The main characters in Naomi include Joji Kawai, Naomi, Kumagai Seitaro, and Hamada.
- Joji Kawai is a wealthy but lonely twenty-eight-year-old engineer who becomes entranced by a much younger woman named Naomi, whom he eventually marries.
- Naomi is a fifteen-year-old cafe hostess from a poor Tokyo family who is captivated by Western culture and grows into a self-centered young woman while living with Joji.
- Kumagai Seitaro and Hamada are Keio University students with whom Naomi carries on affairs.
Last Updated on November 15, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 586
The narrator and protagonist of Naomi is Joji Kawai, a twenty-eight-year-old Japanese man who becomes enamored with a fifteen-year-old hostess who works at a cafe he frequents. A successful engineer who left his rural hometown to move to the city, Joji is a man teetering on the precipice of Japanese tradition and Western modernity. At once motivated by a desire for a conventional relationship and off-put by traditional courtship methods, Joji sees Naomi, a beautiful young girl with a Western name and features, as an ideal outlet for his discordant ideals. He imagines himself raising her into a “fine young woman” who is independent and Westernized, but his imagination fails to abide by reality.
Despite being the older male figure in the relationship, Joji is the submissive partner in the pair. Although he resents Naomi’s actions, he is beholden to her beauty and gives her everything she demands. He spends all of his savings, depletes his monthly paycheck, and, when his mother passes, sells her rural home to pay for Naomi’s whims. Even though he knows that Naomi will never love him as he does her, Joji is obsessed with her looks and decides to stay in an unsatisfying, one-sided relationship.
Naomi is the titular character and begins the book as an innocent fifteen-year-old working as a hostess. She comes from a relatively poor family who struggles to educate her and does not have many opportunities to succeed. Despite her financial struggles and limited means, Naomi is obsessed with all things Western; she loves Western dress and styles, works hard to learn English, and goes to see every new Western movie. This interest soon spirals, and Naomi becomes obsessed with living a life of Western luxury. She wishes to be pampered and spoiled and insists that Joji fulfill her every desire.
After their unconventional courtship and eventual marriage, Naomi changes significantly. As she grows up, she becomes confident and carefree and begins to use her powers of seduction to her benefit. She gains a reputation for promiscuity and sleeps with many of the young men she befriends in her dance classes. Even though Joji despises Naomi for her immoral acts, he throws her out only briefly, for Naomi knows how to make him desperate for her return.
Ultimately, Naomi grows up into exactly the woman Joji wished her to be: independent, Westernized, and unbothered by tradition. However, their marriage is nothing like he pictured, as Naomi holds all the power in the relationship. For her to stay with him, he must agree to give her everything she wants forever. It is an absurd request, but Naomi is so well-versed in manipulation and seduction that Joji willingly acquiesces. Although she is vain and selfish, Naomi is also clever and well-versed in the male psyche, which she regularly uses to her advantage.
Hamada is one of many paramours orbiting Naomi. However, he is the only one who appears to truly love her, as he seems sickened by how other men treat and discuss her. Hamada is responsible for telling Joji everything about Naomi’s promiscuous ways. He is a traditional man and distances himself from Naomi after her behavior becomes too much.
Kumagai is yet another of Naomi’s lovers. He comes from a wealthy family and lives a comfortable life. His affair with Naomi seems to be only physical, as he does not let her stay with him after Joji briefly forces her to leave their shared home together.