Makioka, she is really more vulnerable than she appears—suffering as she does from a vitamin deficiency. She tires easily amid all the domestic complications created by Taeko and Yukiko, and she is almost as spoiled as her own daughter Etsuko. Yet Sachiko almost seems to exist to bring compassion to others. She wants desperately to give her husband a son, and when she suffers a miscarriage she is devastated. Like Taeko and Yukiko, she does not like Tokyo (except for the Palace and pine-covered grounds), and she aligns herself spiritually with the old ancestral place in Osaka. While Tsuruko is relatively authoritarian, Yukiko is diplomatic.

Diplomacy, however, does not go very far with the two youngest sisters. Yukiko, who looks like the most delicate one in the family, is the toughest physically. Docile and gentle on the surface, she is hard underneath. The most Japanese in appearance, she is really Westernized in her taste for French and music. Without a real home of her own, she is dependent on Sachiko. A mysterious blemish over her left eye is a handicap as far as marital prospects are concerned—as is her reluctance to please her suitors. Yukiko’s closest Western correspondence is probably to medieval maidens in ivory towers, because there is purity in her idealization of beauty, and she is distanced from much of the common life around her.

The least nostalgic or sentimental, as far as family pride is concerned, is Taeko. At age nineteen she eloped with a son of the Okubatas, an old Semba family and owners of a jewelry store. She was able to escape public notoriety only because her identity was mixed up with Yukiko’s in the newspaper report. Taeko, the most Western of the sisters, throws caution to the winds in her passionate affairs with Itakura and Okubata. In her quest for independence, she criticizes her family for its social prejudice and old-fashioned views. Her candor and open mind are sometimes tinged with rudeness and vulgarity, but she has no sense of nostalgia for the Makioka past, not having known much of her father’s prosperous past and not having anything but the dimmest memories of her mother who died just as Taeko was starting school. Basically good-natured, her quest for independence makes her risk all respectability and she becomes the scapegrace. When she is struck by illness, her beauty vanishes and she acquires the look of a fallen woman. She has nightmares of Itakura, her deceased lover. Taeko is a complicated character, whose failings are offset by her virtues—not the least of which are her ability to read people correctly, and her fascination with beauty via doll-making, dance, and fashion.

There are numerous subsidiary characters: Yukiko’s suitors; the various female go-betweens; O-haru, the lazy, untidy maid; the anxious brothers-in-law; the Stolzes; Taeko’s boyfriends. All these characters have roles to play in the great story. They are foils to the main characters and show how close or how far the sisters are from beauty, truth, and happiness.


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Falke, Wayne. “Tanizaki: Opponent of Naturalism,” in Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction. VIII, no. 3 (1966), pp. 19-25.

Petersen, Gwenn Boardman. “Tanizaki Jun’ichir,” in The Moon in the Water: Understanding Tanizaki, Kawabata, and Mishima, 1979.

Ueda, Makoto. “Tanizaki Jun’ichir,” in Modern Japanese Writers and the Nature of Literature, 1976.




Critical Essays