Death in midsummer and other stories by Yukio Mishima (1925-70) is a collection of the Japanese author’s short stories. Some are relatively early in his career (Death in midsummer, 1953), and some are from much later in his career (Patriotism, 1966). Because of this the stories offer a wide scope of his writing ability and career, which really makes this collection of stories so enjoyable when combined with Mishima’s brilliant style.
The first story in this collection is ‘Death in midsummer‘. It is a short story about a family who go to a bathing beach. The family is a wife, a husband who is at work and not at the beach, a maid, and three children, two boys and one girl. The children are playing on the beach while the maid is watching them, the mother is sleeping in the inn. The maid tells two of the children to be careful and not to go any deeper into the water. She returns to the beach front and notices they are not in the water anymore, she assumes they returned to the younger brother who is playing with sand and making castles. But the baby boy who is playing with the sand looks upset, the maid looks into the water and can see a body which is rolling over and over again, she recognises the swimming trunks as one of the child’s. As she begins to wade through the water she is hit by a strong wave and suffers a heart attack. People on the beach notice this and take her body to the inn with the young boy, not knowing that two children are missing.
The wife passes on a message to the husband, and he comes to the beach. They prepare a funeral for the maid, and the bodies of the two children are found, and they are given funerals too. They return home torn and spend the next two years in a form of sorrow and argumentation with each other. The wife falls pregnant and gives birth to a healthy baby girl. After a few months they decide to visit the beach again. This is about two-three years later. The young boy teaches the baby girl how to say ‘sea’, and the mother and father feel like it is being taught a bad word because it is connected to their sorrow.
They visit the beach and the mother can see shadows of what happened that day, like shadows of where the maid’s body was found, while the husband doesn’t see these things because he has no memory of that day but arriving to the bad news. She is holding her new baby girl in her arms, while the father is holding the toddler boy who was there that day. She is stood staring at the sea with a firm face of sorrow, the husband recognises this face as the face she has been wearing for the last two-three years as she struggled with who to blame and with the loss of her children and maid. He looks at her staring at the sea and understands, this provokes him to squeeze his young son’s hand firmly. This is how the story ends, it is unclear if she is just re-feeling her sorrow and the husband is respecting it, or if she is waiting for her children to return from the sea so she can get on with her life, or if she is waiting to walk into the sea and kill herself. Through this lack of a conclusion the story gives the reader an overwhelming urge to reread the story, which makes it enjoyable and re-readable.
The second story is called ‘Three million yen’. A young, attractive and healthy couple are at a supermarket to meet an unknown woman, but they are early, so explore the supermarket to kill time. They spend that time looking at toys and talking about having children. It turns out they are already married and do want children, but are currently working on having enough money to do so. The male of the couple, Kenzo, plays with a toy and accidentally breaks it. The toy flies off and lands in a packet of cookies. These cookies are hugely overpriced at one million yen. He buys them, using the toy as an excuse, but also because it would be impolite to not purchase it after flying a toy into it.
The female of the couple, Kiyoko, complains about the spending of money and the size of the cookies. They then go on a ride which is another waste of time and money. Then Kenzo explains to Kiyoko how when they were walking into the supermarket he could see their shadows and another smaller shadow. He naively thought that it was a child, like they both want, but then noticed that someone was behind them. This is a sweet expression of their urge to have children, and after spending the entire story being a rather untalkative man, this shows Kenzo as a paternal figure with a soft side.
They then go to meet the unknown woman at the coffee shop. She is working for Kiyoko and Kenzo, and trying to find them clients. She explains to them that she has a bunch of old rich folks who would love to use their services, so if they pull off tonight they may all be rich. The story then skips ahead to after their meeting with their client. Kenzo expresses how he didn’t enjoy it and how he considers them all a rotten bunch of old people. Kiyoko is staring at the floor, so he repeats himself. She replies that they are rotten but what can we do? The pay was good. Kenzo states how he hated the old women who pry the money from their husband’s hands just to spend it, he then pleads with Kiyoko that she never become like that. Kenzo then repeats how they were a nasty bunch, and spits. He then asks her how much they made, she pulls out 5000 yen. He is amazed by this amount, and then states that they have never made this much before. He would love to just rip it up! Kiyoko then gives him the last remaining million yen cookie to tear up instead. He throws it on the floor and tries to break it by bending it. No matter how much he bent it, it would not break. This is how the story ends.
