Ono remembers the first time he met Dr. Saito clearly. It was sixteen year ago, the day after he moved into his house. Ono was placing a sign with his name on his gatepost when Dr. Saito approached, introduced himself, and told Ono that it is an honor to have an artist of his stature in the neighborhood. In the years after that first meeting, Dr. Saito and Ono always greeted each other politely when they would run into one another. He remembers this first meeting clearly enough that he is sure Setsuko was mistaken in some of the things she said the previous month during their walk through Kawabe Park. Ono is confident that Dr. Saito knew who Ono was before the marriage negotiations started.
Setsuko’s visit this year was brief, and she stayed with Taro and Noriko at their new home, so their walk together in the park was one of the only times they had to speak. It makes sense, then, that Ono is still turning over some of the things she said in his mind a month later. At the time, he enjoyed the walk through the park with Setsuko on their way to meet Noriko and Ichiro.
Ono says that Kawabe Park is one of the city’s nicest parks and holds a special interest for him because it was the site of Akira Sugimura’s plans to leave his mark on the city. In 1920 or 1921, Sugimura (the builder of Ono’s house) planned to build a kabuki theater, a European-style concert hall, a museum, and a pet cemetery in the park. Sugimura lost a great deal of his money, and his plans were ended, so now there are only oddly empty patches of grass where the buildings Sugimura hoped to build were supposed to stand. Ono feels that Sugimura deserves admiration for aspiring to rise above the mediocre, even though his plans ultimately failed.
Ono wants to see himself as a man who is similar to Akira Sugimura, the influential and wealthy man who built Ono’s house. Just as Sugimura tried to reshape the culture of the city by funding the building of new institutions in Kawabe Park, Ono supported the establishment of the Migi-Hidari in his pleasure district. Ono wishes to see himself as someone who pursued his dreams and rose above mediocrity, even if the ideas he subscribed to are now seen as out of date.
That day, Setsuko and Ono met Noriko and Ichiro by a statue, and then Ono took Ichiro to lunch at a department store. Ichiro, then eight years old, told Ono that his favorite food was spinach and that Ono should eat as much spinach as he can, because it would give him strength. Looking at Ichiro, Ono noted the traits he inherited from his father and mother, as well as his resemblance to Kenji as a boy. He took a strange comfort in seeing this resemblance.
Ono explains that people not only take on traits as children, but also in early adulthood in imitation of teachers and mentors. Even after a student rejects much of a teacher’s influence, mannerisms and gestures will be left as a trace of that influence. Ono still retains these traces of his teacher Seiji Moriyama (whom he always called “Mori-san”) and he imagines some of his students still have some of his mannerisms. He hopes that even if they have reassessed some of his teachings, they are still grateful for much of them.
Ono reflects on his seven years living at Mori-san’s villa, saying they were some of the happiest years of his life. Back then, the villa had already lost much of its splendor. There were collapsing roofs and holes in the floor. Only two or three rooms were in good condition. In one of these rooms, Mori-san’s students looked at their teacher’s new works, praising their mastery and debating Mori-san’s intentions. Even though Mori-san was in the room, he did not respond to their praise or opinions. Although this may seem arrogant, Ono feels that allowing students to debate was a better way for a very influential teacher to give instruction.
Mori-san’s leading pupil was named Sasaki. If Sasaki suggested that someone’s work was disloyal to Mori-san’s teachings, the offender often gave up on the painting entirely. When Ono and the Tortoise first arrived at the villa, the Tortoise often had to destroy his work because it was “disloyal.” The Tortoise had great difficulty grasping the principles of Mori-san’s style. This style was defined by taking the world of the pleasure district as its topic, similar to the traditional work of Utamaro, but turning to European techniques like using blocks of color instead of bold outlines and using subdued tones. Mori-san sought to capture a melancholy, nocturnal atmosphere and often included lanterns in his paintings. The Tortoise thought that merely by including a lantern in his painting he was showing loyalty to Mori-san’s teachings.
Ono reflects that every group of students will have a leader. The leader sets an example for other students because he has the greatest mastery of the teacher’s teachings. At the same time, this pupil is the most likely to see shortcomings in a teacher’s teachings and want to move in a different direction. In theory, a teacher should be ready to accept this, but, in practice, a teacher who has invested a great deal in a student may see treachery in the fact that the student takes a new direction. This is what happened to Sasaki. His fellow students refused to tell him where his paintings were or to speak to him, and he was forced to leave the villa without anywhere to go.
