Kunikida Doppo: His Place in Meiji Literature


Introductory Notes to Kunikida Doppo Translation:

What follows is a translation I made in 1948 or 1949, while I was a language officer in the Army stationed in Seoul, Korea, of a short story titled Ummei Ronsha (or is it Ronja?) by the Japanese romantic-naturalist author Kunikida Doppo (1871-1908). How did I “discover” Doppo, and why did I translate his story? I was then secretly meeting weekly--sometimes more often--with a young Korean woman, Ms. Kim--secretly because the Koreans then were intensely opposed to “fraternization” between their women and U.S. servicemen. Ostensibly, we met for language lessons--I taught her English, she taught me literary Japanese--but of course those were only preliminary to lovemaking. Her favorite Japanese author was Kunikida Doppo, and we painstakingly worked through several of his stories--another that I also translated, and will post here later if I can find my translation, was “A Child’s Sorrow.” After I had returned to U.C. Berkeley to become sn undergrad in their Oriental Languages Dept., I was faced with producing a “scholarly paper” for the first issue of their honors-society journal Phi Theta Annual, and I put together one about Doppo, attaching to it this same translation, in what was really my first publication. But the old Phi Theta Annual is long forgotten, and I “republish” my translation here, with these happy memories as preface. (If you are still out there somewhere, Ms. Kim: I love you.) I claim no scholarly value for my translation, but it makes accessible a good story, even if one with a familiar denouement--some of you will guess it before it is sprung on you.

James Cahill, February 2, 2012.








Paper For Phi Theta, Oriental Languages Dept.

Student Honour Society, by James Cahill, 1949

I.  A Very Short Survey of Japanese Literature in the Later Meiji Period.

A.  The Influence of the West.

Only a decade after the opening of Japan to the West, European Literature began to penetrate Japanese literary circles.  The first Western novel to be translated into Japanese, Bulwer-Lytton’s “Ernest Maltrevers,” appeared in 1879, the twelfth year of the Meiji era.  A flood of translations from various languages followed, and gave rise to a movement of reaction against traditional Japanese writing of the Bakin school.  This was led by Tsubouchi Yuzo.  Another writer of this period, Yamada Taketarō, inaugurated a movement to substitute the modern colloquial language for literary grammatical forms thus attempting to affect another break with the past.  In the succeeding years, the new current of European influence swept over the Japanese literary world, bringing to it a hodgepodge of divergent styles and techniques, together with the revolutionary ideas of nineteenth century European political and social philosophy.  The Japanese writer of the Meiju Period seems to have tried desperately to understand and absorb what he could of these, and inject them, sometimes only half-digested, into his own work.

By the third decade of Meiji, the dominant trend was that stemming from the English and German romantic writers, and the first of two important schools of Westernized literature in the Meiji era, the Roman-ha or Romantic School, was born.

B.  The Romantic School.

The principal influences upon this movement were, naturally enough, the English romantic posts-Byron, Shelley, Wordsworth—and the Germans, Goeth and Schiller.  Contemporary English writers, such as the Pre-Raphaelites, Rossetti and William Morris, and their spokesman on matters of aesthetics, Walter Pater, also exerted their influence in translation.

The characteristic literary form of the school was the shintaishi, or “new-style poetry,” which was concerned almost exclusively with the expression of emotional states.  There were also novels produced, but of these it is difficult to say much; I have read none in the original, and the translators seem to have avoided them.  From the summaries of a few given in the Kokusai Bunka Shinkōkai’s Introduction to Classic Japanese Literature, however, it is evident that their authors have carefully copied the worst features of their role models.

In his Introduction to Contemporary Japanese Literature, Yoshikazu Kataoka states that the romantic movement in Japan was short-lived because of “the peculiar social conditions of the country.”  But it was only the Romantic School which was short-lived; the spirit of romanticism continued to dominate Japan’s literature long after her writers had chosen to call themselves by another name.  One suspects that the death-blow to the  school itself was actually given by the Western critics who appeared in Japanese translation telling how romanticism was being supplanted in the West by other literary movements—realism, naturalism, and all the other “isms” which flourished in the last decades of the century.  The Japanese writers, already a half-century behind the Western world in becoming romanticized, could not afford to lag behind again.

C.   The Naturalistic Movement.

When one reads an account of the situation of Japanese literature around the turn of the century and in the first decade following it, he sees a vision of the Japanese literary men drawing a complicated chart of the course of development which their literature should take—beginning with main currents, branching into a maze of small schools, movements rising and falling, revivals and reactions—then fitting themselves into it neatly, everyone in his proper place.  Of course this is exaggerated, but it is the impression that remains when one has read of the Realists, the Aesthetes, the Decadents, the Satanists, the Neo-Romanticists, the Idealistic Romanticists, the Neo-Realists, the Romantic Naturalists and a host of others.  Contrary to the usual practice, the designation seems to have preceded the works which is designated, and while no group of Western writers would be likely to style themselves “decadents,” the Japanese took pride in applying such terms to themselves and trying to produce works which fitted their chosen appellation.

It is probable that two forces combined to produce this peculiar situation of a priori literary criticism:  the traditional Oriental system of artistic “schools,” to one of which the artist allies himself, making its aims and methods his own, combined with the influence of European literary criticism and its terminology.

The Naturalist School, which flourished in the fourth decade of Meiji, or from about 1897 to 1910, seems to have derived its name from a work of the English critic George Saintsbury dealing with late nineteenth century French literature-Zola, De Maupassant and others.  The Japanese literary historians ascribe the formation of the school to the writers’ realization of the need for portrayal of actual conditions, instead of the theories and ideals of the romanticists.  Like their models, they hoped to apply scientific methods of observation to the subject-matter of literature, to portray the world as it is, with no “editorial comment.”  One of the early exponents of the movement, Kosugi Tengai, voiced their attitude as follows:

“Nature is Nature; there is no good, bad, beauty or ugliness; it is only that a certain person in a certain place at a certain time seizes a portion of this Nature and attaches to it the name ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘beautiful’ or ‘ugly.’”

The Nippon Bungaku Zenshi (Complete History of Japanese Literature) divides the Naturalist School into three sub-schools:

1.  The “Naturalists Proper”—a term used by Saintsbury to apply to Zola and his followers—those who attempted an objective scientific examination of human beings and their emotions.

2.  The Impressionistic Naturalists, who concentrated on putting on to paper the writer’s impression of his subject.  The model for this group was

De Maupassant.

3.  The Romantic Naturalists—a name borrowed from Dosanquet’s “History of Aesthetics,” where it is applied to certain English writers from Wordsworth to Ruskin.  Writers of this school are “romantic” in that they see Nature as a manifestation of the benevolence of God, and “naturalistic” in that they attempt to copy this Nature accurately.  That is, they are romantic in outlook and naturalistic in method.  The chief representative of this branch is Kunikida Doppo.

II.    Kunikida Doppo.

A.  Biographical.

In the first year of Meiji, an enterprising member of the Kunikida family, which was centered at Tatsuno, set out on a sea journey and was shipwrecked off the west coast of Chiba Prefectur, near the town of Chōshi.  Instead of returning to his homeland, he settled there and married.  Kunikida Kamskichi, later to become Kunikida Doppo, was one of a number of offspring of this union.  He was born in the fourth year of Meiji, 1871.