This is an interesting story. It paints Kenzo and Kiyoko as conservatively minded. Thinking about money, saving it so they can have children. They are traditional and want a strong big loving family. But they contradict that when Kenzo spends an absurd amount of money on stupid things like cookies and rides. He spends far more on the cookies than they eventually make that night, but he is still shocked that the money he made was so much. Through this building of them as a family unit wanting money for children and a good life, they end up selling themselves to clients who they have sex in front of in order for pay. In this sense they are traditional and non-traditional, they want a strong family and are planning ahead like a good family does, but they are also materialistically buying random items, wasting money, and making money through a form of prostitution that they only need because they stupidly spend money.
This story comes across as an attack on modern Japan, capitalism and materialism, and how it denigrates and wears down the traditional and healthy way of life. This traditional and healthy way of life allowed people to prosper without destroying themselves or corrupting themselves in such a wanton way. Kenzo and Kiyoko are corrupting themselves for money, that they spend on not having children, while stating they want money so they can finally have children and consummate their marriage. This third cookie which will not bend is a symbolic representation of the child they haven’t had, just as the third shadow in the parking lot shows that they have the potential to have a child, but they keep making choices which don’t allow the potential to be actualised.
The third story is called ‘Thermos flasks‘. Kawase is a Japanese businessman who has been in America for six months for business reasons. He could have gone home after these six months, but decides to stay for a few more days before returning to his wife and child. He rereads a letter addressed to him from his wife. The letter talks about how his son, Shigeru, is terrified of a broken thermos flask. It hisses and bubbles, and he finds the noise terrifying, so the mother uses it when he misbehaves.
During these last few days in America, he runs into another Japanese person who he knew many years ago. This woman is called Asaka and she is with a very young child which is her’s, called Hamako. They go for a meal and spend time together again to remember the old days. Asaka sees a thermos flask in a shop window and asks Hamako if she is still afraid of them and if she remembers being afraid of them, she answers no to both of these questions. Kawase ignores this because it reminds him of his son and wife.
As they spend more time together, and Hamako is out of the way by being babysat, it turns out that Kawase and Asaka used to sleep together when she was a Geisha, and Hamako may be his. So Kawase was probably one of her patrons. He asks her what she will do if she falls pregnant again doing what she does, she replies that if she is pregnant it will probably be Sonoda’s, he assumes this is her current patron and says nothing else about it to her. They spend a night together and end up sleeping with each other again.
The next day he returns home to Japan to his wife and child. As he sees his wife and child he sees that she and he are not showing any signs of missing him or being upset. This irritates him. Then several of his work colleagues come to his home for a welcome home party. Because of this Kawase had no time or chance to speak to his wife yet, while his boy is by his knee falling asleep. One of his work colleagues recommends that he maybe should go to bed. Kawase then feels an urge to assert his authority. He states that if you show a thermos flask to his son, he will be wide awake, but he doesn’t state why it would make him wide awake. He then calls to his wife to go get the thermos flask so he can show everyone. She doesn’t get it and this irritates him, so he asks her to get it again, she says yes but doesn’t, again.
Then the same man who had suggested that the boy be taken to bed, spoke up again saying ‘but look how sleepy he is, we can do without the thermos flask.’ From this Kawase guesses that this man, Komiya, is being emboldened by the drinking and also because of what he had just said about the flask waking him up. Kawase also guesses that Komiya already knows that the boy is terrified of thermos flasks. Komiya is a young, attractive and intelligent man who works at Kawase’s business section and is very successful.
Instead of asking why and how this man knows about his boy’s fear, he instead throws the child towards Komiya and tells him to take him to bed then. His wife then enters the room smoothly, and removes the child from Komiya and puts the boy to bed. How smoothly this was done annoys Kawase. Time runs on and the guests leave. He helped his wife clear the table and clean up, but it was clear that he was annoyed, and that she knew it. She thanked him without turning around and told him to go and rest. He pauses and then asks about the thermos flask, and why she didn’t bring it to him regardless of if the child was tired or if he feared it, Kawase had only just got back and she could have indulged him. She explains that it has broken. He asks if the son, Shigeru, broke it. She shakes her head to imply a no, so he asks so who broke it. She grips at the plates and sink that she is at and then chokes back tears of upset. He asks her why she is getting upset, it is nothing to cry about, just tell me who broke it, and then she states that she had broken it in a gasping voice which seems on the verge of tears. It is then explained that Kawase did not have the courage to place his hand on her shoulder, and that now he was afraid of thermos flasks.