After Sasaki left Mori-san’s villa, he was referred to as “the traitor.” Often the pupils exchanged insults in a joking matter but comparing another pupil to “the traitor” eventually led the pupils to come to blows. The atmosphere Mori-san fostered was very intense, and he demanded total loyalty. Although it is easy to be critical of this in hindsight, Ono says, it should be recognized that Mori-san had ambitions to change the culture of painting in the city and dedicated a great deal of time and money to his pupils with this goal in mind.
Mori-san not only influenced his students’ painting, but also their lifestyles. Because they were painting the “floating world” of the city’s pleasure districts, they spent many nights out late drinking, or having parties at the villa with actors, dancers and musicians. Sometimes the parties went all night, and people would be passed out around the villa the next day.
One night Ono walks away from the revelry and sits in a storeroom where no one goes. He sits there for a long time, until Mori-san comes in and asks what is worrying him. Mori-san asks if there is something about his actor friend Gisaburo that offends him. Ono admits that he feels they have spent a great deal of time with entertainers in the last few months. Mori-san does not reply but walks to the back wall of the storeroom and pulls out some of his old wood-block prints. He says of them that he feels affection for his old works but sees now that they are fatally flawed. Ono disagrees, saying that they seem to him to be an example of how Mori-san’s talent transcends the limitations of that style of art. Mori-san does not reply.
After a moment, Mori-san says that Gisaburo has had an unhappy life and is only happy in the moments late at night when a woman tells him the things he wants to hear. He continues that the finest beauty in the world is to be found in pleasure houses late at night. Then he explains that the problem with his old work is that, as a young man, he did not value the beauty of the “floating world,” fearing that it was decadent and a waste of time. Ono says that perhaps he is struggling with something similar, and he will try to rectify the problem. Mori-san does not respond but says that he no longer doubts what he does. He feels he will look back at the end of his life and see his attempts to capture the beauty of the floating world as worthwhile.
Reflecting on this exchange from the present, Ono says that he cannot be sure that this was what Mori-san said. Indeed, it sounds like something he himself might have said while drinking at the Migi-Hidari with his students.
Ono returns to his account of his lunch with Ichiro at the department store. Ichiro pours spinach into his mouth as if it is a liquid and then sticks out his chest and punches the air. Ono asks if he is pretending to drink sake and then fight. Ichiro explains that he is being Popeye Sailorman. Then he asks Ono if sake makes you strong. Ono says it only makes you believe you are strong. Ichiro says that he drinks ten bottles of sake a night. He reports that Aunt Noriko has bought some sake for dinner that night and laughs that she might get completely drunk.
Ono tells Ichiro that he since he is eight years old now, he will see that he gets a taste of sake that night. Ichiro says nothing. Ono says that Ichiro’s Uncle Kenji tried sake for the first time when he was around his age. Ichiro says that his mother might give them trouble. Ono says he will handle Setsuko. Ichiro says women don’t understand men drinking, then laughs again at the idea that Noriko might get drunk.
Ichiro asks Ono if he knew Yukio Naguchi, and Ono says that he didn’t personally. Ono thinks that the adults must have been talking about Naguchi around Ichiro the night before. Ichiro asks if Naguchi was like Ono. Ono says that Setsuko, for one, said that there was no similarity, though Ono one compared himself to him. He explains that Naguchi composed songs that were sung all over Japan during the war, and after the war he felt he should apologize to all those who lost loved ones, so he killed himself. Ono adds that he was brave and honorable to admit to his mistakes. Ichiro is silent. Ono says that he was only making a joke when he compared himself to Naguchi, and Ichiro should tell his mother that she misinterpreted him. Ichiro stays silent.
That evening, Ono and Ichiro go to the Izumimachi area, where Noriko and Taro’s apartment is. The area is full of small, modern apartments, which seem cramped to Ono, but which Noriko finds practical and convenient.
Ono tells Setsuko and Noriko that he wants to give Ichiro a taste of diluted sake, but his daughters say that is a bad idea. Ono says he has promised Ichiro, and it will hurt Ichiro’s pride if they say he is too young.
