by Fumi Ueda

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Masks is a novel by Fumiko Enchi that begins in Kyoto, Japan, when two men, Ibuki and Mikame, meet by chance in a café. Both are university instructors, and both have come from Tokyo to attend conferences. When they meet with a student named Yasuko, however, they find themselves in the midst of complex relationships and faced with the task of interpreting hidden meanings and learning life lessons revealed in the form of a Japanese drama known as the Nō play.

The Nō play relies on the use of masks to convey the characters’ emotions. Ryō no Onna is the mask that represents the spirit woman, the Masugami represents the young woman, and the Fukai represents the middle-aged woman. Each mask is magnificently crafted, complex, and expressive, and the men learn that the women behind the masks are capable of using them to reveal subtle shades of emotion as well as to hide them. A mask is a symbol of deception; it conceals the truth and acts as a façade. Thus, Enchi use the idea of masks to convey the complexity and deception of women’s emotions. Ibuki and Mikame are left to decipher those emotions, as they enter into relationships with women who are alluring but duplicitous.

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