Characters Discussed

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Last Updated June 27, 2024.

Gaston (Gas) Bonaparte

Gaston is the main character of the novel, the titular “wonderful fool.” Although he is allegedly a direct descendant of Napoleon Bonaparte, he does not have the French military leader’s wits or aristocratic bearing. He is large and clumsy, described as having the body of a Sumo wrestler with a horse-like face. Despite his size, Gaston often shies away from physical confrontation, adopting a pacifist approach to conflict instead. 

Gaston is often embroiled in comical misunderstandings because of his poor command of the Japanese language. He also assumes the best in people, which is why Endo is easily able to kidnap him. Despite his apparent lack of intelligence, Gaston possesses a child’s wisdom. He is able to discern the anguish and pain beneath Endo’s ruthlessness, becoming the gangster’s faithful companion despite the danger this poses. 

Unbeknownst to Gaston, he profoundly affects the people he encounters. Apart from bringing Takamori and Tomoe closer together, he achieves the impossible with Endo—restoring the conscience of a cold-blooded killer. Gaston’s role as a Christlike figure is reinforced when the siblings learn of his dreams of becoming a missionary priest. When Gaston disappears towards the end of the novel, Endo and the siblings see a white egret flying in the skies—a Japanese symbol of purity and transformation. 

Takamori Higaki

Takamori is a Japanese salaryman living in Kyodo with his mother and sister. Because he works at the bank six days a week, he prefers to sleep in on Sunday mornings, which greatly irritates Tomoe. He also spends his nights drinking out, often coming home late. Such irresponsible behavior is often a source of friction for the siblings. 

Unlike Tomoe, Takamori is not embarrassed by Gaston’s bumbling antics. He sees the Frenchman as a pure soul who wisely foregoes superfluous social conventions. Takamori gains a much-needed sense of responsibility in trying to emulate and protect Gaston. The novel ends with Takamori spying on Chotei and a weary-looking mother, having a newfound empathy for those who soldier on despite the “pain and sadness of life.”

Tomoe Higaki

Although Tomoe is the younger of the two siblings, Takamori relies on her to manage their household affairs. She helps their mother prepare for Gaston’s arrival, choosing which dishes to serve and prepping the Frenchman’s sleeping quarters. Because she earns more than her brother, Takamori also expects Tomoe to shoulder most of their expenses. Takamori himself admits that Tomoe surpasses him in both shrewdness and pragmatism.

One thing that defines Tomoe is her high standards in men—which both her brother and Gaston do not meet.  Over time, however, Gaston softens her heart with his childlike innocence and trust in other people. While she still fosters ambitions typical of upper-middle-class women in modern Japan, her time with Gaston—or the “wonderful fool,” as she calls him—has inspired her to be less haughty and self-serious. 

Endo 

Endo is a member of the notorious Hoshino gang in Tokyo, renowned for his intelligence and ruthlessness. Despite having attained a university education, he turned to a life of crime in the seedy underbelly of Japan after his brother’s wrongful execution. He pursues the men behind his brother’s death with single-minded fervor. As he is suffering from severe tuberculosis, Endo is at the tail end of his life, with nothing left to lose. 

Although Gaston senses during their first encounter that he is dangerous, Endo’s violent coughing arouses his compassion. Their relationship maintains this dynamic throughout the novel, with Gaston oscillating between pity for and fear of Endo. Despite claiming to hate Gaston and all his “sentimentality,” Endo is eventually moved by the Frenchman’s...

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simple-minded sense of integrity; as a result, he is unable to pull the trigger on his brother’s killer. 

Chotei

Chotei Kawaii is an old fortuneteller, or diviner, who takes Gaston in when he has nowhere to go. One of the main reasons he does so is because he can sense the Frenchman’s kind and trusting nature. He insists that the problem with modern Japanese society is the distrust that permeates it at all levels—from beggars to businessmen and politicians. Chotei attempts to impart lessons from his trade to Gaston, emphasizing that fortunetelling is simply telling clients what they need to hear. 

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