When he was four, the family began to travel from place to place eventually settling in Yamaguchi.  From the time he entered school until his death Doppo lead a lonely life.  Shortly after he entered the Yamaguchi Middle School, his family moved away, leaving him along.  According to reports of those who knew him as a boy, he was rebellious by nature, always getting into fights and scratching his schoolmates; this got him the nickname “Scratching Turtle.”  He was small and weak, and this was his only method of defence.

When he was seventeen, he came to Tokyo and began to study English at the Tokyo Semmon Gakkō.  Later he transferred to the Political Science Department, where he initiated a movement to have the principal of the school discharged and ended by being expelled himself.

By the time he had reached the age of twenty-two, he had opened a private school and was teaching English and mathematics.  He soon left this, however, and began to lead a drifting existence, working as a newspaper reporter, teaching in schools, and contributing to a magazine called

Kokuman-no-Tomo (The People’s Friend.)  At the age of twenty-five he married, but was deserted by his wife the following year.  He married again at twenty-nine, and again the marriage lasted only a short time.

His first publication, aside from contributions to magazines, was a book of poems called simply Jojōshi (Lyrics.)   His first collection of stories, Mushashino, appeared in 1898.  Other collections follow this, and met with great; gradually he attained a position as one of the leading writers of his time.  His stories, many of which were published originally in pictorial newspapers, were extremely popular.  In 1908 he died at the age of 38, after years of illness, during which he continued to write prolifically.

B.  His Place in Literature.

A perusal of the references to Kunikida Doppo in various Japanese histories of Meiji literature reveals the fact that he is not so easily fitting into a niche and given his place in the system as one would suppose from the foregoing.  One critic, Kataoka Yoshikazu, maintains that he is fundamentally a romanticist who, when faced with the unpleasant aspects of human life, reacted in a way which produced works superficially naturalistic.  The theoretical idealistic line of thought, he says, when obstructed by the disharmony of reality, caused him, in the person of his characters, to turn to fatalism, the concept of the human being pushed into a corner by malignant forces; or to try to gloss over the ruin of their lives by abandoning them to drunkenness or sensualism.  But the objective attitude of “naturalism,” this critic says, is not present.

Another, Iwashiro Juntarō, points out the similarity between his works and the European naturalists’ “problem novels;” his plots are not concerned primarily with a hero, but with a problem which is usually in the form of an intellectual impasse rather than an emotional entanglement.

The most satisfactory way to obtain a view of his aims and ideals which is relatively free from this confusion of vague terminology is, of course, to read his own words.  Toward the end of his life, he stated his belief on the position of the author in society very plainly.

“A writer is a man who sets down on paper truth, beauty, humanity.  As such he is a teacher and friend to the common people.  He should set down nothing but what he feels, sees, knows—things of this mysterious world.... He should be a vanguard for mankind as it rushes through the darkness of the world.  Mankind, receiving from him this report of what he sees, feels and thinks, forget onward.  Thus he fulfills the function of an oracle, passing the words of God to humanity.”

Here, to return once more to our picture of Doppo as combining two currents, we have the naturalistic portrayal of things as they are, and the romantic role of oracle or interpreter.

Another revealing passage is found in the preface to a collection of his poems called Doppo-gin (Songs of Doppo).  Writing on the subject of form in poetry, he says:

“My opinions on poetic form are extremely free.  The 5- and 7- syllable line is all right; the form which sounds like direct translation from Chinese poetry is all right; the form of the popular song or folk song is all right.  I advocate the extensive use of Chinese compounds; the use of ‘pillow words’ can also be very effective in some cases.  When a person is swept away by a state in which he can’t help uttering poetry, he is forced to make poems.  If this happens, although the exterior form may look like prose, there will be fervour; it will be spontaneous poetic utterance, and furthermore it will have a strength which is difficult to match in the monotonous tones of 5- and 7- syllable verse.”

There is no mistaking the literary antecedents of this statement—with a few alterations, it might have come from the pen of one of the English romantic poets.  The relegation of form to a position of comparative unimportance, the “divine inspiration” concept of poetic creation which sees poetry is a spring that flows forth spontaneously and cannot be dammed up – both are typically romantic.

The attitude which Doppo wanted most to cultivate, he said, was one of continual surprise at the mysterious phenomena of the universe.  He wanted to face the world naked, having cast off all restraints of habit and custom, to be sensitive to the wonders of Nature.  In this we hear unmistakable echoes of “The world is too much with us---.” And these echoes are accounted for when we read of Doppo’s devotion to Wordsworth, from the time he was a teacher of English in Kyūshū, and of how in his imagination he transformed the countryside of Japan into the English Lake Country.

The spirit of his writing, then, is that of Wordsworth; the technique of narrative, on the other hand, owes much to the Russian novelists, chiefly Turgenev and Tolstoi, whom he acknowledges to be important influences upon his work.  The underlying feeling of tragedy – in the case of his novelette

“The Fatalist” this amounts to morbidity—is akin to the gloom which pervades Russian fiction.

One characteristic of Doppo’s stories which strikes the occidental reader as a serious flaw is the practice of leaving his characters, at the end of his stories, in a state of despair or impotent helplessness instead of either solving their problems or showing the tragic results of their failure to solve them.  This exasperating habit of creating complex situations and then leaving them unresolved appears to be characteristic of modern Japanese plot structure, and is manifested in the typical ending of a Japanese serious motion picture, which shows its characters solving their dilemma by boarding a plane to Manchuria, there to begin a new life.  It leaves one with the feeling which would result from seeing a production of Hamlet which omitted the last act and left its hero undecided as to the best course of action.

From the fact that it occurs most commonly in modern Japanese literature, one might suppose this practice to be an importation from the West, perhaps from the Russians, who are guilty of it on occasion.  But I think it is more likely that it arose in Japan, as it probably did elsewhere, as a reaction to all unnatural and artificial plot-endings, to the unnecessary violent death, the dues ex machina, the forced solution – and, as commonly happens with reactions, it went to the opposite extreme, to the point where, for an unnatural resolution of the situation, there was substituted a total lack of any resolution at all.

Of course Doppo would answer that he is portraying actual conditions, and that the real world is full of loose ends and unfinished plots.  But, whatever the naturalists may say to the contrary, art and life must be distinguished; and however accustomed the reader may be to unresolved situations in his own experience, he demands that a work of art be rounded off in some satisfying manner.  So, although we can thank our author for not relying upon the traditional Japanese expedient of suicide in order to dispose of his characters, we can also wish that his conclusions were a bit more conclusive.

In examining the influences upon Doppo, we have until now totally ignored one important factor: the remains of the truly Japanese literary tradition surviving in this period.

In the case of Kunikida Doppo, these remains are hard to discern.  Of Tokugawn fiction, nothing remains; whatever Japanese elements are there seem to be derived from the poetry of Japan rather than its prose.  One can speak of a delicate atmospheric quality in his descriptive passages—of a pleasantly melancholy nostalgia – of imagery which reminds one of the haiku and tanka poets—but of nothing concrete.  But it is this poetic quality, however, undefinable, which is my chief excuse for offering this translation.  Without it, the works of Doppo could be called Japanese only in language and locale.