This ending confused me with my first reading, so I reread it. It seems that her reaction and upset is Kawase inadvertently discovering that he isn’t the only one having an affair. His wife, Kimiko, is having an affair with Kawase’s young and intelligent work colleague Komiyo. Komiyo was protective of the child, and clearly knew more than he should about the child, which could have only been passed on by being in the household and around Kimiko and Shigeru. The fact that Kimiko had broken the thermos flask may be an indication that she broke it on purpose so the son was no longer afraid, and because her feelings for Kawase had been fading after six months of him being away and also disliking how Kawase used the thermos flask to discipline the child. The fact that the young man, Komiyo forgot himself and spoke with authority in another man’s home is a clear indication that he has been the authority in that home for a while and was accidentally asserting himself because of his intoxication. This implies that he is the man of the house, which in a tradition like the Japanese would be extremely rude and out of the ordinary. When Kawase realises that he was also afraid of thermos flasks, I don’t think it is meant to be taken literally, but symbolically. He is not literally afraid of them, but symbolically afraid of it because it has led him to discover that his wife has also been unfaithful. In this sense the thermos flask is a motif and symbol of fear used in the story, but now he is the one who is afraid.
The fourth story is called ‘The priest of Shiga temple and his love‘. This story is about the great priest of Shiga temple, he is very old and well on his way to enlightenment. He renounced passions countless years ago and has never wavered. Everyone respects him and knows of his virtues. One day he goes out to the lake to meditate, using his stick to help him walk there. He spots a carriage which contains someone who is also looking out at the lake. This person is the Imperial concubine. He looks at her and begins to get trapped in looking at her, because her beauty is so compelling. This woman thinks nothing of his stares as he is the great priest and his eyes cannot possibly be looking at her for the same reason that most people do. The carriage leaves and she thinks nothing more of it, while the priest is left shaken by this sudden fall from virtue.
No matter how much he tries he cannot stop thinking about her and her beauty. He tries several methods of thinking and meditations to remove this lust for her, but none work. With every attempt he makes things worse. He transforms her physical beauty into an abstract essence which makes her an ideal and even more beautiful to him. He is giving up enlightenment for this world, which is against his ideals and beliefs. He is abandoning the future world of Nirvana.
People begin to notice this change in him, and rumours spread. The rumour eventually finds its way to the imperial concubine through her servants. She pretends to ignore their chatting gossip, but she also begins to nurture a feeling of love towards the great priest. His feelings towards her must be special and not based merely on lust like every other man who wants her and promises her the world. Because of the great priest’s abandonment of the future world for her, she feels that this connection is special and more meaningful. He is giving up the future world just for her, instead of giving up some riches or time for her body.
One day the servants inform her that an old man is waiting outside her residence. She doesn’t think anything of it as many beggars and monks do this for alms. She peeks outside and sees the great priest of Shiga with his head bowed waiting. She looks at him and thinks about how he looks like he has just been dragged out of Hell. She looks at her own clothes and then his, and ponders on how they have a connection which is contradictory. While looking at him she does recognise him as the great priest, but at the same time he looks completely different to the man who stood looking at the lake that day.
It is then explained that the great priest has limped all the way here with his stick with the intention of meeting the imperial concubine and telling her of his love for her, and with this the burden of this secret love will be released from him, thus he will be able to get on with his life and get back on the path to enlightenment. In this way the great priest is looking through and passed her and seeing the path to the pure land of Nirvana.
While he stands and waits for a servant to come and invite him in, she looks out at him and considers that by making such a great priest fall for her, she had not in fact got a love that she wanted. If she deserved the love of a virtuous great celibate priest, then by definition she was destined for Hell. By making him fall from grace she had proved her entitlement to Hell and all of its horrors. In this way the imperial concubine is looking through and passed him and seeing the path to the horrifying land of Hell. She keeps going about her business and then looks out the window to him again, he is still standing and this annoys her. She wants him to go away, or faint from exhaustion and go away. He stands leaning on his stick until night time. She cannot sleep because his presence and her path to Hell has made her fearful.
