Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Joji Kawai

Joji Kawai, a wealthy engineer from the countryside, an insecure man of twenty-eight when he meets and falls in love with Naomi in Tokyo. Lonely and bored, he is attracted by Naomi’s Eurasian appearance and decides to develop her into the perfect, modern woman. He persuades her to move in with him; sends her to English, music, and dance classes; buys her clothes; and indulges her various whims. Gradually, he realizes that she is unfaithful, manipulative, and no longer under his control. He kicks her out of their home but later takes her back on her terms, giving her complete freedom to make her own friends, have affairs, and live an idle, luxurious life in a Western-style house in Yokohama.


Naomi, a fifteen-year-old waitress at the Diamond Café when she meets Joji. She is from a poor, apathetic Tokyo family and loves a good time. Under Joji’s tutelage, she becomes a beautiful but willful and selfish young woman. She frequently calls him “papa,” and he calls her “baby.” She wants no children or responsibilities and is enamored of all things Western. Joji likens her to their film idol, Mary Pickford, and at the dance at the El Dorado club reflects that she is a wild animal but vital and sensual.

Kumagai Seitaro

Kumagai Seitaro, a brash, vulgar Keio University student. He becomes Naomi’s principal lover and encourages her wild and coarse behavior.


(The entire section is 467 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Joji is a surprisingly complex creation and hardly a reliable narrator of the story he sets out to tell. Although he prefers to see himself as an upright young Japanese gentleman of the old school, he is prone to unrealistic fantasies concerning Naomi in which she is at least outwardly a docile and fashionable wife, and he attempts to manipulate both her and his mother. That Joji fails to achieve any control over Naomi in line with those fantasies is certainly not from any want of trying. Naomi represents for Joji a kind of Westernized, ideal figure who can fulfill his yearning for the sort of emotional relationship which is actually impossible for him to find in real life. Joji provides a running commentary on all of his rueful adventures, revealing all too clearly how he distorts the truth, both to the reader and himself. Joji reveals some of the same human weaknesses that appear in many of the young heroes of seventeenth and eighteenth century Kabuki plays and popular novels, men who throw themselves away on wild romantic flings. In attempting to break out of his staid life, Joji, like his literary predecessors, leaves behind the prison of convention only to achieve a more private and personal hell.

Naomi, who has been described as a kind of Japanese “Carmen,” is a perfect 1920’s flapper. Beautiful, narcissistic, self-indulgent, she knows exactly what she wants and she gets it. However dubious her behavior, at least as described by Joji, Naomi has the courage of her convictions, the very thing that he lacks. She leads him on because he wants to be led, and her teasing, however thoughtless and cynical, can occur only because Joji foolishly worships her in all the wrong ways.

Kumagai, Hamada (who is also infatuated with Naomi), and a host of other incidental characters are nicely and satirically sketched, but they exist only to fill in the edges of Jun’ichir Tanizaki’s central cartoon, the battle between Joji and Naomi.