Homma Hisao: Maiji bungakushi.

Iwaki Juntarō:  Meiji Taishō no kokubungaku.  Tōkyō, 1931.

Iwaki Juntarō: Keiji bungakushi, Tōkyō, 1932.

Kataoka Yoshikazu: Kindai Nippon no sakka to sekuhin. Tōkyō, 1939.

Kokusai Bunka Shinkōkai:  Introduction to classic Japanese literature.  Tōkyō, 1948. (In English)

Kokusai Bunka Shinkokai:  Introduction to contemporary Japanese literature. Tōkyō, 1939. (In English)

Niyajima Shinsaburō:  Meiji bungaku junikō. Tōykō, 1932.



Toward the middle of autumn, with winter coming on, the ocean beaches become desolate, unfrequented, and the figures of visiting townspeople are rare.  Even Kamakura beach, so popular in the summer months, is all but deserted when the summer passes; besides the year-round residents such as myself, it is unusual to see on it anyone except the village children, the beach-combers, the men who fish with hand-drawn nets, or the peddlers walking along the shore.

On an afternoon at this time of the year I took my usual walk near the Nameri  River, and climbed to the top of a steep sand-dune; but, the cold north wind penetrating my clothes, I soon descended to its base and looked about for a sunny spot where I could lie comfortably and read my book.  Finding no suitable place nearby, I walked around among the sand hills and at last came upon what I wanted.

Here the sand dune fell away sharply, forming a miniature cliff precariously held up by grass roots.  If one sat in the network of these roots, leaning back against the sand cliff and resting his right elbow on a conveniently-placed rise, it gave him much the same feeling of ease as sitting in a sofa.

I took out the novel I had brought and began to read.  The sky shone with the brightness of the sun.  From where I sat I could not see the ocean, or hear any voices; only the dull, heavy sound of the waves rolling on to the shore.  Within a short time, I had become completely absorbed in the book.

*The text is that of the Gendai Nippon bungaku zenshu, Tokyo, 1928-31, vol. 15: “Kunikida Doppo Shu” pp. 82-95.

Suddenly hearing a noise, I raised by head and saw a person standing four or five yards away.  I had no idea when or whence he had come, and it was quite as though he had issued forth from the depths of the earth.  I looked at him in surprise; he was about thirty, a thin figure with a long face and a high nose.  From his general appearance and the quality of his clothes, he might have been taken at first glance for a person from one of the summer houses nearby, or for a gentleman stopping in a travelers’ hotel.

As he continued to stand there and stare at me fixedly, the look in his eyes made me more surprised and a little uneasy.  It wasn’t strong enough for the angry look of one confronting an enemy, and was too dull for a look of mistrust or suspicion.  But there was something disquieting about it, something which differed from the simple curiosity of one stranger regarding another.

Thinking to myself what a strange fellow this was, I stared back at him for some time.  At last he cast his eyes downward to the sand and began to walk about silently, step by step, never leaving the hollow in which I sat, but only circling inside it, and from time to time glaring at me grimly.

Under circumstances so strange as these I became more uneasy and decided to move away.  I stood up and climbed to the top of the sand dune, then looked back to see this strange man throw himself suddenly on to the place where I had been sitting!  Instead of looking after me as I have expected, he rested his arms upon his raised knees and buries his face between them.

The unnaturalness of his actions made me want to stay and watch; so I spread myself a seat of dry grass near the edge and again began to read my book, raising my head occasionally to peer over at him.

He remained motionless for some time.  When I had waited for almost ten minutes, he got to his feet with the strengthless movements of a sick man, wheeled around where he stood until he faced the sand cliff, and fell to digging into his base with his right hand.

The object he dug out was a large bottle.  He took a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the sand from it, produced a small cup, pulled the cork from the bottle and gulped down the bottle, and, holding the cup in his hand, raised his head proudly and looked into the sky.

After this he drank another cupful.  He looked about and seemed to see me watching him.  Still with the cup in his hand, he walked toward me in long strides, with a force in his walk that differed greatly from his previous appearance of weakness.  For a moment I thought of rising and fleeing, but quickly changed my mind and continued to sit there as he came to my side and said in a hoarse voice, with a strange smile,

“Were you watching what I did just now?”

“Yes, I was, “ I answered clearly.

“Do you think it’s alright to pry into people’s secrets?” he asked, smiling still more suspiciously.

“No, I don’t think it’s alright.”

“Then why do you pry into my secrets?”

“I think I’m free to read a book here if I please.”

“That’s beside the point,” he said, looking for a moment at my book.

“I don’t see that it’s beside the point at all.  Whatever we want to do, so long as we don’t harm other people, we’re both free to do.  I you have a secret, I should think you would take more care to keep it secret in the first place.”

At this he became restless and began to scratch his head as if he would tear out his hair.

“That’s so, that’s so.  But that’s as secret as I could make it—“

He was silent for a time, then continued more coolly.  “I was wrong in blaming you; but could you please keep what you have just seen a secret, as a favour to me?”

“Of course I’ll keep it a secret, if you want.  After all, it’s no concern of mine.”

“Thank you.  In that case, I can feel at ease.  But I’ve really been very rude, suddenly accusing you like that.”  He apologized meekly, dropping his former aggressive attitude.  I felt rather sorry for him, and said,

“There’s nothing to apologize about; I just thought it so strange when you stood over there in front of me and looked at me like that, that I sat down here and watched you out of curiosity.  To tell the truth, I was spying on you; but if you say it was a secret, I’ll keep your secret safe, you needn’t worry.”

He looked into my face silently, then said, “Yes, you’re a person who will keep a secret.  How about it, will you have a cup of my liquor?”

“Liquor? No thanks; for my part, I think it better not to drink.”

“Not to drink! Not to drink! Of course it’s better.  If I could get along without drinking, it would certainly be better for me.  But I go on drinking.  That’s my destiny.  What about it, isn’t our meeting and talking like this even a strange sort of destiny, determined by fate, and won’t you have a cup of my secret liquor on the strength of that, just a cup?”

“All right, if you put it that way, I’ll have a drink.”  As soon as I said this, he jumped to his feet and walked quickly to the place where I had first seen him.  I followed behind.


“This is high class brandy.  I’m not a person of expensive tastes myself, but I went up to Tōkyō the other day, to the Kameya store on the Ginza, and secretly bought three bottles of the very best, bringing them back here and hiding them.  One is gone already, and the empty bottle thrown into the Nameri River.  This is the second; the third is still buried in the sand.  When that’s gone, I’ll go buy more.”

I took the cup which he held out to me and sipped the brandy slowly, listening to what he was saying.  And As I listened, I couldn’t help becoming more and more curious about him.  But I had no thought of entering into his secret.

“When I came here a while ago and unexpectedly found you invading my private sanctuary, it gave me quite a shock; I though you an impudent fellow, coming here and violating the privacy of my liquor-cache, forcing your way unasked into my drinking party, and then sitting here looking innocent and reading a book—that’s why I stayed and watched you instead of going away,” he went on.  In the look of his eyes it seemed to me I could see his truly mild, honest nature, and by now he had become in my mind a pathetic rather than a suspicious figure. So I answered, smothering a laugh, “

“That’s true; otherwise you’d have had no reason to glare at me like that.  It certainly was a bitter look.”