She begins to reason with herself that because the priest has fallen in love with her, and she didn’t do anything, she will not go to hell because his falling had nothing to do with her and her beauty. She forgets that she is beautiful and doesn’t consider that her beauty was one of the main reasons he fell. As she continues to reason she feels less and less confident that she is thinking truth, she feels defeated and decides to send a maid to go get him. He is still standing and barely able to continue, he cannot figure out if he is waiting for the imperial concubine and her love, or he is waiting for the next world and the pure land. He sees a maid approaching but doesn’t consider it will be to invite him in.
As he is told he can meet the imperial concubine he lets out a painful crying shriek, the maid attempts to help him over to the house, but he refuses and swiftly moves to get there himself. He is only allowed to speak to her through a window blind, through which he cannot see her. He kneels down in front of the window blind and begins to weep with his hands over his face. A soft pale hands comes out of the window blind, and the priest takes it in his hands and presses it on his forehead and cheek. She can feel a cold hand holding her’s, and she can also feel someone’s tears on her skin. As this happens she begins to feel and believe that the hands that are holding her’s are none other than Buddha’s. She thought that this was a sign that she was destined for the pure land and thus could accept this priest’s love.
She waits for him with the plan of bringing up the blinds and inviting him inside after she reveals her beauty to him. She waits. But he does not ask, nor talk. He stops weeping and lets go of her hand, and then leaves. With this the imperial concubine’s heart turns cold. Days later a rumour comes to her that the great priest of Shiga had attained his enlightenment in his cell, meaning he has moved on peacefully to the pure land. After hearing this she decides to copy out all of her religious texts in beautiful rolls. There is so much to copy that there will be rolls after rolls, in this sense she is becoming or acting like a nun. That is where the story ends.
The fifth story is called ‘The seven bridges‘. This story is about four geisha who decide that because it is a full moon, they will pray while travelling across seven bridges without stopping or speaking, because this would grant their wishes, or so it is believed. Koyumi is an older woman and wishes for more money. Her younger geisha partner is the young Kanako, she has no patrons so her wish is to have patrons and be successful. These two meet up with Masako, who is about the same age of Kanako and they went to school together. She is madly in love with an actor who she met once, she wishes to have his babies and be with him. Masako revealed that she has been forced to take Mina with her on this journey. Mina is a rather large unattractive woman from the farming areas and isn’t used to this way of doing things or life. The two young geisha’s explain the plan to her and Mina agrees to be silent and pray all the way there.
As they travel each one is forced to break their silence or abandon their journey. Kanako leaves first because she starts to struggle along with stomach pain as her and Koyumi just had supper. The stomach pains get so bad that she needs to abandon the journey. Koyumi is caught by an old woman who used to be a geisha. She recognises Koyumi and collars her, forcing her to stop and talk. Masako and Mina carry on, but as they cross a bridge a policeman stops Masako believing that she is on the way to throwing herself off the bridge to drown. She tries to run away from him and run across the last bridge, then she would be allowed to speak to him and explain. This fails and the policeman grabs her, as he grabs her she speaks out and realises that she has spoken. As she does this she sees that Mina is still silently following while praying for her wish. Mina safely finishes her journey and presumably she will get her wish, while the other three geisha will not.
Masako returns home with Mina, and complains about what happened to her mother. The mother misunderstands and scolds Mina. Masako then asks Mina what she was wishing for. Mina replies with just a smirk. A few days later Masako feels less bad about this failure, and asks Mina the same question for the hundredth time. Mina only replies with a faint and evasive smile. Masako then calls Mina dreadful for not telling her and starts teasing her again. Masako then pokes Mina’s shoulder with her heavily manicured nails, but because Mina is well built and strong shouldered Masako’s finger tips are repelled. A small ache is left in her finger tips and she no longer knows what to do with her hand.
That is where the story ends. All of the geisha fail in their mission except for Mina, who isn’t actually a geisha. Why? Maybe because the three geisha’s wishes were selfish? But we don’t know what Mina’s wish was, we can only assume it was something simple like being able to finish the journey, or to stay around Masako, or make Masako forget her love for the actor who probably would just use her rather than marry and love her. If Masako had got her chance with this actor, it is more likely that she would fall pregnant with his baby (as she was wishing) but not actually be with him. Could Mina’s wish have been about that? Or maybe Mina merely wished that she could be taken seriously for once. Who knows, but that is the core charm of this story.