Ono says he remembers how his wife objected when he gave Kenji his first taste of sake at around Ichiro’s age, adding that it did Kenji no harm. He regrets bringing Kenji up in such a trivial disagreement and hardly pays attention to what Setsuko says next. He cannot be sure that he remembers it correctly, but he thinks she says that Ono surely gave a great deal of thought to Kenji’s upbringing, but given what came to pass, their mother might have had better ideas about raising children. Ono cannot be sure that Setsuko really said something so unpleasant, although the things she said in Kawabe Park earlier in the day suggest she is capable of saying something like that.
At dinner, Taro describes a colleague who never meets the deadline, saying he has been given the nickname “the Tortoise.” Ono excitedly tells them that he also once had a colleague nicknamed the Tortoise, but Taro says that most groups have both a leader and a “Tortoise.” Ono thinks about this. He believes that Shintaro was the Tortoise of his own pupils, even though he wasn’t called that. Ono reflects that the Tortoises of the world never rise above mediocrity because they are unwilling to take chances for the sake of a principle. They will never try something so grand as to transform Kawabe Park, as Sugimura attempted to do.
Ono recalls his relationship with the Tortoise, of whom he was fond, but whom he never considered an equal. Ono and Tortoise often painted together in an old kitchen in the villa. One afternoon, the Tortoise said that he could tell that what Ono was working on was very special because he was bringing an intensity to the work and had requested that no one look at it until he finished. The Tortoise said he was lucky to have worked side by side with someone of Ono’s talent for almost eight years. Ono asked the Tortoise if he was happy with his work, and the Tortoise said he was. He said he was always striving to improve, because he hoped someday to exhibit alongside Ono and Mori-san. Ono let the matter drop.
A few days later when he entered the kitchen, the Tortoise looked at Ono in alarm. Gesturing towards Ono’s painting, he asked if it was a joke. Ono recalls that the Tortoise had trusted him and took a risk in his career with him by leaving Takeda’s, and he had hoped the same thing would happen again in this instance. However, in a whisper, the Tortoise called Ono a traitor and walked away.
The painting that the Tortoise was shocked by is called “Complacency,” and it was inspired by a walk Ono took with Matsuda. Ono and Matsuda were walking along a bridge overlooking the Nishizuru district, where many shanties were wedged in between two factories. Matsuda said this was typical; people all over the country had been forced to leave their homes in the countryside and work in factories. Matsuda said you can smell the sewage even from up on the bridge, adding that politicians and businessmen, and perhaps also artists, rarely see this kind of poverty. Ono sensed a challenge in Matsuda’s voice, so he suggested that they go down and look. The shantytown was hot, crowded, and smelly. While walking through, Ono and Matsuda saw three small boys bent over something that they prodded with sticks. They turned around and scowled at Ono and Matsuda, who both concluded that they were torturing an animal.
Ono didn’t think about the boys much at the time, but later he made them the central image in his painting “Complacency.” In the painting, two images appear set in an image of the Japanese coastline. The bottom image depicts the three boys in the shantytown, wearing rags but holding their sticks like brave samurai warriors ready to fight. Above that is an image of three fat, well-dressed, decadent-looking men. The left-hand margin says “Complacency” in bold letters, while the right-hand margin says, “but the young are ready to fight for their dignity.”
Ono adapted this work in the 1930s for his painting “Eyes to the Horizon,” which became famous in the city. This painting shows two contrasting images bound together by Japanese coastline. The top image shows three well-dressed men, talking anxiously, while the lower image shows soldiers ready to go west towards Asia. The right-hand margin of the painting says, “Eyes to the Horizon!” and the left-hand side says, “no time for cowardly talking. Japan must go forward.”
Reflecting from the present, Ono says that he recognizes that the sentiments in the painting are outdated, but he brings it up to show how meeting Matsuda impacted his career. Although he didn’t initially like Matsuda, he found his ideas appealing.
One evening not long after their visit to the slum, Ono and Matsuda sit in a bar having a dispute. Ono proposes raising money for the people in the slum by selling paintings, and Matsuda scoffs at this idea. He says Ono has a child’s understanding of the world and probably doesn’t even know who Karl Marx is. Ono says Marx led the Russian Revolution.
November 1949-Chapter Summary To An Artist Of The Floating World
Matsuda tells Ono that weak politicians and greedy businessmen are leading Japan into a crisis. He says the Okada-Shingen society hopes to awaken artists to the country’s political situation so that they can produce works of genuine value. Ono says that Matsuda is mistaken about what art can and cannot do. Matsuda says that not only artists, but people of all walks of life need to unite to fight for the country. He explains that he wants the Emperor’s power to be restored and that Japan should forge an empire in Asia just as the British and French have done.