“No, not really bitter—just unsympathetic.  I was cursing fate, which had caused someone to come and plant his posterior on my hidden bottles of brandy.  No, it sounds pretty dreadful to say “cursing”—actually I didn’t take such a terrible view of it as that.  It’s really the other way, you know  it’s fate that’s cursing me.  Do you believe in fate?  Yes, in fate.  Here, have another cup.”

“No, thanks, I’ve had quite enough,” I said, handing him back the cup. “I’m not a fatalist myself.”

He took another cup of brandy myself, and said, his breath redolent of alcohol, “Then you’re an accidentalist?”

“I believe only in the law of cause and effect.”

“But it isn’t just a matter of the causes originating with human beings and the effects descending upon their heads; there are also many cases of people receiving effects brought about by causes outside of human power.  In such cases, surely you feel the superhuman force known as fate?”

“I feel an other-than-human force, but it’s a natural one.  Since I believe that the natural world operates only in accordance with the law of cause and effect, I don’t see how you can attach any such mysterious appellation as ‘fate’ to this force.”

“Aha, I understand.  Then you think that there’s nothing mysterious in the universe, you think that the significance of human life in this universe is simple and clear, you think that two and two make four, that everything fits together perfectly.  I’ll tell you, your universe has no solidity, it’s flat.  For you the boundless, the infinite, aren’t matters of any great urgency, which you need ponder deeply or regard with any awe or even interest.  You belong to the company of mathematicians who want to the infinite into a series of continuities and express it by a formula!”

Following this outburst, he heaved a sign as if in pain, and continued in an icy, sneering tone.

“But actually that’s a good thing—in my words, you’re one who’s blessed by fortune, and in your words I’m the unfortunate recipient of an adverse effect.”

“Well, I think I’ll be going on now,” I told him, getting up to leave.  At this he pulled me back in consternation.

“You’re not angry, are you?  If I’ve said something that offended you, I beg your pardon.  I myself suffer so much from these stupid, worthless thoughts that I was just babbling them out indiscriminately.  But somehow I felt that I wanted to talk to you freely, and I became feverish.  I suppose you’ll laugh at me for it, but I feel it was a strange destiny that brought us together here.  Won’t you sympathize with me and talk a little longer, just a little more?”   
“But I haven’t anything in particular that I want to talk about –“

“Oh, don’t say that, stay here a little while longer!  Why do I say such unreasonable things to you?  It is because I’m drunk?  It’s fate, that’s what it is, fate.  Good; if you haven’t anything to talk about, I’ll do the talking and you listen.  Won’t you just listen, please?  To the story of how I have been cursed by fate?”

No one could have helped being moved by this painful cry.  I sat down again and said, “Of course I’ll listen.  I’ll listen to whatever you have to say, if you don’t mind telling me.”

“You’ll listen?  Then I’ll begin – but you’ll have to remember as I speak that I’m a person who has been led astray by a strange destiny.  If you want to call it cause and effect, that’s all right too.  Only the causes and effects have their origin outside of human will; and if you  knew how, on that account, one young man has fallen into unlimited misery.  I think you would agree that it’s not unreasonable of me to think of it as a force of destiny.  Well then, I’d like to ask you:  Suppose there were a man here, walking along aimlessly, and suddenly a stone were to come flying from an unknown point, hit him on the head and kill him; and suppose that by his death his wife and children were brought to the verge of starvation, and that parents and children were caused to fight among themselves, involving them in a terrible tragedy ending even in bloodshed.  Do you think it possible for such a situation to exist in this world?”

“Whether it does exist or not I don’t know; but it could exist, that I believe.”

“I thought you would.  Well, there you have a case of terrible misery being inflicted upon human beings by a completely unforeseeable cause, by what seems like mere chance.  My own case is exactly that; it’s as if I were being played with an almost unbelievably malign force of fate.  I call it that, because there’s no alternative explanation in which I can believe,” he sighed.  “But will you really listen to me?”

“Certainly I shall.  Please go on.”

“Then let’s begin with this liquor.  You probably think it strange for me to be drinking like this, but actually alcohol is used very commonly in the world as a soporific or to cause forgetfulness.  The reason I hide it in the sand like this is that the situation in my home forces me to keep my drinking secret; also, this place is so quiet and cheerful that whatever poisonous devil of fate comes to spy upon me, he can’t cast his dark shadow here.  This place suits my spirit perfectly; when I lie down here, consign my body to the power of the alcohol and gaze high up into the sky, my soul becomes free.  The violence of the alcohol further damages my already weak heart; the final result of it, I expect, will be my self-destruction.”

“Do you mean you’re looking forward to suicide I asked, appalled.

“Not suicide but self destruction.  Fate wouldn’t allow even my suicide. You know, one of the tools used most skilfully by the devil of fate is called ‘bewilderment. ‘  Bewilderment changes sadness into suffering , and then causes this suffering to multiply upon itself.  Suicide requires determination; how could a man who is suffering from bewilderment resolve to take such a step?  So there is no way of escaping from this dull heavy pain, bewilderment, except the dull way of self-destruction.” The shadow of hopelessness moved across his face as he spoke.

“I don’t know what reasons you may have, but it wouldn’t be right for me, if I knew a person were going to commit suicide, to do nothing but stand by and watch.  That you call self destruction is no different from suicide,” I said.

He smiled and answered, “But a person is free to kill himself if he wants.”

“Perhaps so, but a person is also free, or rather obligated, to prevent this if he is able.”

“All right, go ahead.  I don’t really want to destroy myself, you know; and if, after hearing my story through, you can devise a plan to save me, nothing will make me happier.”

Hearing this, I couldn’t remain silent.  “Good,” I said.  “Please tell me everything.  This time it’s I who make the request.”


My name is Takahashi Shinzō (the young man began), but the family name, Takahashi, is an adopted one; by original family name was Ōtsuka.  I shall begin then, with the time I was still known as Ōtsuka Shinzō , son of Ōtsuka Gozō.  Perhaps you have heard of him—he was a judge in the Tōkyō Court of Appeals, and was rather well-known in the world.  He was an upright man, and went to great pains to educate me properly.  However, the unfortunate fact was that, from the time I was a child, I hate learning of any sort, and liked nothing better than to withdraw into the shadows and indulge in idle dreams.

I remember when I turned twelve; it was the end of spring, and almost all the blossoms had fallen from the cherry trees in the garden.  I can still recall clearly the way the few faded petals still remaining on the twigs would be loosened by the wind and flutter down in twos and threes through the new leaves.  I would sit on the stone steps leading to the storeroom and gaze out over the garden in my usual state of abstraction, as the evening sun, shining in slanting rays through the spaces between the trees, seemed to cast a further hush over the ever-quiet garden.  In such golden moments, as I stared fixedly, there arose in my youthful mind a feeling at once very pleasant and very sad; I suppose it was the so-called spring fever.  I don’t think anyone who knows the strangeness of the human heart, though, will deny that even a child can feel in his breast the melancholy arising from the quiet evenings of springtime.