The sixth story is called ‘Patriotism‘. This story is one of the most moving of all ten of these stories. Husband and wife are living through the Ni Ni Roku incident, where imperial forces formed a coup for patriotic reasons, but it ended with them killing other imperials and then committing mass suicide. The idea of imperials killing imperials troubles the husband so much that he decides suicide is the only honest and honourable way to show his support of the Emperor, the Imperials and his people. He leaves a death poem which says ‘Long live the Imperial Forces’, while the wife leaves a death poem which reads ‘The day which, for a soldier’s wife, had to come, has come…’ The husband was thirty-one, and the wife was twenty-three.
This husband is Lieutenant Shinji Takeyama, while the wife is Reiko. They have only been married for half a year or so by this point. Not long after being married, Shinji placed his sword down in front of himself as he sat and explained to his fresh wife Reiko, that as a soldier’s wife she must understand that he could die or be killed at any moment, and with this comes the wife’s duty to remain honourable. She understands, removes herself from the room, takes up her family heirloom which is a dagger, places it on the floor in front of herself and kneels in front of him. Shinji instantly understands that this is an oath of loyalty, and thus never brings it up again, nor questions her oath.
Since the marriage Reiko has been nothing but happy, while this man had been a stranger not so long ago. He is stern, silent and strong, but when it comes to her he was passionate in his seriousness which suited her as she was loyal and reserved in a duty bound way which both enjoyed about each other. She never had a reason to contradict him, and he never had a reason to scold her.
One day Shinji leaves his wife at their home to do military manoeuvres. He doesn’t return until two days later. When he returns he seems different and his face is thin and long. He explains that imperial troops are attacking other imperial troops with an insurrection that he did not know about. He wonders whether he was spared knowing about it because he is recently married and they wouldn’t want to drag him into it. He has been told by his superiors that reinforcements will arrive tomorrow, and he is to lead them in destroying the rebels. The idea of killing his own men with imperial troops worries him, he decides he cannot do it, and thus must honourably kill himself to show his patriotism to his people, rather than bring shame to himself by slaying his own people. Reiko knows what she must do and both agree. They both bath and decide to spend their last night together by making love over and over again. This section is sweet and Mishima’s use of language and subtle romanticism is moving.
Reiko will be the witness to Shinji’s suicide as there is no one else to help him by delivering the decapitation. Because of this Shinji will disembowel himself as is usual to Seppuku, and then slit his throat once he is done. They sit facing each other and Shinji unbuttons his military jacket. He begins to disembowel himself, as he finishes the cut across his stomach, his guts spill into his crotch. He then moves to thrust the sword edge into his throat, but the sword edge gets trapped in his top button which has re-clasped itself in the fury of the Seppuku. Reiko cannot take this sight anymore, as Shinji can only muster the strength to keep trying to stab himself at this point, she moves over to him and undoes the clasp. The moment this is done Shinji throws his throat into the sword edge and delivers the final blow, killing himself outright.
Reiko is now left in a room covered in blood with a floor soaked in sick and bowels. She goes to a mirror and applies makeup for her death face. This is not makeup for her husband anymore, but for death and those who will see her corpse. She sees that the front door is bolted shut, and decides to open it so that someone will notice it and thus find their bodies. The thought of them not being found for days troubles her. She returns to her husband’s corpse, removes the blood from his lips and delivers a final kiss. She takes a seat next to him and pulls out her dagger. She did not linger over delivering her own death, because when her husband was in the process of killing himself she felt as if he had already left and went to another realm. The suffering of his caused a gulf to form between the husband and wife, now she would soon be suffering and then would die, that gulf was seen as a path to her husband. With this thought she delivers the dagger blow into her throat, and sharply forces it sideways. This is how the story ends.
The seventh story is called ‘Dojoji‘. This is the only play of the ten stories, and apparently is based on an old Noh (a type of Japanese performance) play of the same name. An antique dealer is showing off a huge wardrobe with a bell carved into the doors, and mirrors inside of it. He is showing this to two women and three men who have all been invited here. He shows them how large it is inside, and even shows them that the door can be locked from outside and inside, then he swiftly moves on when they ask why you would want that. He begins the auction and the price is rising rapidly, but a voice off stage chimes in, and then chimes in again which leads the voice to come onto stage. This is Kiyoko, a dancer. She states that the wardrobe isn’t worth a million yen, it is actually worth three thousand yen, and maybe even less if they only knew its history.