Turning away from his recollections of Matsuda’s remarks, Ono looks back on the moment when the Tortoise discovered “Complacency.” He thinks that the Tortoise was probably not disturbed by the political message of “Complacency” but instead noticed Ono’s use of bold calligraphy and hard outlines, techniques Mori-san taught his students to reject.
Ono shifts his narrative to a conversation he has with Mori-san a week after the confrontation with the Tortoise. Ono and Mori-san go to the pavilion at Takami Gardens, which is elegantly decorated with hanging lanterns. In later years that pavilion remains a favorite spot of Ono’s, until it is destroyed in the war. It is also, he says, the place where he had his last conversation with Kuroda.
On the night he visits the pavilion with Mori-san, the lanterns are unlit when they arrive, so Mori-san asks Ono to light them. Mori-san asks Ono what is troubling him. Ono says it is a small thing: he cannot find certain paintings and the other pupils will not tell him where they are. Mori-san tells Ono that he has his paintings. Ono says that he is very glad to hear that his paintings are safe, but Mori-san does not reply to this. He apologizes if it alarmed Ono that they were missing and says that Ono seems to “exploring curious avenues.” (Looking back, Ono is not sure if Mori-san used that phrase, or if this is what he himself said to Kuroda years later during their last conversation.)
Like Sasaki, Ono’s art has gone missing after he tries to go against Mori-san’s teachings. It seems that Mori-san has confiscated the art, like Ono’s father once did, and he will not promise to return it to Ono. Throughout this scene, Ono seems to be struggling to remember things in a way that will suit his own perception of himself. He may focus on his conversation with Mori-san as a way to avoid thinking through what happened in his own interactions with Kuroda, which ultimately led to Kuroda’s jailing.
Mori-san continues that it is not a bad thing for a young artist to experiment, as long as he returns to serious work. Ono says that he feels his recent work is the best work he has done. Mori-san says that perhaps there are other paintings, the ones that Ono is most proud of, that were not stored with the others. Ono says there may be. Mori-san asks him to bring them to him, but Ono says he is not certain where he left them. Mori-san asks Ono if he has plans for what he will do when he leaves the villa. Ono replies that he hopes to explain his intentions to Mori-san and continue to live at the villa. Mori-san says it will be painful for him to part with Ono. He adds that Ono is clever, so he is sure Ono will be fine. He predicts that Ono will either join a firm like Takeda’s or perhaps illustrate magazines.
Mori-san’s words echo Ono’s father’s on the night he told his son he could not become a painter. Although Ono never explicitly states what became of his relationship with his parents, it seems that he was forced into a break with them similar to the one that Mori-san is threatening. Mori-san also suggests that while Ono will not starve, he will be reduced to doing commercial art once again, which he believes to be a lowly occupation.
Looking back years later, Ono reflects that Mori-san’s treatment of him may seem harsh, but it should be remembered how much Mori-san had invested in Ono. He thinks it understandable that a teacher may overreact in such a circumstance, but of course arrogance and possessiveness on a teacher’s part should be regretted.
Ono reflects on visiting Kuroda’s house the winter before the start of the war. Upon arriving at the house, he smells burning and knocks on the door. A uniformed police officer answers and tells him that Kuroda has been taken to headquarters for questioning. Ono can hear Kuroda’s mother crying inside the house. He asks to speak to the policeman’s commanding officer. The policeman brusquely tells him to leave or he will be brought in for questioning too. Ono explains that he is an artist and member of the Cultural Committee of the Interior Department and advisor to the Committee of Unpatriotic Activities, adding that he is the one on whose information the police were brought to the house. He says there must be some mistake.
The uniformed officer leads Ono through the house to the back yard, where a plain clothes officer is standing by a bonfire, burning Kuroda’s paintings. Ono says he thought the officers would simply give Kuroda a “talking-to” rather than arrest him. He asks if they were authorized to burn the paintings and says there were many fine works among them. The plain clothes officer says they destroy all offensive material that isn’t needed as evidence. He says that the matter no longer concerns Ono and asks the uniformed policeman to show him out.