At any rate, I was that sort of child.  My father Cozō worried terribly over this, and was always railing at me as “his little Buddhist monk”, or shouting that if it was a priest I wanted to be, he’d send me off to the temple.  My younger brother Hidesuke, on the other hand, was a thoroughly spoiled child.  He was two years younger than I, and resembled my father physically in being powerfully built.  His temperament was also quite the opposite of mine.

When my father scolded me, my mother and my brother would stand by watching and laughing.  My mother Otoyo was a woman of few words; she was amiable in appearance, but firm is disposition.  She never actually scolded me, but neither did she indulge me with any show of affection; she simply left me alone altogether.

Whether this temperament of mine came naturally, or whether it was the fault of being placed as a child within unnatural confines and being forced to lead such a life of loneliness, I don’t know.  My father, as I have said, suffered much anxiety over me.  But this anxiety was not the usual care of a father for his child; he would often grumble at me, “Since you went to the trouble of being born a boy, be a boy.  There’s no point in my raising an effeminate child.”  In these words I could have seen the first indications of my strange destiny; but I was too young to be aware of this.

At this time my father was chief judge of the Okayama District Court, so the Ōtsuka family was still living in Okayama; it was a long time later that we moved to Tōkyō.  One day I had gone into the garden as usual and was sitting on the roots of a pine tree, when suddenly my father came to my side and said, with a serious look on his face,

“What are you thinking about?  If that’s your natural disposition, there’s nothing we can do about it; but I have a great dislike for such dispositions.  Cheer up, boy, show some spirit!”

I remained silent, unable to raise my face.  At this my father sat down beside me, and said in a lowered voice,

“Shinzō, you haven’t heard anything from anybody, have you?”

Since I had no idea what he was talking about, I looked into his face, surprised, and unconsciously my eyes filled with tears.  The expression of my father’s face changed when he saw this, and he lowered his voice still more.

“There’s no need to hide it; if you’ve heard, it would be better to say so.  In that case, I have some things to tell you myself.  Come on, it’s better not to hide it; you’ve heard something haven’t  you?”

At this point my father appeared to be greatly perturbed, and even his voice differed from its unusual tone.  I became frightened, and began to sob more violently.

“Tell me!  If you’ve heard, say so! Why are you hiding it?”

The way he glared into my face made me still more frightened, and I could do nothing but apologize in a tearful voice, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

“There’s no reason to apologize.  I was just wondering if you hadn’t heard something strange, and if that weren’t the reason why you’re always sitting around here in a daze.  If you haven’t heard anything, so much the better.  Tell me honestly, now! What have you heard?”

I didn’t know what I could have done to cause such anger in my father, but only thought vaguely that it must have been some terrible transgression, and I continued to say in a faltering voice, “I’m sorry.  I’m sorry.”

“Fool! Blockhead! Who asked you to apologize?  Twelve years old and you still cry like a girl!”

Dreadfully alarmed at being shouted at like this, I looked into my father’s face without being able to stop my crying.  For a long time he was silent, looking at me steadily; then he too began to sob, and said gently,

“You needn’t cry, I won’t ask you anymore.  Come, let’s go inside.”  This was all he said, but his words were filled with affection.

It was after this incident that my father began to avoid speaking to me.  It was also after this that a cloud of darkness settled over my spirit.  This was the moment when the devil of fate implanted his claws firmly in my heart.

My father’s words preyed upon me unbearably.  The average child would have forgotten them soon.  I not only never forgot them, but pondered without rest over why my father had asked me such a question; if it could perturb him to such a degree, I thought, it must be a matter of great importance.  An in my mind here grew the belief that this matter was somehow concerned with me.

Why this was I don’t know.  Even now I think it strange.  What was it that made me believe my father’s questions had anything to do with my own self?  I think perhaps it was because, just as a person who lives in darkness develops the power to see things clearly in dim light, so does a young person such as myself, placed in unnatural circumstances, come to recognize easily the dark shapes which lie sunken in the depths of this unnaturalness.

But it was only much later that I was able to seize upon the true nature of these dark shapes.  As much as I thought about the scene with my father, I could never bring myself to question him in return; and if course it was even more impossible to ask my mother.  In this condition, I passed painful days and months.

At the age of fifteen I was sent away from home to board at a middle school.  But there is something else I should tell before continuing.  Next to the Ōtsuka home there was a large mulberry field, and on the edge of it a small shingle-roofed cottage.  In this lived an old couple, with their daughter, who was at that time sixteen or seventeen.  They had been at one time a great family, but now the only remaining trace of their wealth was the mulberry field.  I know them sell, and one day they taught me how to play the game of go.  A few days later I happened to mention this to my father and mother at the dinner table. My father, who usually paid little attention to my doings, suddenly became angry and scolded me, and my mother looked at me with frightened eyes.  The odd may in which they exchanged glances game me a strange and uncomfortable feeling.

Why I should avoid go I learned later; and the time when I learned it was the beginning of my overpowering by fate, and of the agony which I have undergone.


When I was sixteen, my father was transferred to Tōkyō, and the whole Ōtsuka family, except myself, moved with him.  I was left behind as a boarder at the Okayama Middle School.  When I look back over the three years spent there, I realized that these school years are all I have really known of life in this world.  The students were all friendly and kind toward me.  There I recovered freedom of mind, and escaped, if only temporarily, from under the hand of destiny.  There the perplexities and suspicions I had been harbouring all but disappeared, my melancholy temperament was dissipated like the melting snow, and I took on the cheerful aspect natural to one my age.

But in the autumn of my eighteenth year, I suddenly received a letter from my father ordering me to come to Tōkyō.  My mind, so long untroubled, was thrown into confusion; my first thought was to write back asking that I be allowed to continue as I was for at least one more year, until my graduation day.  But I thought better of this, and left immediately for Tōkyō.  Arriving there, I made my way to the house on Goji Street and was received by my father in his room.

“The reason I called you so suddenly, “he began, “is that I have something important to take up with you.  How would you like to begin studying law?”

The suggestion was the last I could have expected.  I stared at my father in surprise, and could not open my mouth to utter a word.

“To tell the truth, I was thinking of telling you in the letter, but decided to call you here and put it directly rather than take a roundabout way.  I suppose you were expecting to continue middle school until you graduated, and perhaps you were even looking forward to college; but you should realize that the sooner a man becomes independent and manages his own affairs, the better.  So, beginning tomorrow, you are to enter a private law school.  In three years you’ll graduate and take your bar examination.  When that’s over with, I’ll take you to the office of a lawyer, a good friend of mine, and you’ll be under his care for the next four or five years, during which time you’ll receive practical training in law practice.  If you manage to become independent and open your own office within that time, that’s to your credit; you’ll have become a gentleman and made a place for yourself in the world before you’re thirty.  What do you think, isn’t that the best way?”

It was little wonder that I was appalled rather than pleased by my father’s words.  For they were the words of a stranger, showing no more than the kindness of a stranger.  This was the affection shown by a schoolmaster to a dependent student.  My father Ōtsuka Gozō had returned to his natural state.  Unconsciously, he had come to express his real nature in this way.  For three years he had put me aside, and for three years had only his true son, Hidesuke, at his side to love; and the days and months of these three years, drawing him closer to the grave, the gate through which men return to their original condition, had brought back to him his inherent nature.  But he was not yet able to recognize this change in himself, and was still trying to see in himself the father he had been before, and in me the child I had been.