Goaded on by the potential buyers, and the inability of the dealer to make her leave, she tells the story of how a wife’s lover was hidden in the wardrobe, and the husband hearing a noise from it began to shoot his gun into the wardrobe until the screams stopped. She then shows repairs which have been done to it to hide this history. A woman begins to explain that she would like to leave and is no longer interested in buying it, she notices that the second woman has silently left and she then leaves.
While the three men give the dancer call cards, presumably because they are attracted to her and this is a good excuse to be indebted to her. All three of them offer her dinner, and one even asks for a dance after a good dinner at a nice restaurant. One of the men asserts himself and asks her to contact him straight after she leaves here to make sure she was treated properly by the dealer. She then asks him if he would still want to take her for a dinner if her face changed, or if she had the face of a witch. He pushes it aside and leaves, expecting a phone call from her for their dinner together. The other two men cannot compete with this tactical wit, and leave reluctantly.
Kiyoko then tells the dealer than she needs to talk to him, so could he take a seat and listen. He does. She explains that the man killed in the wardrobe was her lover, but the woman he was sleeping with wasn’t her. He had moved on from her and was seeing the wife of another man. He preferred older women, and Kiyoko is fresh faced and young. She then explains that this man had begun living inside the wardrobe, so it’s no surprise that he died there. She then wonders if she had an old and ugly face, instead of her young and beautiful face, would he have left her for an older woman. The dealer makes a move on her calling her young and attractive, while she states that her face only ever makes men she isn’t attracted to attracted to her. It is a curse.
She explains that she wants to buy the wardrobe for three thousand yen so she can find her lover within it, and until then she will tell anybody interested in it the story behind it. The dealer begins auctioning again, but she keep stating three thousand yen. He then puts forward fifty thousand yen because that is how much he purchased it for. She admits that she doesn’t have that much money, she only has three thousand yen. She tells him that she dreams of being inside the wardrobe, trying to find him and making her face ugly. She then admits that she doesn’t need the wardrobe to take home, and with that she jumps in to it and locks it from inside. The dealer cannot open it no matter how he tries.
The superintendent of her apartment blocks runs in looking for her, explaining that she had just stolen a bottle of acid and that because of losing her lover she may do something brash. The dealer begins to worry the acid is for her face to make it ugly. He explains that she is in the wardrobe and both begin banging and knocking for her to come out. They hear a scream and she exits with an untouched face. They are both so shocked they fall to the floor and ask her why she screamed if her face is fine. She explains she did plan to use the acid on her face, but when she put the light on inside the wardrobe she could see her face in a mirror, but because the wardrobe has a mirror on every side it showed many of her own faces looking at her. She then imagined all of these faces after the acid had damaged her face, the image she could see in her mind is what caused her to scream.
She explains that after all of the suffering she has had to endured, her face had not changed, and even if she did destroy her face, it would still be her face, that is when she decided not to use the acid. She drops the bottle and the dealer kicks it aside. She asks about the wardrobe price as the dealer said she could have it for three thousand yen when he was trying to get her out of it. He states that was only because she was going to use acid on her face, the price is still half a million yen, she says she doesn’t want it anymore, keep it. The superintendent offers to walk her home, and she says no, she has an engagement to keep, and she takes one of the men’s calling cards out of her handbag. The dealer asks her what she is doing, she replies that after all of this she cannot be wounded anymore by love, so there is nothing to worry about. The dealer explains how love will hurt her again if she acts this way, but she replies that no matter what, her face will be her face and cannot change: ‘Still, nothing that happens can ever change my face.’ She then takes lipstick out of her handbag, applies it to her lips making them red, and runs out of the store ending the play.
The eighth story is called ‘Onnagata‘. Onnagata is about an actor called Mangiku, who plays female roles although he is a man, this is called an Onnagata which is where the title of the story gets its name. It is explained that Mangiku is a true Onnagata in the way that he lives his life and in every way that he does things: he is utterly female and feminine in all emotions, actions, movements and words. Mangiku by being this way employs Ayamegusa, which is an Onnagata’s manual which explains that on stage and off stage an Onnagata is to be an Onnagata. He even eats while facing away from guests so they cannot see him eat, and while he eats he apologises for the display although no one can see. This is extremely feminine.
