Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

The narrator

The narrator, a well-educated connoisseur of both Asian and Western arts, literature, and philosophy. The narrator has fled the capital with its mundane distractions and involvements for a hiking trip to put himself in touch with nature and regain his artistic perspective. As he says, “an artist is a person who lives in the triangle which remains after the angle which we may call common sense has been removed from this four-cornered world.” Because the artist lacks common sense, he can approach areas from which the average person shrinks in the worlds of both nature and humanity; there he can find beauty. The narrator spends his time sketching, writing poems, philosophizing about art and life, and soaking up the atmosphere in the Shioda family inn at a small mountain hot spring.

O-Nami Shioda

O-Nami Shioda, the beautiful daughter of a wealthy innkeeper. O-Nami was forced to marry the son of a rich man of the local castle town rather than the boy she preferred. When the couple’s money evaporated in a business turndown, O-Nami divorced her husband, returned to her father’s home, and engaged in increasingly strange behavior. O-Nami entrances the narrator with her bizarre behavior and frank speech. He is awakened by her singing as she strolls through the garden; later, she enters his room while he sleeps and leaves reminders of her presence. She walks the veranda of the inn in her bridal gown and once...

(The entire section is 514 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The narrator of The Three-Cornered World occupies the triple position of protagonist, philosopher, and poet-artist. Through his poems, which demonstrate mastery of the haiku form, he longs to arrive at an aesthetically satisfying understanding of his life. It is always at crucial moments during his journey that the narrator becomes most poetically active; after his first, nighttime discovery of O-Nami, he puts his tempestuous mind at rest by composing the seventeen-syllable poems until he finds sleep. As a complete artist, however, he is still in a state of development. His dependence on nature as “a land which is completely detached from feelings and emotions” is not uncriticized. “A man cannot be said to have completed his education until he can stand at Nihonbashi in the center of Tokyo, and lay bare his soul to the world without embarrassment,” advises Daitetsu. Furthermore, the narrator has not yet painted a single picture—and thus worked in his prime artistic profession—when he leaves Nakoi on the final boat ride.

O-Nami functions as a catalyst for the narrator, who becomes intellectually fascinated by the prospect of a love relationship between them. Yet she is driven by a dynamic force of her own and refuses to comply with outside expectations or restrictions. Her self-asserted independence is labeled as “madness” by the villagers, who place her in a long row of similarly dangerous female ancestors; these have their...

(The entire section is 484 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

McClellan, Edwin. “An Introduction to Sseki,” in Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies. XX (1959), pp. 150-208.

Miyoshi, Masao. “Through the Glass Darkly,” in Accomplices of Silence: The Modern Japanese Novel, 1974.

Okazaki, Yoshie. “The Romanticism and Idealism Around Sseki,” in Japanese Literature in the Meiji Era, 1955.

Yu, Beongcheon. “The Frustrated Years, 1903-1907,” in Natsume Sseki, 1969.