I could see that this was not the place to tell my father of my own hopes or ambitions, so I merely replied briefly that I would follow his wishes and left the room.

Not only had my father changed, but also my mother’s manner toward me had altered.  The passing of the days made firmer in my mind the belief that there existed a great secret, which concerned myself but was being kept from me.  And the more I observed the behaviour of my parents toward me, the more perplexed did I become.

At one time it occurred to me that my suspicions might be nothing but the products of my own unnatural way of viewing things; then, unluckily, there arose before me the incident which had taken place in the garden when I was twelve, the scene with my father.  When I thought of this, and added to it later indications, suggestions, suspicions—I could no longer doubt the existence of this secret which hung over me.

While suffering this mental anguish I was attending the law school.  After about three months had passed, the day came when I determined to face my father and put to him the question, once and for all, of the existence or non-existence of this secret.  I returned from school at dusk, and, after finishing dinner, went to my father’s room.  I found him sitting under a lamp, writing letters.  When he saw me he took up his writing brush, to indicate that he was busy, and asked,

“What do you want?”

I seated myself next to the charcoal brazier at his side, and was silent for some time.  I could see through the winder that the sky, which had been dark with heavy rain clouds, had finally begun to release a drizzling shower, and a little later I heard the sound of sleet hitting upon the eaves.   My father put down his brush and turned to me deliberately.

“What is it you want?” he asked quietly.

“There’s something I’d like to ask you about.”

My father seemed to grasp the significance of the situation from these few words, and his voice became more stern.  “What is it?”

“Father, am I really your son?”  As I had made up my mind beforehand and mentally rehearsed this moment, I asked him point blank.

“What!”  My father’s eyes lighted up with anger, but then his face softened.  “Why do you ask me such a thing?  It is because you think I haven’t treated you as a father should?  Is that the reason?”  he asked.

“No, father, that isn’t the reason at all.  But I’ve had doubts about myself for a long time—I don’t know exactly why—and I’ve worried so much over it that I thought I’d ask you.  If it’s a secret and you don’t think it would do me any good to know, you don’t have to tell me anything, but I’d like to know the truth,”  I declared firmly, in a low voice.

My father sat for a long time with his arms folded, thinking; then he raised his head slowly.  “I’ve known you had suspicions about your origin, and I intended to tell you the truth eventually.  Now that the question has arisen from your side, I think it’s best to tell you and get it over with.”

But the truth as my father told it to me was only this:  At the time when my father held the position of judge in the Yamaguchi District Court, he had a friend named Baba Kinnosuke, with whom he often played go.  The two of them were bound together by great intimacy, and went about like brother.  This Baba was a remarkable man, and was respected by my father for many unusual qualities, beside his proficiency at the game of go.  His only child was myself.

Ōtsuka Gozō was at that time thirty-eight, and his wife thirty-four: they had begun to resign themselves to childlessness, when suddenly Baba became ill and died, and his wife soon followed her husband from this world, leaving behind them a two-year-old boy.  Fortunately for this child, he was taken by the Ōtsuka family and raised as their son; I suppose the reason for this was divided between memory of the friendship with Baba and compassion for this helpless orphan.

My true parents had both been young—the father thirty-two and the mother twenty-five—at the time of my birth.  Through some complication arising from the fact that I had been born before my mother had registered from her domicile with that of Baba, my birth had  not been reported officially; for that reason, Ōtsuka Gozō was able to register me as his own son immediately after taking me into his care.

“Soon after that,” my father continued, “I left Yamaguchi, so that there are very few people living who know that you are not really my child.  My wife and I have tried throughout to raise you exactly as if you were our true son.  Moreover, it will be the same in the future—I don’t want this to warp your viewpoint, and I hope you will continue to think of use as your parents.  Hidesuke is our own son, but he knows absolutely nothing of what I have just told you.  I trust you will always treat him as your younger brother, and do what you can for him.”  He spoke tenderly, and before I had time to see his aged eyes fill with tears, I had begun to cry myself.

I promised my foster-father never to reveal this matter to anyone, and that I would invent some  pretext to go to Yamaguchi, in order to visit the graves of my true parents.  After promising again to keep the secret, I left the room.

The months which followed this revelation were calm in comparison with those which had preceded it.  My father also seemed to feel more easy for having uncovered this hidden aspect of our relationship.  When I thought of the kind treatment I had received from my foster-parents, my heart would fill with love for them.  No longer troubled by uncertainty, I worked more diligently at my studies.  I was determined to gain independence as soon as possible and part from the Ōtsuka family, leaving the inheritance, the right of the oldest son, to Hidesuke.

Three years passed quickly, and I graduated from the law school.  But, in accordance with my father’s suggestion, I continued to study for another year before taking the bar examination; with the result that, when I did take it, I passed with such unexpected honours that my foster father, rejoicing over my success, used his influence to get me a position in the law office of his friend Dr. Inouye.

So I had become a lawyer, made a place for myself in the world as my father had foretold, and settled down to the routine of going to the office in the Kyōbashi district every morning and returning each night.  If I had continued this routine until the present day, I should have realized my father’s purpose completely; I should be leading a normal life now, and looking forward to the enjoyment of a successful career.

But I was, first and foremost, an ill-fated child.  Pitfalls almost beyond anyone’s imagination were opening up before me, and the devil of fate was already pushing me cruelly onward toward my downfall.


In addition to his Toyko office, Dr. Inouys also had a branch located in Yoohama, and when I reached the age of twenty-five, he put me in charge of this branch.  In name I was still Dr. Inouye’s subordinate but in reality I was the same as independent.  You might say it was a quick rise in the world for one my age.

There was in Yokohama a grocery store called the Takahashi, which was doing a prosperous business at that time.  The owner was a widow by the name of Ume, who had lost her husband two or three years before, and was living in comparative luxury with her daughter Satoko.  I visited their house many times in connection with a lawsuit I was handling, and in the end Satoko and I fell in love.  To put it shortly, within a half-year we had reached the point where we could not bear to be apart for any long interval of time.  A marriage was arranged with Dr. Inouye as go-between and I took my leave of the Ōtsuka family, becoming the foster son of Mrs. Takahashi.

It may sound strange for me to say that Satoko was not a beautiful girl; she had the sort of countenance that attracts men’s eyes, a charming, round face.  To speak plainly, she loved me very much; but as her excessive love for me has turned out to be a great factor in the cause of my subsequent mistery, it would have been far better if she had not loved me so much, nor I been so fond of her.

My foster mother Ume was at this time about fifty, but appeared to be something less than forty.  She was a handsome woman of small stature who had succeeded well in preserving her beauty.  And when I say that she was a woman of violent temper but a simple and honest character, you can probably guess from the description that she was somewhat deficient in wisdom.  When she was cheerful, which was most of the time, she would laugh and talk in a loud voice; but occasionally she would appear with a fearfully solemn face, and would speak to no one for half a day or more.  I had been aware of this peculiarity before becoming her foster son; but after I married Satoko and begun to eat and sleep in the Takehashi home, I discovered another strange thing.