Mangiku is such a talented actor and Onnagata that after a performance he can look in the mirror and still see and feel the last character he performed. He so instils the character into himself he becomes them in some magical way. This is also a feminine trait: that of projecting oneself with empathy and sympathy. He is also well aware of his charm and people’s affection for him. When he asks for something, he does not ask, but instead allows the person to figure out that they could do something for him, thus they offer while he plays shy like he is being an inconvenience and begs himself pardon. Thus his will is fulfilled in a feminine way. He remains blameless and asked for nothing, but got exactly what he wanted.
A new director comes in who knows nothing about Kabuki theatre, because of this he is nervous. All of the cast are difficult with him. Mangiku decides to make the director’s life easier by being compliant and doing exactly what he says. The director is invited out for a drink by a man who works for Mangiku and is rather obsessed with Onnagata and Mangiku’s performances. During a conversation the director reveals how he hates Mangiku because he comes across as if he is only being submissive out of disrespect, he can handle the others being difficult, but he can’t deal with Mangiku being the odd one out.
They perform the play and it is successful. Mangiku asks the director out for a dinner and the director agrees in order to explain why he dislikes him, but Mangiku is in love with the director and is expecting a nice dinner where he can take advantage of the success and have a nice time with the director. The man who likes Mangiku looks upon them both leaving and begins to feel jealous, as he doesn’t know what will happen between the two. That is how this short story ends.
The ninth short story is called ‘The pearl‘. This story is rather short and simple, while also rather detailed and complex in its simplicity. A woman invites four people to her house for a meal. She places the pearl from her ring which had fallen out before they arrived by a dish, but during the meal she notices it is missing. One woman wishes to cover for everyone else and states that maybe she ate it by accident when she mistook it for some food. It turns out that she only said this to calm the situation down. One of the women finds the pearl in her handbag on the way home in a taxi with another woman, she makes an excuse and quickly tries to return it with a cunning plan. But the other woman in the taxi had seen her take it out of her handbag, and this woman is in fact the one who put it in her handbag with a devious plan of her own. This all ends in the four women changing how they are with each other.
Two pearls which aren’t the missing one are returned, and the ring is customised to fit these into it instead. Two women who didn’t like each other end up close friends (the one with the pearl in the handbag and the one who placed it there), and two of the women who are good friends fall out (the one who pretended to have swallowed it and then later accuses the other one of swallowing it). This is a clever and complicated short piece of the complexities of human interactions, being proud, cunning and also thinking about your own and other people’s social standings. Although not that much happens it is a fun read.
The tenth and last story is called ‘Swaddling clothes‘. This story is even shorter than ‘The pearl‘. It’s only about six pages long, but just like the previous story it has a clever twist and social standing point. Toshiko and her husband live in a nice house, her husband is an actor. They hire a nurse to look after their newborn, and she has a large belly. She eats like a horse so they assume she is just a large stomached lady, but they are shocked to find her screaming on the floor and giving birth to a baby in their child’s bedroom. The husband tells this story to a group of friends in front of Toshiko. When the baby is born it is wrapped in newspaper which bothers her, so she fetches a flannel, cleans up the baby, removing the blood and newspaper and replacing it with something more dignified for this newly born bastard child. She waited until her husband left the house to do this because she doesn’t want to be accused of being soft. The image of the baby wrapped in newspaper and covered in blood on the floor troubles her and reminds her of a butcher’s shop.
She is also troubled by the thought that it was only her who could see the newly born baby boy’s shame having been born this way. She thinks about the fact that if he grows up and asks how he was born, only she could tell him if she didn’t remain silent. She has a vision of her own child being twenty and this bastard child being twenty, being corrupted by his birth and jealous of their child being raised properly and comfortably, he turns on her child and stabs him to death. She takes a taxi home but ends up walking, she promises to herself and the bastard child that when he is roughly twenty she will find him and tell him the truth about his birth.
She walks through a park and sees newspapers being blown about by the wind, which makes her concentrate on the birth again. She sees a sleeping man who is on a stone bench covered in newspapers. She stands near him and looks down at him sleeping, and thinks about the swaddling clothes of the baby again. She notices that the man is very young and pale but aged by poverty, because of this she gets the urge to see his face. She accidentally wakes him up and he in an instant reaches out and grabs her by the wrist. She doesn’t feel fear or afraid, and a thought strikes her: ‘Ah, so the twenty years have already gone by!’. The park is then pitch black and silent, this is how the tenth and final story ends.