Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Terukatsu, a daring, clever, and ambitious warrior, a vassal and hostage of the lords of Tsukuma, Ikkansai, and Norishige. As a boy of twelve, he experiences the siege of Ikkansai’s castle, is sexually stirred and twisted by seeing the dressing of dead warriors’ heads, and kills the leader of the besieging forces, taking his nose as a prize. He becomes a cruel lord who uses others to advance his career and to satisfy his masochistic and sadistic desires.


Teru, the daughter of Lord Ida of Suruga. The young girl calmly dresses the heads of dead warriors, including the “woman’s head,” that of a warrior who has lost his nose. Her cruel smile sets alive Terukatsu’s masochistic desire first to be a “woman’s head” himself and, failing that, to create a “woman’s head” by taking a warrior’s nose.

Yakushiji Danj Masataka

Yakushiji Danj Masataka, an aristocratic general who attacks the castle of the Tsukuma clan. He is killed, and his nose is sliced off and taken away, by Terukatsu. His death ends the war against the Tsukuma clan but creates Lady Kiky’s desire for revenge.

Lady Kiky

Lady Kiky, the daughter of Yakushiji Danj Masataka, who is ordered by her brother to marry the heir of the Tsukuma clan, Oribensh Norishige. She is beautiful and is intent on avenging the insult to her father. She conspires with her servants, the...

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The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Miyamoto Musashi is well-known to Japanese readers as the historical samurai whose reputation has grown into legend. Tanizaki’s formal introduction in his preface mirrors as well as mocks the care customarily exercised in handling a folk hero, and the novel itself is a grotesque parody of historical fiction. The story is dominated by its central character; other characters are significant only inasmuch as the protagonist can interact with them. If popular historical fiction lacks depth, however, in its drive to glorify its heroes, this parody provides that depth in its meticulous tracing of the origins of the disgraceful obsession that drives its protagonist.

The complexity of the central character is provided by a fusion of the heroic and the perverse. The young Hoshimaru is physically strong, alert, self-conscious, and impatient with the restrictions of his youth. Throughout the narrative the sense is conveyed of a power held back only by convention. The qualities that can bring success to the samurai warrior, however, can carry an abnormal intensity to everything else, so that it is not surprising that Hoshimaru’s curiosities and desires fix themselves into obsession. Reared in a castle which is intricately structured with layers of internal, middle, and external chambers, Hoshimaru is equally attentive to the refinements and delicate beauty of the aristocratic seclusion at the center, represented by the women with whom he first interacts, as to the gory struggle, waged by sword-brandishing samurai, that daily moves closer to the center from the outer and middle layers. Hoshimaru’s sexuality expresses this tension as he seeks to reexperience, repeatedly, the delicate woman loving a gruesome, de-faced man.

Kikyo and Shosetsuin serve in similar ways the protagonist’s sadism. Each provides the ideal contrast—as did his first love, the dresser of woman-heads—to the deformed males. Where Kikyo is the type of aloof, regal beauty delicate in her refined life as lady to a feudal lord, Shosetsuin is the type of youthful innocence, virginal, childlike, and delicate in her own unfamiliarity with her husband’s world.

Norishige and Doami are a similar pair, as ideal victims of the protagonist’s sadism. Doami is ideal for his skill at mimicking the decapitated head and for his slavish obedience. Norishige is, however, the superior victim for the contrast he represents as an exalted figure brought low by violence and hideous deformity.


(Great Characters in Literature)

Howard, Richard. “Japanese Master,” in The Nation. CCXXXV (September 4, 1982), pp. 183-184.

Keene, Donald. “Tanizaki Jun’ichir,” in Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature of the Modern Era, 1984.

O’Brien, Geoffrey. “The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi,” in The Village Voice. XXVII (April 27, 1982), p. 47.

White, Edmund. “Shadows and Obsessions,” in The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVII (July 18, 1982), pp. 8, 22-23.