This was that every night about nine o’clock, my foster mother would shut herself up in her room, and would kneel motionless, concentrating, praying to the picture of the god Fudō Myōō surrounded by the flames of the Buddhist hell, which hung in her alcove.  She would remain in this posture, gazing fixedly at the picture and murmuring to it some invocation, until ten or eleven o’clock, sometimes until after midnight.  She would perform these devotions for a longer time and with particular fervor on the evenings following her gloomy days.

At first I said nothing about this, but one day out of curiosity I questioned Satoko about her mother’s strange actions.  She waved her hand to me silence me, lowered her voice and said, “Don’t talk about that.  It began about two years ago.  If you speak to Mother about it, she just goes into a bad humour and won’t say a word, so it’s better to pretend not to notice anything.  I think she’s going a bit out of her mind.”  Since she seemed to attach little importance to the matter, I didn’t question her.

But one evening about a month after that, when we had finished dinner and were sitting around the table talking, her mother suddenly asked, “How long do you think the vengeful ghost of someone you’ve wronged with continue to haunt you before it disappears?”

Satoko spoke calmly, as if to dismiss the subject.  “In the first place, there isn’t any such thing as a vengeful ghost.  That’s nothing but superstition.”

Her mother turned to her angrily.  “Don’t be impudent!  Who are you to know about such things?  You’ve never even seen a ghost.  That’s why you say there aren’t any.”

“Have you seen one, Mother?”

“I certainly have.”

“You have?  Was it making a terrible face?  I wish I could see one too.”  Satoko was still trying to tease her mother out of her seriousness.  But instead the old woman became more angry, and her face changed colour.

“You say you want to see a ghost!  Of all the impertinence!  I won’t stand for any more of it!”  She got to her feet in a rage and stamped out of the room.

I said to Satoko, “What’s wrong with your mother?  If we aren’t careful...”

Satoko looked uneasy.  “I’m really worried about her.  There’s something queer going on her mind, and I wish I know what it was.”

“Her nerves seem to be in bad condition,”  I said.  But by the next morning, everything was the same as before.  Mrs. Takahashi had spend much of the night praying to Fudō, but to this we were to accustomed that we gave it no particular thought.

One afternoon in May of this year I returned home from the office two hours earlier than usual.  The day was cloudy, and the interior of this house dim; my stepmother’s room was especially dark.  I had something to discuss with her, and, without bothering to knock, I slid open the door and stepped into the room.  She was sitting all alone beside the charcoal brazier, but when she saw my face she began to cry out in terror, “Ah, ah, ah, ah”, and tried to rise to her feet, then fell back to a sitting position from which she stared at me, her face white.  I thought she had a fainted, and rushed to her side.

“What is it, what’s the matter?”

When she heard my voice, she moved a little and lowered her eyes.

“Oh, it was only you—I thought – I thought it was---“  She put her hand on her breast, which was still shaking from the shock, and again looked into my face as if there were something unnatural about it.

“What happened to you?”  I asked in surprise.

“You came in so suddenly, I thought it was someone else.  You gave me a frightful shock.”  She lay down on her bed and was silent.

This incident seemed to aggravate my stepmother’s nervous disorder; she now not only prayed to Fudō Myōō, but bought charms and talismans and pasted on the walls of her room pictures of lesser-known deities, most of whom I had never heard of.  What was even more strange, she was no longer content with simply believing in Fudō herself, but was continually urging me to believe in Fudō, she only answered,

“Don’t ask questions, just believe, for, my sake.  I won’t be at peace until you do.”

“If it will make you feel easier, Mother, I’ll believe as you say; but wouldn’t Satoko do better than I?”

“Satoko wouldn’t do at all.  It’s nothing that concerns her.”

“Then it’s something that concerns me?”

“Oh, don’t ask questions, just believe, for Heaven’s sake.”

Satoko, who was standing nearby and listening, was astonished.  “What a strange thing to say, Mother!  What sort of connection would Fudō-sama possibly have to you and Shinzō, but not to me?”

“That’s why I’m asking you to believe; if I could tell you the reason I wouldn’t have to ask you!”

“But that’s ridiculous, asking Shinzō to believe in Fudō-sama, trying to talk a person of this day and age into such a belief.”

“If that’s the way you feel about it, it I won’t ask you again.

I tried to pacify her anger and spoke more gently.  “It isn’t that I refuse to believe in Fudo-sama; but really, Mother, won’t you tell me the reason why I should?  I have no idea what it is, but surely it’s nothing you wouldn’t want your own stepson to know.”

She sat thinking for a long time, then sighed deeply and said in a low voice, “There’s only this to tell, and don’t breathe it to a living soul.  When I was still young, and before I married Satoko’s father, there was a young man who was always after me to marry him, following me everywhere and telling me how much he loved me.  But I wouldn’t have anything to do with him.  So he sickened and  died.  But on his deathbed he cursed me, and said all sorts of terrible things.  Of course I didn’t feel any too good about that, but after I married I didn’t give it much more thought.  Well, since my husband’s death, that man’s ghost has come back to haunt me, it’s appeared before me many times, glaring at me with a ghastly look on its face; and it’s trying to cause my death even now.  When I pray to Fudō-sama hard enough, the ghost gradually fades away and disappears.  But the strange thing is,” and she lowered her voice still more, “lately this ghost seems to have taken possession of Shinzō!”

“How terrible!” Satoko knitted her bow in mock-horror.

“That’s the truth, sometimes Shinzō’s face looks to me exactly like the face of the ghost!”

That was a reason, it appeared, why she was trying to persuade me to believe in Fudō-sama.  But somehow I couldn’t bring myself to pretend a belief I couldn’t feel; so, together with Satoko, I tried various arguments to convince her that such things as ghosts don’t exist; but to no avail.  She believed so firmly and unshakably in this ghost that she became too much for me to handle.  Thinking that such a peaceful place as Kamakura might serve to quiet her nerves, we succeeded in persuading her to come here last May, and rented for her a small summer house near the beach.


When Takahashi Shinzō had reached this point in the story, he stopped for a moment, raised his head and looked sadly into the west, where the sun was now setting.  His expression of melancholy changed to a grimace of pain, and he quickly poured another cup of brandy and drank it.

I don’t have the courage (he went on) to continue my story in detail; I shall give you the fact bluntly and briefly, and you may add to them what you wish to conjecture.

Takahashi Ume, my foster mother, is my real mother, the mother who gave birth to me.  My wife Satoko is my half-sister by a different father.  Well?  If that isn’t a manifestation of fate, what is it?  If you want to call even that the law of cause and effect, go ahead.  But I, who find myself placed without my knowledge under its power, can feel only bitterness toward the operation of so cruel a law in our universe.

The way I came to know these facts was simply this.  About a month after bringing my stepmother to Karakura, I had some legal affairs to accomplish in Magasaki, and intended to stop off at Yamaguchi, Hiroshima and other places along the way.  When I came here to Karakura and mentioned this to her, she looked frightened and told me not to go to Yamaguchi.  However, since I had it in my mind to visit the graves of my parents, I stopped there as I had planned.