In the present, Ono says that this story is of limited relevance, because he means to recount what happened during Setsuko’s visit last month: that night, Taro tells amusing stories about his work. Ono is uncomfortable to see how Ichiro watches each time the sake is poured out. Setsuko says to Taro that even though he jokes about his work, she understands from Noriko that it is a stimulating work environment. Taro earnestly says how optimistic everyone at KNC is and how inspiring his branch director is. Setsuko says that Suichi is also very inspired by his work at Nippon Electrics.
Ono asks Taro if he thinks all the sweeping changes in Japan are entirely a good thing, suggesting there may be too much hastiness to follow the American way. Taro admits that the changes have happened quickly but says that he thinks Japan is finally on a good path. Setsuko says that Suichi feels the same way. Taro says that he went to a high school reunion the week before and all his classmates had the same sense of optimism. But, he says, perhaps they should be corrected. Ono says that he is sure the younger generation is right to believe in its splendid future.
Ichiro reaches over, taps the sake flask, and looks at Ono. To distract him, Taro asks what Ichiro would like to be when he grows up. Ichiro says he wants to be the president of Nippon Electrics, which is the best company. At the meal’s end, he asks if all the sake is gone. When he hears that it is, he accepts this quietly, but Ono empathizes with Ichiro’s disappointment, feeling that Setsuko should not have been so stubborn.
November 1949-Chapter Summary To An Artist Of The Floating World
After dinner, Ono goes into the spare room where Ichiro is going to sleep. Ichiro asks Ono if Noriko is drunk and giggles at the idea. Ono tells Ichiro that he will soon grow up and be allowed to drink sake. Ichiro is silent for some time, then says that Ono should not worry. He explains that sometimes his father wants to do something, and his mother forbids it, so Ono shouldn’t feel bad that she kept Ichiro from drinking sake. He repeats that Ono shouldn’t worry and asks if he is spending the night. Ono tells him he is going back to his house, but he will come to say goodbye at the station the next day. Ono sits with Ichiro until his grandson falls asleep. Sitting there, he begins to turn over what Setsuko said to him that morning in Kawabe Park and to grow annoyed by it.
Ono goes to rejoin the adults in the main room. He says to Taro that it is a shame that he and Dr. Saito didn’t get to know each other well until the marriage negotiations, since they were both connected by the art world and knew one another by reputation. Taro agrees, and Ono looks pointedly at Setsuko, but she gives no sign that she understands the significance of Taro’s agreement.
Ono describes the events that passed earlier that day in Kawabe Park: walking along, Ono and Setsuko say how glad they are that Noriko’s marriage worked out. Ono says that it was good that he heeded Setsuko’s advice to take precautionary steps, but Setsuko responds that she doesn’t know what her father is referring to. Ono says that he had made sure that his career didn’t create obstacles for Noriko by speaking out during the miai about the mistakes he had made. Setsuko says that Noriko told her about the miai, but only to say she was puzzled by her father’s behavior—as were the Saitos. She adds that she and Suichi were also puzzled by Noriko’s account of what he had said. Ono tries to remind Setsuko about their conversation the year before, but she says again that she does not remember it.
Ono and Setsuko continue walking. Setsuko says that Taro told her that Ono brought up Yukio Naguchi, a composer who had committed suicide. She says Taro was concerned by their conversation because it seemed to him that Ono was drawing a comparison between himself and Naguchi. Ono reassures her that he is not considering suicide. Setsuko says that she understands that Naguchi’s songs were very influential, so it makes some sense that he wanted to share responsibility for the direction the war went. But, she adds, although her father painted some splendid paintings that were appreciated by other painters, he should not worry that he did any harm because his work had nothing to do with larger matters. Ono says that this is very different from what Setsuko said to him last year. Setsuko says she has no idea why her father’s career would have any relevance to the marriage negotiations.
Setsuko continues, saying the Saitos were puzzled by Ono’s behavior at the miai. Ono says he was under the impression that Dr. Saito appreciated what he said during the miai. He says that Dr. Saito had followed his career over the years and would have been familiar with the mistakes he made, so it was appropriate for him to tell Dr. Saito his current view. Setsuko says that Taro told her that Dr. Saito was not aware that Ono was an artist, but only knew him as a neighbor. Ono says this is not true. Setsuko accepts this but insists that her father should not feel guilty for anything he did in the past. Ono stops arguing with Setsuko, but in retrospect he feels sure she is mistaken. He clearly remembers meeting Dr. Saito when he moved to the neighborhood and how Dr. Saito said that it was “a great honour to have an artist of your stature in our neighborhood.”