Chapters 1–2 Summary

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Last Updated November 3, 2023.

Chapter 1

The first-person narrator, Joji Kawai, sets out to recount his relationship with the young woman who eventually becomes his wife—the titular Naomi. He notes that cultural practices in Japan have begun to change in recent years, as society becomes more cosmopolitan and adopts more Western influences. This means that traditional ideas of marriage are starting to change. He believes that more and more people will begin to have relationships like he and Naomi have, although at the start, their relationship was viewed as rather strange.

Joji first meets Naomi when she is fifteen years old and working as a cafe hostess. He is drawn to her Western-sounding name and sullen, intelligent appearance, which he compares to that of American film actress Mary Pickford. At first, he approaches her as a sort of kindly uncle, noting that there is a large gap in their ages and social stations: Joji is a twenty-eight-year-old engineer and Naomi is a teenage waitress. He takes her out to see American movies and buys her dinner, delighting in her attractive appearance and bold mannerisms. In his mind, Joji concocts a plan to employ her as his live-in maid so that he can decide whether or not he wants to commit to marrying her.

Joji views the traditions surrounding Japanese courtship as annoying and restrictive, and he believes that the usual practice of meeting only once or twice before marriage does not provide enough insight to ensure long-term happiness. He also hopes to establish a more carefree and lively home life than traditional marriage typically allows for by cultivating Naomi’s interest in Western culture. He comes to view Naomi as something of a project, comparing her to a bird that he can keep caged as he observes her development.

Chapter 2

Joji is given the opportunity to invite Naomi to live with him after she admits that she would like to pursue her education in English and music. He offers to pay for a tutor in return for her working for him as a maid. He has some concerns about what her family will think, but they are ultimately relieved to have Joji take charge of Naomi‘s future, as they are quite poor and Naomi is past the usual age for schooling. With Joji agreeing to take charge of her, Naomi quits her job, and the two move into a stylish but impractical Western-style rental house near Joji’s office.

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Chapters 3–4 Summary