As my foster father Ōtsuka Gozō had told me previously of the location of the shrine where they were buried, I found it with no trouble.  But there I came upon only the grave of my father Baba Kinnosuka; the grave of my mother, who was supposed to be buried with him, was not to be seen.  I was troubled over this, and asked an old priest whom I met nearby to show me the grave of the wife of Baba Kinnosuke.  I asked about the two as if they were old acquaintances, of course revealing nothing of my own connection with them.

The old priest answered that I wasn’t likely to find the grave of Baba’s wife Onobu.  During the period of Baba’s illness, he said, she had entered into suspicious relations with a go pupil of his, a certain wealthy merchant of the town; and, disregarding the fact that her desertion of him caused Baba’s sickness to become more serious, she had in the end run off with this merchant, leaving behind an infant hardly yet weaned.  The priest further related how my father had cursed my mother in his illness, and how, on the verge of his death, he had entrusted his only child to Ōtsuka Gozō.

No one besides myself knows that this Onobu and Takahashi Ume are one and the same person.  Even I have no definite proof of it. But when the priest described Onobu, I realized immediately that this was the woman I had hitherto known as my foster mother.

My first thought was to die there at Yamaguchi.  At that moment, truly at that moment, I was firmly resolved to commit suicide; and I see now that It would have been better for me had I carried through that resolve.

But instead I returned home.  For one thing, I wanted to seek for some definite proof of what I believe.  For another, I was drawn back by my love for Satoko.  It’s no use telling me that since Satoko is, after all, my sister, my marriage to her contradicts moral laws.  I am still unable to think of Satoko as a sister.

There is nothing stranger than the human mind.  The abstract word “immoral” cannot prevail over the reality called “love.”  This is what I meant then I said that the great love between Satoko and myself was one of the factors which have brought me to the state in which you find me.

I took Satoko in my arms and cried, I cried again and again.   I fell into the same frenzy which tormented my mother.  But it was Satoko who was to be pitied.  To Satoko everything was obscure, an enigma through which she could only wander in bewilderment.  At length she came to believe with my mother in the vengeful ghost; and even now, at the house in Yokohama, the two of them are probably absorbed in praying to the god Fudō Myōō.  Satoko herself knows nothing of the form of this ghost; she only knows that her mother and husband are both tortured by it, and is trying in all sincerity to save them.

I have done everything I could to avoid meeting my mother, and she has no wish to see me again.  I suppose this is because, when she looks into my face, she sees the face of the ghost of Baba.  Small wonder, when I am the child of that ghost!

Since she is my mother, I suppose I should love her as a mother.  But when I think of how she deserted my father when he was on the brink of death, of how she left me lying on the bed of a dying man to run off with her secret lover, there arise within me malevolent emotions and hateful thoughts better left unspoken.  In my ears I can hear the voice of my dead father, cursing her.  In my eyes I can see him, his body wasted by sickness, clasping to him the thoughtless child and weeping unmanly tears.  And hearing this voice, seeing this figure, I myself am inspired with the vengeful spirit of the ghost.

If anyone besides my mother should see me as I sometimes lean against a pillar in the dusk of evening, should see my staring eyes, my tortured breathing, as I glare bitterly into the darkening sky, he would probably turn and flee.  My mother, on the other hand, would faint.

However, when I think of Satoko, I feel neither hatred nor anger, but only sink into a fathomless sadness, in the depths of which love and hopelessness are struggling, one against the other.

It was this autumn that I began to drink.  I had seldom before in my life held a liquor cup in my hand; but now, to escape for short periods of time from the torture of my thoughts, I began to drink regularly, in spite of the pleas of Satoko.

One day last September I had drunk as much as I possibly could and was lying, half-conscious, in the middle of the living room floor, when my mother suddenly and unexpectedly arrived from Kamakura, and called Satoko to her room to talk to her alone.  Even though drunk, I realized that her purpose in coming was more serious than that of a mere visit.   About an hour later Satoko returned to my room, her eyes red from crying.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.  She fell down at my side and began to cry again.

“Did your mother tell you to get a divorce from me?”  I asked in an angry voice.

She turned to me in consternation.  “But whatever Mother says, you don’t need to worry about my leaving you.  She’s out of her mind, so don’t pay any attention to her, don’t take her seriously, please—for my sake!” she said in a shaking, tearful voice.

“I can’t let her say things like [that] to you!”  I got to my feet unsteadily and went to my mother’s room, falling against the walls of the corridor on the way.  I burst in upon her suddenly, followed by Satoko, who hadn’t time to stop me.  I sat down heavily in front of my mother.

“I understand you’ve told Satoko that she and I should get a divorce, and

I’ve  come to find out why.  It’s not that I care about the divorce- in fact, I’ve been hoping for that myself.  But tell me the reason, I want to know the reason.”

I abandoned myself to my drunkenness and drew nearer to her.  She stared into my eyes, and their gleam seemed to pierce to her soul.  She was unable to speak.

“I want to know the reason,” I persisted.  “Could it be because you feel uneasy when you look at me, because I’m possessed by this ghost you’re always telling us about?  It’s little wonder you feel uneasy.  I am the son of that ghost.”

My mother looked at me for a moment more, and her face changed colour.  Then she fled, running from the room without saying a word.  When I awoke from my drunken sleep, Satoko was leaning over me, studying my face with a worried expression.  Mother had already returned to Kamakura.

My mother and I have not met again since that time.  I took her place here in the house at Kamakura, and she is now living in Yokohama; Satoko travels back and forth between us, nursing the two of us, trying sincerely to solace our pain—as if it were the sort which could be solaced—forcing herself deliberately to believe in the ghost that haunts us, but still unable to understand the true nature of the torments which afflict us.

I have been forbidden to drink liquor both by Satoko and by my doctor; but, considering my position, do you really think it unreasonable that I resort to drinking brandy in secret?

For all my strength has been drained from me by the devil of fate, leaving me not even the strength to commit suicide; I have become a spiritless thing able only to wait for my own self-destruction, making no effort to save myself.

Now that I’ve given you a brief account of my life up to the present, I should like you to consider the course of that life and to regard it from my viewpoint.  Can you possibly take such a cold, mathematical view as to ascribe  these happenings entirely to the law of cause and effect?  My own mother the enemy of my father, my  beloved  wife my own sister!  These are bitter circumstances.  They are also my destiny.

If there is anyone who can rescue me from this destiny, I will follow his teaching reverently.  That man will be my saviour.


I had listened in silence to the young man’s story, and even after he had finished I couldn’t speak for some time.  Here truly was a person who had fallen into a situation of such tragedy as I had never imagined!

“Why don’t you get a divorce from Satoko?”  I asked him.

“That would only create a new situation to replace the old.  The situation as it stands wouldn’t be cleared away.”

“Of course not.  But there’s nothing you can do about that.”

“That’s why it’s fate.  Divorce wouldn’t erase the fact that my mother brought about the death of my father; divorce wouldn’t change my love for the sister whom I have made my wife.  Since that which has happened in the past can’t be erased by human power, man has no means of escaping from the power of fate.”

We shook hands and bowed to each other silently; thus I parted from this unfortunate man.  The last rays of the sun were casting vivid colours on the clouds; and silhouetted against them, as I looked back, was the lonely figure of the Takahashi Shinzo, the fatalist, standing at the top of the sand dune and looking far off into the sea.  I never saw him again.

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